November 2006

Planet Drum Comes to the Masonic

World Percussionist and Grateful Dead co-drummer Mickey Hart returns to the Masonic Auditorium, Saturday, September 23rd, with his legendary Planet Drum group. This latest incarnation, as part of a SF Jazz Festival special event, Hart reunites his fellow percussion virtuosos; Indian tabla phenomenon Zakir Hussain, conga maestro Giovanni Hidalgo and African percussionist, Sikiru Adepoju. This latest incarnation of Planet Drum builds on the legacy of the group that won 1991’s first-ever “Best World Music Album” Grammy Award (for the self-titled record that held the #1 spot on Billboard’s World Music chart for 26 straight weeks).

Hart is best known for his nearly three decades as an integral part of an extraordinary expedition into the soul and spirit of music, disguised as the rock and roll band the Grateful Dead. As half of the percussion tandem known as the Rhythm Devils, Hart and Bill Kreutzmann transcended the conventions of rock drumming. Their extended polyrhythmic excursions were highlights of Grateful Dead shows, introducing the band's audience to an ever-growing arsenal of percussion instruments from around the world. Exposure to these exotic sounds fueled Hart's desire to learn about the various cultures that produced them.

His tireless study of the world's music led Hart to many great teachers and collaborators, including his partners in Planet Drum. Planet Drum's self-titled album not only hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart, remaining there for 26 weeks, it also received the Grammy for Best World Music Album in 1991-- the first Grammy ever awarded in this category. Planet Drum is one of twenty-nine recordings released on Hart's the WORLD series on Rykodisc Records. The WORLD offers a wide variety of music from virtually every corner of the globe with releases like Voices of the Rainforest from Papua, New Guinea and Living Art, Sounding Spirit: The Bali Sessions.

Hart's experiences have paved the way for unique opportunities beyond the music industry. He composed a major drum production performed by an assembly of 100 percussionists forthe opening ceremony of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games along with Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo and Philip Glass. Additionally, Hart has composed scores, soundtracks and themes for movies, television, and home video including Gang Related, Hearts of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, The Twilight Zone, Vietnam: A Television History and The Next Step.

Hart's lifelong fascination with the history and mythology of music is documented in three books: Drumming at the Edge of Magic (written with Jay Stevens and Fredric Lieberman), Planet Drum (with Fredric Lieberman and D.A. Sonneborn) and his 1999 offering, Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music (written with Fredric Lieberman). The three books are published by Grateful Dead Books. In August of 2000, an extensive exhibit of Hart's percussion collection, A Journey Into the Spirit of Percussion, opened at the San Francisco Airport Museum in the United Airlines Terminal.

Several years ago, Hart was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center atthe Library of Congress where he heads up the sub-committee on the digitization and preservation of the Center's vast collections. This has evolved into "Save Our Sounds," and the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center conferred an honorary doctorate of humane letters upon Hart for his work in advancing the preservation of aural archives.

I had the pleasure of working with Hart and one of his previous versions of Planet Drum, featuring drummer Ron Molo, following their show at Woodstock in 2000. His hearing wasn't what it once was, (the result of too many Dead shows), however his energy, and the music of Planet Drum remains as viable and vibrant as ever.

Planet Drum with Mickey Hart,
Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju, Giovanni Hidalgo
Saturday, September 23 • 8pm
Tickets: $80, $60, $47, $37, and $25

"Spottiswoode and His Enemies" Coming to The Make Out Room

One of my favorite bands from the NY/DC area, “Spottiswoode and His Enemies”, will be performing next Thursday night, June 29th, at the Make Out Room, at 22nd and Valencia Streets. This will be a fine opportunity to see this amazing group, in what must be a rare west coast appearance, and following their shows in L.A., (and even a wedding at the Herbst!). The "Enemies", are led by the irrepressible Jonathan Spottiswoode, a Brit who whose talent and voice, conjures images of John Prine, John Mayall, and Tom Waits, all rolled into one. With long time partner, guitarist Riley McMahon, Spottiswoode and his fantastic “enemies” are fleshed out by some of New York and D.C.’s best musicians; bassist John Young, the charming Candace De Bartolo on sax, the ever crisp drumming of Tim Vail, Tony Lauria on accordian and keyboards, and Last Train Home’s absolutely fabulous Kevin Cordt on trumpet and assorted evening wear. Spottiswoode’s music is both raw and wonderful, and no one plays the kind of blues the Enemies do. Trust me, this promises to be one of those shows you’ll be talking about for years to come.

