Lao Tizer Trio
The Tizer Trio -- from left, bassist Rufus Philpot, keyboardist Lao Tizer and drummer Raul Pienda -- will give a free concert Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Capitol Theatre for the annual Yorkfest celebration. The audience can expect to hear pieces off the Lao Tizer Band's new album, "Downbeat." (laotizer.com photo)

Tizer is a band that defies categorization.

Call the music contemporary jazz, sure, for its free-flowing artistry and the continuing evolution present in the band's live performances, but that still won't capture the diversity of the world rhythms, the neoclassical underpinnings, the rock and funk and even bluegrass that creep into the group's sound.

Keyboardist Lao Tizer started the band, then called the Lao Tizer Band, in 1998. The lineup has changed over the years, with guitarist Jeff Kollman the only original member remaining other than Tizer himself, but the last three years have brought in a stable mix of seven artists: Tizer, Kollman, guitarist Chieli Minucci, violinist Karen Briggs, bassist Rufus Philpot, drummer Raul Pienda and sax man Steve Nieves.

"It's an ever-growing project and process, and we're learning from each other and learning from touring," Tizer said during a recent phone interview. It's late morning, and he's hustling to get out of Manhattan for a show up the road in Yonkers, N.Y. "It's been a great ride."

Starting out: For Tizer, that ride started long before he formed the band.

"When I was 5, my parents got a piano -- actually for my sister -- and I just used to improvise on it," the Colorado native, now 33, says. "I was kind of fascinated by it. ... I didn't know anything about music."

It wasn't until he turned 9 that Tizer started taking formal lessons, and even at that age he was working on composing his own pieces.

"I started out with classical music," he says. "Released my first record at 14."

Before he was a month out of high school, Tizer had released three solo albums. He moved to Los Angeles -- where he still lives -- at 18 and began studying jazz.

"That really expanded my horizons a lot," he says. "It wasn't until I was 19 or 20 that I started writing stuff that was more jazz-influenced."

Although, he notes, "jazz" is "a somewhat loose term because there's a lot of improvisation and creativity."

Translation? Don't try to slap a label on the music. With seven voices in the band now, "everybody's bringing their own flavor to the table," Tizer says.

New album: It's especially true on "Downbeat," the group's first studio album, which features a dozen original tracks composed by Tizer alone or in collaboration with other members of the band.

"It's a very diverse record," he says. "We wanted to capture the identity of what the group has evolved into."

He points to the track "Tanzanika" as a representation of the band's identity, "a lot of the melding of the different flavors of the group." But there are more personal pieces, too, to be found on "Downbeat."

"The Next Step," for example, is dedicated to Tizer's grandmother, who died while the album was being recorded. And "Coming of Age" is "kind of different from everything on the record; it has a kind of bluegrass flavor to it," Tizer says. "My brother and sister-in-law asked me to write it for my niece's bat mitzvah."

Yes, despite being named Lao after Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Tizer is a self-described third-generation Russian American Jew born to hippie parents. It's just one more way he and his music resist categorization.

York show: The album itself, of course, captures a singular incarnation of the music. When Tizer plays at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday for Yorkfest, the vibe could feel entirely different.

"We haven't played all the tunes off the record live yet," he says, and the songs haven't settled into a groove; they're still living and breathing and evolving. A live performance is "a very organic thing."

In fact, the record won't hit stores until Sept. 18. But early copies will be available for purchase at the York show, which is likely to be a "high-energy" event.

"We're going for it both musically and energetically and playing off each other" on stage, he says. "The audience feeds off us and we feed off the audience."

The band will be a trio Saturday night, with Tizer, Philpot and Pienda on keyboard, bass and drums.

"We're really looking forward to coming back," Tizer says. The group had bad luck at last year's Yorkfest, when the threat of Hurricane Irene may have persuaded even staunch jazz fans to stay home Saturday night (and eventually forced the cancellation of Sunday's festival events). This year, Tizer says, "it'll be great to share the new music with the audience in York. ... We're really proud of it."

See the show

Tizer will give a free jazz concert with opening act the Chuck Long Quartet at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, in the Capitol Theatre, 50 N. George St., York, as part of the Yorkfest fine arts and music festival.

Yorkfest runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, in downtown York City. The festival features 100 specially selected fine artists, the annual Chalk Walk, live music and entertainment on four stages, children's activities, a poetry tent, a boat parade, a film screening and more.

For more information on Tizer, visit laotizer.com.

For more information on Yorkfest, call (717) 849-2217 or visit yorkcity.org.

-- Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdis patch.com.