By 2001, I'd already been playing the Drummstick, (my analog-MIDI drum controller), for 7 seven years, and in August of that same year, I finally got the chance to debut the first ever Drummstick album with a CD release show at the State Theater in Falls Church, Va. Joining me were my regular bandmates, (Celia DuBose, Neil Mezebish and Jack Wright), and some special guests, Siobhan Canty, Neeta Ragoowansi, Eric Dahlman, Carlos Martins, and the Indian percussionist Sandip Burman. Burman nearly stole the show with his incredible tabla playing, and rightly so, as he was also on tour with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones promoting their "Outbound" album with Andy Narell, Paul Hansen and Paul McCandless.
The next day, we took Burman to Wolftrap, Va. to rejoin the tour with Fleck and the Flecktones. It was there that I first met Roy "Futureman" Wooten, off stage after a great sound check. Wooten and I spoke at length about the Drumitar, (his $10,000 customized/cannibalized SynthAxe guitar synth, turned into a drum controller); my Drummstick; triplet hand patterns to play; using MIDI; it was both an insightful and illuminating experience. By then, I'd also gone through the trials, tribulations and joy of trying to obtain patents, and faced the reality of the costs, headaches and heartbreaks, associated with making and marketing the Drummstick. Curious, I asked Wooten why he never tried to manufacture his own version of the Drumitar, or something akin to it; he certainly had the money; the notoriety and the platform to promote it.
Wooten looked at me, smiled and said, "You already know why... Do you really want to spend the time and money on attorneys and running a business, or do you want to do what we do best? Play music with these cool instruments... Let someone else do it..." As it turned out, that someone else was David Haney and his custom Zendrum shop in Atlanta. Haney had created a fabulous, MIDI percussion controller: the Zendrum. Affordable, durable, responsive and light; it could even be used with a wireless box. It's approach however, was more horizontal, and worn like a guitar. Wooten also owned and used them live; but he actually played it vertically, or used it horizontally on a stand.
Neil "Mez" Mezibish, the saxophonist of my Drummstick band, actually surprised me one day and showed me a lovely maple Zendrum ZX he just bought; he then let me program it and try it out. I immediately flipped the Zendrum to a vertical position, and tried to work with it. One thing I was never able to do, was play the Zendrum in the normal, horizontal position; too many years on the Drummstick made that a bit too awkward for me. The straps weren't in the best place to play it vertically, but I resolved to move them if I ever had one. After 20 minutes or so, I'd programmed the Zendrum to a playable level; it was so incredibly responsive and amazing; I immediately loved it.
By 2007, the Drummstick had long since realized its analog to MIDI potential, and so I finally made the switch. The Zendrum proved it was better in virtually every way except one; it was designed to be played and worn horizontally, like a guitar. My Drummsticks were played vertically, much like the 10-stringed bass guitar, the Chapman Stick.
Nevertheless; Haney built me a custom, black Zendrum ZX, modeled after Jimi Hendrix's black Fender Stratocaster. Undaunted, I removed and replaced the straplocks to different places on the Zendrum, so that I could play it vertically. I'd seen Wooten do the same thing with one of his Zendrums earlier, so I knew it could be done. Voila, worked like a charm and I have to say that I honestly haven't played any of the Drummsticks much since.
Still, as much as I loved the Zendrum, I loved the ergonomics of the Drummstick more; it was more natural for me to play that way; African talking drummers played that way, and so did singer Bobby McFerrin when he drummed on his torso during a duet with Wayne Shorter. Seeing Bobby McFerrin, those African drummers and Chapman Stick players like Alphonso Johnson and later Tony Levin, gave me the idea for the original Drummstick back in 1994. For years, I'd secretly hoped Haney would make a Zendrum with a vertical approach in mind, like a Drummstick. Enter the new Zendrum EXP.
John Emrich is a big proponent of the Zendrum, and is considered one of the world's best when it comes to playing and recording electronic percussion. As it turned out, he was also interested in the idea of a slightly different, vertically shaped Zendrum. Not long ago, he and Haney recently teamed up to create the Zendrum EXP. As soon as I saw it, I knew my prayers were answered, and Wooten's words would turn out to be prophetic. The EXP will arrive in July; after that, I'll have a more detailed look at this great new instrument. Meantime, here is Emrich and a first look at the Zendrum EXP...
Over the last few decades, there have been a few notable jazz-rock duos featuring piano/synthesizer and drums; Weather Report's Joe Zawinul and Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu's "Orient Express"; Drummer Bill Bruford's duets with Patrick Moraz, and later Michiel Bortslap, (Bruford would also record and perform simultaneously with six pianists in Colin Riley's Piano Circus!); Happy the Man and Camel's Kit Watkins and Coco Roussel; Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, to name but a few.
