It’s a well-kept secret, but Indianapolis has a thriving and surprisingly diverse music scene. If you are looking for something here, chances are you will find it. There are rock and hip-hop, of course, but also a few more abstruse genres. Noise rock, for example. Local performer Mina Keohane does jazz-rock. And not just any old jazz-rock. Her band, Mina and the Wonderous Flying Machine fuses progressive rock with postbop jazz to create a unique style unlike anything else.
Conservatively speaking, the idea of fusing jazz and rock goes back to about 1970: Specifically, the release of Miles Davis’s classic album, Bitches’ Brew. At least, that’s how the simple version goes. The truth is a little more complicated, of course. The German band Can experimented with such a fusion in the late 60s, Captain Beefheart crafted his sound around a free jazz-delta blues mix, and Steely Dan was already performing by 1970. Even so, critics generally agree that Bitches’ Brew began the practice in earnest, possibly because it was the first attempt that came from the jazz side of things rather than the rock. Or just because Miles Davis is a perennial favorite of most music critics.
However, despite its (relative) longevity, jazz-rock acts remain few and far between. For one thing, the bar for skill is set very high. It’ not as bad as classic bebop, which requires virtuosity to even play, but it still screens most musicians out. There is also the simple fact that jazz’s heyday ended around the same time that Eisenhower left the White House. Since it is not exactly a going concern these days, the number of performers that bother to learn more than the basics, if that, is a low one.
Not that any of the above deterred Mina. Probably because she comes from a musical family, Mina has an eclectic range of musical interests, jazz among them, and it shows in her style.
Bio and Influences
Like many musicians, her interest began in childhood. She carried that interest with her into school, joining marching band. According to Mina, this is where she developed a taste for unusual time signatures because her teachers often made her and the other students perform in uncommon time as a skill-building exercise.
Proving that no learning ever goes to waste, Mina’s training with uncommon time carried over into another developing interest of hers: progressive rock.
While working with uncommon time didn’t necessarily lead to her joining a prog-rock band during her school days, but it made for a natural fit. The band in question drew very heavily on the Canadian band Rush, which reflects itself in her music today.
Her musical education continued as she went to Berkeley. There she discovered the brooding postbop of Charles Mingus and the classically-tinged neo-big band sound of Maria Schneider. She eventually combined those two elements, creating the sound Mina and the Wonderous Flying Machine is known for in Indianapolis.
Mina’s merger of jazz and prog-rock is not the chimerical Frankenstein one might think. Au contraire, the result is a very natural sound that takes the bombast of prog in a stride, tempering it with delicate jazz. Because Mina herself is the band’s keyboardist as well as lead vocalist, she can guide and shape the melody, which is a good thing, since it allows the band to improvise. They are a jazz act, after all.
Characterizing many of her songs is a soaring, even anthemic, quality. As her keys burble beneath, the brass section and the guitars take off into the upper ranges of their respective volumes. It’s a sound that can really fill a room. However, she can be quiet and contemplative as well, her voice going from declamatory to confessional depending on the nature of the song. Either way, her performance is always very personal.
As of now, Mina is still a local artist but that may yet change. Still, whatever the future may hold, Indy has her for now, and she is a credit to the city’s local scene. It just goes to show that there is a diamond in every rough.