In A Moment with Zakir Hussain

The pre-eminent classical tabla virtuoso of our time, Zakir Hussain is appreciated both in the field of percussion and in the music world at large as an international phenomenon and one of the world’s most esteemed & influential musicians. The foremost disciple of his father, the legendary Ustad Allarakha, Zakir was a child prodigy who began his professional career at the age of 12, accompanying India’s greatest classical musicians & dancers. He was touring internationally with great success by the age of 18. His brilliant accompaniment, solo performance and genre-defying collaborations, including his pioneering work to develop a dialogue between North & South Indian musicians, have elevated the status of his instrument both in India and globally, bringing the tabla into a new dimension of renown and appreciation. Widely considered a chief architect of the contemporary world music movement, Zakir’s contribution has been unique, with many historic and groundbreaking collaborations, including Shakti, Remember Shakti, Masters of Percussion, Planet Drum & Global Drum Project with Mickey Hart, Tabla Beat Science, Sangam w/Charles Lloyd & Eric Harland, CrossCurrents with Dave Holland & Chris Potter, in trio with Béla Fleck & Edgar Meyer, and, most recently, with Herbie Hancock. As a composer, he has scored music for numerous feature films, major events & productions. He has composed 3 concertos, and his third, the first-ever concerto for tabla & orchestra, was premiered in India in September, 2015, by the Symphony Orchestra of India, premiered in Europe and the UK in 2016, and in the USA in April, 2017, by the National Symphony Orchestra at Kennedy Center. A now several time over Grammy award winner, Zakir is the recipient of countless awards and honors, including Padma Vibhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the USA’s National Heritage Fellowship and Officier in France’s Order of Arts and Letters. Voted “Best Percussionist” by both the Downbeat Critics’ Poll & Modern Drummer’s Reader’s Poll over several years. Zakir has received several honorary doctorates and, in 2019, became a Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellow, a rare lifetime distinction afforded to only 40 artists at a time by India’s reigning cultural institution. He is the 2022 Kyoto Prize laureate in Arts & Philosophy, awarded by the Inamori Foundation to “those who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of mankind.” Zakir became the 1st musician from India to receive 3 Grammys at one time at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards on February 4, 2024, for Best Global Music Album, Best Global Music Performance & Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. As an educator, he conducts many workshops & lectures each year, has been in residence at Princeton University & Stanford University, and, in 2015, was appointed Regents Lecturer at UCBerkeley. His yearly workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area, conducted for the past 30 years, has become a widely anticipated event for performers and serious students of tabla. He is the founder and president of Moment Records, an independent record label presenting rare live concert recordings of Indian classical music & world music. Zakir was resident artistic director at SFJazz from 2013 until 2016, and was honored with SF Jazz’s Lifetime Achievement Award on January 18, 2017, in recognition of his “unparalleled contribution to the world of music”. There’s more but let’s keep it simple.

I had the honor of spending a little time talking with Master Zakir Hussain ahead of the TISRA event on March 16th at the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall. Zakir and I spent time discussing a few unique features of this event, including having a female artist, Debopriya Chatterjee on bansuri. Along with Sabir Khan on sarangi, we get into what the instruments represent and the types of sounds to be delivered through this trio. Zakir shared the story of his father whispering rhythms (prayers) into his ears at just days old as part of a tradition that certainly must have done some priming & shaping. We get deep into the story telling of both his foundational Indian classical traditional ways and the spirit of open collaboration with artists as varied as the world is wide. We get into the transmissions he got into with several fellow percussion/rhythm masters like Mickey Hart, Babatunde Olatunji, Airto Moreira and friend of the proGram, Sikiru Adepoju (I give Zakir a chance to talk praise of Sikiru as we did when I spoke to him about Zakir). Along the way – the importance of the relationship – the acceptance of instrument and player is walked through, and we touch on when/how that happened, with so much praise to his legendary father, Alla Rakha as his journey from a small handed on the outside looking boy into the wide minded, rhythm follower that this year alone, took home 3 Grammys. Reflections of this incredible accomplishment brought out his praise for his mentors/collaborators like John McLaughlin (Shakti) & Béla Fleck? Believe it our not, the music his father would bring home from the States played a huge role in this open to all sounds exploration, and one example consists of a dual cassette boombox and a cassette of the Doors. This is a full and rich conversation, I suspect he show will be as incredible as a journey as we find when just hearing Master Hussain share some tales. Enjoy it all.

In The Play Circle With Julius Rodriguez

25-year-old Julius Rodriguez dares to imagine a future of new standards and sonic excitement, which has earned him a reputation of an “interesting, fresh sound” (NPR Music). His versatility as an artist has led to a variety of unique projects: he played organ for Me’shell Ndegeocello and the hip-hop production duo Brasstracks; played piano on Carmen Lundy’s Grammy-nominated vocals album, Modern Ancestors; contributed to recordings for artists such as Morgan Guerin & friend of the proGram Kassa Overall; and led his own jazz group in clubs around New York. Having studied jazz since childhood, attending its prominent youth programs & learning institutions while developing a playing dexterity and a composer’s ear for its blues/spirituals, and ballad-related cornerstones, Julius recognizes jazz’s cultural value and the processes that further its prestige as America’s classical music. His music dares to imagine a future of new standards & sonic excitement. This vanguard was raised in an atmosphere where pop & hip-hop & dance influenced their approaches to melody & harmony & rhythm, so no doubt it is part of their improvisational DNA. Alongside jazz, Stevie Wonder and the Beatles were always around the Rodriguez family stereo; and as Julius devoured the Internet for musical discoveries, he heard jazz pianists like Jacky Terrason & The Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson spin their own version of contemporary repertoire, pop & otherwise. He started listening to James Blake, Sampha & Solange; and at the Masters School, began participating in an annual concert students would produce by recreating a classic album, learning everything about Michael Jackson’s Thriller & U2’s Joshua Tree. His jazz professors also encouraged him to keep stretching out, as that was when he was introduced to Shuggie Otis. Rodriguez was always playing with singer-songwriters and other musicians outside his youth jazz circles. When he got to Juilliard, he began playing with music students from other New York universities; and with his old friend Isaiah Barr’s Onyx Collective, whose Lower East Side reputation as a young group equally comfortable with indie-rock and hip-hop, with standards & rare grooves, made fans of downtown jazzers like Roy Nathanson & Marc Ribot, but also A$AP Rocky. (The platinum rapper hired them as his band on a 2018 tour, which made Julius take a semester off of Juilliard and precipitated his leaving school). By early 2019, the breadth of Julius’ work pointed towards eclecticism: he played organ for Me’shell Ndegeocello and the hip-hop production duo Brasstracks; piano on Carmen Lundy’s Grammy-nominated vocals album, Modern Ancestors; contributed to recordings by other top of the line non-traditionalists; and led his own jazz group in clubs around town. Additionally, his working musician acumen was getting sharper. Even within the jazz community, he’d recognize how clubs and their patrons differentiated the music. Everything kept growing in the way he thought of, and made music.

