Post by TheWallsScreamedPoetry on Dec 22, 2006 14:56:57 GMT
Opening New Doors John Densmore’s Afro-Latin-fueled Tribaljazz warms up the Promenade
~ By KIRK SILSBEE ~
Densmore’s tribe: the drummer and his group at Hear Music
Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade got an extra measure of holiday cheer on Wednesday, December 13, when drummer John Densmore’s Tribaljazz convened in front of Hear Music and gave the passing throng a shoppers’ serenade. Seventy or so people stopped and gathered around the tiny fenced area that served as a sidewalk bandstand. It proved to be many cuts above the usual one-man-bands and boombox buskers so familiar to the thoroughfare. The music, and the caffeinated drinks dispensed by the Starbucks concession in the store, took the edge off the brisk night air. A bit of a glow seemed to linger over the premises.
Densmore, forever associated with the jazz-imbued drumming he gave to the late-’60s rock of the Doors, has expanded his conception of the role of the trap drums in an ensemble. This is a percussion-driven, jazz-informed band, with two African conga players, an Italian hand percussionist, a Cuban electric bassist, a reed player, and a keyboardist. The music it performed – drawn from its recently released self-titled debut for Santa Monica-based Hidden Beach Records – was all about rhythms. When versatile reedman and group cofounder Art Ellis didn’t blow, he was tapping a cowbell or shaking a chekere. Tribaljazz is a band of players, not prima donnas, and they do what’s necessary to move the music forward.
Within the Doors, Densmore worked in a somewhat constricted format – although, as rock bands go, it used an unusual variety of musical forms. In this configuration, the time signatures are more challenging and the structures looser. It’s a chameleonic mélange of music that’s Latinate one minute and African the next. All over the map, yes, but this musical map is of an uncharted territory.
Grayer and leaner than we remember from his strange days, Densmore seemed quite happy to be driving this outfit. Ellis got a full, beautiful tone on all of his horns, and this was all the more impressive when you factored in the effect of the cold night air on the notoriously temperamental soprano sax. During “Blues for Bali,” his alto sang, and his “Skytrails” flute was full of rhythmic drive while Densmore tattooed the hi-hat. Why haven’t we heard of him before?
Keyboardist Dennis Hamm is another find. He played the Roland RD-600 with a keen sense of dynamics. (The electric instruments in this ensemble don’t sonically outrank the acoustic ones.) His thoughtful solo on “Blues for Bali” showed an understanding of Bill Evans, and Hamm let his chords resonate at the end of a given phrase, to dramatic effect. Densmore lightly referred to bassist Carlitos del Puerto as “our Jaco Pastorius” – the late jazz-bass virtuoso – but the simile wasn’t out of place. His lines on the five-string electric bass were mobile and melodic, yet the rhythmic pocket was served.
Virtuoso drummers sometimes forget that their job is to provide time and rhythm. Densmore played a stripped-down trap set and took no solos. Instead, he rode the beat, taking care to shade and embellish, almost letting the music play itself. Sometimes bandleaders lead best by leading least.
Densmore introduced “Riders on the Storm” as “our token Doors song … .” It was Latinized to the point of redesign, but a nice romp nonetheless. Using the African motif of adding a beat at the end of each measure during a chorus, the group invigorated the listening experience and recast the familiar. As Densmore tapped out the bossa introduction to “Vegetable Wizard,” an audience wag couldn’t resist singing: “You know the day destroys the night … .” Public recognition could rest on worse things.
An exchange of fours with traps and the two congueros on the popping “Skytrails” set the tone for the 40-minute set: joyous music made by people glad to be in each other’s company. The dashiki-clad Marcel Adjibi, a native of Senegal, left his congas and moved to the sidewalk for a high-kicking gambol, adding a theatrical flourish to the short recital that brightened this cool night.