The Andrew Oliver Kora Band combines elements of jazz and traditional West African music to create a unique soul-stirring sound. In the wake of his 2007 tour of West Africa with the U.S. State Department’s Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad, pianist and composer Andrew Oliver was inspired to dive deeper into the relationship between jazz and West African music. His exploration eventually led to the founding of the Kora Ensemble, featuring atypical instrumentation that highlights Kane Mathis on the 21-string Kora, a traditional harp from West Africa. Kane is one of the most accomplished Kora players in the U.S., having spent many years in The Gambia studying with master musicians. Also featured are Jim Knodle on trumpet, Brady Millard-Kish on bass, and Mark DiFlorio on drums. The talented ensemble performs both original compositions designed to explore the many possibilities of its unique timbre as well as traditional and modern songs from West Africa arranged specifically for the band.
Andrew Oliver - piano, keyboard
Kane Mathis - kora, guitar
Jim Knodle - trumpet
Brady Millard-Kish - acoustic bass, electric bass
Mark DiFlorio - drums, percussion
Andrew Oliver, piano and keyboard
Andrew Oliver is a pianist and composer from Portland, Oregon. He grew up playing classical music but switched to jazz at the beginning of high school, when he began taking lessons from Randy Porter. He lived in New Orleans from 2002 until 2005, where he studied jazz at Loyola University and performed as both a bandleader and sideman. After evacuating from Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, he returned to Portland and finished his studies in music and French at Portland State University. He has studied with Matt Lemmler, Michael Pellera, and Darrell Grant, and performed with many musicians in New Orleans and Portland including Devin Phillips, Irvin Mayfield, and Glen Moore. He is currently active in many groups including his own sextet, the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble, which he recently co-founded, and Devin Phillips’ group New Orleans Straight Ahead.
Kane Mathis, kora and guitar
At 16 years old, after hearing many African records from all over the continent, Kane felt a strong interest in pursuing West African music and did so by incorporating the styles into his solo acoustic guitar playing. Just before the first year of his education at the Lawrence University Conservatory, Kane procured a 21-string West African harp from an American kora player, David Gilden. After his first year at Lawrence, Kane had the opportunity to travel to the birthplace of Kora, The Gambia, to study with the Jobarteh family, one of the country’s most famous musical families. There, in the same compound that had produced three generations of the Gambia’s most famous musicians, Kane would start his new musical education. Surprisingly, the father of the compound, Malamini Jobarteh, oversaw Kane’s education himself. This study resulted in diplomas and certificates of recognition from Malamini Jobarteh, The Gambian minister of culture, and the President of the Gambia. Kane began to get regular radio play in The Gambia starting in 1999. Subsequent trips have found Kane headlining concerts organized by the American ambassador to The Gambia, performing with his Gambian trio on national television, and performing at the first annual Gambian heritage festival.
Jim Knodle, trumpet
For trumpeter Jim Knodle, composing began as a natural extension of his activities as a performer. After college and university studies in music and many years playing rock’n roll, rhythm and blues and jazz music, he began focusing on techniques of extended improvisation and methods of integrating these elements with compositional systems. He was a member of the free jazz group Holus Bolus, and a founding member of Circular Cowboys and Inside Out. He has recorded and performed with Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb, Vinnie Golia, Lynette Westendorf, Michael Vlatkovich, Andrew Hill and others. His compositions have been performed in concerts presented by the Earshot Jazz Festival, the Creative Music Guild, and Tone Action Orchestra. He has performed recently with the Michael Owcharuk Sextet, Dina Blade, the Distract Band, and his own trio. He has released three CDs: “Unprepared” (Louie Records), and “Wending” (Nine Winds), and “Keeping the Devil Out”.
Brady Millard-Kish, acoustic and electric bass
Brady Millard-Kish grew up in Michigan where he earned a B.A. in classical music at Michigan State University. A graduate fellowship then took him south to the world-renowned University of New Orleans jazz studies program, where he studied under greats like Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste. During the five years he spent in New Orleans as a full-time musician, Brady was a founding member of the critically acclaimed jazz ensemble “Quintology.” He also performed and recorded with members of Soul Asylum, G. Love and Special Sauce, Blind Melon, and Galactic, among others. Upon moving to the Pacific Northwest, Brady joined Kim Field and the Mighty Titans of Tone—Washington Blues Society’s “Best New Blues Band 2008.” Brady is a busy freelance bassist and offers private bass instruction through Heartwood Guitar Instruction.
Mark DiFlorio, drums
In 1993 Mark moved to New Orleans seeking to tap into the source of jazz. By 1999 he had toured Austria and Italy, graduated with a M.M. in Jazz Performance from the University of New Orleans and had recorded the "Best new Jazz Album in New Orleans, 1999". Playing on the scene in New Orleans with great bands such as Astral Project, Quintology, The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, James Singleton and Ed Petersen shaped Mark's person and his performing. In 2002 Mark left The Big Easy to wander through the forests and search for something or nothing. After a short and difficult time in Brooklyn, New York and then a few months at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's Buddhist monastery in Thenac, France, he went back to New Orleans in the beginning of 2005 and back to music. Hurricane Katrina flooded Mark out of that magical city and he washed up on the west coast in Portland, Oregon. Portland and the people were kind, helpful and gracious. Mark was performing all over the city with great local musicians as well as a small contingency of displaced New Orleanians. After meeting his now wife Mark moved to Seattle where he now performs, teaches and is raising his family.