Q&A: Kung Fu’s Tim Palmeiri Discusses Improvisation, the Band’s Mission, and Returning to Brooklyn Bowl

Posted on Wednesday May 11th in

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Beloved New Haven, Conn., fusion rockers Kung Fu return to Brooklyn Bowl this weekend for a pair of shows on Friday and Saturday. And guitarist Tim Palmeiri connected with Knockdown Alley to talk about the band’s origin, improvising, and seeing friends.
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You guys were all originally in different bands. How did the Kung Fu lineup first come together? Kung Fu first came together in November of 2009. Dave Livolsi (original bassist) wanted to put a band together for a Monday night residency at a venue in New Haven called Stella Blues. He and Adrian Tramontano (drummer) jammed at some random function and that was the start. After that he reached out to me, Todd Stoops (original keyboardist), and Kris Jensen (original saxophonist). Thus Kung Fu was born. Over the years, different needs, issues, and responsibilities change, so now we have Chris DeAngelis on bass, Beau Sasser on keys, and Rob Somerville on sax. Kung Fu’s mission has been about delivering fusion music to the best of our musical ability. We thank our musical brothers for helping us along this journey.

And how did you settle on the name Kung Fu? When we had our first practice, we then started a band-name list, and I recall Todd Stoops suggested Kung Fu. At first I wasn’t into it but when I looked up its definition I was very much into it. Kung fu means excellence in one’s subject or area of expertise. You can practice kung fu in rock journalism, cooking, chess, etc. After that definition, I loved it, although it still confuses people as to whether our shows are kung fu seminars or whether we are related to Kung Fu Panda.
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As far as improvisation goes, from a listener’s standpoint, you seem to lean more toward the jazz-and-funk Zappa way of doing things rather than the blues-rock Dead or Allmans way, which, on the jam scene, is probably not as prevalent. Is there anything to that? (Or do my ears deceive me?) Your ears don’t deceive. We love the blues-rock Dead/Allmans way and their music has influenced us and does show up in our improvisation and spirit. The Kung Fu mission was always about delivering fusion — funk-jazz complexity with rock and roll energy. That focus still morphs and stretches with each new composition, but it is still the thread connecting our songs and solos together.
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Kung Fu have played Brooklyn Bowl a number of times. Are there any specific highlights from playing here in the past? And what is it that you like so much about the venue? Lots of highlights, in fact. We did a residency early on and had many special guests, much like this weekend. Got to play with Eric Krasno, Victor Bailey on bass, Bill Evans on sax, and Jon Gutwillig. Every night was unique and the crowd was responsive. Tough to have a bad time at the Bowl, honestly. The sound, staff, food, and overall experience are amazing at the Bowl. Thanks to Peter Shapiro and company for having us there always!

And furthermore, what are you most looking forward to about your two-night run here this weekend? We are looking forward to making music with friends and some new special guests. Also looking forward to our lawyer, Andy Paretz, coming in with some friends and hanging out in the Northeast. We always see him down in Florida normally. We learned some fun covers and reworked an old original, so we are excited.

Will you be playing primarily from the new album, Joyride? And will you be doing different sets each night? We will be playing all the songs that appear on Joyride. Different sets each night, yes, but maybe a repeat, you never know what the moment will call for.

As far as the new material goes, once you’ve recorded the songs, is that it, as in they’re permanently finished? Or do songs like “Chin Music” and “Speed Bump of Your Love” continue to grow as you perform them live? There is a little growth process from the time the song is finished in the practice room ’til when it appears on the album. Only exception is if we recorded a song for the album never having performed it before. Live shows are what help refine a song for the band’s and audience’s sake, whether it’s energy, arrangement, or sounds being used.

And for those who might mistake you for a David Carradine tribute, how would you best describe a live Kung Fu show? A Kung Fu show is lethal funk in your face with musicianship and freedom to have fun.
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