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The One Rule sounds like a reference to Lord of the Rings (“One ring to the rule them all”) or Highlander. (“There can be only one!”) Actually it refers to the band’s decree that they have only one rule: no singing.
“We have absolutely nothing against vocal groups, but being an instrumental group was another way we wanted to be somewhat unique,” said drummer Todd James. “The only condition I expressed from day one is that we would avoid having vocals in the group, thus the name of the band.”
“The guitar is my voice,” said Bryan James Gatten, lead guitarist.
In concert this astonishing trio hits one musical height after another, continually topping itself ad infinitum. Imagine Rush if they dispensed with the vocals and added Jeff Beck. That might be too narrow a description, though, for a band that lists among its influences Weather Report, Chick Corea, Medeski, Martin & Wood, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, Focus, Don Ellis and Chuck Mangione. Those last two may be a head-scratcher since there’s no trumpet player yet, but there’s so much going on in the music that anything’s possible.
“This is the most challenging group I’ve ever been a part of. I love the exploration and experimentation,” James said. ”I’m constantly playing on the edge of my seat and that’s the best place for me to be.”
Keyboardist Scott Junkert is a longtime veteran of the local music scene, a regular performer at the Saturday jazz shows at Club Saratoga and in the jazz trio Three to Get Ready.
James has played drums for local bands such as the The Busters, Shack Shakers and Woofer. As a student he wrote the Central High School Street Beat in 1979 and it was used at sporting events until the school’s closing in 2011. It’s also the name of his teaching business, Street Beat Drum Academy.
“For over 10 years I had wanted to start a high-energy instrumental group that played all styles and time signatures and had a sizable ad lib component to it,” said James. “I wanted to do popular cover material in an instrumental format, as well as progressive rock, electric jazz fusion and original material.
“After a few failed attempts, I got inspired to start this group after seeing Bryan perform with his cover group Traction while I was on a break playing with Woofer. I could tell he had abilities far beyond what a cover band would require.
“I talked with Bryan about my idea and we hit it off immediately. We had both worked with Scott and instantly agreed that he would be our third member.”
Gatten is a relative newcomer, having moved from St. Paul to the Duluth in 2013. But he has roots here since his father, Eric Gatten, is also a veteran of the Duluth music scene. The younger Gatten drew inspiration from watching tapes of his father’s 1980s band, Automatic, and transcribed the playing of the lead guitarist, David Bowman.
Gatten began playing guitar at age 6, trained in classical music and released his first album when he was 14. Now 30, he has produced five albums. Though the music is tough to classify, it ranges from hard rock (Respectable Boy, 2008) to New Age (Northscapes, 2009, and Voyager, 2015). Mostly they are solo efforts, with layers of guitar recorded over each other. “Respectable Boy” was co-written with his father.
His latest, “The Blue Hour” (2017), is smooth yet hard-edged blues-rock with drums and bass, all parts performed by Gatten. It’s not hard to imagine a deep-voiced late-night radio DJ introducing a track with, “Here is music for lovers.” But it might be just as accurately described as “music for headbanging in the stratosphere” as each number launches into Gatten’s sonic fireworks.
Gatten also plays solo at venues such as Sir Benedict’s, Dubh Linn and Thirsty Pagan. “Most of my solo performances are not what someone might expect from certain venues, but people have been pretty open-minded,” he said. “They might be used to seeing someone sit down with an acoustic guitar and sing, and here’s this guy standing up there with a Stratocaster, plenty of improvisation and no singing. But it’s my belief that as long as what is happening is good and genuine, people will appreciate it.”
The trio intends to become a quartet by adding a bass player. “Scott is so good with the left hand on keyboards that we’ve been able to survive without a bass player up to this point,” James said. “The search is on.”