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Step Tempest

Creative music should challenge us, make us think and move us forward. Music can make one’s life better and fuller, one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I first met percussionist, trap drummer, composer, and educator royal hartigan (he’s always spelled his name sans capital letters) in the 1980s when he was working towards his Masters degree and PhD in world music and ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University.  This was after he had studied at University of Massachusett/ Amherst where his instructors included Max Roach, Archie Shepp, and Reggie Workman.  While at Wesleyan, he studied with and played alongside teachers such as Bill Barron, Bill Lowe, master drummer Abraham Adzenyah, Ed Blackwell, and noted ethnomusicologist David McAllester.  He often played in the Student Union with visiting artists and other students including saxophonist David Bindman and bassist Wes Brown.

hartigan went on to teach in New York City and San Jose State University, finally returning east to join the music faculty of UMASS/Dartmouth.  He also has played with numerous artists including Kenny Barron, Clifford Jarvis, Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Dakshina ensemble, and vocalist Dominique Eade. He also performed West African music alongside percussionist Martin Kwaakye Obeng, Helen Abena Mensah, and so many others here in the United States as well as in Ghana.  He, along Bindman and Brown, became the royal hartigan ensemble and, along with guitarist Kevin McNeal recorded “Blood Drum Spirit” in 1993, released on CD in 2004 on Innova Recordings.  The group added pianist Art Hirahara in 2003 and he  appeared on 2008’s “Live In China” (also on Innova).

Time Changes“, the group’s third album and first to be credited to just Blood Drum Spirit, came out early in 2019. It’s a sprawling two-CD set with 21 songs spread over 161+ minutes.  With this much music, one is initially overwhelmed – you’ll see that four of the pieces are over ten minutes long, six more are over seven minutes, and the rest range from 1:52 to 6 minutes.  Where to begin?  Start with track one, “Hits.”  The song literally introduces the band with the bass and percussion leading the way while the percussive piano plays beneath the tenor saxophone melody.  You’ll hear how the band uses dynamics to build and maintain its message.   Bindman rides the waves of energy produced by Brown, hartigan, and Hirahara before the pianist enters ushered by a wave of cymbal splashes.  One can hear influences of West African and Latin music in the rhythms and the early 60s John Coltrane Quartet in the energy and in the searching.  Before th song comes to its close, everyone has had a chance to solo.

That leads into “Donno Ntoaso“, Hartigan’s talking drum and steady high-hat accompanied by a bluesy piano. Soon, the bass is setting a pace alongside the drummer and the tenor sax is building the melody.  Note how the tempo changes as Hirahara steps out.  The talking drum is in constant conversation with the bass and the soloists: the listener probably does not notice he or she are getting carried away by the exuberance of the music and its creators. 

As you continue through the program, you’ll note that there are five solo drums tracks.  First up is “Drum Solo for Clifford Brown/Lenny McBrowne/Max Roach/Clifford Jarvis/Ed Blackwell“, a short (1:45) dance around the trap set.  Next up is the “Fomtomfrom Suite” – four times as long as the first solo, hartigan sets up a hypnotic rhythm on his drums that hearkens back to his love for West African music. Basically, he’s using three parts of his kit; the tom, a ride cymbal, and bass drum. Later in the piece, he adds the high hat but the music rarely varies. The appropriately-titled “Dancing on the Drums” is a hard-edged rhythmic romp (on brushes, no less).  “Penteng” is short (1:52) but it rolls forward with an immediacy and excitement that is so attractive.  The final solo piece is “Blues For Mister Charlie and Miss Ann“: One might think that the piece is dedicated to Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy (one of his pieces had the title “Miss Ann“) – in actuality, the piece is inspired by author and playwright James Baldwin and is the drummer’s dedication to the Black victims of police violence. The piece is also inspired by Max Roach’s “Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace” from his landmark 1960 album “We Insist: Freedom Now Suite.”