I had the honor of catching up with multi-instrumentalist and mulit-genrelist, Julius Rodriguez (Orange Julius) ahead of the March 14the event in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Play Circle. Orange Julius helps me to put words into what could be going on on the stage with and for us doing this event. It is a wide array of everything form both what he will be playing for instruments but also stylist, where the music will be taking us along for the journey. He mentions how the big part of that shared energy of a crowd is really important to him and how they band works the room. We talk about how he developed such an eclectic spirit and how he uses technology to help create albums that show off the ‘what’ that can happen with the tools we are lucky to have. It’s not only the music, but it is the people he gets to associate with and create together with. We talk about the track ‘Gift Of The Moon’ in both senses of a visual experience and a sonic exploration. But the best time for me is when we talk about where he is at as he gets deep into a tune, or a moment and that went well with our discussion about working with Kassa Overall. Before we let him go, Orange Julius builds a setlist and once again, he would be given the keys to the kingdom and well enjoyed by the listeners.

Worlds In A Life with Thollem

Worlds In A Life is a new project that evolved organically out of Thollem’s most recent album with Nels Cline and Terry Riley (Other Minds Records). Utilizing samples from the six Thollem/Cline Trio albums as the primary sound sources, (including double bass, piano, organ, electric guitar, drums, MIDI accordion, and voice), Thollem has basically created a solo sextet with Nels Cline, Terry Riley, William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, & Michael Wimberly. This is a real-time performance combining electro-acoustic sensibilities with unique keyboard technique & omni-idiomatic improvisation. Creating new sounds from these live re-mixes the results resemble something familiar and at the same time unlike anything else. What if? and Why not? are the two leading questions generating ear-dropping surprises at each twist & turn. The title of the albums and the performance comes from the track titles of the first album with William Parker: “there are as many worlds in a life as there are lives in the world.” This music is a celebration of the limitless palette of sounds and the infinite within each of us, the seen and unseen. ACVilla will be joining Thollem in performances throughout Europe & N. America in 2024 as a multimedia improvising duo. Together they have created a show in eight movements, much like storytellers, keeping the general structure, but with enough freedom to perform it VERY uniquely each time. ACVilla will be mixing new visual material created for this performance, along the lines of this: Worlds In A life is a meditation on the intrinsic value of every individual in respect to the infinitely complex inner workings and all the possibilities within each being.

It is always the riGht time to discuss new things with family to the proGram, Thollem. Somehow, this time, with our deep dive into this new Worlds In A Life project, I found myself really feeling the process along with the discussion. I started to feel the happiness I could hear in his voice, and I definitely wanted to get some of that. I went back and re-listened to Worlds In A Life, One and there I was, in the happiness. Taking what was and making a new what is, in real time prompts more questions than answers and for me, that often feels the point. Then getting an idea of how our friend, ACVilla will work her new material into something they can…they are taking on the road is the icing on this cake. This feels like another experience out there not to be missed, I hope the inspiration these folks bring me, feels an open and obvious to you, but even better, it may not and that is a perfect door in.

Blue Note’s 85th Anniversary

85 years ago on January 6, 1939, a German-Jewish immigrant and passionate Jazz fan named Alfred Lion produced his first recording session in New York City founding what would go on to become the most iconic and longest-running Jazz label in the world. For 85 years Blue Note Records has represented The Finest In Jazz, tracing the entire history of the music from Hot Jazz, Boogie Woogie, and Swing, through Bebop, Hard Bop, Post-Bop, Soul Jazz, Avant-Garde, and Fusion, and—after being relaunched by Bruce Lundvall in 1984—has remained the leading label dedicated to documenting today’s vibrant and creatively thriving Jazz scene under the leadership of current President Don Was, who took the helm in 2012. A concert celebrating the 85th anniversary of the longest-running jazz label in the world, called Blue Note Records, will come to Madison, Wisconsin, on Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s (WUT’s) Jazz Series. The 90-minute Blue Note Records 85th Anniversary Tour event at Shannon Hall in Memorial Union will feature a collective of jazz stars that includes pianist and musical director Gerald Clayton, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, drummer Kendrick Scott, and bassist Matt Brewer. The collective’s tour performances around the country celebrate the label, which has a history that includes many music styles – including hot jazz and blues to cool jazz, bebop and fusion – and that built the bridge into today’s avant-garde jazz. “Blue Note has been such a wonderful home for the community for incredible musicians, for creativity for all these years,” Clayton said.

The visionary young voices of jazz have long been the lifeblood of Blue Note Records, and The Blue Note Quintet continues the tradition of rising stars of the roster joining forces to celebrate the label’s unparalleled legacy including Out of the Blue, Superblue, New Directions, The Blue Note 7, and The Blue Note All-Stars.

Mr. Gerald Clayton joined Blue Note in 2020 and has released two albums—Happening: Live At The Village Vanguard and Bells On Sand—as well as performing on Blue Note albums by Charles Lloyd, Ambrose Akinmusire, & Bill Frisell.

Mr. Kendrick Scott signed with Blue Note in 2015 and has released three albums for the label—We Are The Drum, A Wall Becomes A Bridge, and Corridors—and appeared on Blue Note albums by Terence Blanchard, Walter Smith III, & the Blue Note All-Stars.

Mr. Joel Ross came to Blue Note in 2019 with the release of KingMaker and has since released Who Am I? and The Parable Of The Poet with his latest album nublues due out in February 2024. He’s been featured on Blue Note albums by Makaya McCraven, Johnathan Blake, Joshua Redman, & Meshell Ndegeocello.

Mr. Immanuel Wilkins released his Blue Note debut Omega in 2020 followed by The 7th Hand in 2022. He is a member of Joel Ross Good Vibes & Johnathan Blake Pentad and was part of the Leonard Cohen tribute band Here It Is.

I had the honor of checking in quick with Mr. Clayton about this historic event and what someone in attendance will be in community with in Madison on January 26th at the Wisconsin Union Theater. We took a walk through how these artists will be working together as they play original tunes, some versions of Blue Note artists works and ‘surprises’ that will be welcoming individuals to feel this music. As good as the concept of this show sounds, I firmly believe this is a group that is poised to be discussed well after the fact as an event that united people with shared stories of records they used to spin and new music they are now going to seek. I would have been remiss not to talk a little about how spending time with and working with both Mr. Roy Hargrove & friend of the program Mr. Billy Childs added some new edges and ideas, as well as friendship. This is the kind of thing that will also be felt here in Madison on the 26th. Digg.

Feeling Timeless With Adam Rudolph’s Hu Vibrational

Hu Vibrational‘s 5th album ‘Timeless’ offers up 9 tracks of gorgeously rich & densely textured music. The spiritually intoxicating grooves of Hu Vibrational are the brainchild of Adam Rudolph, who calls them “Boonghee Music” — a cascade of world-inspired beats mixed with jazz, hip-hop & electronica. The result is music that thrives on the balance of simultaneously reaching backwards & forwards in time. While ‘Timeless’ finds Adam playing most of the instruments, he is joined on several tracks by some of his longtime associates: Norwegian guitar sound painter Eivind Aarset, drummer Hamid Drake, and several members of his Go: Organic Orchestra. Moroccan percussionist Brahim Fribgane and North Indian performers Neel Murgai (sitar) and Sameer Gupta (tabla) bring unique sounds that Rudolph weaves into the compositional fabric. Hu Vibrational combines world music with electronica and improvised jazz to create music that is all encompassing with the sketchbook of new feelings being drawn out in real time. Adam employs his “organic” orchestrations, arrangements, and electronic processing to shape the compositions, he works with his musicians in his “sonic mandala” concept to build layers of percussion, electronics & otherworldly sounds. Beats are the core, and influences range far and wide, yet these influences only provide a foundation. This audiophile LP was beautifully mixed and mastered by James Dellatacoma, Bill Laswell’s (and Rudolph’s) longtime engineer at Laswell’s Orange Studio. The gatefold album opens onto nine gorgeous pen and watercolor paintings by Nancy Jackson that, like the art of Robert Crumb, are both humorous and deeply philosophical. It is the second time Rudolph and his wife Nancy have collaborated, the first being the 1995 book and CD release The Dreamer, an opera inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy.” Besides leading his own ensembles, Go: Organic Orchestra & Moving Pictures, Adam may be known for his work over the last 4+ decades with innovators such as Yusef Lateef, Don Cherry, Jon Hassel, & Pharaoh Sanders among others. Maestro Rudolph was hailed by the New York times as “an innovator in World Music” and indeed his experience is long and varied; In 1978 he co-founded, with Foday Musa Suso, the Mandingo Griot Society, one of the first groups to combine African and American music and in 1988 he recorded the first fusion of American and Moroccan Gnawa music with sintir player Hassan Hakmoun. His creative methodology and philosophy has been outlined in two books, “Pure Rhythm” (2006) & “Sonic Elements” (2022). The compositional concepts are applied in all his creative output: from his through composed string quartets to his newest Hu Vibrational release. Intuition & Inspiration. I am proud to get it and call him family.

