“Creative musical expression” and “Las Vegas” rarely appear in the same sentence. Yet at a recent show at the Hard Rock Café on the Strip, four band members played amid a large performance ensemble—about 12 artists in all, including a full horn section and guest vocalists. Diverse musical styles and sounds emerged from the speakers, engulfing a couple hundred people in extemporaneous grooves. When two rappers and a singer grabbed microphones, the energy kicked up a notch—the melody felt expansive, the beat felt funky and the sound seemed ready for the spotlight.
The core of this ensemble is Moksha, a local group of skilled musicians who have built a following by staging multi-genre live performances—deftly exploring the depth of classic rock, the unscripted breeziness of jazz and the rhythmic pleasures of hip-hop, funk and soul.
A Moksha concert is more than just a sonic experience. Kaleidoscopic lights dance around the stage as artists paint designs on nearly naked women. Followers gyrate with pleasure, engaged by the wide variety of sounds and sights. The atmosphere is joyful, liberated and free.
Formed around four key players—Brian Triola on keyboards and vocals, Pat Gray on drums, Jeremy Parks on guitar and John Heishman on bass and vocals—Moksha exists in the cosmic funk/jam ensemble territory occupied by Phish and the Roots, but with a spirit all its own.
At a Moksha show, you’re likely to hear rock, reggae, hip-hop, bluegrass, world music and funk—all in the same set.
“We have the philosophy that we want to put a show on that I want to go see,” says Gray, 29. “Every single time we play we have a new set list. We’ve never repeated a set list. We bring in a lot of guest artists. We have live body painting, painting on canvas, sculptures, projections.” Gray and Triola, natives of California, met as UNLV students in the Jazz Studies program and played together for more than eight years in numerous jazz, salsa, funk and rock outfits. Eventually they joined forces with Parks, originally from Cleveland, and Heishman, a 31-year-old Las Vegan. The group began performing a mix of covers and original material at local venues, including Beauty Bar and Revolution Lounge. They found common ground in their passion for The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead.
As their chemistry jelled and their sound sharpened, Moksha started collaborating with guest artists who shared their diverse musical tastes, including New Orleans guitar legend Brian Stoltz, skilled scratch-master DJ Logic and local positive-rap/singing squad F.I.N. (Future Is Now), the group they performed with at the Hard Rock Café. The live shows have also featured impassioned vocalist Angela Kerfoot, but she and the band have parted ways professionally.
“The type of music we play is improvisation-based,” says Parks, 34. “You feel things. You’re able to push it and open up and free yourself. Improvisation allows your mind, your imagination, your heart to open up. The feeling we get is a liberated feeling.” Appropriately, the word Moksha means “liberation and bliss” in Hindi. On the surface that, too, might seem an odd fit for Vegas, but the band believes they might belong here as much as any other place, if not more.
“Vegas is more diverse than people think,” says Triola, 25, the youngest in the group and perhaps the most optimistic about the future of his band and the city. “There is this completely non-transient, non-gaudy scene here that’s earthy. It’s kind of sitting in the cracks beneath all this gloss.”
Mo’ About Moksha
- Debut album: Mammal or Machine is due for release in March on Moksha’s own label. DJ Logic and Brian Stoltz perform on the album.
- Next performance: 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at Club Aruba, 1215 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
- Upcoming tour highlight: On March 21, they’ll appear at Headhunters in Austin, Texas, as part of the SXSW Festival.
- New website: mokshatime.com.