Spottiswoode’s latest album, a duet with McMahon, called simply “S&M”, has been called an “orgiastic smorgasbord of song, with stories of love, disillusionment, Ukrainians, Parisians, New Yorkers, Londoners, Scots, Cubans, Indians, Brazilians, children, parents, gypsies, and other more interesting stuff”, a “rich and seamless journey through women, continents and past lives”, and I couldn’t have put it any better myself. Spottiswoode and McMahon’s chemistry is undeniable here, and their partnership must be considered one of the truly great ones to come along in some time. A few of the “Enemies” also appear on the CD, along with an assortment of instruments like tablas, violins, and of course, a toy piano.

My favorite Spottiswoode CD, is their critically acclaimed, second recording, “Building A Road”, and is a must album for all Spottiswoode fans. Recently re-issued, their song “Drunk”, which opens the album is just awesome, and the ass-kicking, “I Get Blue” still plays regularly in my iTunes playlist. Recorded in 2002 with pianist Kenny White on the Kumpelstiltskin label, this gospel homage is one of Spottiswoode’s best efforts.


Spottiswoode’s earlier solo CD, "Ugly Love”, was called by the New Yorker, “Genius... astringently morose ballads about love", and the Enemies self-titled first album, “Spottiswoode and his Enemies”, was described as, "Nigh on impossible to categorize. They're brilliantly unreviewable, thick, disturbed and hanuted. This CD ranges from dark existentialist chaos to focused almost-pretty balladry without betraying its singularly smart, tormented vision. Music to champion”, by Performing Songwriter Magazine, and a “turn-of-the-millennium White Album”.

Spottiswoode and his Enemies are truly a one of a kind band, a band that also embodies Henry Kaiser's wonderful axiom, of performing with “people that you like, love and trust”. I can’t think of another band that combines the essence of the blues with fantastic music, humor and wit, as well as Spottiswoode and his Enemies. Keep your friends close, keep your "Enemies" closer, and dont' miss this!

Spottiswoode and his Enemies, Thursday, June 29th @ 10:00 pm
The Make Out Room, 3225 22nd Street, near Valencia, San Francisco, CA

"High Vulture" Swoops Into The Luggage Store

Improvisational music is alive and well at Market Street's "Luggage Store Gallery". The gallery's long running experimental music series, hosted by Bay Area veteran improvisers/sound artists, Rent Romus and Matt Davignon, have brought some of the most critically acclaimed artists of the genre, from legendary guitarists like Henry Kaiser and Fred Frith, to the inimitable improv pianist, Cecil Taylor.

Last night's performance, amid the beautiful green walls and a fantastic musical art installation, found the debut of electro-saxophonist Jaroba, as well the highly anticipated debut of the Bay Area's "High Vulture". Led by the incinderary guitarist of the famed group MX-80, Bruce Anderson and his improv cohorts, drummer John Moremen, and bassist Bill Raymond, High Vulture, screeched, swooped, soared, and even soothed most effectively under Anderson's guidance and special effects. This music is not for the squeamish, however, if you are bold enough to take the journey with High Vulture, you may find them a trip well worth taking.

Their Thursday night performance began with Anderson, who seemed to find the most beautiful, yet dissonant harmonics, and then "loop" them, and build yet another soundscape, and yet another on top of that. Once Moremen and Raymond powered their way towards it, Anderson would shift yet again, and a wonderful sort of distorted game of hide-and-seek would begin again.

