Kurt Ribak Trio
At a Glance
How do you pronounce Ribak?: REE-bok, like the shoes
Style: Soulful, eclectic, and accessible original jazz.
Instrumentation: Piano, upright bass, drums
Who’s Kurt Ribak?
Kurt Ribak (pronounced REE-bok, like the shoes) grew up in Berkeley, CA. Early musical experiences included singing in the San Francisco Boys Chorus. In grade school Kurt began studying the cello. Kurt later studied with major cellists, including Bonnie Hampton, Susie Napper, and Elisabeth LeGuin.
While a student at UC Berkeley Kurt began playing electric bass, buying his first good bass with money made working as a janitor. At Cal he continued to play classical music and studied jazz under Neal Heidler and Jeremy Cohen while playing in the UC Jazz Ensembles. Kurt also studied West African drumming with C.K. Ladzekpo and spent summers teaching at Cazadero Music Camp, where he played with trombonist Julian Priester, guitarist / composer Paul Dresher, and steel drummer Andy Narell, as well as working in the local early music scene.
Tendinitis temporarily stalled Kurt’s career, but he subsequently earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. He graduated with top honors, studying bass with Whit Browne, Bruce Gertz, and John Repucci. Kurt spent many hours transcribing and absorbing the styles of bassists Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, and Charles Mingus, but also spent hours dissecting the compositions and arrangements of African bandleader Fela Kuti and R&B giant James Brown. He first learned of his love of composition while at Berklee College of Music. His early tunes often reflected a strong Thelonious Monk influence, while others reflect his love of the great bassists/composer/bandleader Charles Mingus, whose music he studied intensively at Berklee. Later tunes bring to mind the South African composer Abdullah Ibrahim a.k.a. Dollar Brand, Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, and Cannonball Adderley.
After graduation from Berklee Kurt returned to the San Francisco Bay area. Kurt has been playing with a variety of bands in the Bay Area, including local big band legend Junius Courtney and ex-Whispers saxophonist Herbie Mims. Drummer Bryan Melvin, formerly with the great electric bassist Jaco Pastorius, said Kurt plays bass "the way it should be played." R&B legend Johnny Otis sought him out to say Kurt’s playing reminded Otis of the late bassist Curtis Counce, a favorite sideman of Otis. Kurt also appeared as an actor in commercial videos and films, including Erica Jordan’s "In the Wake" (released in 2001) and Rob Nilsson’s upcoming release "Scheme." He also contributed music to both films.
Kurt has played with many prominent musicians. Among them are jazz/blues vocalist Faye Carol, new music composer Paul Dresher, Broadway singer Lillias Brooks, JC Hopkins (writer and former bandleader for Norah Jones), guitarist Adam Levy, sideman with Tracy Chapman and Norah Jones, and with Ralph Carney, best known for his work with Tom Waits. Kurt’s also played with prominent non-jazz musicians, including Danny Carnahan of Wake the Dead and Eric and Suzy Thompson, who have received international acclaim for their performances of bluegrass and Cajun music. Kurt has had his compositions played by a variety of groups, including Section 8 Project, Make A Circus, and others. Since 2001 he has been leading his own group under his own name. A CD featuring his compositions has just been released on Rodia Records.
Greg Sankovich is the pianist in Kurt Ribak's group. Greg has been performing on keyboards and producing music since he was twelve years old. He began with classical studies when he was five years old. Later he studied with some of the finest jazz and Latin pianists and educators in the Bay Area. His musical inspirations included Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, and Keith Jarrett.
Greg attended University of California, Berkeley, where he was active in the UC Berkeley Jazz Ensembles, touring Japan, Northern Europe, Poland, and Scandinavia. After graduation from UC Berkeley, Greg moved to Japan with a UCB inspired jazz-fusion band, Taikun. Greg lived in Japan over ten years, performing and composing for a long line of top Japanese artists.
Greg, a Bay Area native, returned to the san Francisco area in the mid-1990s and has since contributed to an eclectic range of musical projects from jazz to house to hiphop to pop. He has worked with many talented artists including Terry Francis, Brenda Boykin, H-Foundation, Onions, and Doc Martin. He has contributed music to over 20 record labels including Warner, Columbia, Siesta, Tango, and Yoshitoshi. Greg’s music can also be found in the soundtrack for "Groove," a Sony Classics film, as well as in numerous TV jingles.
Greg produces dance music and performs regularly in the SF Bay Area. Greg has produced dance music currently in Europe’s Top Ten. He performs with many groups, including bassist/composer Kurt Ribak’s original groups, jazz-funk band Times 4 featuring sensational saxophonist Lincoln Adler, jam band Ten Ton Chicken, R&B band Blue Sky Band, and various jazz projects.
Fillmore Street Jazz Festival, San Francisco Jazz Festival, North Beach Jazz Festival, Union Street Jazz Festival, Shasta County Blues Festival, American Arts Festival, San Anselmo Art & Design Festival, and Yerba Buena Gardens.
Nightclubs and Restaurants
Yoshi’s, Pearl's, Pres a Vi, Chaya Brasserie, Prima Ristorante, Enrico’s, Hotel De Anza, Bruno’s, Shanghai 1930, Downtown Restaurant, Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood and Jazz, Jupiter, Paragon, LJ's Martini Club and Grille, The Albatross, Freight & Salvage, Club Deluxe, Café Bastille, Café Claude, Café de la Presse, Hi-Ball Lounge, Maritime Hall, San Francisco Legion of Honor, and many others.
First United Methodist (Pt. Richmond, CA), Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church (Moraga, CA), Christian Church of Pacific Grove (Pacific Grove, CA), and Lafayette United Methodist Church (Lafayette, CA).
