blood drum spirit in concert in Beijing, China, with guest artist pianist Arthur Hirahara in 2006.
blood drum spirit brings a new global vision to music, exploring deep into the world's great traditions through the prism of live jazz performance. Ensemble members have lived, played and toured throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and Asia, including four tours of China as featured ensemble at the renowned Beijing Midi Jazz Festival. Percussionist royal hartigan has performed with Kenny Barron and Rudresh Mahanthappa; bassist Wes Brown has toured with Earl 'Fatha' Hines and Ed Blackwell; and saxophonist David Bindman has performed with Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton.
In 1981 drummer, pianist, and tap dancer royal hartigan, bassist Wes Brown, and saxophonist David Bindman met at Wesleyan University while studying with master artists from Africa and Asia in Wesleyan’s renowned World Music program. They later formed blood drum spirit, inviting artists in numerous disciplines to perform in concerts and recordings. The group has performed at universities and festivals across the United States and Asia, being the headline ensemble for the inaugural Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Jazz Festival in August 2011, and performing in Hong, Kong, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing, China, in 2006 and 2008. The ensemble members feel a responsibility to live and share music with people across the globe, learning from others as well as giving: offering residencies that include master classes, ensemble rehearsals, lecture-demonstrations, workshops, and concerts.
blood drum spirit adapts elements of world cultures into its music, including South Indian solkattu rhythms, tala (time cycles), and raga (modes); Javanese gamelan structures and rhythms; Philippine kulintang ensemble instruments and timbres, Turkish usul and hand drum techniques; Gaelic bodhran rhythms, Native American songs; West African instruments, melodies, forms, and rhythms; African American clapping plays, camp meeting shouts, and New Orleans rhythms: all embedded within the fabric of a uniquely American Jazz compositional and improvisational sound and style, as experienced in its two Innova double-CDs.
Our ensemble has collaborated with cutting-edge artists in diverse disciplines including African master drummers and dancers Kobena Adzenyah, Kwabena Boateng, and Saeed Abbas, Chinese instrumentalists Wang Jing and Zhang Weihua, Indian sitarist Koyel Ghosal, percussionist Lillian Gaulden, Poets Ed Roberson, Mwalim 777, Eric Andrade, and Tyrone Henderson, the Price Memorial AME Zion Gospel Choir, the Kekeli African Music and Dance ensemble of UMASS Dartmouth and the University of the Philippines, Philippine vocalist Grace Nono, percussionist Jimmy Biala, trumpeter Stephen Haynes, trombonist Bill Lowe, saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, guitarists Kevin McNeal (blood drum spirit double CD 1995, 2004), Ayodele Maakeru, James Robataille, and Marvin Sewell, contrabassist David Zinno, and pianists Richard Harper, Li Xiao Guang, David Lopato, ands Arthur Hirahara (blood drum spirit: the royal hartigan ensemble live in china, 2008). The group also formed the nucleus for Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble, and currently is the core of the David Bindman Sextet with trumpeter Frank London, trombonist Reut Regev, and pianist Art Hirahara.
Our music is a vehicle to express the spirit of the African American heritage and the musics of the world, who we are, and what we can give to the world’s peoples.
Our repertoire for the festival includes both original and historic compositions in the American Jazz tradition. Our historical works include 17-19th century Spirituals, Field Hollers, Work Songs, Ring Shouts, and Clapping Plays through ragtime, Hot Music of the 1920s, New Orleans styles, the 1930s swing, 1940s bebop, 1950s cool, to 1960s experimental styles, 1970s fusion, and cross- cultural and world influences on the contemporary scene. The repertoire extends over a diversity of styles, historical eras, world cultural influences, all through thew prism of spontaneous Jazz interpretation.
blood drum spirit has built an original, exploratory, ever-growing body of work over 25 years, while acknowledging the complexity of the music itself and the apprenticeship and study required to communicate meaningfully in any given form. In performances, ensemble members invite the audience to 'sit up close'; the performances exist not in a vacuum but in close contact with people listening. Compositions are explained, both for their musical aspects (often audience members are invited to participate through singing melodies and clapping rhythms) and for their context: the meaning behind the titles and themes, In addition to the driving swing feel of jazz, some of the ensemble’s pieces employ 5, 7, 11, 15, 23, and 24-pulse time cycles that still groove, such as Hartigan's arrangements of A Night in Tunisia, featuring an adapted Afro-Cuban rumba guaguanco in 7/8, Caravan, set in a 15/8 meter, and Invitation in 11/ 8. Double Trouble is a fast 7/8 blues. Royal’s compositions and arrangements Asante Adowa, Wadsworth Falls, Dagbamba, Eve, Adzohu, and Anlo Kete employ traditional elements from West African music and dance, while the arrangements Papago-Saguaro Song and Navajo Blood/Pontoosuc Waters/ Springside Lands are based on traditional Native American music, adapted into 23 and 11 pulse cycles, respectively. South Indian solkattu rhythmic structures are the foundation for Tala Vadyam in an 11-pulse tala and Gati Shadows Within in a 7-pulse tala. David Bindman’s Sunset Park Polyphony employs the ancient tirripugar tala of South Indian music, with poetic phrases the basis for time cycle reductions at different speeds, repeating in sequence. The Pilipinas Suite uses kulintang instruments from the Maguindanao people of the southern Philippines and involves a 5/8 section derived from traditional tidtu playing style.
