Words & Images by: Frank Etheridge
Ike Stubblefield :: 06.07.08 :: The Loft :: Columbus, GA
Just four minutes into his 56th year, Ike Stubblefield paused for a moment, reflective of and respectful to the absurdity of the question posed to him: "How did you get here?"
|Ike Stubblefield :: 06.07 :: Georgia|
The jazz/funk/R&B legend spent his setbreak on the balcony at The Loft, overlooking the drunken debauchery on Broadway Street below and taking in the hotter-than-hell Georgia night. He'd just slipped his white tennis shoes back on – he is always in sock feet when playing the B3 organ in his trademark, silky-smooth style – after sailing through an hour-plus set in front of a sparse audience.
"We're all Zambi," Stubblefield replied, flashing a smile.
That's not a surprising response from a resident of Zambiland, that ephemeral, philosophical space where Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) planted his freak flag years ago to forge a safe haven for musical malcontents and provocateurs, a time and place free of constrictions and void of composition, parameters (or lack thereof) perfect for the Holy Grail-scale quest for music in its purest form. Stubblefield's introduction to Hampton and Zambi came when he moved to Atlanta in 2001 and quickly became immersed in the Hampton-spawned scene that includes such frequent collaborators and co-conspirators as Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, Derek Trucks, Bobby Lee Rogers (Codetalkers), Yonrico Scott, Jimmy Herring, Jeff Sipe and Count M'butu. Stubblefield's status in this scene is perhaps best summed up by the Codetalkers' tune "(Everyone Wants to be Like) Ike Stubblefield."
However, it doesn't explain the many roads he traveled on the path to Zambiland. Having played piano since the age of three, Stubblefield began his career in 1968 as a Motown session player, and performed on tracks for that label's stars, including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Four Tops. In the '70s, during which he moved between London, New York and San Francisco, Stubblefield shared the stage with the Jerry Garcia Band, The Pointer Sisters, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner, among countless others. In 2001, seeking a fresh start after running a music club and in need of inspiration, Stubblefield moved to Atlanta, where his frenetic B3 play found a home at Club 290, a jazz joint where he immersed himself in Hampton's sphere of influence and Zambi theory.
On this night, Stubblefield's shoeless grooves oozed and twirled out of the Leslie behind him. Drummer Will Groth had only played four gigs with Stubblefield at this point but is excellent in the pocket, alternating appropriately between thunder and lightning as he keeps time with Stubblefield and guitarist Grant Green Jr., who has been a frequent partner of Stubblefield's for years now. Yes, he's the son of THAT Grant Green, the Blue Note Records legend, who flourished in the organ trio format as well, and has arguably the most distinctive licks of any guitarist in jazz history. Junior has his father's chops and tone down pat. This tone created a gentle, deliberate intro to the Stubblefield original "Brazil," the first set closer, before turning a corner and taking the rest of the trio with him into a frenzied finish, building layer upon layer perfectly as Stubblefield worked his magic, Praying Mantis-style, with steady footwork to accompany his fingers tickling the keys one minute, slapping them with his palms the next.
|Grant Green Jr. :: 06.07 :: Georgia|
The two sets were a swift spin through Stubblefield originals and choice covers such as Santana's "Oye Como Va" and Booker T. and the MG's "Green Onions." Stubblefield says he loves performing live but, just like everyone else forced to squirm in the gas-price chokehold, he fears that the high cost of travel will cut down on trips out of Atlanta to small gigs such as this one at The Loft. He stays busy with studio work, however, having recently recorded on Jimmy Herring's soon-to-be-released solo album, the first solo effort by Widespread Panic's guitarist and one filled with collaborations by the aforementioned denizens of Zambiland.
Stubblefield's eyes lit up as he talked about his birthday gig/celebration the night after The Loft show at the Northside Tavern in Atlanta. He said the stage would be open for players to come and sit-in; "Everyone, all of us Zambi, will be there."
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