BOONGHEE MUSIC 5 Meta Records 2023

Compositions, organic orchestrations, arrangements, and electronic processing by Adam Rudolph

Published by Migration Music BMI
Recorded by James Dellatacoma at Orange Sound Studio and Adam Rudolph at Clear Lake Studio, New Jersey
Mixed and mastered by James Dellatacoma
Art and words/poetry by Nancy Jackson
Design by Sylvain Leroux

Produced by Adam Rudolph assisted by Mas Yamagata & Carlos Nino

Adam Rudolph – keyboards, thumb pianos, marimbula, cajon, mbuti harp, mouth bow, vocal, slit drums, udu drums, wooden and bamboo flutes, double reeds, gongs, kudu horn, zither, caxixi, kongos, tarija, gankogoui, bells, percussion

Alexis Marcelo – fender rhodes, organ (Hittin, Proto Zoa Gogo)
Brahim Fribgane – tarija (Oceanic)
Damon Banks – bass (Hittin, Proto Zoa Gogo)
Eivind Aarset – guitar and electronics (Serpentine,Timeless, Honey Honey, Proto Zoa Gogo, Psychic)
Hamid Drake – drum set (Space, Oceanic, Hittin, Jammin, Proto Zoa Gogo)
Harris Eisenstadt – bata (Hittin, Timeless)
Jan Bang – sampling (Timeless, Honey Honey, Psychic)
Kaoru Watanabe – noh kan flute (Proto Zoa Gogo)
Marco Cappelli – guitar (Hittin)
Munyungo Jackson – tambourine, shekere (Oceanic)
Neel Murgai – sitar (Hittin)
Sameer Gupta – tabla (Space, Timeless)

It’s always a special time for me when I get to talk music and art with Adam. We dive deep into how this offering “Timeless” took form and some of the participants spaces that are filled. We also find out a little bit about the title track but also it is a peek into most of the tracks I think on the record. Speaking of vinyl, we talk about the art his wife shared for this album, and the relationships the music helps to form and the importance of creative listening as an activity. My words here cannot come close to the ebb and flows of our conversation(s), and this one is no different. At the end of the day, this time it is centered around Hu Vibrational’s new album, but all of the things Adam touches offer insight into so much, including ourselves.

Allison Miller Reminds There’s Rivers In Our Veins

A lauded drummer who’s mastered a vast array of musical settings, from guesting on late night TV, keeping time for some of today’s most beloved singer-songwriters, and being a renowned bandleader/composer in her own right, Allison Miller is always at the heart of the music. Her latest album, Rivers In Our Veins ( out now on Royal Potato Family), is a 12-song cycle embracing the concept of flow and renewal, and dedicated to our nation’s crucial rivers, watersheds and the organizations devoted to reviving and protecting them. Commissioned by Mid Atlantic Arts Organization & Lake Placid Center for the Arts, Rivers In Our Veins is the studio manifestation of an ambitious live multimedia production with original music composed by Miller featuring a deeply telepathic cast of improvisers, as well as, amazing tap & contemporary dancers. Rivers In Our Veins spotlights Allison Miller alongside longtime collaborators, including violinist Jenny Scheinman, Ben Goldberg on contra-alto and Bb clarinets, pianist Carmen Staaf, trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Todd Sickafoose, and tap dancers Claudia Rahardjanoto, Michelle Dorrance, Elizabeth Burke, Byron Tittle, & Orlando Hernández. This new record draws inspiration from what acclaimed writer Rebecca Solnit calls “human geography.” It’s a perspective that encompasses indigenous communities who depend on rivers and the vital role waterways play for survival throughout America’s often torrid history of forced migration for marginalized people, as well as the conservation movement dedicated to reclaiming historic rivers from pollution. Miller culls inspiration from the cultural histories of five East Coast rivers that have been polluted nearly beyond repair through industrialism and commercialism, she focuses on the James, Delaware, Potomac, Hudson, and Susquehanna.

I had the complete pleasure of chatting it up with Allison Miller about this new project. I had caught her set at the Detroit Jazz Festival back in September and had some questions from my eyes and ears on the live show. We also go seed to flower on how this project took over, the waterways she focused on and the dreams of clean waters globally is certainly something her and I have in common. The one things that stood, well it did not stand still…out was the addition of the tap dancers both in the live performance and on the album. We got into the meaning, the connection and the talent of those tapping their ways into my ears. Of course, after talking music, water and tap-dancing with Allison, it felt appropriate for her to build a setlist in real-time if I were to give her the studio. I look forward to the day, when Allison and I and all the rest of us can listen to the sounds of the clean, safe riverways, wherever we may place our shoes on the beachy sand.

Meeting At The Four Directions With Dirtwire

Dirtwire stands poised between ancient Mother Earth and modern technology, a blend of ethnomusicology and the psychedelic trance state, gut-bucket delta blues and what the band variously dubs “back-porch space cowboy blues, swamptronica, & electro-twang.” It’s a sound informed by Dirtwire’s travels & performances around the globe, where East meets West and North joins South. From the favelas in Brazil, Femi Kuti’s Shrine in Lagos, Tokyo’s bluegrass clubs, Ayahuasca ceremonies in Central America, Gamelan performances in Bali, desert festivals in the Australian Outback, and the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s modernized new capital Astana, the band spreads its message by building bridges across musical cultures in their own unique way. Dirtwire plays an array of instruments both ancient and modern, including West African kamale ngonis, jaw harps, space fiddles, whamola basses, Rickenbacher electric 12 string guitars, bowed Banjos and mouth harps from around the globe, all interwoven into modern laptop beat creation. Hailing from the underground west coast electronic bass music scene Dirtwire finds itself at the forefront of experimental electronic music production mixing in their wide array of world instruments with sampled beats & 808’s. Dirtwire’s live shows are a communal psychedelic journey, ranging from down home boot stomping get downs, to bass & blues electronic mashups, to ethereal cinematic beat driven soundscapes. Woven into each is the exploration of where live instruments meet computer production, and where tradition meets experimentation. This is the spot within thin spaces we seek sometimes.