The group’s use of time cycles is from a cultural feel and sound rather than a mathematical technique. David Bindman contributes the multi-movement compositions Threads, High Definition Truth, Crisis in (Now's the) Time, Shape 1, Song for Englewood, Robeson House Echoes, and the ballad Song for Your Return, that explore many aspects of time, tonality, timbre, and form. Wes Brown shares his layered work in 3/4, Form. The group’s recorded pieces are all live performances, as experienced in a concert. The recent double CD blood drum spirit: the royal hartigan ensemble live in china was recorded on the group's second tour in China, and includes an arrangement of the Chinese traditional melody Flowing Stream joined with Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
royal, David, and Wes, at the China’s Great Wall in 2006.
Reviews of royal hartigan’s ancestors CD and blood drum spirit’s two CDs with guest artists Kevin McNeal and Arthur HiraharairaharaHirahara.
Review of Blood Drum Spirit by David Dupont (five stars) in the All Music Guide ***** .....hartigan integrates elements of the music of Ghana, India, and the Philippines as well as Native Americans into his compositions, …..unlike those who use world music as an exotic flavor, hartigan (and blood drum spirit) integrate these influences deep within the structure of (their) pieces, which are an expression of a worldview that goes beyond music…..(blood drum spirit) soars high, lifted by the thermal currents supplied by hartigan and bassist Wes Brown.
Jazz reviewer Ken Waxman: (Blood Drum Spirit) combines non-Western rhythms with a standard jazz quartet to create a series of impressive originals.
Kofi Ghanaba: Father of African Jazz Drumming royal hartigan has committed himself to living the music of the peoples (of Africa)….. whatever he does in his playing and sharing is from his whole being and is the real thing.
Leon Lee, Beijing, China, 2006: blood drum spirit ensemble is the…..confluence of many different musical traditions. (They) seamlessly incorporate West African, Filipino, and Indian rhythms with the African American jazz tradition.
Murray Gusseck: Tapspace music publisher, author, percussionist, and clinician – royal hartigan is one of the great unsung heroes of the drumming world, and it is time the music community made an effort to sample some of the incredibly genuine sounds of his ensemble, blood drum spirit. royal, his music, and the personality of blood drum spirit convey a consummate aural world view. The looseness, weight, and constant searching of his playing echo the voices.....of Max Roach, Ed Blackwell, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams.
CD/LP Review | Published: April 4, 2010
Royal Hartigan | Innova Recordings (2008)
By Karl Ackermann
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On paper, combining the musical influences of West Africa, America and Asia can appear a bit overwhelming. That's not the case at all on Royal Hartigan's Ancestors. The pianist/percussionist's trilogy—Blood Drum Spirit (Innova, 2004), Blood Drum Spirit Live in China (Innov a, 2008), and now Ancestors—reflects a universal viewpoint without being neatly categorized as world music. Jazz is pervasive throughout this collection, and the various musical ethnicities serve as reminders of where the genre came from and where it could go.
Ancestors was born out of Hartigan's sense of loss. It is a catharsis without closure and an acutely personal exploration of life, death, afterlife and, mostly, family, in the immediate and universal sense. "Flight/Homecoming" opens the set with saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh covering a spectrum of emotions including keening a brief mourning. Baomi's wordless vocal improvisation continues the theme of movement and transition, before Modirzadeh returns to transport the vocalist to a spoken word suite reaffirming the continuous cycle of life beyond the physical form. Throughout this opening segment, Hartigan alternately augments and drives the music, using bells, dondo, bass drum and hi hat before moving to piano.
Within the two-disc set, Hartigan's own family emerges as a Greek Chorus. A poem by his grandfather is carried by Sandra Poindexter's poignant violin work, while Hartigan's tap danced "Waltz Clog" is a tribute to both his uncle and mother and in a much lighter vein. Pop standards of past generations, as well as Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto," appear as favorites of Hartigan's parents, adding personal insight in the midst of more multicultural styles. Hartigan's piano brings to mind Jelly Roll Morton on "Hazel's Dance" and "Five Foot Two."
Haritgan is masterful at tying complex themes into a story, but more than that he brilliantly conveys human emotion through the music. Ancestors accepts sadness and loss as a reality, but also celebrates ongoing rebirth and treats time as an elastic continuum. Musically, he manages to incorporate instruments and styles as diverse as stride piano, Turkish bendir and Chinese zither in a collected work that is both universal and tangible at the same time. Ancestors is a blend of musicology and genealogy that is quite unique and memorable.