That last piece closes with a martial beat on the snare which leads into the next track, a 10 minute-plus exploration of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.”  It’s fun to hear the quartet (Bindman on soprano sax) swing with such glee with the drummer leading the way with his “parade” drums.  After a powerful bass solo, Hirahara steps out with a barroom piano solo before the band returns and the piece goes in a slightly different direction. Suddenly, the tempo shifts once again, more of a Latin feel, and the piece picks up speed.

CD 1 closes with a long exploration of Coltrane’s “Naima“, a piece with a series of strong solos and mood changes, talking drums and dancing piano riffs, bouncing bass and lovely solos from Hirahara and Bindman (tenor sax).  CD 2 opens with the longest track on the program.  “Circle of Creation/Adzohu Suite” is a multi-sectioned dance through several powerful melodies and shifting rhythms. Pay attention to the drummer’s long solo (complete with vocalizations of the rhythm he is playing – that leads into a long, exciting, piano solo that resonates with a blend of American jazz and West African rhythms If you listen closely, you can really hear the interactions and connection of the rhythm section.  Brown and hartigan have worked together for over three decades: they support each other, prod each other, and listen to the rest of the band.  Bindman has been along for all those years and he, too, shares a special musical relationship.  The pianist is the “new guy”, 15 years, yet he, too, is an integral member of this working unit.

Time Changes” refers to the different rhythms throughout this highly listenable album.  Also, time always moves on and we change. What has not changed – if anything it’s stronger – is Blood Drum Spirit and royal hartigan‘s dedication to, love for, and continual exploration of world music and how it is so much a part of jazz.

For more information, to listen, and to purchase), go to royalhartigan.bandcamp.com/releases. Check out the band’s website – www.blooddrumspirit.com – for even more information. That will lead you to the documentary “We Are One“, a movie about the quartet’s trip to Ghana to teach, to collaborate with local musicians, and to connect and reconnect with master musicians and dancers. That can be found at www.weareonethemovie.com.

Give a listen to the quartet’s take on the famous Eddie Harris composition:

time changes by blood drum spirit

by Richard B. Kamins 

REVIEW OF WE ARE ONE FILM BY JOHN PIETARO - THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

(page 37) Royal Hartigan is a most vocal proponent of world music traditions. A professor in Ethnomusicology at Dartmouth, the drummer-percussionist’s history extends to post-graduate study at Wesleyan where he focused on African, Native American and Indian drumming. Earlier, at Amherst, Hartigan concentrated on African American music with close tutelage under Ed Blackwell and coursework with Max Roach and Archie Shepp. The amalgam was a uniquely expansive view of jazz and improvisation. Hartigan performed and recorded with the late saxophonist/activist Fred Ho for decades. His own vehicle, Blood Drum Spirit, is featured in this powerful new documentary directed by filmmaker and photographer Sarah Pettinella. Saxophonist David Bindman, another Wesleyan alumnus fusing world traditions with new music, founded the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet with Ho. Pianist Art Hirahara and bassist Wes Brown were Ho band members. If there is a central fixture here, it is the late baritone saxophonist and his commitment to social justice via Asian and African culture and the voices of the oppressed. 

Hartigan states in We Are One that upon first hearing African music, he recognized its relationship to jazz. “It brought me to a place that transcends everyday life” and as soon as he had the opportunity to do so, brought the band to Ghana. The quartet traveled to multiple African villages, first meeting with the elders and sharing in food, dance and traditional music before they brought out a drum set, electric keyboard, electric bass and saxophone. Pettinella caught beautiful moments with village master musicians and average citizens alike. Scenes of the quartet jamming with locals and traveling throughout Ghana are interspersed with profiles of each of the four including clips of them at home and a wonderful segment of Hartigan tap dancing. There are also interviews with global artists such as dancer Joann Thompson and master musician, dancer and international speaker Kwabena Boateng.

The latter summed up the film’s core in two sentences: “Music can change the world. And I think it’s already done it.” For more information, visit weareonethemovie.com. This project is at Flatlands Reformed Church Jun. 2nd. See Calendar.

