Like a misfit gang of musical mad scientists, Eric Krasno and members of Lettuce have created a funk monster.
"Lettuce is going strong these days — so much so that I can't keep up with it," the guitarist says, explaining why he missed an Oct. 16 gig in St. Louis. An in-demand producer, Krasno was in his native New York putting final touches on albums by three different artists, including Aaron Neville, for his Feel Music Group label.
"[Lettuce members] met in high school in 1992 [while attending summer school at Boston's Berklee College of Music] and in 1995-96 were very active," Krasno says. "Over the years, it was mostly, 'Let's play together when we can' — sometimes opening for Soulive [Krasno's groove-jazz trio with Alan Evans and Lettuce keyboardist Neal Evans], sometimes for a festival, but it really wasn't until a few years ago that Lettuce became a beast of its own."
Since its inception, Lettuce has operated as more of a free-floating collective than well-manicured band. Still, it offers a deft blend of space-funk and sophisticated jazz riding relentless hip-hop beats, powered by the rhythm section of drummer Adam Deitch (Break Science, which performs at Joy Theater Oct. 31) and bassist Erick "Jesus" Coomes, who has laid down grooves for Dr. Dre, Kanye West and Eminem. The band's approach pays artistic dividends, Krasno says, noting influences starting with Jimi Hendrix and morphing "through portals" of Herbie Hancock, The Meters and Tower of Power. It also has been influenced by members' gigs with other bands. Krasno has shared the stage with The Allman Brothers, guitarist Adam Smirnoff tours with Lady Gaga, and trumpeter Rashawn Ross is in the Dave Matthews Band.
"It keeps everything new and exciting," Krasno says. "Like, 'Holy shit — that's different!' when I hear a new texture, or spy a synth on stage, or (it's) some crazy effect I do. My theory is, 'When in doubt, lay out,' but we all know each other well enough to navigate our ways and sprinkle our own layers on to what everyone is doing."
Trumpeter, Pretty Lights member and new New Orleanian Eric "Benny" Bloom is the freshest leaf in Lettuce, joining the group in 2012. Bloom plays straight-ahead jazz shows in New Orleans, finding "a never-ending supply of inspiration" in the city. Echoing Krasno's sentiment on the band's momentum, he says, "It feels like a powerhouse right now. We're in full crush mode, sounding great." Bloom also believes Lettuce's success is a product of divergent styles and players.
New Orleans also is the hometown of honorary Lettuce member Nigel Hall, "a fusion guy on keys who does all the things he needs to do to cover his bases, then does things on top that that just blow my mind," Bloom says.
Though it looks like a delightfully untamable beast, Lettuce sticks to its collective vision, and it will drop its fourth full-length studio effort, Crush, Nov. 6.
"We love albums; we believe in albums," Krasno says of recording with the crew of busy players.
"Lettuce is going to live on no matter what, and I hope to be there as much as possible."