Track listing: CD1: Flight/Homecoming; Passages; Three Views; Hazel's Dance; Guanshan Yue; James Eagle Eye; La Vie En Rose/All to Myself/Soliloquy; Waltz Clog; Tenderly; Tatao; The Shadow of Your Smile; Cycles; Railroad Banjo To My Heart; Our Family; You'll Never Know Just How Much I Love You; Adzohu Kadodo Reflections. CD2: Hazel's Dance: Orphan Annie; Midnight Sun; Ray Hart; Parting Veil; Syrinx; We'll Be Together Again; New York Rhythm; Meng Jiang Nu; It Had To Be You; Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto In D Major/Midnight; In Moscow; Hanabi; I Know I've Been Changed; Tenderly; Dondo--Tap Conversation For Frank, Edward, Mary & Richie Hartigan; Divine Trance; Five Foot Two; Through The Light; Walking Step.
Personnel: Baomi: vocals and narrative poetry; Conrad Benedicto: philippine dabakan drum; yu fuhua: violin; Danongan Kalanduyan: philippine kulintang gongs; Masaru Koga: japanese shakuhachi flute; C. K. Ladzekpo: west african e e atsime u master drum, dondo hourglass drum; Hafez Modirzadeh; soprano and tenor saxophones, persian ney flute, and western flute; Sandra Poindexter: violin; Timothy Volpicella: banjo; Weihua Zhang: chinese guzheng zither; Royal Hartigan: bells, percussion, piano, tap dance, turkish bendir frame drum, axatse gourd rattle, dondo hourglass drum, drum set.
CD/LP Review | Published: March 8, 2010
Blood Drum Spirit
Royal Hartigan | Innova Recordings (2004)
By Karl Ackermann
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Joined AAJ in 2010
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Good things sometimes fly under the radar; sometimes they are great things. This has never been more the case than with Royal Hartigans's Blood Drum Spirit, a jazz masterpiece that has languished in obscurity since its 1993 recording to its eventual 2004 release.
It remains largely unrecognized six years later. Jazz, especially in the US, can be almost religiously hierarchical and introducing an unknown quantity to the ranks of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, or Anthony Braxton may well be viewed as profane or pretentious. However, the benefit to fans of good music outweighs the potential backlash. This qualifies as a classic desert island, end of the world as we know it, entry.
Hartigan is jazz Renaissance man. An author, educator, and student/teacher of world music, he has incorporated the sounds, native instruments, and cultural nuances of West Africa and Southeast Asia into a two-disc collection where the emphasis is strongly toward jazz rather than the world music that subtly influences it. Like Collin Walcott's earlier efforts, Cloud Dance (ECM, 1976) and Grazing Dreams (ECM, 1977), Hartigan has found that elusive ground that emphasizes the pure innovative nature of jazz without excluding the unique attributes of the cultures Hartigan has closely studied and been influenced by. Some time back, Esbjorn Svensson Trio was dubbed the "future of jazz." Had Royal Haritgan been known at that time, he may have deservedly shared the mantle.
If Blood Drum Spirit has a centerpiece, it is "Eve," a 28-plus minute epic composed of solo, duo, trio, and quartet formats that easily flow into and out of each phase. Suffice to say, "Eve" is worth the price of admission. In many ways it represents the democratic nature of Hartigan's collective style and world philosophy. Guitarist Kevin McNeal's deceptively simple chords and David Bindman's opening saxophone sets a bluesy pace that carries throughout. By the time Wes Brown's bass and Hartigan's kit transition into a rhythmic African extended duo, a hypnotic effect has established itself and it is not easily broken. Hartigan's percussion work is as musical, or more so, than most of the percussion greats who have gone before him. His versatility could be imagined as a solo percussion work, much the way the Art Ensemble of Chicago's drummer Don Moye is.
To single out tracks is counter-productive here; this is a work of symphonic structure. Hartigan's quartet exerts equal effort and finesse across the spectrum of tunes here and selectivity would be nitpicking as the work that builds and develops across the entire program. Each band member is given more than ample opportunity to solo and in every case they are stellar performances. Why Royal Hartigan is unfamiliar to many jazz fans is a subject for another debate. What is clear is that Blood Drum Spirit is a collection that will endure for many years to come.
Track listing: Blood Drum Spirit; Wadsworth Falls; Dagomba; Pilipinas Suite; Solog; Pilipinas; Solog; Caravan; Tala Vadyam; Apartheid Usa Suite; Adzohu; Juba Handclaps; Rodney King Drums; Double Trouble; Adzohu Rodney King Drums; Double Trouble; Navajo Blood/Pontoosuc Waters/Springside Lands; Tie Me Sufre (Teah May Sufray); Papago-Saguaro Song; Eve (Eh Vay).
Personnel: David Bindman: woodwinds; Kevin McNeal: guitar; Wes Brown: bass; Royal Hartigan: drums, cymbals, and rattles.