KCSM-FM (San Mateo, CA) Mid-Day Jazz, West Coast Live (KALW-FM, San Francisco, CA), KCSM Desert Island Jazz, KRKD (Oakland, CA) and others.
Venues Currently Playing
We appear every Thursday at Pres a Vi in Building D of the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio. Every Friday, 7 to 10 PM we are at Prima Ristorante in Walnut Creek. We are at Chaya Brasserie in San Francisco the first Sunday of every month from 6 PM to 9 PM.
Gig info: http://www.ribak.com/gigs.html
Kurt Ribak Trio profile by Michael Burman, announcer, KCSM-FM.
Who is this Kurt Ribak guy, you wonder, when you first meet him. Big, obviously strong. Biker? Stevedore? Truck driver? Ask him directly, though, and he'll grin and tell you, "bass player".
Truth be told, Kurt has done his share of unusual jobs--some tough, some actually enjoyable (such as being a musician in a circus). Music may be his muse, but it doesn't necessarily pay the bills. So it's our good fortune that Kurt has stuck with it throughout decades and difficulties, not the least of which was the tendinitis which sidelined him for a couple of years. Born in Berkeley, California, he started on 'cello and went on to the almost obligatory electric bass (an instrument which he still enjoys playing: "I figure it's best to use the right tool for the job--and there are times when that's an electric bass"). He attended UC in his home town, pursuing a double major in Music and Political Science. "Political Science was something of a sop to my family," says Kurt: he could be "unemployed in a more acceptable way".
The "Kurt Ribak Trio" CD is Kurt's first recording as a leader, and one populated entirely by his own compositions. Now, any business school will tell you that this is "unwise": where is the familiarity of melody which enables the listener, on first hearing, to "relate" to the music?
Nothing daunted, Kurt responds as follows. "The reason why I got the band started was that I love to write, and I wanted to have a band that was a vehicle for playing my tunes. I love playing jazz standards. There's a great body of repertoire in jazz, but I wanted to bring in my own things as well, and so I decided to just go ahead and feature my own songs." Kurt wraps this argument up nicely: "Besides, I wrote the check for the recording, so I'll put what I want on it!"
And, in this case, the exception proves the rule. This is a recording which pleases on several levels: not only are the melodies and arrangements finely constructed, but the playing and the performances are downright enjoyable.
Some of the credit naturally goes to Kurt's partners in the trio. Pianist Greg Sankovich is a UC Berkeley contemporary of Kurt's with whom he reconnected a couple of years ago: "a fabulous pianist ... plays great grooves", says Kurt. He describes Tim Solook as a "fine drummer" from New Jersey via Houston to San Jose. Kurt volunteers that they, and Greg especially, have "been really critical to the development of not only ... the overall sound of the CD but really of how I've grown as a musician."
Credit, of course, must always go to the composer (if the nature of the pieces isn't important, then why is there such a wealth of material so often revisited from the Great American Songbook and from more recent "jazz standards"?) and to the leader of the band--in this case the same person. Kurt is no dilettante here: he's thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of music, from his time as a grade-schooler in the San Francisco Boys' Chorus ("wonderful musical training, very good discipline"), via UC Berkeley's music program, through to his time at Berklee College of Music.
Rhythm is innate in Kurt: one of his earliest musical memories is of the time, while he was a pre-schooler, that his mother finding him "in the kitchen hopping from one foot to another with a rapt expression on my face... I was dancing to the sound of the dishwasher!"
So it's not surprising that several of the pieces have a happy, rhythmic feel, from the Gospel-sounding "Finally Home" (which came to Kurt while he was dragging a pallet on the graveyard shift during one of his "tough" jobs) to the pair whose titles suggest as much: "Pseudoafrocubanismo" ("pseudo-" because "what I was hearing in my head was something of a Cumbia rhythm ...I am not an expert in Latin music--I play some Latin music, I've studied some of it, but I sure am not an expert, and ... this is kind of my take on it.") and "Bolero Amargo", the newest of the seven tunes. (Check out Tim Solook's work on "Pseudoafrocubanismo": getting the effect of timbales from trap drums is no easy matter.)
"A lot of music is about making your obsessions work for you" says Kurt, and "Obsessions" is the musical result of a difficult period in Kurt's life. Other tunes come from happier times. For example, late one night Kurt heard, playing on a juke box in a bar, a song by the still underrated balladeer Roy Orbison. ("Roy Orbison had a real gift for melodies," says Kurt, "rather unusual melodies for the genre ... a lot of big leaps.") This got Kurt to thinking about some of the elements of Orbison's writing: the germ of a tune came to him; before bed, Kurt had a sketch of the tune, and the next day it was finished. The result was "Roy".
The CD wraps up with "The Munsters Have Martinis", something which started as a harmony exercise at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Kurt completed the tune in a loft in New York City in 1987, so it's the oldest of the seven tunes here. He noticed that the melody has some descending elements which he describes as "clichés from horror movies ... scary house movies and the like". But, notwithstanding, it's so cheerful that it conjured up for him the image of "the characters from the Munsters TV show having a fine old time and sharing a pitcher of Martinis."
As stated above, Kurt formed his trio specifically to play his own compositions. He's a prolific composer who's waited some two decades before recording any of them. "Kurt Ribak Trio" is the first of what should therefore be quite a series of recordings. In fact, a little bird tells me that the next is in the works even as these words are being typed. But there's no need to wait: there's plenty of musical mileage to be found in "Kurt Ribak Trio".
Producer, "Desert Island Jazz"/Announcer, Weekend "Jazz Oasis"
© 2005, Michael W. Burman