Anderson's ability to shift his textures from the dark-buzz-saw-like colors one moment, to an almost pastoral distortion the next, and then blend them again, only to shred them apart, was nothing short of amazing. Somehow, almost inexplicably, High Vulture would then grind to a halt, so quietly, as if stopping on a lonely roadside at night. As High Vulture continued to their small, but appreciative audience, there were even a few moments during their set, when the trio actually reminded me of the original Tony William's Lifetime, with John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce, and the late Larry Young. A friend sitting next to me said afterwards, "That was a workout..." High Vulture's new CD, is entitled "17", and can be found on the Curator label.

"Jaroba", aka James Robert Barnes, is a "musician, photographer, interviewer, and actor", all rolled into one. Newly relocated to Davis, Ca. from Nebraska, Jaroba has performed solo and improv collaborations with groups like, the Acme Improv Ensemble, (with Shane Schieder), the Liberation Surrealist Duo, the Micro-climate from New Zealand, and with the Lincoln, Nebraska based "Improve Ensemble Howloosanation", where last year they performed at the John Cage "MusicCircus" festival, at the museum of Modern Art in Chicago.

Jaroba's use of electronics, and his bass clarinet, allowed him to "loop" himself in real time, and create nice, and complex harmonies on the spot. Watching him conjured memories of another great improv saxophonist, Peter Broztman, of Bill Laswell's legendary "Material".

Improvisational music is often a rare commodity, even in many larger cities; Washington, D.C. once boasted the fabulous "D.C. Space" and the original "Madam's Organ" was home to the groups like "The Muffin's, and the "Bad Brains", Seattle's underground scene still thrives with groups like "Critter's Buggin'", and New York's "Knitting Factory", like it's predecessor, the famed "NY Loft" series, still manage to blend both jazz and improv on a regular basis. With the advent of ensembles like the "Bad Plus", and the face of Market Street evolving everyday, let's hope The Luggage Store Gallery, and it's forward thinking owners, Laurie Lazer and Darryl Smith, can continue this valuable outlet for the challenging and pioneering artists of San Francisco's "free" musical realm.

Bill Bruford's Earthworks Returns to the U.S.

This weekend, I'll find myself at New York City's Iridium Jazz Club, to see Britain's famed jazz drummer, Bill Bruford. Since the events of 9/11, it has become increasingly difficult to see many of Europe's finest musicians. Visa restrictions and mounting costs have limited many to performing only as far as New York City. Last year at the Iridium, Bruford and his most recent collaborator, saxophonist Tim Garland dealt with that dilemma by hiring several of New York's top jazz musicians to perform, and released the live CD entitled, "The Earthworks Underground Orchestra". Joining Bruford and Garland for this tour however, are Earthworks' newest members, bassist Laurence Cottle, and pianist Gwilym Simcock.

Bill Bruford's career is like his drumming sound — inimitable. Known for his ringing metal snare drum, crisp cymbal work, and knack for complex time signatures, a young Bruford came to prominence in the late '60s with Yes. The drummer completed his British art rock trilogy by briefly joining Genesis in the 1970s and spending a quarter-century with King Crimson through the late '90s. In between King Crimson dates, Bruford led a dazzling self-titled jazz fusion solo band from 1978 to 1980 that featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth, bassist Jeff Berlin, and keyboardist Dave Stewart. And even as he leads his visionary jazz band, Bill Bruford's Earthworks, he maintains a career as a session drummer (with artists like guitarists Al DiMeola and David Torn, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and keyboardist Patrick Moraz).

