By Stephanie Choate
Local residents can catch Vermont jazz group Eight 02 at the Old Brick Church in Williston right before the band jumps on a Los Angeles-bound plane to record with some of the genre’s biggest names.
Williston resident and Eight 02 keyboard player Peter Engisch said he recently received a call out of the blue from jazz legend Jimmy Haslip.
“He said ‘Hey Pete, this is Jimmy Haslip,’” Engisch recalled. “I almost dropped dead. I was talking to one of my idols.”
The pioneering bassist and founding member of the Yellowjackets invited him and his fellow Eight 02 members—guitar player Jerome Monachino, drummer Luke Adler and saxophone player Christopher Peterman—to work with him and Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer and producer Jeff Lorber.
Shortly after the Williston show on Feb. 14, Eight 02 will spend four days in the L.A. studio with Haslip and Lorber, who will work as producers, then collaborate from their respective homes to complete the material, set to be released later this year.
“Here I am collaborating with one of the guys I grew up listening to,” Engisch said. “You have to pinch me…that’s a bit of a dream come true.”
Haslip may even play bass for the group, which doesn’t have a dedicated bass player—Engisch or guitar player Jerome Monachino cover the bass part when needed.
“We’re getting into a studio with one of the best bass players in the world and we don’t have a bass player in the band,” Engisch said. “Of course we’re going to take advantage of that. I joked with him and said, ‘Jimmy, you know we don’t have a bass player, and I hear you’re pretty good.”
Eight 02 plays “accessible fusion” jazz, which appeals to a broader audience base.
“Jazz fusion, to most people, is pretty heady stuff,” Engisch said. “We’re not about that, it’s more about the energy. We’re very much about melody, groove and melody. We take chances in an improvisational kind of way. Within form, there’s freedom.”
Accessible fusion should not be confused with easy-listening smooth jazz of the ‘90s, though, which Engisch said he and his bandmates found “fairly unchallenging, listening-wise.”
“We’re bridging this gap between traditional jazz and jazz fusion… bringing back the fusion thing without being too heavy.”
The group formed when members from two popular Vermont jazz bands, Kilimanjaro and Picture This got together for a gig and hit it off.
“We all gelled like a good group does,” Engisch said. “We hit it off immediately.”
Engisch said he’s been playing keyboards since he was a kid.
“My grandfather’s piano arrived at the age of 6, and the rest was history,” he said. “It was like I met an old friend, and yet I had never touched a keyboard before. I connected with the piano very early on.”
Eight 02 has already put out two self-produced albums, and its song “Drive” reached number 5 on Smoothjazz.com’s top 50 album chart last year.
“We’re this up and coming contemporary jazz group, and we want to make a mark,” Engisch said. “It’s a tough niche to break into.”
Lorber and Haslip had heard Eight 02’s songs on the radio, leading them to reach out, according to Engisch.
Engisch said collaborating with the legendary musicians will help Eight 02 continue its rise in the contemporary jazz scene.
“The fact that we’ll be sitting in a room with these guys is going to be an education,” he said. “We’re stepping into the arena with the best. These guys are the best at what they do.”