About Signs of Life

Peter comments on selected cuts: 


A cycle of chords over a 7/8 rhythm pattern. Initially, I sang the melody to trombonist James Harvey, who loosely interpreted it. After the melody is stated, each soloist improvises over one revolution of the chord sequence.The rhythm section "dubs out" part of their pattern periodically to create a "breakdown" effect. During the vocal solo by Jai Uttal, the command "Take the last door to get out" is spoken by yours truly through a police-style electric bullhorn (aka megaphone).


This mini-suite in four sections is a good example of how we put material together for a live performance: several contrasting segments are stuck together and performed without a break, in order to create the kind of organic "flow" one finds in a successful improvisation. 

Three of the sections show the African influence: the opening "call", played by twin soprano saxophones, is in the style of Yoruba praise-singing, which is typically begun with an a capella fanfare before the rhythm instruments join in.

In the next section, the guitars and bass play a repeated phrase using a scale found in Gnawa music of Morocco and Bambara music of Mali (the Moroccan sintir and the Malian doussou n'gouni are tuned accordingly) and a horn riff which occurs near the end of the section is a literal adaptation of the rhythm rumba Obatala, which is of Afro-Cuban origin and is traditionally played on the Bata drums. The horn writing here utilizes the "rhythm block" method, a technique I've developed wherein each of the wind instruments plays a separate melodic line in "rhythmic unison" with the others, within a rhythmic pattern usually lasting eight or sixteen bars.

The third section, in 6/8 time, revolves around a "central phrase" produced by the sound of the three guitars and bass each accenting a different place within a two-bar pattern. The three percussionists have their own patterns and may also accent or "highlight" one of the guitar parts. 

The "bridge" sections (or "fourth" section)  are in quick 5/8 and are packed with cycles of changing chords, in contrast to the relatively static harmonic base of the preceding sections. This section indirectly reflects Cecil Taylor's influence. I learned from listening to him the value (and logic) of finding your own chords and chord progressions.

WALK TO THE MOUNTAIN (And Tell The Story Of Love's Thunderclapping Eyes)

...is, like "Candles and Stones," typical of the African "rhythm tapestry" approach, although less developed in the Western sense. Like "Theater Piece" on the Luminous Charms CD, it's a cycle which repeats over and over without variation, except for the substitution of improvised solos for composed horn parts. "Walk" later became one of the Multikulti group's signature pieces. The form is: rhythm vamp with horn parts, harmonium solo by Jai, tenor saxophone solo by Peter (misprinted on CD booklet as "soprano saxophone"), followed by a reprise of the horn parts. The clapping during the solo sections is by members of the horn section. 

FORWARDING, Parts 1 & 2

This was originally parts 4 and 5, respectively, of a suite entitled "Notes From The Rosetta Stone" which was commissioned by the San Francisco Jazz Festival and performed by the Hieroglyphics Ensemble featuring Don Cherry in 1988. 

"Forwarding Part 1," with its reggae-style bass line and guitar "skank," was one to which audience members would frequently dance in live performances. The title comes from the Rastafarian concept that one always goes "forward" in an "upfull" and enlightened existence - never "backward." 

Part 2 is the only piece I've recorded to date that uses a "walking" bass line, which gives it that "jazz" sound. Since our regular bassist, Bo Freeman, is not a "jazz" player, we brought in David Belove, a stalwart on the local Latin jazz scene, to play the dominant bass part. Tony Jones, the first soloist, has been a colleague of mine since 1974, and is, in my view, oneof the most original saxophonists playing today. The spirit in his playing is so strong that frequently other band members are moved to spontaneously join in during his solos, pushing the intensity level up a few notches! This is what happens here. Following Tony's solo are more horn parts in the "rhythm block" style of "Candles and Stones." Other examples of the "rhythm-block" technique can be found in "Chant #9" (Jodoji Brightness, Antilles) and in "Divinity Tree" (Multikulti, A&M).

After solos and a reprise of the horn parts, the bulk of the band falls silent, leaving only the percussionists. Here the African rhythmic foundation is exposed—the ancient West African Comparsa rhythm emerges and is given an unusually (for us) traditional rendering. 

David Bias

New Yorker. Crazy for old cameras and analog film. But I love sci-fi. Go figure.