During one of King Crimson leader Robert Fripp's several lineup-shifting hiatuses in Bruford's 1972-1997 tenure, the drummer formed his self-titled Earthworks band in 1986. On its 1987 Earthworks debut album, Bruford often used electric Simmons drums to contrast acoustic horn players Iain Ballamy and Django Bates and upright bassist Mick Hutton, achieving the opposite of the standard lineup where drums are the only acoustic instrument. Subsequent releases like 1989's Dig? and 1991's All Heaven Broke Loose continued this forward-thinking trend, blending acoustic and electric instrumentation and jazz ideology with classical undertones. But by 1993's live Stamping Ground, Bruford had replaced Hutton with electric/acoustic bassist Tim Harries and was using keyboard-pitched electric chordal drums, the combined result being a more muscular and fuller sound. Bruford continued recording and touring with King Crimson through 1997, releasing the Earthworks compilation Heavenly Bodies just as he quit the venerable rock band with which he'd had his longest tenure. It would prove to be a transitional year, as Bruford recorded a jazz chamber trio solo CD called If Summer Had Its Ghosts with legendary jazz figures Ralph Towner (guitar/piano) and Eddie Gomez (acoustic bass).

Between explorative electric recordings with bassist and fellow King Crimson alum Tony Levin, Bruford kept Earthworks closer to the chamber jazz mode on the 1999 CD A Part and Yet Apart. Likewise, the lineup of Bruford, saxophonist Patrick Clahar, pianist Steve Hamilton, and bassist Mark Hodgson started the new millennium with the 2001 CD The Sound of Surprise, an outstanding blend of jazz tradition and forward-thinking transition. Bill Bruford grew up with jazz. As an amateur drummer in the 1960s, and after a handful of lessons from Lou Pocock of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he began his professional career in 1968. He was a guiding light in the so-called British "Art Rock" movement, touring internationally with Yes and King Crimson from 1968-74. There then followed several years spent observing and participating in the music making processes of, among others, Gong, National Health, Genesis and U.K., until Bill felt ready to write and perform his own music with his own band Bruford, recording four albums from 1977-80. The late 90s saw Bruford underlining his commitment, and return, to jazz and 1997 saw two major releases.

The Earthworks "best of" compilation, Heavenly Bodies, taken from all four albums and including previously unreleased material was released in May on Virgin Record, U.K. Then a late summer release of fresh material with jazz titans Ralph Towner (guitars and piano) and Eddie Gomez (bass) entitled If Summer had its Ghosts, appeared on King Crimson's Discipline Records in September. Touring internationally with the second edition of Earthworks, featuring Steve Hamilton (keyboards) and Patrick Clahar (saxophones), the band's live work led to the release of a sixth C.D. "A Part and yet Apart" in 1999. Electronic percussion made way for the warmer looser style of the more conventional sax-piano-bass-drums line up, and Bruford continued to bring the best of the young British players to the attention of a rapidly growing international audience. The new millennium saw a live album release by Bruford Levin’s Upper Extremities entitled B.L.U.E. Nights, and the augmentation of Earthworks with the celebrated jazz guitarist Larry Coryell for the 2000 summer jazz festival season.

Following an extensive 22 date tour of the U.K., Earthworks recorded it’s seventh C.D. in November entitled “The Sound of Surprise”. Spring 2002 saw the imaginative simultaneous release of a) a Live Double CD from London called “Footloose and Fancy Free” and b) a full-scale DVD from New York entitled “Footloose in N.Y.C”, and the replacement of Clahar with the multi-talented Tim Garland fresh from Chick Corea’s recent group. The new CD was awarded the coveted "5 Stars" in Downbeat magazine.

Weat coast jazz fans are often cheated out of seeing many of Europe's finest musicians, so Bruford's tale is not a unique one. His performances with the original Earthworks band at the Great American Music Hall in the 1990's, and the later incarnation at Yoshi's in 2004, (which resulted in the fabulous CD, "Random Acts of Happiness, Live at Yoshi's"), are just a few of his now legendary bay area shows. Perhaps we will get another chance to see England's greatest jazz drummer here, when the new Yoshi's opens on Fillmore in 2008.

The Joe Zawinul Syndicate Comes to the Palace of Fine Arts

One of my all-time favorite jazz keyboardists, the truly legendary Joe Zawinul, comes to the Palace of Fine Arts on November 2nd. I've seen Zawinul many, many times, mostly with his co-leader and Miles Davis alum, saxophonist Wayne Shorter in Weather Report. Zawinul is a true visionary, who once compared jazz to boxing (“the footwork, the jab, the constant setting up and reacting to your opponent), and now at the tender age of 73, continues the good fight of plumbing the intersection of jazz, rock, and world music with his always-fresh Zawinul Syndicate.