I had the pleasure to share some energy with Evan Fraser & Mark Reveley of Dirtwire ahead of the November 17trh event in Madison at the High Noon Saloon as part of their The Four Directions tour. We talk about what the soup of a live Dirtwire event will be like in 2023. They set some goals for their live events and we discuss what those look and sound like as well as where they stretch during a set while fitting in some of the new tunes and how they have been exploring the journey of a continuous show, while dynamically moving through spaces. Those spaces are enhanced with the assistances of the global instrumentation and Americana folk world “swamptroinca’ elements that are combined. The new EP “The Four Directions” will be out November 10th and we get into the new grooves, we get deeper into the new track “Wanderer”and talk about both the visual side (David Satori’s Mind) and the musical bits as well. These artists are combining the world of then and there with the future of technology and the redefining the limits of where we are going and how we can get there. The key is they are building a foundation of all us us being invited to do it toGether. They tease all of our senses with many a surprise – keep your eyes and minds open for some Dirtwire in your world.

Where We Are Gathered by Opium Moon

Twice-nominated Grammy winners Opium Moon create sensuous, enchanting soundscapes that evoke ancient worlds while remaining thoroughly contemporary. Elegant yet deeply emotional, their distinctive sound draws upon the diverse backgrounds of its members: Iranian santoor master Hamid Saeidi, innovative Israeli bassist Itai Disraeli, sought-after American percussionist M.B. Gordy, & virtuosic Canadian-American violinist Lili Haydn. With original compositions that meld sacred/classical traditions of East & West with trance-inducing grooves, the result is at times both stately & rapturous, a sultry & passionate music that seems to emanate from a deep wellspring.

Toronto-born violinist Lili Haydn‘s 6 solo albums have been NPR favorites (“Heifetz meets Hendrix”), and her collaborations with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Sting, Roger Waters, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, George Clinton’s P-Funk Allstars, Hans Zimmer, and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are legendary, including performances at Carnegie Hall, the Vienna Opera House, and the Hollywood Bowl. She is also a distinguished film/TV composer with 18 feature films, Netflix’s hit show Ginny & Georgia, and various awards to her credit. Her work has been featured in more than 50 films. A dedicated social activist with a political science degree from Brown University, Lili has done 4 TED presentations, including one with Opium Moon in Mumbai, India, and performs regularly at benefits for such organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, & The Feminist Majority.

Tehran native Hamid Saeidi studied santoor in the Radiff system of Persian classical music with Iran’s famous teacher Madjid Kiani, then attended The Iranian Academy of the Arts, studying composition under the music masters Farhad Fakhredini & Vartan Sahakian. Hamid has been acclaimed for his performances around the world, including his productions at Royce Hall and the Kodak Theatre.
He has scored over 30 films, TV programs, dance and theatrical presentations, receiving awards at the Beirut Film Festival in 2002, the Iran TV festival in 2002, 2004 and 2007, and at Iran’s Society of Critics of Theatre in 2005. In recognition of his work, The Farhang Foundation has commissioned his original compositions for their Nowruz celebrations.

Itai Disraeli was raised in one of Israel’s oldest kibbutz communities, the Mishmar-Ha’Emeq near Nazareth, co-founded by his grandfather in the 1920s. It was among the utopian social experiments that fostered a just, peaceful life of sharing and tolerance, but in his youth Itai lived under the constant specter of war; it was during the Yom Kippur war that he taught himself to play bass in a bomb shelter. An acclaimed, virtuosic bassist & composer, he co-founded the genre-bending band Maetar and has played with Jackson Browne, Larry Coryell, & Nishat Khan, among others. He founded and runs the acclaimed music program at Wildwood School. His music has been licensed for TV & film, and he is active with humanitarian and peace organizations, believing that music has the power to heal & connect.

Percussionist M.B. Gordy has played with such diverse artists as Beck, Frank Zappa, Michael Buble, Green Day, The Doobie Brothers, Josh Groban, Bill Withers, Guns and Roses, Neil Diamond, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, & The National Symphony, as well as his recent work for Adele, Childish Gambino, The Who, & Juanes. With an M.A. from California Institute of the Arts and intensive study of ethnic percussion, he has worked with producers Peter Asher, Don Was, & Rob Cavallo, to name a few. His groove has been heard in over 300 top box office films, including the Harry Potter series, Frozen, Batman, Superman, American Sniper, Transformers, & the X-Men series. His work is also ubiquitous on television, including Mad Men, The Mentalist, The Tonight Show, Battlestar Galactica, Good Morning America, and much more.

I had the chance to catch up with Lili, Itai & M.B. of Opium Moon to dive deep into the new album “Where We Are Gathered”. As in above, each discusses their feeling about the album, the feelings it brings out and was brought to the collection of grooves. I too share some of my thouGhts as I spent a whole lot of time letting these tracks wash over me and do their thang. This record bursts with energy and passion, the pieces to this whole excel and shine like a light unknown and as another step into the future, there are collaborations and other voices added into the worldly mosaic. Our mutual sound grabber, Ramin Sakurai of my guilty pleasure, Supreme Beings of Leisure is one we highlight, as I can happily feel the complement he adds. This album is a healer, a uniter and hopefully more than a dream-like feeling, but a movement forward, together, as only music can do.

Tatsuya Nakatani Gong Orchestra

Tatsuya Nakatani is an avant-garde percussionist, composer, and artist of sound. Active internationally since the 1990s, Nakatani has released over eighty recordings and tours extensively, performing over 150 concerts a year. His primary focus is his solo work and his large ensemble project, the Nakatani Gong Orchestra. He teaches master classes and lectures at universities and music conservatories around the world. Originally from Japan, he makes his home in the desert town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. With his activity in new music, improvisation, and experimental music, Nakatani has a long history of collaboration. Nakatani’s distinctive music centered around his adapted bowed gong, supported by an array of drums, cymbals, and singing bowls. In consort with his personally hand-carved Kobo Bows, he has spent decades refining and developing his sound as an arrangement of formations of vibrations, incorporated in shimmering layers of silence and texture. Within this contemporary work, one can still recognize the dramatic pacing, formal elegance and space (ma) felt in traditional Japanese music.

I had the honor of catching up with Tatsuya shortly before his November 1st event at the Garver Feed Mill here in Madison with his Nakatani Gong Orchestra (N.G.O.). The N.G.O. is a touring large ensemble sound art project that functions as an extension of his solo work. He composes and conducts (and plays with) an ever changing orchestra cohort formed by musicians from the local community where the performance takes place. We had to dive into how this project works from community to community, finding out how amazed even he is when concluding his time with those in that current space. I am thrilled and filled with the feeling of falling into the (ma), so we get to discuss a little more on this concept and talk about his bowing and his bows. Based on the unique coolness of what Tatsuya presents, teaches, learns from – I tried to figure out how he goes about his art when being a collaborator with other projects, as a duo. I mean, who is calling the gong guy for a jam session? November 1st here in Madison (because we are lucky) and I hope he makes his way to you sometime. We joke about his vehicle and his “Food Network’ type Instagram updates form the road.

30+ Years of moe.

