Hear the term “free range” and most of us think of farming. Both free range poultry and free range livestock are common on farms in Western Massachusetts. But one has to travel to Florence to learn more about a much rarer subject: Free Range Cats.
The new name for the local seven-piece group featuring members Greg Eramo (drums), Conor Dowling (bass), Dan Belmont (keys), Dave Trenholm (sax, flute), Steve Kurtz (sax), Stephen Bradley (percussion) and Jim Jones (guitar), “Free Range Cats” takes the place of the lineup’s old moniker The Deciders—a change that, according to Eramo, didn’t come without some effort.
“The hardest part about having a band is coming up with a name,” he says. “Playing music is way easier.”
Formed in the fall of 2012, the group started as an attempt by Eramo to create a project of his own after years spent collaborating with other songwriters.
He says, “I’m the drummer, so I work with songwriters most of the time. I decided to take a stab at building my own band so as to possibly have a bit more say in the direction. Of course, that only works if the guys respond favorably to my choices. Some things stick and others naturally fall off.”
Though Eramo already knew Dowling and Trenholm before starting the band, the remainder of the Free Range Cats joined the fold after responding to an ad posted on Craigslist.
A “sussing out” period helped establish each player’s individual style, and since then the band has developed a unique improvisational approach to music that is miles away from the typical rock format.
“We are not a jam band or jazz group, but bring some of the improviser’s mindset to fixed forms,” says Dowling. “The bottom line, though, is that there has to be a compelling pocket for a song to make the cut. And preferably nifty horn and keyboard parts, in addition to a strong rhythmic section thing.”
Original songs like “I’m Not Gonna Cry” and “Hurricane Season” definitely meet the above criteria. Each track features the requisite sax and keyboard, but also includes steady grooves that never quit.
Dowling says, “While the band has a few originals, Free Range Cats is not, so far, about that. We’re more like musical curators, covering and reinterpreting mostly obscure tunes by mostly obscure bands from divergent genres.”
With no recording projects on the horizon, the best chance listeners have to hear the Free Range Cats is at a live show. The band checks into Northampton for a concert on April 6. And Eramo notes that some guest vocalists are a possibility, with local singers like Lesley Smith, Tom Sturm and Lisa Palumbo making the short list of those who could pop up during the band’s set.
“It would be very cool if people came to the gig,” he says.•
Free Range Cats performs April 6, 8:30 p.m., The Basement, 21 Center St., Northampton, (413) 387-6345, http://www.iheg.com/basement_main.asp.