Austrian born, Joe Zawinul emigrated to the US in 1959 where he played with Maynard Ferguson and the great Dinah Washington before joining alto saxophonist great Cannonball Adderley in 1961 for nine years. With Adderley, Zawinul wrote several important songs, primarily the slow and funky Hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" which reached the top on the Billboard magazine Pop Charts in 1967.

Zawinul then moved on to a brief but fateful encounter and collaboration with Miles Davis, just at the time Miles was moving into the electric arena. It was Zawinul’s tune "In a Silent Way”, in fact, which served as the title track of Miles’ first electric foray, and Zawinul had a potent impact on Bitches Brew, as well. He is one of a bare handful of synthesizer players who actually learned how to play the instrument, to make it an expressive, swinging part of his arsenal. Prior to the invention of the portable synthesizer, Zawinul’s example helped bring the Wurlitzer and Fender-Rhodes electric pianos into the jazz mainstream.

After releasing his debut solo album on Atlantic in 1970, Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter put together what was to become the most important jazz group of the ‘70s and beyond, Weather Report. Drawing on the power and theatricality of rock and R&B, while maintaining allegiance to jazz and the pure spirit of improvisation, they tapped into the so-called "fusion” movement of that decade while carving out their own unique niche. Bandmembers came and went, including Miroslav Vitous, Airto Moriera, Alphonse Mouzon, Dom Um Romeo, Ndugu "Leon" Chancler, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius, Narada Michael Walden, Alex Acuna, Manolo Badrena, Chester Thompson, and finally, Victor Bailey, Peter Erskine, and Omar Hakim, but the band spirit prevailed over the course of 17 albums, including the ground-breaking album Black Market and the massively popular Heavy Weather, with Zawinul’s infectious song "Birdland". That song, in versions by Weather Report, Manhattan Transfer and Quincy Jones, won separate Grammy awards in three successive decades, and Weather Report itself won a Grammy for their momentous live album, 8:30.

In 1985, after he and Shorter finally agreed to go in separate musical directions, Zawinul continued to create adventurous new grooves in the group known as Weather Update and then the Zawinul Syndicate, whose albums have included the Grammy-nominated My People in 1996 and the two-CD, Grammy-nominated World Tour in 1998. Other special projects have included an adventurous solo album, Dialects (1986), and work as producer and arranger on Salif Keita’s landmark album, Amen (1991). Meanwhile, as another tributary of his creative life, Zawinul has also pursued classical composition, writing his ambitious "Stories of the Danube" in 1993 and working with renowned classical pianist Friedrich Gulda. His special solo project, "Mauthausen" released in Europe in 2000, is a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, and was performed on the site of the Austrian concentration camp it is named after.

Among his prizes and awards, Zawinul has won the "best keyboardist" in Down Beat 28 times. Weather Report was a perennial winner in the "Best Band" category in Down Beat, Swing Journal and other magazines around the world. He has honorary doctorates from Berklee School of Music, and is the official Austrian goodwill ambassador to 17 African nations. In January, 2002, Zawinul has received the first International Jazz Award, co-presented by the International Jazz Festival Organization and the International Association of Jazz Educators.

Joe Zawinul is deservedly renowned for his pioneering role in the Jazz world combining the elements of world music rock and jazz. In fact, many of the worldbeat sounds we take for granted today, simply wouldn't exist without his revolutionary compositions and performances with Miles Davis in the late 60s, Weather Report in the 70 - 80s, and The Zawinul Syndicate in the 90s evolving into the new millenium. Don't miss one of rare oppotunities to see one of the truly greatest musicians of our time.

The Joe Zawinul Syndicate
Thursday, November 2nd @ 7:30pm
Tickets: $58, $38, $32, $25