Uli Geissendoerfer and Premik Russell Tubbs with
Gino Sitson • Beat Kaestli • Ljova • Steve Sandberg • Nathan Peck • Mathias Kunzli • Todd Isler • Dibyarka Chatterjee
It was a little over 13 years ago that Munich-born keyboardist Uli Geissendoerfer and New York saxophonist Premik Russell Tubbs met at an informal jam session in Manhattan. The chemistry between the two musicians was immediate and profound. As Tubbs recalls, “I could feel Uli’s musical spirit and his spirit of adventure and I thought, ‘Man, I really like what this guy does.’” But then, as people do, they drifted off in their different musical universes until meeting up again during the summer of 2005 and rekindling that special chemistry they had experienced back in 1995.
“It was at the Cutting Room,” says Uli, recalling the 24th Street nightclub where the Mahavishnu Project, an inspired Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band, was holding forth for a three-night Vishnufest celebration. Tubbs, a onetime member of Mahavishnu Orchestra who had played on their 1975 recording Visions of the Emerald Beyond, ended up sitting in with the group on the night that Geissendoerfer attended. “And that represented the startup of a reunion for us,” says Premik. “We chatted that night and remembered those times that we had played together back in 1995 and promised to get together and play again.”
That later came to pass at Caffe Vivaldi, an intimate venue on Bleecker Street in the heart of Greenwich Village where Tubbs had a regular Sunday night gig. He invited the keyboardist to come down and sit in, and as Premik recalls, “It was real magic, and we realized how much we connected on the musical/spiritual level.”
From that point, they began collaborating in earnest at those regular Sunday night hangs at Caffe Vivaldi. “It began as just the two of us,” says Uli, “then we started inviting all kinds of people to sit in with. It was a really cool experimental type scene and the project just continued to evolve.”
Cameroonian singer Gino Sitson was one of the early participants at those casual jams as were Beat Kaestli , Steve Sandberg and Ljova. At some point, the notion of documenting their unique one-world sound was proposed, adding percussionists Mathias Kunzli and Todd Isler, along with bassist Nathan Peck, a frequent traveler to the Balkans, and tabla player Dibyarka Chatterjee. And so on February 20, 2007, they all congregated at Gigantic Studios in downtown Manhattan to see what might happen. “We brought everybody there, off and on, for a two-day period,” says Premik. “And it was sheer magic.”
There’s that word again.
You can hear that kind of indelible chemistry on these eight dynamic tracks by these kindred spirits collectively known as Bangalore Breakdown. And the magic prevails -- from the expansive 14-minute opener, Sitson’s darkly compelling “Just A Little Prayer,” to a Wayne Shorter influenced excursion on “Where,” with Kaestli’s new lyrics adding a new layer of meaning to the piece that Uli originally composed in 2001, to a zen-like interpretation of the traditional Japanese tune “Sakura” featuring Russian violist Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, to the free-spirited improv romp on “Child’s Play.” Add in Uli’s affecting “Song” (dedicated to his daughter Maya) along with a highly impressionist take on Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” a meditative 14-minute “Mukti,” based on a Bengali melody, and the stirring duet between Tubbs and Geissendoerfer on “Forgiveness,” a gentle piece composed by Premik’s spiritual teacher, the late Sri Chinmoy, and you’ve got a complete Diary of their two days in the studio.
Forgoing the traps set in favor of a mix of hand percussion -- Matthias Kunzli on djembe, Dibyarka Chatterjee on tablas and Todd Isler on frame drum -- instantly opened up the proceedings, allowing for more nuance and finesse on the part of all the players involved. Which brings us to the question of what to call this music. Is it world music? Is it jazz? Is it some kind of new uncategorizable fusion that hasn’t yet been labeled? Whatever you call the music on Diary, it is undeniably heartfelt expression coming from a very genuine place. “I’ve played it to friends of mine who have heard me in more tame settings or even with the Mahavishnu Project, which is music that they recognize,” says Premik. “And they listen and say, ‘This is like a flavor of ice cream I’ve never tasted before.’”
And who doesn’t like ice cream? -- Bill Milkowski
Bill Milkowski is a regular contributor to Jazz Times. He is also the author of “JACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius” (Backbeat Books)