(page 37) JUNE 2019 | THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD, Sunday, June 2

Review by David Dupont (five stars) in the All Music Guide *****

royal hartigan’s two-disc set Blood Drum Spirit draws its musical inspiration from the percussionist’s travels and studies in far-flung places. A native of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, hartigan integrates elements of the music of Ghana, India, and the Philippines as well as Native Americans into his compositions, using them to express his long-standing interests in multiple time signatures and polymeter. Unlike those who use world music as an exotic flavor, hartigan integrates these influences deep within the structure of his pieces, which are an expression of a world view that goes beyond music.

The ballad “Papago-Saguaro Song” features a 23-beat pulse over which David Bindman plays a Native American song. And the one jazz standard here, “Caravan,” gets recast in a fast 15/8 time. Such metrical and rhythmic daring is the prime attraction of this date. hartigan plays with a light touch, allowing his cross rhythms to sound clearly. His harmonic structures tend to be open and modal, giving the soloists, primarily saxophonist Bindman and guitarist Kevin McNeal, plenty of room to stretch out.. …they soar high, lifted by the thermal currents supplied by hartigan and bassist Wes Brown.

Royal Hartigan & Blood Drum Spirit: Time Changes

By KARL ACKERMANN
June 14, 2019

Drummer, pianist, and composer, Royal Hartigan, first encountered bassist Wes Brown and saxophonist David Bindman at Wesleyan University. The three were instrumental in the early development of the Ghanaian-American group Talking Drums and recorded Blood Drum Spirit (Innova) in 1993 with Kevin McNeal on guitar. The ensemble’s follow up, Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China—also on Innova—was not released until 2008, when pianist Art Hirahara had replaced McNeal. Time Changes is Hartigan’s fourth double-CD as a leader and his third with the Blood Drum Spirit ensemble.

Hartigan’s ties to the drumming culture of West Africa are indestructible. So too are his bonds to the people he has lived with on and off for years; people who have experienced famine, homelessness and the genocide in their post-colonial struggle for self-determination. The music of the region reflects circumstances that encompass everyday tasks, ceremony, simple pleasures, and ongoing pain.

The inspirations of West Africa are felt in the traditional rhythmic creations “Bewaa” and “Circle of Creation/Adzohu Suite” based on the dance drumming of the Dagara and Ewe peoples of the region. The quartet puts very unique spins on standards such as Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” “St. Louis Blues ” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It’s always a pleasure to hear Hartigan solo, and on Time Changes the master drummer takes over on five tracks—”Drum Solo for Mr. Adams, Mr. McBrowne, Mr. Roach, Mr. Jarvis,” “Fontomfrom Suite,” “Dancing on the Drums,” “Penteng” and “Blues for Mister Charlie and Miss Ann.”

Whether the band is covering classics, improvising original pieces, or interpreting the drum dancing music, the aesthetic is almost always rooted in West Africa. “We Are One!” is a companion piece movie that goes behind the scenes with the group, in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and in Ghana. A dance teacher in the Asanti region relates “You cannot detach our dances from who we are, the dances tell a story. The dance itself is the culture.” Time Changes relates those stories, in a variety of styles, and is compelling listening throughout.

Track Listing: Disc 1: Hits; Donno Ntoaso; Freedom Jazz Dance; The Betrayal; Drum Solo for Mr. Adams, Mr. McBrowne, Mr. Roach, Mr. Jarvis, Mr. Blackwell; James and Hazel; Bewaa; Silent Spaces; If Only………; Fontomfrom Suite; Naima. Disc 2: Circle of Creation / Adzohu Suite; Dancing on the Drums; Longing (A Boy and a Beauty); Penteng; The Look; Blues for Mister Charlie and Miss Ann; St. Louis Blues; Lift Every Voice and Sing; Syrinx; High Fly.

Personnel: David Bindman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Wes Brown: contrabass; Art Hirahara: piano; Royal Hartigan: drum set, donno, hourglass drum.

By Jan P. Dennis on January 29, 2004

Why has this spectacular, revelatory music . . .. . . languished in record vaults for more than a decade?
Never mind why. Who can figure out the vagaries and vicissitudes of the contemporary jazz scene?
Not me.

