When it comes to covers, NEQ prefers routes less traveled

SPENCERTOWN, N.Y. — By definition, cover music starts from familiar territory. How many turns it takes from there is up to a song's latest explorer.

Hudson Valley-based band Nelson Esposito Quintana, known as NEQ for short, prefers routes less traveled when it plays famous tunes. For Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane," for instance, the five-man instrumental group performs a reggae version of the rock track.

"I don't know where that idea came from, honestly," guitarist Todd Nelson said during a recent telephone interview. "Been doing it that way for a long time. It just seemed to work. There's kind of a joke about reggae, that you could take any song and make it a reggae song. And maybe that's true."

On Saturday night, an audience at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center can be the judge. NEQ will play a mix of covers and original music at the Columbia County institution, drawing from, among other genres, classical music, rock and Latin jazz. Applying a specific label to this group is futile.

"I call it just instrumental music, really," Nelson said.

The guitarist, who has been a prominent presence in the Albany music scene for decades, is excited about the band's current configuration. In 2010, Nelson released a solo CD, "Here," with drummer Manuel Quintana and bassist Kyle Esposito. Five years later, the three musicians released "None of the Above," the first CD under the name NEQ. The decision to expand to a quintet was "basically" a musical one, Nelson said.

"It can be hard sometimes to solo without the harmony behind you," he said after noting the addition of keyboardist Mike Kelley. "Sometimes, it just gives you that boost so that you can follow along the chord progression."

Bringing percussionist Carlos Valdez into the fold has also helped the group, according to Nelson.

"In terms of spectacle, he's the one who's most exciting to watch," Nelson said of Valdez.

Weather Report, a jazz-rock band from the 1970s and '80s, served as an ensemble template for Nelson when arranging this version of NEQ.

"Except, instead of a saxophone, it would be a guitar," Nelson said. "So, it's kind of the same musical lineup, except with that change."

In addition to "Like a Hurricane," Spencertown spectators can anticipate hearing Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and Joaqu n Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," according to a press release. This variety is part of the reason why NEQ landed the gig. Spencertown Academy music programming committee member Mike Zdeb has been a fan of Nelson's work for a long time.

"With NEQ, he has surrounded himself with a stellar set of musicians and they play a great, adventurous mix of material. Each time I've gone out to listen to NEQ, it's been a treat," Zdeb said in a press statement.

The group certainly produces original music that could be considered bold. But just how much artistic license does the band feel comfortable taking when covering songs?

"I approach it, pretty much, that any artistic license is OK, just so [as] not [to] set limits. I think that can be stifling to creativity, sometimes, when you start out with some 'don'ts.' Some things you say, 'Well, I can't do that.' So, in order to let ideas flow more freely, I don't put restrictions like that on myself. Although, sometimes guidelines can be helpful," he said before mentioning the tradition of playing "Like a Hurricane" as a reggae song.

"I tend to think style is kind of a fluid thing. It's mostly about rhythm, and if you can successfully take a song and change its rhythmic emphasis to something else that's associated with a style, then you're taking that song and making it into something new," he said.

That shift is a means of communication between the performers and the audience.

"For us, the music is kind of the message. We don't have a big visual act. There's not really any spectacle other than the music itself. That's what we're about," Nelson said. "I think that people need to really be there in order to appreciate it. I don't think, with all the great ways you can consume music now, I don't think anything really compares to actually being in the room, listening to great live music."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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