Hailed by American Songwriter for their “mind-bending musicality,” treasured for their mesmerizing musical synergy, unfettered showmanship, & smart, resonant songcraft. For 3 decades, the band has corralled diverse musical forms on a truly original journey. Fueled by an impassioned fan base, moe. has spent much of those 30 years on the road, encompassing countless live performances marked by eclectic wit, deep friendship, & exploratory invention. Having built an enduring legacy with hard work and a confirmed commitment to creativity and community, moe. seem as surprised as anyone to find themselves at such a significant landmark. The more the band traveled, the more they grew creatively, evincing a remarkable willingness to progress as they went along. moe. quickly became part of a burgeoning scene centered around NYC’s Wetlands, a grassroots revolution that embraced freewheeling genre fusion – spanning funk & free jazz, country & classic rock, prog, new wave, calypso, pop & everything else under the sun – fan interaction, & unrestrained improvisation. moe. widened its reach across America, earning new fans and national attention with their ingeniously imaginative interplay and a regularly growing catalogue. The band spent almost as much time in the studio as they did on the road. As if all that weren’t enough, the moe. canon – released largely through their own Fatboy Records, as well as via two label deals, one major, the other independent – further includes a wide range of archival live releases (including 2000’s L), a Christmas album, even a re-recorded collection of greatest hits. moe. is truly a live band, rightly adored by a fervent following for their epic concert performances, each one imaginatively improvisational, rhythmically audacious, and utterly unique. Indeed, the band has spent much of its 30-year career on the road, including innumerable headline tours, international festival sets from Bonnaroo to Japan’s famed Fuji Rock, music-themed cruises, and sold-out shows alongside such like-minded acts as the Allman Brothers Band, Robert Plant, members of the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, The Who, Gov’t Mule, & Blues Traveler, to name but a few. As if that weren’t enough, moe. has both promoted and headlined at multiple festivals of their own, including snoe.down and moe.down. That illustrious career path has been supported and nourished by the band’s ever-growing legion of devoted fans and followers, known lovingly as moe.rons. With their astonishing prolificacy and awe-inspiring longevity, moe. is among the rare bands that somehow manage to transcend time and trend to be passed down from one generation to the next. Impossible to pigeonhole as anything other than simply moe., this one-of-a-kind band has never been easily categorized, their sonic adventurousness and tongue-in-cheek humor distinctly and undeniably their own. Despite current circumstances, moe. is celebrating their milestone anniversary with characteristic self-deprecation and wistful optimism. Here’s to the next 30.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Drummer of moe., Vinnie Amico ahead of the band’s arrival back in Madison on September 29th at The Barrymore Theater. We got into what someone new to the scene can expect from the live experience, which is really what this group of artist seems to live for. We talk about how, after thirty years, things are feeling as good and fresh as ever. This is one of those bands that gets into that (as Vinnie said), the music at times starts to play the band, so of course we talk about that in the moment spirt and energy between band members, the fans and the music. Once again, this is a band that has an idea or a map to what should go down once the how begins, but it is that shared moment of this is now happening, and here we go, makes each song, each setlist a unique to you experience. Being a big fan of Al’s writing, we find out a little bit about what happens when he walks into the studio and presents a song he’s working out. It’s a classic answer about process, discussion and family style working through.

Portraits by friend of the proGram Jay Blakesberg

Kris Davis’ Diatom Ribbons Live At The Village Vanguard

Pianist/composer Kris Davis introduced her acclaimed 2019 album ‘Diatom Ribbons’ by talking about the micro & the macro, using the titular microalgae as an evocative analogy for her compositional approach. The comparison could be extended, in a way, to describe the legendary Village Vanguard – although in time, rather than in space (the basement club’s notoriously intimate confines don’t allow for much of a macro view). On this venturesome new double album, the long & storied history of one of jazz’s most revered venues coexists with the immediacy of contemporary invention in thrilling and unexpected ways. With ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’, Davis’ 2nd release with her far-reaching Diatom Ribbons band, she adds her name to the astounding roster of legends who have recorded at the Vanguard, yet the music takes forms that even visionaries like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or Bill Evans could never have imagined. The album, which dropped September 1, 2023, via her own Pyroclastic Records label, reunites Davis with her core collaborators from that album – drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, turntablist & electronic musician Val Jeanty and bassist Trevor Dunn, as well as the addition of a new voice to the mix in the person of guitarist Julian Lage. ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ follows in the kaleidoscopic spirit of its celebrated predecessor, which was hailed as one of the top 5 albums of 2019 by both DownBeat & JazzTimes magazines while topping the list of both the NPR Critics Poll and The New York Times. The music is an inspired collage of eclectic influences, drawing on the music and philosophies of Wayne Shorter, Olivier Messiaen, Sun Ra, Geri Allen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Paul Bley & Conlon Nancarrow, among others. In her role as Associate Program Director of Creative Development for the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music, Kris plays an active part in remedying the historic injustices and imbalances in the jazz world while serving as a role model in her own work. She and bassist Linda May Han Oh are only the second & third women to win the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Terri Lyne Carrington’s 2022 album ‘New Standards Vol. 1’, an honor they share with Carrington, the first woman to win the category with 2013’s ‘Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue’. This new record showcases the fact that Kris Davis also becomes one of very few women instrumentalists to have recorded at the Vanguard, preceded only by Geri Allen, Shirley Horn & Junko Onishi.

I had the honor of getting some time with Kris Davis to walk through the creation and performance of this new record. Kris explained how she was able to get onto the schedule of the Village Vanguard with Diatom Ribbons. ‘Knock Knock – who is it?” We got into the pieces of the band and how they fit into the whole of the space of the music and the spaces between. Having had Julian Lage on the program before it was clear about how these open-minded blazers of new trails made time for this project. Each person/artist fills a need for me as a listener to this live landscape – and you can feel the drops of their soul’s sweat in each note. We talk about song selection with honoring those who came before and also adding a bit of a newness to the past. Check out which tines we sorta dissect a bit including “Delores Takes 1 & 2”. I was able to get some insight into a new release on her Pyroclastic Record Label, “Sculpting Sound”, six high-definition concert films, each featuring two musicians famed for their distinctive voices playing with, and on, sound sculptures by Harry Bertoia‘s Sonambient sculptures. This has to be as maGical as it looks in writing. Kris and I also spoke about another visionry on the scene and friend of this program, Kassa Overall, as she was on his latest release and if you listen closely, there could be more to come.

Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons by Caroline Mardok

Kevin Carnes of Broun Fellinis

Formed 1991 in San Francisco by Kevin Carnes, drums/sampler (Beatnigs), David Boyce, tenor/soprano saxophone, efx, synth, spoken word, and Kirk Peterson, electric bass. The miGhty Afrofuturists, Broun Feelinis, have been profiled on NPR, BET, and KCRW in the US and on Radio Nova in France. The trio has been featured at festivals such as the San Sebastian International Jazz Festival in Spain, the San Francisco Jazz Festival in the US and they’ve performed sold out shows at top venues such as Yoshi’s, The Independent, and The Warfield. The Broun Fellinis play a soulful and highly energetic style of post modern improvised/composed jazzical sound that is informed by dub, afro beat, abstract funk, hardcore/psych/prog rock and film soundtracks. Broun Fellinis have toured with Ben Harper and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and performed with many great and varied acts such as Meshell Ndegeocello, the Roots, Rafael Sadiq, Mos Def, Living Colour, Erykah Badu, Bad Brains, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Zakir Hussain, Bernie Worrell, George Clinton, Les Claypool, Jimmy Smith, General Public, Ravi Coltrane, Galactic, Medeski, Martin, Wood, and more. This type of sonic diversity says a ton to me about the kind of exploration and ‘feeling’ that goes on within a live performance by this mind-opening trio.

