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Twin Cities rock jazz band Inktrail lays down a record—finally

A trio plays for a small crowd on an outdoor, lakeside stage.
Tommy O’Donnell
Inktrail plays at Destihl Beer Hall and Brewery. The long-running Bloomington-Normal trio celebrates their debut album release with a long set at Jazz UpFront on Saturday, April 20.

Bloomington-Normal band Inktrail has been around for a long time, but this instrumental trio has never put out a record — until now.

“We’ve all dabbled in lots of bands over the years, but it’s always been original music,” said Inktrail guitarist Tommy O’Donnell.

It’s not lost on them that instrumental rock jazz won’t necessarily draw huge crowds in Bloomington-Normal.

“You’ve just gotta hang on,” O’Donnell said. “We’re driven by the music rather than trying to get a big fan base, necessarily.”

As members of The Something Brothers, O’Donnell and Inktrail drummer John Ganser got close to something that might be called fame, filling rooms all over the country and flirting with record labels before taking a 30-year break. They reformed in 2017, with flurries of new music ever since.

“As we get a little older, it’s like, we’re just going to play and do this for ourselves,” said O’Donnell. “If people want to check it out and dig it — that’s even better.”

Since bassist Ryan Nolan joined, Inktrail took a turn away from jazz standards, leaning into an original sound flavored by free jazz, alternative and a dash of jam band psychedelic rock and honed by a deep commitment to improvisation.

“We definitely have some written parts,” O’Donnell said. “But usually, within each song, there’s a moment — sometimes it’s minutes where we just stretch out. That’s the thrill of playing with this band. One show to the next, the same song is going to be completely different.”

That might be the reason it’s taken this long to put out an album. Every band practice became a possible take for Inktrail’s debut eponymous record, with all but one track written by O’Donnell. Nolan wrote one song and produced the record.

“I’m not the best guy to go back and listen to what I did the night before, but the other two guys in the band dig in,” O’Donnell said. “When they felt good about it, then I would come in.”

As members of the defunct trio The Spelunkers, O’Donnell and Ganser were dialed into the Twin Cities’ vibrant 1990s scene, with downtown Bloomington’s Lizard’s Lounge as ground zero. There’s one big difference between The Spelunkers and Inktrail [besides Nolan, that is].

“Back then, we used to sing,” O’Donnell said. “As we get older, it’s like, let’s not sing. Let’s just play.”

Inktrail’s debut album is available on Bandcamp. The band is throwing an album release party from 8-11 p.m. on Saturday, April 20 at Jazz UpFront, 107 W. Front St. Tickets are $8-$10 available at the door or in advance at jazzupfront.com.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.