A few years ago, Galactic did something very few jam bands are able to pull off:
It made a great record.
“Ya-Ka-May” (Anti) established the New Orleans ensemble as one that can make a compelling headphone listen while remaining true to its roots as an exciting live band driven by the groove. That album, released in 2010, launched a new career for Galactic, elevating it above many improvisational bands that approach studio records as an obligation, and one that might suffer in comparison to their live shows.
With “Ya-Ka-May,” Galactic paid homage to New Orleans’ jeweled musical history, with cameos from Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, as much as it did its present with appearances by Big Freedia, Trombone Shorty and Katey Red, among others.
The soundscapes, consisting of layers of loops and samples, pushed the hip-hop aesthetic the band had established a few years earlier, but the cameos created a cohesive whole that reflected the critical juncture of post-Katrina New Orleans.
“We fully embraced the notion that making the record and performing live were two different mediums for us to express ourselves musically,” said drummer and cofounder Stanton Moore.
Galactic plays the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest on Friday to debut songs from an album due July 14.
On the heels of “Ya-Ka-May” and “Carnivale Electricos” (Anti), Galactic’s Mardi Gras-themed follow-up, the band decided to reverse directions.
Rather than using their instruments as a footprint to later enhance through the studio, the band created the new songs the way they play live: standing face-to-face in the same room. “We made a point to go somewhere else,” Moore said. “We wanted to do what we do organically as a band that plays together.”
The process at the Music Shed, a recording studio in the Lower Garden District, involved showing up and playing what the band calls “embryos” — nuggets of ideas that can be developed through playing in the same room.
Discoveries were made throughout: One song, “Sugar Juicy,” became a street-shaking party song peppered with brass and backing vocals only after the band realized it called for more energy. “We didn’t limit ourselves to rules,” Moore said. “We focused everything as a means to an end.”
As before, there are cameos. Chicago soul music great Mavis Staples adds vocals, as does jam bandleader J.J. Grey. Another voice is neo-soul iconoclast Macy Gray. Not only is she on the album’s final song, but she will perform with the band all summer; Jazz Fest is their first date together.
At their set Friday, the band, which includes Ben Ellman (horns), Robert Mercurio (bass), Jeff Raines (guitar), Rich Vogel (keyboards) and singer Erica Falls, will rotate through songs from both their catalogs, as well as covers.
Guest singers have rotated through many Galactic albums; the common thread among all of them is that they understand they are entering a world that may not be familiar at first but will have an end result that will be different than anything they did before.
Since forming in 1994, Galactic has emerged as the house band of Uptown New Orleans, which continues to be its home. Its fusion of funk, jazz, Brazilian street music, R&B and even bounce has made it desirable for other artists interested in tapping into the city’s musical pulse, such as pop-jazz veteran Joe Jackson, who recently hired the band to record for his forthcoming album.
The opportunities have tested Moore’s versatility on the drums more than most players. In addition to Galactic, he has been tapped to collaborate with the neo-metal, hardcore metal band Corrosion of Conformity. He also plays in the jazz-electronic band Garage a Trois, with local roots-rocker Anders Osborne, and he has released numerous solo albums that have culminated with “Conversations” (Royal Potato Family), a traditional jazz album in a trio setting that features pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton.
He started playing jazz while a student at Brother Martin High School. He participated in the Young People’s Jazz Forum on Sunday afternoons at Tipitina’s and met drummer Johnny Vidacovich, of Astral Project, who became a mentor.
Regular gigs at Snug Harbor have allowed him to return to that side of his playing, although he is also prepping his crash cymbals for Steel Punk, a hardcore band he performs with that includes former Bad Brains singer H.R. and Corrosion of Conformity vocalist and guitarist Pepper Keenan.
The wide variety in his schedule has meant days of competing tempos and dueling obligations.
“I’m practicing with my brushes part of the day, punk rock songs part of the day, Macy Gray songs on another part of the day,” he said . “I’ve got so much stuff going on that I need to stay on top of. It makes me stretch for sure, and I love that.”
Galactic plays from 3:25 to 4:40 p.m. at the Acura Stage on Friday. It also plays at 2 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning at Tipitina’s.