And lucky for us here in Madison on September 22nd, we get to share in an evening of new moments and a walk through a fresh landscape with Broun Fellinis at Cafe Coda. I had the chance to spend some time with Mr. Kevin Carnes to talk about the upcoming sets and man, let me tell you, he gave me one of the greatest replies to paining that scene of where me may go from where we have been. He shared the who, the what and even a bit of the how we will all get to the new spaces – in a deep fashion that makes me wanna go out to be a part of it. We learn how the trio found one another, how they make the food on stage that involves all the emotions and ‘you hafta feel its’ that are within them and spread out amongst the masses, the universe and that yet to be. We also learn where in Madison you can find Kevin as he opens the paths up to others in a free to be improvising space. For me, this is the type of thinG that is like the fluids running through me for a survival of me spirit. That spirit deserves to roam.

Amendola Vs Blades with Cyro Baptista

Wil Blades & Scott Amendola conjure various sonic deities though only a duo. For the past 10 years, their live shows have been generating a buzz around the San Francisco Bay Area. The two got their start as a group when Scott had the vision of performing Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite” in duo with Wil. While quite a daunting task translating a suite (originally written for a big band) into duo, the Hammond Organ had previously been used in the 1940’s & 1950’s to emulate the sound of big bands. With Wil’s knowledge of this tradition and Scott’s desire to push boundaries, they were able to pull it off in an explorative, yet cohesive manner. The duo continues to perform pieces from the Ellington suite, while also developing their original material. Their live performances are fun and playful, yet deeply musical. They can cover everything from Avant Garde to Funk, Bebop to Rock, sometimes all within one song, even. In June 2015, at Duende in Oakland, CA, they set up shop for two nights and recorded in front of a live audience. The resulting release, entitled “Greatest Hits”, is now out on SAZi records. As people now have learned, Wil Blades is hands down one of the essential torchbearers for the Hammond B-3 organ-jazz tradition, not to mention as tasty as they come on Clavinet. Scott Amendola is one of the rare drummers who’s pure groove in the pocket, but somehow simultaneously & delightfully angular and skewed in the very same moment. Add guitarist Jeff Parker of Tortoise, percussion wizard Cyro Baptista, saxophonics visionary Skerik and the ever cinematic Rob Burger to the mix and you have a record that reveals itself in new and explosively colorful ways with each listen! That is some of what happens on the 2019 Royal Potato Family release, “AMENDOLA VS. BLADES :: Everybody Wins”. The way to get to know the sounds and how the interact best with you is to go try it out when they are coming into town to play.

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Scott & Wil ahead of the September 22nd event at the North Street Cabaret here in Madison, and this event will feature the one and only spellbinding percussionist, Mr. Cyro Baptista. We get into the duo as a being while adding to the discussion the extra special layer Cyro adds to the mix of a live performance, not only for them as the players, but for those in the listening of the room as well. We talk about collaborations and the 2019 release, ‘Everybody Wins’ that they are actually now finally getting to go out and tour on. During that portion of the chat, we do learn that there is and will be new music in the making as well, which is always exciting to learn about. Wil and I briefly talk of our mutual pal, Mr. Melvin Sparks and we find out what & why the two guys are listening these days. Based on this conversation, it is easy for me to see why these cats can get into the explorations of sound toGether, while remember the playfulness of the people making it and the doors it opens for others.

The Headhunters Live From Brooklyn Bowl

Legendary Band The Headhunters Celebrate 50th Anniversary with Captivating Live Album

Announce Canada and Europe Dates for Fall 2023

Not many bands can claim a history as remarkable and illustrious as The Headhunters. Originating in 1973 under the visionary leadership of renowned musician Herbie Hancock, the band quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with. Comprising percussionist Bill Summers, bassist Paul Jackson, saxophonist Bennie Maupin & Harvey Mason, who was soon replaced by legendary drummer Mike Clark, each member brought their own unique talents to the team, forging a timeless legacy that surpasses the dreams of most musical ensembles. By blending jazz, funk, and rock, The Headhunters created a sound that resonated with audiences worldwide, selling over a million albums and inspiring musicians across genres for generations. Their music was even sampled by hundreds of hip-hop artists throughout the ’80s and ’90s, leaving an indelible mark on contemporary music. Today, The Headhunters’ impact remains a constant, with their time alongside Hancock serving as a transformative experience. The band went on to release six more full-length albums. They ventured out on their own, free from Hancock’s involvement, producing standout albums such as “Survival of the Fittest” in 1975 and “Straight from the Gate” in 1977. The band reunited with Herbie in 1998 for “Return of The Headhunters” and subsequent released albums “Evolution Revolution” in 2003 and “Platinum” in 2011. The Headhunters’ latest studio release “Speakers In The House” came out November 4th, 2022 to international acclaim through Ropeadope Records in association with Devil Hills Entertainment. Now co-led by original members Bill Summers on percussion & Mike Clark on drums complemented by the talents of some of New Orleans’ finest musicians: Kyle Roussel on keys, Donald Harrison on alto saxophone, and Chris Severin on seven-string bass. In celebration of their eponymous album’s 50th anniversary, the band started on a world tour in early 2023. The journey began with a monumental performance meticulously recorded at the iconic Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, New York, on February 9th, 2023. Showcasing the band’s incredible live energy, this momentous occasion was masterfully captured and subsequently mixed and mastered in New Orleans by the talented Keenan McRae. The result is an extraordinary live album that encapsulates the essence of The Headhunters’ artistry. This new album, from Ropeadope Records, features an array of their greatest hits, including the iconic tracks “Watermelon Man,” “Chameleon,” “Butterfly,” and the latest original “Rocking At The Mole House” from studio album “Speakers In The House.” With their 50th-anniversary live album, The Headhunters invite both loyal fans and new listeners to experience their groundbreaking sound in its raw and electrifying form. This release not only pays homage to their incredible journey but also serves as a testament to their enduring musical legacy. The band is scheduled to return to Europe and Canada this Fall and tour internationally in 2024.

I had the honor of catching up with two legends anyway you try to slice it, Mr. Mike Clark & Mr. Bill Summers. OG’s! We have a wild time discussing the way this new album, Live From Brooklyn Bowl (set for release on August 11th), became a thing. We dive deep into the stories of getting to these show(s), knowing not just thinking about how good their live set of now ARE definitely going to be, and just how these live recordings capture the way these songs take off in 2023. I could honestly listen to these cats talk to each other about all they have seen and done and how that transforms and shapes the sounds they create. It is this kinda conversation that they create toGether as one unit. I could chuck out one name of great jazz days gone by and either of these dudes will have something relevant to say. We also learn just what it would to get them to come t Madison and play in my backyard. I have to start planning that menu soon. This album is a flavor you may thing you have tried before, but the people assembled with Mr. Summers & Mr. Clark are waking in the landscape of the pasts and present to create a future fulla rhythms, grooves and funky shit that will keep your blood flowing and your ass moving. We talk a bit about each, a little back of the baseball card look and the props for Mr. Harrison are real and true, recently becoming a partner. This new record has a bit for all of us, newbies and not and it is a sure way to bring that “I was at that show” feel into your homes.

