BRATTLEBORO -- Spontaneity and deep roots lie at the heart of how the band Jatoba got its name.
Jatoba is a tree that grows in Central from South America, and one of the trio’s members noticed the name stamped on a plank of hardwood at a building site. The name sounded cool, and a little Internet research left an impression on band member John Jamison.
"It’s an ancient tree; its roots run really deep, and it’s just kind of there to stay," he said.
The name Jatoba just kind of stuck, but the story says a lot about this Brattleboro-based trio which has coined the word "groovegrass" to describe a musical style which fuses bluegrass with sounds and rhythms from far-flung places on the planet and throws in improvisation, three-part vocal harmony, beat-boxing and anything else that comes to mind in the moment.
Spontaneity is a big part of Jatoba’s game, but it’s balanced with the grounding effect of deep roots. Jatoba’s members have been friends and musical mates for a decade and longer and have followed each other in moves from Colorado to Virginia to the Brattleboro area to keep playing together. They are proud, too, of a work ethic and discipline which provide an underpinning for their improvisations. There’s a closeness between Jamison, Jason Scaggs and Jeff Richardson which makes things work.
"Being in a band is very similar to being in a relationship," said Jamison, who sings and plays mandolin and sitar. "We’ve had a fair share of blowouts, but the next day we’re talking about it."
The other thing that struck Jamison about the Jatoba wood was that it was "there to stay," and it appears that the band is here to stay, too.
Together for six years now, Jatoba seems comfortable in its own skin and eager to build an audience base that often has 60-year-olds and kids out together on the dance floor at concert halls and venues in the Northeast and up and down the Atlantic coast.
"We’re weekend warriors, and that doesn’t bother me anymore. It used to," said Jamison.
"I never did think a lot about that. It always felt good in the moment," added Scaggs, who sings and plays guitar and banjo. "We want to play bigger venues and expand our fan base."
These efforts have been paying off. Jatoba recently played a benefit for Colorado flood relief with Left Over Salmon, and they have plenty of gigs coming up, including one as headliner at the Higher Ground in South Burlington on Dec. 12.
But first, it’s a gig at its home base. This Friday, Jatoba and special guest The Blind Owl Band howl together at a Halloween party at The Stone Church, 210 Main St., in Brattleboro. Doors open at 8 p.m., and music starts at 9 p.m. for this 18-plus show/21-plus if you want to BYOB. Admission is $10 in advance, $12 at the door. And, yes, wear costumes and be prepared to dance and have a good time.
"It’s a lot of things. It’s an early Halloween show, and there’s a lack of music venues in Brattleboro. It just kind of made sense to us to put on our own show," said Scaggs.
Fans will hear many of their favorite Jatoba songs, as well as a few from a CD Jatoba is recording right now for release in the spring.
The as-yet-unnamed CD marks a departure for Jatoba in a couple of ways. First, it will include a handful of original songs the band has never played before live. Second, the band is spending more time in the studio than ever before, devoting time and funds to doing things right and expanding what they can do with their songs. They recently spent two 10-hour days at Northern Fire Studios in Amherst, Mass., and were pleased with the results.
"What we’ve recorded so far has captured some petty good energy," said Scaggs.
"I think that this album is going to be a turning point for us," said Jamison. "We’re more of a live band, but it’s my hope that this is going to be a well put-together album."
Jatoba fans already grok on the 2011 release "Death, Fire & Picnic Tables," the 2012 EP "Back Home," as well as on its "Jatoba’s Witness" live CDs -- volume 5 is due out later this year. But the new CD is something of a departure, more of a cohesive album than a collection of cool songs.
In the meantime, come out and enjoy the band live on Friday at The Stone Church. For newcomers to band’s sound, Jamison, Scaggs and Richardson cite influences from folk, jazz, rock, grunge and world music traditions from South Africa and India; from the Doors to De La Soul, Pink Floyd to the Marshall Tucker Band. There’s plenty for fans of Phish and The Dead to latch onto. And plenty for fans of straight-up bluegrass to dig.
"If you’re a bluegrass fan, we’re not quite bluegrass, and if you’re not a bluegrass fan, we’re definitely a bluegrass band," said Scaggs.
"I like that we are able to expand to more audiences than a genre-defined group," Scaggs explained. "We’re not simply here trying to break rules. It’s just what it is."
The band’s sound evolved organically, and that’s what gives it, like the Jatoba tree, strong enough roots. Scaggs and Richardson played together in bands in Roanoke, Va., and Colorado, before Scaggs moved to the Keene, N.H., area so his wife could be nearer to family. Jamison followed.
They met Richardson through the electric rock band Phil and the Fuzz, and when that band split up, Scaggs and Jamison toured briefly as a duo before realizing they needed Richardson’s rock solid bass. Jatoba as we know it now was born.
Now, six years in, the band is seasoned and still taking steps forward, poised to release what might be a breakthrough CD in the spring. And poised this Friday to kick your Halloween spirit into high gear.
For more information on the band, upcoming tour dates and Friday’s Halloween show with Blind Owl Band, visit www.jatobamusic.net.