It never ceases to amaze me how so many great musicians, working in so many different directions and genres, can coexist in as short an amount of time as half a decade. It just makes me think genres, “eras”, any sort of sorting label really, are way more arbitrary than one would think. Take for example the coexistence of Jeff Buckley and Nirvana – it would seem there would only be room for one such influential name to truly expand into popular culture within one year, and that assumption would be, empirically, wrong! It all gets even more complicated once I admit my personal taste allows for at least one more on-par addition to this equation – the Canadian band The Tea Party. While it is true that they didn’t “make it big” at the same scale as the other two names I’ve mentioned, I believe they’re just as noteworthy and satisfying to listen to, albeit in a completely different way.
The Tea Party were a power trio headed by the remarkably charismatic Jeff Martin. The band was active between 1990 and 2005, after which it broke apart, only to apparently reunite last year with an announcement from Jeff Martin that they’re “back for good”. Their music has been dubbed “Moroccan roll”, which I find an appropriately amusing and accurate moniker, although an easier and more straightforward way for me to look at them is like a cross-breed between The Doors and Led Zeppelin. I know that’s a tall order to fill and a hard argument to make, but bear with me.
The instrumental aspect of their music feels very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s music, especially Jimmy Page’s songwriting. A myriad of open tunings, progressive, complex riffs intertwining, an overwhelming tonal control of all sorts of stringed instruments gathered from all over the world, combined with the robust, expansive percussion and the driving, meaty bass lines, all of these elements are easily recognizable as drawing strength from Led Zeppelin at their peak. To top everything off and create the link I was referring to, there’s Jeff Martin’s baritone voice, sensual, deep, entirely present and resonating on every song. The blues influence is also there, and to put the cherry on the cake, I think Jeff Martin really used to look a lot like Jim Morrison, at least in the nineties.
Yet, even though all of these influences seem to fit the bill perfectly, there’s a bit more to The Tea Party than just echoes of past giants. Their music had a specific quality, a unique, colder, more detached vibe than either The Doors or Led Zeppelin projected. This tendency is more noticeable on their later albums, like 2001’s The Interzone Mantras, where they began to integrate a more synthesized, electronic sound, but on The Edges of Twilight, it’s just a shade, a subtle nuance, which shows up more on a compositional level than in any other way. The music is enthralling, true to it’s pronounced middle eastern influence, hypnotic, like an invitation to sway, while often maintaining an ominous, distant, hard edge to it, a darkness just under the surface, neither sexual like in the case of Led Zeppelin, nor psychological, like in The Door’s case. I can’t really put my finger on it, it’s a tantalizing feeling, almost completely obscured by the preeminence of the groove in these songs, but it’s definitely there, I feel it coiling around the core of some of these riffs, slithering between the notes, a danger, a fascinating threat drawing me in further, each time I listen.
I really do hope The Tea Party are back. There are rumors of a new album this year, and I’ll definitely keep an ear out. In the meanwhile though, The Edges of Twilight will do. It’s an eclectic, massive, ambitious album, covering a very wide spectrum of musical expression, from straight-up blues, to acoustic brilliance and down to gritty hard-rock abrasion, all of it coagulated around Jeff Martin’s velvety, resonant voice. It’s a great soundtrack for daydreaming, taking trips and tripping, touched by just enough mystery and twisted enough not to be boring, but never pretentious. It’s pure fun, uplifting, energizing, powerful! Take it with black tea with mint and let it evoke heat as the winter cracks apart and shatters all over the sidewalks! Enjoy!