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Playhouse, Clave Sonic to fuse jazz, electronic music, improvise in Columbus concert

Courtesy of Mark Subel

One band is hoping to use its music as a launch pad in order to direct its show in whatever direction the audience favors.

“It’s like musical surfing,” said Billy Zehnal, Playhouse bass player and frontman. “We catch a wave and sometimes we crash and sometimes we ride one out.”

Playhouse and Clave Sonic are scheduled to perform at the Rumba Cafe on Thursday at 9 p.m.

Mark Subel, bass player for Clave Sonic, said the two bands complement each other with similar sounds.

“Both bands bring this kind of fusion of jazz and very groove-based music,” Subel said.

Playhouse’s sound is “a hybrid of jazz and electronic music,” Zehnal said. They also combine elements of funk where “the end result sounds kind of like a house DJ, but it’s a band.”

Five full-time members, Zehnal, Don Carlos, Sean Ferguson, Jeffro Jam and Jason Branscum comprise Playhouse, but the band frequently brings in special guests that range from horn players to percussionists and even rappers, Zehnal said.

However, he said for the show at Rumba Cafe, only the core members of Playhouse will be performing.

Clave Sonic’s music is “a few different things coming together,” Subel said. Its sound combines R&B, funk, reggae, jazz and Latin jazz.

Subel, along with pianist Dean Marcellana, drummer Nathan Parker and drummer Justin Campbell make up Clave Sonic.

Both bands heavily improvise during shows, which Zehnal said helps the band work the crowd’s energy.

“We throw something out there, it’s like an energy ball, and hopefully the crowd sends it back,” he said.

In addition to the energy at the actual show, Jon Lampley, a fifth-year in jazz studies and vice president of the Jazz Club at Ohio State, said shows like this one help bring energy to Columbus’ music scene in general.

“When any local bands can get shows, it promotes the music scene in Columbus,” he said.

The local jazz landscape is “more happening than people think it is,” Lampley said. “There’s a lot of world-class talented musicians right here in Columbus.”

Clave Sonic and Playhouse are both based in Columbus and have been playing in the area for more than five years.

Playhouse has been around since summer 2006, Zehnal said.

The band has released one full-length CD and will finish another soon, he said. Zehnal said the band’s name was inspired by a combination of his daughters and the type of music the band plays.

“I was a new dad right around the time I started the band. I have twin girls, I was having a lot of fun with that notion of a playhouse,” he said. “We (also) do a lot of house-type stuff and it’s playful.”

Clave Sonic formed about five years ago when a mutual friend introduced Subel to Marcellana.

Marcellana had just moved from Boston to Columbus at the time. He “brought this Latin jazz influence from Boston that he was really exposed to,” Subel said.

Clave, which was the main inspiration for the band’s name, is an “afro-heavy rhythm” popular in Latin music, he said.

Subel said he has known Zehnal for quite a while. This show will be the first time the bands have played together, but Subel said he hopes it is something that can continue to happen.

“We just thought it’d be a great time to mix both bands together,” Subel said. “It should be a pretty fun show. We’re really excited about it.”

Zehnal agreed and said the crowd can anticipate a fun night.

“The audience can expect the urge to dance, and that is even if they have two left feet,” he said.

Tickets for Thursday’s show can be purchased at the door for between $5 and $10.

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