“The beauty of this music is that, at the same time that it might seem chaotic, it is also accessible . . . It encourages you to hum along . . . at the same time that it unsettles your notions of place, it invites you to partake in a more human modernity . . . Greene and Kruth's synthesis certainly reflects a broader vision.”
—The Huffington Post
Nestled between skyscrapers and shanties in the heart of a bustling urban sprawl lies a sonic oasis in which the sounds of the Indian sarod meet surf rock, West African kora merges with Appalachian mountain tunes, and Afghani melodies mingle with avant-garde jazz. This is TriBeCaStan—a nation where tune smugglers and artistic immigrants from all parts of the globe converge and create the roots music of the future.
On their latest album 5 Star Cave, Jeff Greene and John Kruth orchestrate a delicate balance between chaos and peace, continuing their relentless quest to re-imagine the folk music of the world by asking questions like: What if King Crimson’s bus broke down in the Middle East? What if Miles Davis went country? “It’s not that we don’t respect tradition,” says Greene. “We have all the respect in the world for it. But we are not trying to imitate it at all.”
Throughout their albums and in their spirited live performances, they play over two dozen instruments between them. While Kruth, with nine solo albums to his credit, is best known for his frenetic “Banshee” style of mandolin playing with The Meat Puppets, The Violent Femmes, Ornette Coleman, and Carnatic mandolin master U. Rajesh, his TriBeCaStani grab bag of instruments also includes mandocello, the Moldavian kaval, harmonica, banjo, royal benju, zurna, penny whistle, sheng, Uilleann chanter, bladder pipe, crumhorn, Kelhorn, gong, Indian oboe, and his voice. Also a fine mandolinist in his own right, Greene plays the Afghan rubab, yayli tambur, nyckleharpa, six-string ukulele, kanun, saz, hurdy gurdy, and the koncovka and fujara overtone flutes, as well as a myriad of percussion instruments including the steel drum, chromatic tambourine, guiro, tupan, khamok, and the Jew’s harp.
While Greene focuses heavily on exotic tonal colors, Kruth writes most of the music, composing melodies inspired by traditional folk forms. “The songs are ultimately a melodic stew of all my influences, from Yugoslavian village music to punk, funk, free jazz, and the Beatles.”
TriBeCaStan plays host to a slew of like-minded musical migrants spanning nearly every continent. Together, this array of artists combines their diversity of talents and timbres to produce a cosmopolitan curry of audible flavors. Veteran jazzman Steve Turre returns after appearing on TriBeCaStan’s first album Strange Cousin, adding his Latin-tinged and bluesy trombone lines and conch shells to several tracks. Al Kooper, Blood Sweat and Tears founder and well-known collaborator with Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the Rolling Stones, adds his trademark organ sound. Sufi percussionist Ibrahim González, drummer and percussionist Todd Isler, and premier jazz tabla player Badal Roy (known for his grooves with Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, and John McLaughlin) provide exotic rhythmic intensity. Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas lends her folk-soul vocal stylings. Kenny Margolis of Cracker scrubs a Zydeco rub board and squeezes out Cajun melodies on accordion. Mike DuClos plays some seriously funky bass, reminiscent at times of Miles Davis’s electric band. Charlie Burnham, violinist with James “Blood” Ulmer’s Odyssey, sits in on everything from swing arrangements and funk numbers to an Afghani folk song. Dean Bowman, known for his vocal work in John Scofield’s Ray Charles Review and his work with Elliott Sharp and Gary Lucas, contributes vocals on “Bamako to Malibu.” And Hara Garacci happened by the studio one day and spontaneously laid down a gypsy guitar track on “Dizzy in the Dunes.”
Leading the listener on this temporal and geographic sojourn is “When Tito had Two Legs” (featuring Croatia’s cimbalom champion Gordana Evacic), a tune that sounds as if the Ventures went surfing in the Adriatic while James Bond chased Communist spies through the streets of Zagreb. Charlie Burnham’s wah-wah violin and Samantha Parton’s haunting vocal float over a tabla-infused funk groove in the psychedelic folk-rock jaunt “Stoned Baby,” inspired by a trip to Chennai, India, where Kruth saw mothers with their babies begging on the streets for money. “The infants weren’t crying in the intense heat . . . they were knocked out cold because their mothers had put dope in their milk!”
With its Indonesian Gamelan forms and Indian instruments, “He Hears the Ants” perfectly illustrates the cross-cultural synergism that occurs in TriBeCaStan. “Our friend Bachir Attar of the Master Musicians of Jajouka was waxing poetic about his love for Allah one day,” Kruth recalled. “He said, 'Allah knows all, sees all, hears all—he even hears the ants.'” Pensive and meditative, the song features Kruth’s lush Indian flute among plucked violin accents and the metallic timbres of Asian gongs and a Caribbean steel drum.
Connecting California’s coast to the desert of West Africa, “From Bamako to Malibu” is reminiscent of an Ali Farka Toure-style poly-rhythmic blues with added layers of international imagery. Over a Malian rhythm, the African yodeling of Dean Bowman weaves in and out of trombone riffs, marimba mallets, and metallic thumb piano patterns. As Kruth recalls, “One day in the middle of Manhattan, I was walking down the street plunking out a melody on my African kalimba. I noticed that everyone else was furiously using their thumbs, but to send text messages.”
These two feel right at home in this cultural rift, out of place and time with the rest of the world. TriBeCaStan is an imaginary sonic dimension, a place where ancient traditions from Afghanistan to Africa and Eastern Europe converge with modernity. 5 Star Cave is filled with jams that span the globe and reach into deep space, creating a cosmopolitan sound of funky future folk with a sensitive and energetic explosion of color. As veteran engineer Gene Paul quipped, “TriBeCaStan’s music is like a trip around the world in three blocks."
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