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Miles ahead

Lettuce brings its cosmic funk to Tower Theatre.

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Lettuce’s most recent release is Witches Stew, a tribute to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew period. - ALEX VARSA / PROVIDED
  • Alex Varsa / provided
  • Lettuce’s most recent release is Witches Stew, a tribute to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew period.

For more than two decades, the band known as Lettuce has been bringing the funk in exciting live performances and a series of recordings. The band, comprised of drummer Adam Deitch, guitarist Adam Smirnoff, bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes, keyboardist and vocalist Nigel Hall, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis and trumpet player Eric “Benny” Bloom, comes to Tower Theatre Feb. 20 as part of its Vibe Up tour.

“We love Oklahoma,” Coomes said in an interview with Oklahoma Gazette.  “We have incredible shows there, always. It’s a really funky place. … The Gap Band is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they’re really funky, man.”

Lettuce’s most recent release is Witches Stew, a contemporary jazz fusion album that pays tribute to the late Miles Davis.

The collection of seven songs is an interpretive take on Davis’ Bitches Brew era and was recorded at the 2016 Catskill Chill in Lakewood, Pennsylvania.

“We’ve always been in reverence of Miles and loved Miles and never thought we’d do anything like that,” Coomes said.

But the process came together very quickly.

“It was a morning after a really late night; we’d stayed up at a festival having fun, woke up hurting, just trying to wake up,” Coomes said. “And Benny, the trumpet player, is like, ‘I signed us up for this thing.’ And I’m screaming at him. And then … [we] pulled it off.”

Coomes said he thought he was the most unsettled about the sudden idea to perform the Miles Davis tribute.

“I was completely and totally intimidated, 100 percent,” Coomes said. “As the bass player, I was maybe the most intimidated. Getting together with the rest of the guys, [they] take [away] some of my intimidation. And the confidence we give each other, they passed that confidence on to me.”

Coomes said his initial nervousness led to an energy that fed into the performance.

“It’s an energy that comes to you when you get those feelings of intimidation or fear, and it’s like, what are you going to do with that right then? You have to use it to accomplish the task,” Coomes said. “We didn’t have any time to overthink it or back out or any of that. We just had to get it together … and move forward.”

After the performance, the band listened to the recording of the show and decided it was worthy of being put out as a release. The EP was released on Halloween 2017. The first single, “Shhh/Peaceful” was released on Sept. 28, 2017, the 26th anniversary of Davis’ death.

“[We] barely knew we were going to do it the day of,” Coomes said. “Part of that is one of the things that made us want to put it out because it was so unbelievable. We kind of found out we were doing it right before and then put it together pretty fast — really fast, like in the car on the way over there. ... Listening to it later, we thought the vibe was on there, so let’s put it out there.”

Roughage diet

Coomes said the band draws from the location and from the energy of the crowd during its performances and that the shared experience works as an energy boost all around.

“We all get together in one room, and we all share an experience of the funk, and of the music and of each other. It’s kind of an energy exchange,” Coomes said. “You’re gonna be able to take this music and give yourself good energy, some physical energy you can use for the rest of your week. So it’s kind of an exciting, experimental, improvisational dance party.”

In addition to his musical projects, Coomes still occasionally works as an actor, which he has been doing since childhood.

Witches Stew - IMAGE PROVIDED
  • Image provided
  • Witches Stew

“I took acting quite seriously before the band was started. I was really into acting, and I got a couple of jobs right away,” Coomes said. “It’s hard to get an acting job; you gotta go on a lot of interviews and auditions for that. But I had good success right away, and I got a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercial.”

When acting jobs hit a dry spell, he reached out to noted stuntman Greg Barnett, a family friend and neighbor. Barnett took him to auditions and helped Coomes land a small role in Point Break, the 1991 action thriller with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze.

“If you watch Point Break, when you’re going through the chase scene on foot and they go through the backyard and they run out into the street and there’s a trash truck coming by and then there’s kids on bikes, I’m one of those kids on the bikes.”

In 1992, several future Lettuce band members attended a summer program at Boston, Massachusetts’ Berklee College of Music as teenagers. Returning to Berklee as undergrads in 1994, the group put together a live set and began asking jazz clubs to “Let us play,” which spurred the name Lettuce.

“One of the best things about the name is that it’s so healthy. I mean, people should eat and consume more lettuce,” Coomes said. “I don’t want to ‘should’ on people, but basically Lettuce is good for you in audio in your ears and in your stomach. So we’re grateful that it’s a healthy thing, that it’s a positive word that means something that is positive for a human being.”

The band released its studio debut Outta Here in 2002, Rage! in 2009, Fly! in 2012, Crush in 2015 and the Mt. Crushmore EP in 2016. A new album is slated for this year.

Between Lettuce tours and albums, Coomes has worked with Wiz Khalifa, toured with Britney Spears and recorded with Dr. Dre and Eminem.

“That was really, really fun,” he said. “I have a really high work ethic, and so does Eminem. What we get to call work is so fun we don’t take it for granted. I got to fly on the private jet with Dre to get there in the first place.”

As appreciative as Coomes is of all his collaborators, he holds his bandmates in Lettuce in high regard.

“It’s, like, a really good friendship, but it’s also a really active friendship where we accomplish things together,” Coomes said. “And as we accomplish things together, it gives us more and more love for each other.”

Even in the early days, Lettuce appeared to be something special to its members.

“In the beginning, I think we made sure we were all serious about it,” Coomes said. “I know I made sure that the different relationships that we were creating were real. We were all pretty mature when we were young. ... Luckily it’s been just an honor to be friends with these guys.”

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