Let’s just be thankful that the McKnight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts somehow found out about this incredible music and helped bring it to light.

Leader Royal Hartigan ranks among the absolute greatest of contemporary percussionists. Thoroughly familiar with nearly the entire scope of world drumming and percussion musics–everything from Native American, to East Asian, to South Pacific, to West African, to South Indian–Hartigan has found a group of players entirely sympathetic to his massive world music canvas and produced a landmark disk. Of course, it helps that he has spent a lifetime studying and playing everything from bebop to funk to blues to gospel to reggae to hip-hop to African to Afro-Latin styles.

Seeking to situate a variety of native percussive musics in their natural state, yet overlain with a sophisticated jazz-world vibe, Hartigan has produced a disc of uncanny depth and spirituality.

Wielding a startling variety of percussion instruments, including drums, cymbals, rattles, gankogui, axatse, dondo, kulintang, babandir, agung, and dabakan, Hartigan weaves a thoroughly mesmeric sound signature, which his playing mates–Kevin McNeal (guitar), David Bindman (tenor and alto sax, flute, clarinet), and Wes Brown (contrabass)–completely lock into.

Listen. This is one of the, if not THE, greatest music discoveries I’ve ever made. If you have even the slightest affinity for hip, sophisticated world-jazz, you MUST listen to this unbelievably transcendent music.

Absolute highest recommendation.

By greg taylor VINE VOICE on March 14, 2004

If you are like me, you have found that one of the best ways to learn about music is to listen to other music freaks. They will always know about lots of musicians that you never heard of. Jan P. Dennis (the reviewer below) is one of the music freaks I listen to.

And on this CD, he could not be more on the money. Hartigan is a great drummer and band leader. Prior to recording this he had spent about ten years studying ethnomusicology at Wesleyan and, more importantly, in his own words, investigating “with Master Artists, into the percussion traditions of West Africa, South India, Java, Sumatra, Philippines, China, Japan, Ireland, Persia, Turkey, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Native America, and the African-American Diaspora” (Quoted from his on-line resume). What is really amazing is not only how he has mastered and incorporated all of the traditional drums into his drum kit but also how he has brought that knowledge of traditional non-Western drum traditions and put it to use within the context of jazz drumming. He actually wrote the book on it (See the Amazon listings for Hartigan’s drum textbooks). So Jan is right when he says that Hartigan’s work is a true world jazz.

But since I come from a different earset than Jan I contextualize what I hear differently. Where Jan hears world jazz I hear straight ahead post-bop. One of the things that most strikes me about this CD is the work on David Bindman on the wind instruments and Kevin McNeal on the guitar. McNeal had worked with Greg Osby and the M-Base collective before this recording. Bindman is a member of the Brooklyn Sax Quartet and has played with Kevin Norton, Joe Fonda, Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton. So in both cases, you expect to hear modernist music.

And you do but I swear to you that when they are feeling soulful that Bindman sounds like Stanley Turrentine and McNeal like early George Benson. Sometimes this CD reminds me of a CTI date without all the hideous overproduction. Other times it sounds as thoughtful as 60s Wayne Shorter. And behind it all is that vastly powerful universal drum experiment that is Hartigan. In short this is the sort of powerful straight-ahead jazz CD that makes people like me love jazz.

This is a superb CD and one that deserves to be more widely heard. These are first rate musicians playing with a passion, intelligence and a social purpose. Jan is right. This one is not to be missed.

By Dunbarton Oakes on February 12, 2010

An Absolute Necessity.
I’ve owned Blood Drum Spirit for several years now and have oddly neglected to review it. “Oddly” because (with all due apologies to Coltrane and Miles) this is one of the great jazz recordings of all time.

The previous reviews have eloquently said enough about the music and Royal Hartigan’s background that there is no need to rehash those points. Suffice to say that “Eve”, at an epic 28 minutes is one of the most engaging pieces of music that I’ve ever heard. I wish Mr. Hartigan were more prolific (as if writing books and teaching were not enough), but I am ecstatic that I have the recordings that he has released to date.

karl ackermann. review of royal’s ancestors double cd:

CD/LP Review | Published: April 4, 2010

Ancestors
Royal Hartigan | Innova Recordings (2008)

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 (Innova, 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.