Following in their footsteps comes "Mehliana", (an amalgamation of their names), featuring keyboardist Brad Mehldau; a fabulous player well known by fans of guitarist Pat Metheny, and drummer Mark Guiliana, who like Russo and drumming legend David Van Tiegham before them, hails from NYC's cauldron of forward thinking percussionists. Mehldau comes to the SF Jazz Center for four nights of music, each one unique; a sold out piano solo show on Thursday, a duet with Kevin Hays on Friday, with Guiliana on Saturday, and a sold out trio show, featuring Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on Sunday.
The SF Jazz Center notes that, "Over the past two decades, Brad Mehldau has earned a spot in the jazz piano firmament next to Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Fred Hersch as a supremely expressive improviser who turns performances into emotionally wrought journeys. He’s an ambitious composer and adventurous song sleuth, as likely to interpret an atmospheric Bjork tune as a treasured Irving Berlin ballad, at times seamlessly blending the two. An artist whose wide-ranging vision is impossible to sum up in one sentence or performance, Mehldau settles into the SFJAZZ Center for a four-day residency, stretching out in a fascinating array of intimate settings.
In another and decidedly electrified duo encounter, Saturday sees Mehldau on electric piano and synthesizer, joining forces with the endlessly inventive drummer Mark Guiliana for the west coast debut of their electro-funk Mehliana project. Best known for his long association with bassist Avishai Cohen and his own Heernt and Beat Music projects, the world-funk infused Guiliana has also worked widely with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, vocalist Gretchen Parlato and guitarist Lionel Loueke..."
Mehliana may release an album of the duos work next fall; for those wanting a taste of their music before then, there are plenty of videos and music on the internet, from shows in NYC and London. Like Zawinul and others before him, Mehldau uses his vintage synthesizer in a unique, yet "old school" style, with a gift for using electronic textures I didn't know he possessed outside of his well known, acoustic piano prowess. Guiliana's approach to percussion utilizes an interesting variety of cymbals, in addition to some very subtle, yet extremely complex beats and rhythmic figures. All in all, Mehliana has the all the makings for a fine evening of music this Saturday night.
Fans of the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins should enjoy the sounds of the Wilbur Rehmann Quartet: Special Edition, performing this Friday night at the Sheba Lounge on Fillmore. An accomplished alto, tenor and soprano saxophonist, Rehmann is considered one of the "elder statesmen of jazz" in his native Montana, and for his annual SF performance, he will be joined by pianist, composer Nora Maki, 7 string bass virtuoso Edo Castro, and BeyondChron's very own E. "Doc" Smith, on Zendrum. Rehmann's "Special Edition" quartet is primarily an electric group that will be performing some of the music made famous by his friend and mentor Rollins, as well as the likes of John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and originals by both Smith and Castro. A frequent visitor to the Bay Area, Rehmann's return has been a long time coming, and most welcome.
Rehmann, grew up in Burlington, Iowa listening to the last of the traveling big bands in the late forties and early fifties. As a teenager, he got interested in bebop and wanted to know not only why they played like that, but how. Now he knows, and he plays it on the alto, soprano and tenor saxophones. In 1954 he began playing the saxophone in public school and started his first group, "The Reformers Combo," in high school. An admirer of many great saxophone players from Charlie Parker to Stan Getz, he has been particularly inspired by the mentoring and music of Sonny Rollins. Rehmann's trademark sound is uniquely his own, and watching and listening to him play is a joy. His regular quartet in Montana, featuring legendary guitarist Blackie Nelson, his son, the "disgustingly talented" Ken Nelson on bass and keyboards, and the remarkable Dennis Unsworth on drums, have delighted "Big Sky" audiences for years.
The group's three albums, Back Home Jazz (1996), Mann Gulch Suite, (1999), and Old Friends and New (2011), have an underlying message unique to jazz, (or any other genre to be fair); protecting the environment. Rehmann's concern for a clean and healthful environment, and his desire for everyone to be made aware of the effects of pollution and global warming, are clearly a motivating, if not inspiration force in his music, and a passion shared by many of Rehmann's friends and colleagues, including the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Rehmann's delightful cover of Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream", is another fine example of his spacious, airy sound of "Big Sky" jazz, free to roam and soar, swoop and swing. "Rehmann and his Quartet," wrote Mike Clark of the Great Yellowstone Coalition, "have brought to us a sense of joy, wonder and solitude with their original jazz interpretations, which explore the interior landscapes of the American West and the meaning of wilderness". Rehmann's "Going Down the Gulch" is but one of many fine examples of that style, and embodies a true "Big Sky Jazz" sound. His most recent album, Old Friends and New, is his best yet, and his quintet's new interpretations of some great classics by Rivers, Pat Matheny, Michael Brecker and Horace Silver. This is a passionate outing by two genuine jazz veterans and the joy of playing with their family and indeed, new friends.