Photo by: Michael Weintrob

Counting Pebbles with Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project

Award-winning New York City jazz pianist & accordionist Ben Rosenblum has been described as “mature beyond his years,” (Sea of Tranquility), an “impressive talent” (All About Jazz), who “caresses [the music] with the reverence it merits” (Downbeat Magazine). Since the release of his debut trio album, Instead, Mr. Rosenblum has toured extensively with his trio & sextet throughout the United States, including multiple trips to the Northeast, Midwest, South & West Coast, as well as internationally in Canada, Europe & Japan. He was a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall’s Stern-Perelman Auditorium – with Reona Ito’s New York Harmonic Band – and has appeared at prestigious venues throughout the world, including at the Appel Room at Lincoln Center, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Ravinia, Himawari-No-Sato Concert Hall in Yokohama, Bird’s Eye in Basel and the Library of Congress. Rosenblum’s second trio album in 2018, River City, was called “richly romantic” and “well-realized” by JAZZIZ Magazine, which featured the title track as part of their Best of Fall 2018 CD. In 2020, he released his third album, Kites and Strings, which is the first to feature him on both piano & accordion alongside his new sextet, the Nebula Project. That year, the Nebula Project was voted runner-up for Best New Artist in JazzTimes’ Readers’ Poll. Most recently, Rosenblum released his fourth album, A Thousand Pebbles, in 2023. In May 2023, Mr. Rosenblum and the album were featured in a Downbeat Magazine article entitled “Worldly Jazz Adventuring.” He has been privileged to share the stage with many highly acclaimed jazz musicians, including extensive work with Curtis Lundy, Winard Harper, Deborah Davis & Chris Washburne, as well as appearances with Bobby Watson, Sean Jones, TS Monk, Warren Wolf, Eliot Zigmund, and many others. Rosenblum’s musical interests also extend beyond jazz to include work in numerous world music scenes, including musical styles from Brazil, Peru, Croatia, Bulgaria, India, Ireland, Jewish traditions and more.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Ben ahead of his July 14th show in Madison at The North Street Cabaret with Nebula Project. Ben was just about to head off to Europe to do another leg of a tour with the great Rickie Lee Jones. We spoke about what the people who head out on what I am sure will be a perfect evening in mid-July and get some Nebula Project in their world. We dove deep into the new record, ‘A Thousand Pebbles’ and got a peek behind the curtain a bit on how it went from those beGinning moments into a final product ready for ear consumption. We also spoke about his involvement in the Swiss vocalist, Gabriela Martina‘s striking new album ‘Homage to Grämlis and what was fresh and new for him with that work. And it wouldn’t be right if I let Ben go without trying to have him build a setlist. One thing I learned in my chat with him is that I think ‘d really like to spend a bunch of time listening to and talking about music with him. Maybe on the 14th?

Photo: Monica Witt

Ranky Tanky with very special guest Ms. Lisa Fischer

Ranky Tanky, a two-time Grammy Award winning, Charleston, SC-based quintet, performs timeless music born from the Gullah culture of the southeastern Sea Islands. Gullah is a culture that originated among descendants of enslaved Africans in the Lowcountry region of the US Southeast. Their debut album, ‘Ranky Tanky’, was released in October 2017. By the week of February 10, 2018, it was listed number one in the Billboard jazz charts, a position it held for two weeks. For their album ‘Good Time’, the band won the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album. Now we are in 2023, and they just won a second Grammy in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category, for ‘Live at the 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’. The name “Ranky Tanky” comes from a Gullah expression roughly translated as ‘get funky.’ The overall goal of the group was/is to create a contemporary interpretation of the Gullah musical vocabulary to share with the world, while remaining true to the pared-down, working-class attitude of the songs.

I had the chance to catch up with Drummer/Producer for Ranky Tanky, Mr. Quentin Baxter ahead of folks in Madison preparing to celebrate Juneteenth and the final day of the 2023 Madison Jazz Festival. On June 18th in Shannon Hall at The Wisconsin Union Theater, we will be treated with jazz-influenced arrangements of traditional Gullah music performed by two-time Grammy-winning Ranky Tanky and featured singer from Oscar-winning film “20 Feet from Stardom”, Ms. Lisa Fischer. Ms. Fischer is known for her remarkable vocal range and vocabulary, singing soul, jazz, rock, gospel, pop, folk and classical with equal facility and authority. Quintin and I get into some of the ins and out of the amazing uniqueness of this upcoming event with Ms. Fischer in Madison. We dive into the creation and ideas behind their latest and first ever live album, (the recent Grammy winning album) which was captured during their debut at the iconic New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last year. The bottom line seemed to really be that live is really what they do, and the album proves it, but so will this set in Madison. Quentin and I both guarantee that many, if not all the ‘feels’ can and will be felt when live music from Ranky Tanky is involved, and if you don’t bring the right shoes, just kick off the ones you have and let it all out. Before letting him go, I did pick his brain about what perhaps medley of Ranky Tanky songs he’d put into a setlist for the listeners and what he may round that set out with. It is always interesting to hear what people are thinking about when it comes to building a playlist. So, let’s prepare to ‘get funky”.

The lineup for the event at the Madison Jazz Fest:

Lisa Fischer, Guest Vocalist
Quentin Baxter, Drums and Percussion
Kevin Hamilton, Bass
Quiana Parler, Vocalist
Clay Ross, Guitar and Vocals
Charlton Singleton, Trumpet and Vocals

The Big Ideas With Kassa Overall

Kassa Overall is a Grammy-nominated musician, emcee, singer, producer and drummer who melds avant-garde experimentation with hip hop production techniques to tilt the worlds of jazz & hip hop on the sides of a whole different shared space. The now Seattle-based musician’s latest album, ‘Animals’, soon to be released as his Warp Records debut, features a bevy of underground hip-hop legends (Danny Brown, Lil B, Shabazz Palaces) and jazz musicians (including pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpet player Theo Croker).

I had the honor of getting a little time to discuss Kassa Overall’s upcoming set as part of the 2023 Madison Jazz Festival, with his performant landing at the beautiful terrace on July 17th. We got into what people can close their eyes and open their minds to as part of what his set is sure to bring in that shared time. This time toGether, on the lake in Madison reminded Kassa of his younger days heading to Madison to visit family (a surprise twist for most Wisconsin folks perhaps) and how he knows the openness of a Madison crowd. We talked about how the new album, ‘Animals’ came together from idea through the soon to bloom for all sonic flower, and also dissected a track “The Lava Is Calm” which features Kherek Bischoff & Theo Croker. After I peeped the video/documentary The Drums Will Protect You, I was left a little speechless and Kassa helps word form in my mind. Before letting him go, I was sure to get his thought on his recent hangs and shows with Digable Planets, now…that’s something to think about. Kassa is so real in his worlds as a entertainer and that as a human…I am honored he took a little time to let me in and share a tiny bit. #Respect.