Style: Modern Jazz

karl ackermann. review of our blood drum spirit double cd:

CD/LP Review | Published: March 8, 2010

Blood Drum Spirit
Royal Hartigan | Innova Recordings (2004)

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.

karl ackermann. review of our live in china double cd:

Review by karl ackerman on the online www.allabout jazz website

CD/LP Review | Published: May 4, 2010

Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China
Royal Hartigan | Innova Recordings (2008)

Recorded on Beijing, Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China is the third of a trilogy, but includes changes from the original studio namesake. Guitarist Kevin McNeal is replaced by pianist Art Hirahara, giving the quartet a bit more punch. The first Blood Drum Spirit (Innova, 2004) entry consisted almost entirely of original compositions, other than a snippet of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” This two-disc live set features covers by artists including Ellington, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie. What remains consistent through the entire trilogy is that drummer Hartigan’s work is always an interesting historical investigation of ethnic musical influences as a means of expression.

Ethnicity aside, Live in China is the most straight-ahead jazz collection in the trilogy. Much of this due to Hirahara and saxophonist David Bindman—each contributing a number of tracks and providing a strong presence throughout. At almost seventeen minutes, the set opens with Bindman’s “Crisis in (Now’s the) Time,” which changes time signatures and styles, as well as featuring an extended solo from Hartigan. This is followed by a medley of “Flowing Stream/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” where a traditional Chinese song and Mingus’ tribute to Lester Young both feel at home with each other, thanks to Hafez Modirzadeh’s arrangement.

Hartigan’s arrangement of Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” opening with a solo from bassist Wes Brown, is faster than the original, features elements of rumba and swing and solos from everyone in the group. The 21-minute “Dreamsfireswaking/Invitation” opens and closes with drum solos over a group vamp. Again, there are frequent changes in time and style, as the piece shifts from a relaxed pace to swing to West African and, once again, back to an Afro-Cuban rumba style. Hartigan and Bindman perform a duet before the saxophonist takes a solo and the group then rounds things out. It is the kind of complex setting at which this group excels.

As he has demonstrated in all of his recordings to date, Hartigan is a musical explorer not content to repeatedly cover familiar ground. Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China incorporates the sounds of South India on “Gati Shadows Within,” Ghana on “Asante Adowa,” and free improvisation on “Threads.” It all works well due to the drummer’s innate ability to cohesively arrange diverse musical attributes. Hartigan’s depth of insight adds to the understanding of worldwide musical relations. The performers are excellent, the music creative, and the experience top tier.

Track listing: CD1: Crisis In (Now’s the) Time; Flowing Stream/Goodbye Porkpie Hat; Threads; In a Sentimental Mood; A Night in Tunisia; Song for Your Return; Dreamfireswaking/Invitation. CD2: Anlo Kete; Peace, Unknown; Gati Shadows Within; High Definition Truth; Oleo; Hazel Clark Asante Adowa/ Generations Suite; Owl’s Nightmare; We’ll Be Together Again; Tenderly.

Personnel: David Bindman: tenor saxophone; Wes Brown: bass; Art Hirahara: piano; Royal Hartigan: drums.

review for our philippines workshops at ccp july 2016 – review by Gideon Isidro in -Business world

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August 17, 2016 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Posted on August 02, 2016

THERE ARE many things that we like at the onset, but when we learn more about it, we get to enjoy it even more. For me, this was especially true for jazz, thanks to master classes offered during the Winds and Jazz: The CCP International Band Festival which was held this time around from July 26 to 31 at various venues at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

ROYAL HARTIGAN and Blood Drum Spirit conduct a master class as part of Winds and Jazz: The CCP International Band Festival.

JAZZ: A HISTORY
For the last three jazz festivals, percussionist Royal Hartigan and his ensemble Blood Drum Spirit — composed of bassist Wes Brown, saxophonist David Bindman, and pianist Art Hirahara — were among the lecturers at the offered master classes. At the first festival, he discussed the history of jazz and its next-of-kin genres.