The "Special Edition" Quartet
E. "Doc" Smith has performed and recorded with a wide array of artists in both jazz, rock and world music, including Howard Levy, Paul McCandless, Paul Bollenback, Brian Eno, Bon Lozago, Ed Howard, Paul Wertico, Jack DeJohnette, and many more. His work with Brian Eno and the group the Same, featuring now famed composer Carter Burwell, and Stephen Bray, led him to join Bray and his platinum selling work with the pop singer Madonna. Smith worked with Bray and Madonna for several years, and on many of her greatest albums, including Desperately Seeking Susan, True Blue, Who's that Girl?, Express Yourself, and Pre-Madonna-The New York Years.
Smith's twenty plus years of percussion work, also led to the creation of his one-of-a-kind and critically acclaimed instrument, the "Drummstick". His tours with the group Between the Lines, allowed him to open for acts as diverse as the Neville Brothers, 10,000 Maniacs, and The Violent Femmes. His invention has also led to performances with some truly great musicians from around the globe, including the Indian phenom, Sandip Burman, and perfecting his technique with Roy "Futureman" Wooten, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. "When Rehmann and I first played together back in 2006, I was using the Drummstick, my drum-guitar, MIDI instrument." These days, Smith is using his Zendrum ZX, a custom, digital drum instrument made for him by the Zendrum Company of Atlanta, GA.
After some gentle prodding and spirited discussions with Rehmann over the years, Smith soon hit upon the idea of a performance, and the electric version of Rehmann's Montana group, the "Special Edition Quartet" was born. "This is always a real treat for me personally, to play with an all-time great like Rehmann and good friends like Edo and Nora, I hope everyone who comes to Sheba to see us will enjoy it."
SF Bay Area bassist Edo Castro initially was a self-taught bassist but later moved to Chicago and attended The American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. He completed his studies and earned a BA in 1987 with a focus on Jazz Studies and electric Bass. He continued to hone his craft in Chicago through 1990. Returning to the Bay Area, Edo released his first solo effort of original music entitled simply “Edo.” Castro’s 2nd release “Phoenix” (on Passion Star Records) made the 49th Grammy Entry List for "Best Contemporary Jazz Album" in October 2006 as did his third and latest release, Sacred Graffiti, in 2010.
Castro has put his signature on over 20 local CD projects and has performed/recorded with David Amram, Mark Walker, Hassan Kahn, Pete Cosey, Roy Haynes, Fareed Haque, David Onderdonk, Ed Thigpen, Johnny Griffin, Joel Harrison, Jim Trompeter, Ian Doogle, Deborah Winters, Jill Knight, Paul Van Wageningen, Caroline Aiken, Dan Zinn, Bethany Pickens, Michael La Macchia, Armando Peraza, Caren Armstrong, Percy Howard, Mike Molenda, Stu Hamm, Lorn Leber, George Brooks, E. "Doc" Smith, Michael Manring, Mark Egan, Yves Carbonne, Todd Johnson and David Friesen.
Pianist Nora Maki was born in Osaka, Japan. She started her first piano lesson at age 6. She studied classical piano with Katsuyuki Mastui and musicianship with Masaru Adachi at Osaka College of Music. Encountering jazz music in her late teens has changed her way of making music to her own terms. She studied the piano style of Art Tatum & Oscar Peterson with Minoru Ozone. Interested in jazz & American culture, she was exposed herself to a broad range of American music from Miles Davis to James Brown. After immigrating to United States of America in 1989, she went back to school and studied advanced jazz arrangement, theory, harmony & history and jazz combo under the direction of Andrew Speight at San Francisco State University. Her great passion for music has brought her to much broader music communities. She has also performed her jazz in various settings and shared the bandstand with many area musicians in San Francisco Bay Area. Maki will debut both her acoustic and electric talents to Rehmann's Special Edition Quartet, in what promises to be a lively and memorable show.