Unify With Lettuce

Lettuce is bringinG their UNIFY tour to Madison. It’s needed everywhere!! Unify, their 8th studio album and 3rd consecutive record made at Denver’s Colorado Sound Studios, completing a loose trilogy starting with 2019’s Grammy-nominated Elevate, and continuing with 2020’s Resonate. It’s also a benchmark moment for the sextet: Adam Deitch (drums), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone), Adam Smirnoff (guitar), Erick Coomes (bass), Nigel Hall (keyboards/vocals), Eric ‘Benny’ Bloom (trumpet). Approaching 30 years since its humble Boston beginnings, the relentlessly soulful funk outfit has essentially lived on the road, embodying, night after night, the sly wink of its moniker: Let us play! And now, endorsed on Unify by none other than the legendary icon of funk, Bootsy Collins, singing & playing bass on “Keep That Funk Alive”. The roots of Unify took hold several years back, when Lettuce assembled at Colorado Sound to begin work on Elevate. Armed with dozens of songs, the band tracked enough material for that record, its successor, and then some (including a vinyl-only, 45-minute, live-in-the-studio, one-take improvisation, Vibe). A pandemic-abbreviated European tour schedule in 2021 further inspired, as the group traded ideas for more new material. A totally collaborative effort, there were exciting cuts full of brilliant lyrics & arrangements from Hall. And fiery horn parts from Bloom. Plus, the tantalizing prospect of unveiling it all on the upcoming tour. Epitomizing the funk and the fun, it’s impossible for “Keep That Funk Alive,” not to be a focus track, even on a 16-song album full of highlights. Inspired by a buoyant Bootsy Instagram post and an irrepressible groove crafted around it. The venerable Parliament-Funkadelic bassist dug the hybridized creation, laying down low end and vocals on the proper track. “It’s such a dream to have one of the inventors of funk music bless this album. We are all STILL in awe!” exclaims the band. This album is an expression that is pure Lettuce. Unify will teleport you to a funky galaxy far, far away, where all life coexists as one in peace, love, harmony, and music!

I had the pleasure of catching up with Adam Deitch ahead of the maGical night of March 23rd when Lettuce brings that thang they do to Madison at The Majestic. Adam and I get into what any newbie to their scene could expect from heading out for this Unity tour event. We spend a good amount of time discussing how the album took shape and how the stretching out of these tracks live has taken new shapes after the pandemic. I am always interested in artists that play well with others and Lettuce, Adam, these cats seem to fit that mold, so we get into a recent opportunity they had to work on a track for the upcoming album “Late Night Basie”, celebrating some of the tunes of Count Basie. That focus track from Unity featuring Bootsy is so cool, we had to talk about how that went down and the cool it has kept going. Adam and I share a mutual brother in Mister Rourke, so we take the time machine back to a group they were both in called Fatbag. Oh yes we did!! EarGrab this chat and go check out Lettuce live – its healthy for you.

Photo: Jeremy Elder

A Little Time With Sona Jobarteh

Sona Jobarteh is the first professional female Kora virtuoso to come from any of the West African Griot dynasties. Her lineage carries a formidable reputation for renowned Kora masters, most notable amongst these are her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh and her cousin, the legendary Toumani Diabaté. Sona is reputed for her skill as an instrumentalist, her distinctive voice, infectious melodies and her grace onstage, and she has rapidly achieved international success as a top class performer. The demand for her live performances has rocket in recent years, and 2019 saw her perform at some of the world’s most renowned festivals & venues such as the Hollywood Bowl in LA, WOMAD in Australia & New Zealand and Symphony Space in New York City. Sona has the unique ability to touch audiences globally and from all backgrounds & cultures, while also commanding the attention of sitting presidents & royalty alike. Her captivating stage show has proved to be popular everywhere, and with a repertoire that exudes accessible sophistication, her audience demographic is constantly expanding. Sona’s dedication to spreading powerful humanitarian messages through her songs and her stage performances makes her much more than a regular musician; she is in fact a compelling social activist, speaker, & change-maker who believes in leading by example. Her achievements in setting up a pioneering Academy in The Gambia, alongside her dedication to social change has gained her invitations to deliver speeches at high profile events around the world, including summits for the UN & the World Trade Organization. Sona founded the Gambia Academy in 2015. This pioneering institution is dedicated to achieving her mission of educational reform across the continent Africa. According to Sona, Africa faces the crucial & urgent challenge of addressing its education systems. Children who are fortunate enough to be able to attend school spend most of their waking hours in school, however in most cases the environment, culture, approach & curricula content within these schools are invariably oriented around a post-colonial value system and subsequently a foreign perspective. For Sona, it is detrimental for future generations of the continent whose values and concepts are shaped during their school years, to continue to be trained within a system where African culture, African history, African traditions and their intrinsic values are either non-existent, or at best relegated to the position of extra-curricular ‘activities’. This Academy is therefore the first of its kind in The Gambia to deliver a mainstream academic curriculum at a high level, while also bringing the culture, traditions and history that belong to students, to the front and center of their everyday education.

I had the honor of catching up with Sona ahead of her March 21st event in Madison at the Garver Atrium. Fresh off her 60 Minutes interview that certainly opened more doors and windows to what she has been doing and where she is heading, Sona and I discuss a little about what a newer person to her music can expect at a live event such as the one here in Madison. We learn about some of the music we may here from here latest release, “Badenyaa Kumoo” and how she feels while presenting the music live – the conversation. I could not spend time with Sona without touching on the powerful work she has dedicated as her purpose in life, The Gambia Acadamy. We touch briefly on a few aspects of the what that is happening to help achieve a new model of education in Africa and try and find the middle points in her life’s Venn diagram to see how/where/if/when the two marry. I am honored to have had this opportunity to discuss only a few aspects of what makes Sona go…and go she does, as you can tell by her answer to the final question about where she Goes to find a little ‘Sona time”. Do yourself a favor and find a way to start a conversation of your own by listening to her music, supporting her missions and or both, as forward is the way she is heading.

Masa Ogawa and Yamato the drummers of Japan

YAMATO is a Japanese Taiko drumming group based in Asuka-mura Nara Prefecture which is well known by Japanese people as the hometown of Japan. They call themselves “YAMATO, the Taiko drumming group that travels all over the world”. They have given more than 4,000 shows across 54 countries since their formation in 1993. YAMATO’s Taiko work cannot be fully described by the word “performance”. Their motto is “We go everywhere when somebody needs YAMATO! And bringing energy to the people living in the world!”. On stage, they are standing with more than 40 Taiko drums and all of them are having different characters. For example, their largest drum called “Odaiko”, produced from a huge tree over 400 years old, is approximately two meters in diameter and weighs 500 kg. All other Taiko drums are different sizes and have different sounds. The members of the group have trained their bodies to the limit to beat these massive Taiko drums. The acoustic pressure far surpasses what one could ever imagine. They do not simply make their Taiko drums explode with sound; they produce delicate music that provides the listener with a palette of meticulously crafted sound. This is why YAMATO’s original performances are known as “Physical music”, and continue to receive high acclaim globally. YAMATO is sometimes intense, sometimes sad, sometimes comforting, and in the next moment comical on stage. The audience is more than a group of bystanders, they are engulfed in the sound of the Taiko, and sweat, cry, and laugh and become one with the performers. All types of people gather around the sound of the Taiko, interweaving their lives, and feeling the power of each other’s inner passion and heart.

I had the honor of discussing the upcoming event on April 2 at the Overture Center with the founder and artistic director, Masa Ogawa, when Yamato – the Drummer of Japan come to share energy with Madison. We get into what this audience can expect when they present the World Tour 2023-2024 「火の鳥」”Hinotori” – The wings of Phoenix. Masa does a beautiful job reflecting on how the group and audience share in the created moments of energy and how the travels around the globe help to gain new energies to share with others at the next stop on the journey. We talk about the give back that YAMATO believes in, sharing knowledge that was shared with them and pass it on to the next generations as both a group and as individuals as well as what music he is currently listening to and well…baseball. There is not many “shows’ lie a Taiko drumming “show”, the formation of new lands discovered together in a moment in time is marked with a lifetime of felt emotions and new rhythms to walk the days with.

YAMATO 2019 – 2020 – Masa Ogawa (c)