Blood Drum Spirit would hold lectures about a musical movement during the day; and in the evening, would play the music of that movement’s era. Going through the course felt like going through a time machine, seeing the growth of jazz into all its various forms.

They traced jazz back all the way to Africa, where, unlike the Western tradition of music, there was a heavier exploration of rhythm. There was also an emphasis on singing and on music being a communal — instead of just a performance — art.

This musical tradition was brought to America through the African slave trade, and as time passed, African-Americans began fusing Western Traditions of music into their repertoire: incorporating the choir tradition created the Spirituals (from which we can trace Gospel music); using Western instruments like the piano and upright bass resulted in Ragtime. The African-Americans also created Blues at about the same time, which was the precursor for Country, and eventually Rock music.

When African-Americans started playing orchestral instruments, the music took on a more modern sound, and the early forms of Jazz were born. Like its ancestral counterpart, Jazz continued to be communal music: people danced to it, creating the Swing. The interactive nature of the music also created Free Jazz which involves a lot of improvisation among band members.

LAYERS OF TIME
Blood Drum Spirit returned for this year’s festival and again held a master class.

Last week, they returned to the African Tradition, giving a detailed look into the music of the Asante people of West Central Ghana. Blood Drum Spirit opened the floor by playing “Adowa” or “deer” in the local language. I found the music reminiscent of the old MGM cartoons which used jazz as its background music. I got lost in the music; there were so many beats, I couldn’t find which to hold on to.

After playing, Blood Drum Spirit explained what was going on. Mr. Hartigan asked the audience to pick up some African instruments they had brought — metal bells of different sizes — and asked the attendees one by one to play individual beat patterns with the bells. Little by little, we heard the music they had just played come to life. Mr. Hartigan then proceeded to demonstrate all the beats we just played simultaneously through the drum set.

He explained “just having another pattern adds another layer of time.” It occurred to me that the multiple beats were like a tasty medley of different flavors popping in your tongue at the same time — delicious!

All of this complication can confuse even the professionals — band member David Bindman said: “Sometimes I do get lost, and ask… ‘Hey, where’s the downbeat?’ That’s when I stop for a while and try to find out where we are in the music. Then I start playing again.”

IMPROVISATION
Blood Drum Spirit also explored the topic of improvisation. Mr. Hartigan explained that improvisation is not just found in jazz, and is actually in other musical traditions, “In an orchestra, the base content is set,” he said, referring to what music will be played and what instruments will be used, “but the emphasis and nuances depend on the conductor. Here it’s the same thing — we don’t play just anything: we have a base content of music, but we play it a little differently depending on how we feel at the moment. The music always changes, because we always change. What we feel now is not the same way we felt yesterday; who we were 40 minutes ago is not the same as who we are right now.”

There is a need for improvisation in jazz music. “We can play the same stuff the same way all the same time, but that’s not our goal here,” said Mr. Hartigan. “We need to bring the music to a place where our spirits can talk. We all want technique in playing, but it’s not enough. We bring it to somewhere new.”

To make improvisation clearer, class participants had been asked to bring our own instruments and play with Blood Drum Spirit. While the percussions, the piano, and bass were playing in the background, Mr. Bindman told some Classical brass players who were in the class to play the D-minor scale. We found that it actually sounded good with the music. He then asked us, one by one, to improvise — that is, to play solos with any notes along the D-minor scale. I was surprised that even though the class members came from a Classical music background, we were able to make beautiful music that blended into a jazz song.

After the master classes, I watched Blood Drum Spirit play on stage again. I understood what was going on when they were playing, and I’d say I enjoyed it twice as much as I would have without having taken the master classes.

I have written about just one of the many talented artists who taught and played during the festival. Whether a jazz artist or a jazz enthusiast, it is definitely worth the effort to set aside some time and take the classes offered during the festival — you will learn something new and be able to have a deeper appreciation of this tradition of music. I am already looking forward to the next Jazz Festival at the CCP.

© royal hartigan 2019 | design: Sara Pettinella/little comb productions