Sole Transit musicians collaborate, earn acclaim for funk-rock sound

Click here for Sole Transit’s Facebook page and find video/audio links.
For a student-written feature on Sole Transit, visit The Communicator online.
For a brief interview from 2010 when Sole Transit headlined a sidewalk concert in downtown Ann Arbor, click here.

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

(Photos courtesy:  Morgan Tucker and Gabby George)

Sole Transit is making its mark on the local music scene.

And this group of five young Ann Arbor musicians from Community High School has taken one more step this fall, earning top honors at the Neutral Zone’s Battle of the Bands, winning a recording contract with the youth-run Orpheum Recording Studio.

Kyle Morrison, also known as K-Mo, plays the tenor sax for Sole Transit.

Seniors Leif Gearhart-Hall and Kyle Morrison, junior Jordan Siden and sophomores Erez Levin and Dan Sagher are all active in the Community High jazz program, which lends a definite flavor to their musical style, which they describe as funk rock with a mix of other styles tossed in.

On stage, Gearhart-Hall can be found on trumpet, Sagher on bass, Levin on drums (“I’ve got the best seat in the house,” he says) Morrison on tenor sax  and Siden on guitar.

They don’t have a vocalist, but are considering trying out a guest singer in the near future.  But for now, Gearhart-Hall’s strong trumpet acts as a voice for the band. “The horn players can direct the band,” Siden explained.

Their experimental approach to their music is what has brought them to where they are today: A close-knit group that knows how to work and play together to get just the right blend of sound.

Dan Sagher on bass.

Levin and Siden started the band in the spring of 2009 after getting together about a year earlier. They played a lot of Beatles and Led Zepplin and, as they got into more jazz and funk, they decided they needed a horn section.

Sole Transit was born.

“We had all played a lot of different styles, then we got together and started writing together,” explained Gearhart-Hall.

This pool of talent spends their daytime hours in classes at Community High School and practices weekly in the basement of Levin’s family home. Three of the performers – Levin, Sagher, and Siden – give the bulk of the credit for the band to the Ann Arbor Music Center, where they study their art.

“We owe the success we’ve had to our instruction there,” Levin said.

Some of their overall inspiration includes the Dirty Brass Band, Led Zepplin, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But, each musician has his own preference and each contributes. Levin and Sagher love heavy metal, for example. “We like the heavier side of music,” Erez explains. “It gives us more of a rocking sound.”

Jordan Siden on guitar.

The band does a lot of original material, but also performs covers, including a version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” which Levin describes as “louder and more rock and roll (than Cash’s version), but funky sounding.”

One of their signature sounds is a funk version of the “Sesame Street” theme song, which always draws an enthusiastic crowd reaction.

“We do a lot of improv,” adds Erez.

Two other CHS jazz program students, Will Smith and Paul Smith, have played the sax and keyboard, respectively, with the band. The two still occasionally perform with the group.

Sole Transit’s first public show was at the 2009 Top of the Park Grass Rootz stage – a space that showcases local teen talent during the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. They also took part in a block party on the University of Michigan Diag sponsored by local arts group FOKUS. They mostly play at the Neutral Zone’s “B-Side” which hosts local talent at the teen center once each month.

Leif Gearhart-Hall on trumpet and Erez Levin on the drums. "I've got the best seat in the house," says Levin.

“Our first real gig,” Gearhart-Hall said, “was Breakin’ Curfew,” the Neutral Zone’s annual student-run spring event hosted at U-M’s Power Center for the Performing Arts in partnership with the University Musical Society. They played that in mid-May. Last summer, they headlined the second concert-on-the-patio series in downtown Ann Arbor. They have been invited to perform on U-M’s student-run radio station WCBN on Nov. 3.

Morrison – also known as K-Mo on the band’s Facebook page – said they are fortunate to be in Ann Arbor where there are so many resources for musicians. “When you look at the band’s success, you have to factor in where we are,” he said. “We have a lot of support locally.”

“I don’t think we could do this anywhere else,” added Gearhart-Hall.

Their name started at “Soule Transit” but was changed along the way to “Sole.” They’re not really sure how it developed – it just seemed like a good name and it has served them well.

“We’re a funk band, but didn’t want it to be ‘s-o-u-l’ – we didn’t have the chutzpah for that,” said Sagher.

What of the future? As Gearhart-Hall and Morrison are seniors, they said a lot depends on what they study and where the go after high school. “I think we’re all really ready to make something of the band,” Gearhart-Hall said.

“We’re all committed to this band,” added Siden.

Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090.

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