The Wilbur Rehmann Quartet: Special Edition
Sheba Piano Lounge, 1419 Fillmore
Friday, February 22th from 9:00 pm - 12:00 am
On her 2011 album, Voice, Hiromi sought to capture people's "inner voices" and strove to create what she called a "three-dimensional sound." For that album, the Japanese composer/pianist assembled a trio that included herself and two veteran players - contra-bass guitarist Anthony Jackson (Paul Simon, The O'Jays, Steely Dan, Chick Corea) and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, David Gilmour, Jack Bruce). While Hiromi had played with Jackson prior to recording Voice, she had never recorded an entire album with either him or Phillips.
"I had such a great time recording with them, and we went on the road together and that was even more fun," she says. "As soon as we started playing live shows, we grew up as a band. It was the biggest fun I've ever had in my life musically. That's why I wanted to do another record. I couldn't let it go. I wanted to do it again." Next April, Hiromi will bring her "Trio Project" to the SF Jazz Center, and next week, her new album is set to be released.
While on the road, Hiromi started writing music for a follow-up, Move, set for U.S. release on March 5, 2013 on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group. (European release date is October 2, 2012.) "Because I had been playing with Anthony and Simon for quite a bit, I just started to understand their characteristics, and I could find a hidden gem in their playing," she explains. "As a composer, I really wanted to write the songs especially for them, and I wanted to extract the unique beauty of their playing."
When it came time to go into the studio to record Move, the trio was able to record quickly and effortlessly since many of the songs had been road-tested. Recorded by GRAMMY®-winning producer and engineer Michael Bishop at Aire Born Studios in Zionsville, Indiana, Move, like Voice, has an overriding theme, which Hiromi describes as "time in one day."
"You wake up and go to work and then hang out," she says. "The album is like a soundtrack for a day." The opening title-track begins with an undulating piano riff that mimics the sound of a ringing alarm. "It's one of the most difficult pieces I've ever written," says Hiromi. "I had great musicians with me, and we worked hard on that song. In the studios and rehearsals, we spent a lot of time to play it right. It's very tricky because when a song sounds difficult, it's not fun. It has to groove and it has to go beyond ‘this is a difficult song.' It has to make you groove and feel the rhythm. To reach that point really took some time."
The groove deepens on "Endeavor," a tune that starts off with a funky guitar riff that gives way to beautiful piano solos before diving back into the funk. "It has a lot of tricks with rhythm so that when you're feeling the groove and shaking your head with the music, it slips backwards," explains Hiromi. "Then it slips back again. It has a lot of tricks rhythmically. I really like putting these small treasures in the songs because it's like treasure hunting."
The album's centerpiece is a three-part suite divided into segments entitled "Reality," "Fantasy" and "In Between." "I really like writing suites," says Hiromi. "I've done it a couple of times in the past and it's good for the writer to come up with a big story. I always want to tell stories with my music. I always see visuals, and I always think about music like a select story. I have so much fun writing these songs that are about contrary things like your frustrations and also the fight in yourself. It took awhile to finish and there is a main theme in each song so by the third piece, if you listen to it carefully you will hear the main theme. I like that kind of musical trick."
The album comes to a close with "11:49 PM," an 11-minute song designed to mark the end of one day and the beginning of a new one.
"Before you go to bed, you think through what you have been through and you think and all these emotions come out," says Hiromi. "I think the nighttime is the most emotional time of the day, especially when you're at home. I don't know what makes people think that but it's just the night. People show so much more emotion and heart in that particular time of the day. I started to write a song about it. Whenever I wrote [‘11:49 PM'], it was always at nighttime. I went through all these emotions."
San Francisco's newest venue, located on Franklin near City Hall, is the SFJazz Center which opens January 23rd with "a star-filled line up “consecrating” the stage of the Robert N. Miner Auditorium." Hosted by Bill Cosby, the concert will include pianists McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, saxophonist and long time SFJazz Collective alum Joshua Redman, legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, Esperanza Spalding, Mary Stallings, John Handy, Pete Escovedo, the SFJazz Collective, and the new SFJazz Center Resident Artistic Directors Regina Carter, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, John Santos and Miguel Zenón amongst other special guests.
This one-time-only gathering of jazz stars will be at the center of the Opening Night celebration, which will include pre- and post-parties to celebrate the opening of the first stand-alone building for jazz in America. If you don't have tickets to this sold out show, fear not- NPR will be streaming the concert live WWOZ, WBGO and NPR Music will team up for a live radio and online video broadcast of the concert, (http://www.npr.org/event/music/169066093/live-from-sfjazz-center-opening).
According to NPR's website, "Thirty years after presenting its first concerts in San Francisco, the organization SFJAZZ has built a permanent home and performance venue. The SFJAZZ Center, conceived as the first stand-alone building for jazz in the U.S., opens with a star-studded concert on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT."