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Moksha: Funky music masters

Moksha emerges from America's "Sin City" with funky beats, improvisational rampages and an eclectic debut album. The funk-rock band, at home among the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, has decided to stretch its legs and take to the road. The group, featuring bassist John Heishman, organist and keyboardist Brian Triola, drummer Patrick Gray, guitarist Jeremy Parks and lead vocalist Sam Lemos, aims to spend a couple of weeks each month on tour, extending its fan base into California and Oregon.

Moksha will perform its Oregon debut at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, at CultureWorks, 310 Oak St., Ashland.

The band, which formed three years ago, plays instrumental and vocal originals that draw from a diverse range of music traditions. Gray labels Moksha's music as "danceable, funk rock with an element of improvisation."

"One of the cool things about Moksha is we don't have a lot of rules on the types of music we can play," he says.

A song may highlight the odd time signatures of bluegrass, but open with progressive rock, he explains.

In creating its sonic landscape, Moksha sometimes crosses modern with vintage as it incorporates electronic beats with retro instruments, such as a vintage keyboard, lap steel guitar and Hammond organ.

"We're all just lovers of music, all genres, so we try to incorporate all kinds," says Gray.

The title of Moksha's debut album, "Mammal or Machine," released April 2010, refers to this composite of old and new sounds. It's a backlog of our songs and features world music, electro trance and funk rock, says Gray.

Guest guitarist Brian Stoltz helped to produce the album and adds a New Orleans flavor to the mix.

The Moksha musicians, all of whom were classically trained, recently finished recording their second album, which is still untitled and scheduled for release in May.

Gray says the album is more cohesive than the first, featuring the same performers throughout. (Sam Lemos didn't join the band until the recording of "Mammal or Machine" was already underway.)

The upcoming CD also features Santana's horn section playing arrangements by famed avant-garde musician and composer Peter Apfelbaum.

In Las Vegas, Moksha regularly plays with a horn section and collaborates with body painters, magicians and other visual artists in the hopes of presenting an unforgettable show. Neither the visual artists nor horn players accompany the band on the road.

At home, the group plays up and down the well-lit Vegas strip, including the House of Blues, Hard Rock Cafe, The Beatles Revolution Lounge and Binion's Horseshoe, where they play regular gigs on the rooftop pool deck, overlooking the city.

While Vegas is "the life," Gray says, the band enjoys the newness that comes with touring.

"We love going, traveling, meeting new people and playing new places. But at the same time, Vegas has been good to us, and we have a good fan base there," he says.

Ashland-based bands Uncle Charley and Lost Maven also perform Thursday night at CultureWorks. The suggested donation is $5 to $10 for the show. For more information, see www.mokshatime.com or call 541-488-4888.

Moksha (left to right) is Patrick Gray, Jeremy Parks, John Heishman and Brian Triola. Sam Lemos is not shown. - Photo by Erik Kabik