Photos by Dino Perrucci
As one of the most important and anticipated collaborations in music, perplexity is the only word to describe the first thoughts when one attempts to comprehend what these adjoining minds can create: A hip-hop drummer with a classical pianist with a jazz bass player? And who is this Martino guy? Isn’t he old? These questions were promptly laid to rest as the four musical brethren did a little synthesis for New York City at the first of two appearances likely to be the only two.
Featuring the skills of dynamic producer/drummer/visionary Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, young bass master and ?uest’s old school mate Christian McBride, the stimulating classical pianist Uri Caine and the legendary jazz guitarist Pat Martino, the Philadelphia Experiment went to work on some classics, taking them to new heights while adding some of that Philly flavor and conveying the soul surrounding the City of Brotherly Love.
Beginning with Sun Ra’s “Call for All Demons,” settling into the groove as the solo circle began with Martino, than to Uri and taking things down as Christian, looking quite dapper in his Phillies home jersey donning McBride #89 threw down some viscous slap work. Returning to the head, Martino coming back with some chunky chordal melodies, the mind embarking on thoughts of Wes as the big man ?uestlove was holding it down proper. The old school feel (literally) was once again found in the academic tales of McBride and ?uest as Christian let in on a tale of his high school days; walking down this hallway following the sound of a bass to find ?uestlove picking on the JB’s “Funky Good Time.” He introduced ?uest, honoring him as he spoke on the “huge impact he had on my life.” Uri’s nominal tribute to the legendary multi-reed instrumentalist Grover Washington, Jr. followed as the band continued to smooth things out for the New York heads. Sherman Ferguson’s salsa-flavored “Illy Iffy” opened it up for both Martino and Uri Caine whose Rhodes work was exquisite as ?uest’s poly-rhythms provided a bangin’ backbeat. McBride took things to the next level as the band brought it down for him; beginning softly fondling each note to comfort and suddenly changing the cause, erupting into thunder with ?uest right along with him. Returning to the Latin feel, the band took it out with a little drum n bass under Martino’s ever-intricate picking. McBride let us in on the secret that they just freestyled little for us, but then again who could tell.
Three songs into their first show together and these cats were feeling good, real good. McBride introduced one of his musical and personal mentors to the audience, Philadelphia saxophonist Robert Randall, another addition to the brotherhood letting us know that “We are all a family up here.”
“Now we’re gonna play a theme to an old movie,” McBride noted as the quintet dropped the Marvin Gaye classic “Trouble Man.” Randall’s presence was immediately felt, tearing things up soul style. Martino gave us a little more of his hero’s lesson with some tasty Wes licks as the band brought it up a notch to the delight of the NYC heads. Moving off into a swing Uri gently set off on a Rhode trip, ?uestlove settling back into the jazz filling things in perfectly. Stepping things down once again for McBride, the bassman took this opportunity to give us a little chuckle as he dropped “The Pink Panther” and the Theme to the Jefferson’s invoking an audience sing-a-long and lots of laughs on stage. The next tune was a little more up-tempo with Uri on top. Martino was really feeling the groove and giving a little head bop in time as the band dipped into some more James, first hitting “Ain’t It Funky Now” and then easing back into “The Payback” as ?uestlove growled in his finest James Brown. Finishing up the groove, ?uestlove said that back in school McBride always used to turn all songs in D into a JB tune and get them kicked out of orchestra class. Once, during “A Sentimental Journey” McBride started playing “New York, New York” and got the two sent to the principal’s office. Detention at the Philadelphia High School of Creative and Performing Arts must have been a pretty chilling spot.
Playtime was now over, or so we thought. The band gave a taste of the title track to their RopeADope release, The Philadelphia Experiment, a heavy break oriented number. ?uestlove took a solo reminiscent of some 80s hardcore and got a huge pop from the NYC crowd. Things got a bit more aggressive then back down again into some deep-rooted funk, as Martino stepped it up, tearing into the open space as he does so well.
With their debut complete, the message was clear: these cats are serious. This is not an ordinary coalition of musicians, not another project featuring names. Rather it is brotherhood of musicians from different places but one place at the same time. They identify with their roots both individually and collectively and have united them, forging a relationship embracing musicianship contained within a family circle. Through their work they have inspired artists in other locales to combine forces toward further musical exploration illustrating nature and personality unique to each city, associations between which have not really been a focal point of music since the early schools of jazz in Chicago, New York and Kansas City and the rhythm and blues and soul workshops in Detroit and Philadelphia. This Experiment is a success.
Maintain an open mind’s eye, extend your ears to hear what is being created around you. As we are ever reaching new grounds in musical exploration, be sure to take part in the movement and you may find a new place within. There is much more to come...
JamBase NYC Correspondent
More Philadelphia Experiment Photos
Brothers Got Lovely
The Philadelphia Experiment with Pat Martino
Opener: DJ Logic
Theatre Of Living Arts | South Street | Philly
After a show one evening last summer, a Ropeadope sampler fatefully fell into my hands. One side promoted DJ Logic's upcoming sophmore album, The Anomaly and the other a picture of Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, Christian McBride rocking a Phillies jersey, and some dude, on a Philly rooftop. "The Philadelphia Experiment," it read. After listening to ithe promise of this "experiment," plus the excitement of the Logic tunes, a dangerous liason I lusted. The NYC avant jam turntablist getting down with Philly's own true school, the baddest hip-hop drummer and exquisite bass master, classical tweaker ivory wizard composer Uri Caine... And just to up the stakes to unthinkable levels for this Delaware Valley dreamer, Pat Martino, the expansive psychedelic jazz sick-ass.
The theme of TPE is a soundtrack to a streets, an homage to a city of symbolic and inspirational history, one full of struggle, love, aggression, political and social strife, and sensational fanfare. Lately, we the people are smitten with Donovan McNabb and the one and only "Answer": Allen "Jewelz" Iverson. We Philadelphians battle at GOP conventions and wax philosphic about jailed Rabbi's and radiomen, yet somewhere along the way (in the last eight years or so) Ahmir earned a set of keys to the city.
The lineage of this collective is impressive. Ahmir is the son of Philly jazzman Lee Andrews, drummer of the one and only legendary Roots, producing
and playing for the new soul groove backup band The Soulquarians (D'Angelo,
Erykah Badu). He has become the undisputed MVP of organic groove farming.
Just when he couldn't get anymore clout, the Jigga Man Jay-Z cops the Roots
to be his backup band on a straight up banging MTV Unplugged, and there is
Ahmir, trademark afro picked and laying back in the cut on your television.
A meteoric rise to cult phenom. His Philadelphia High School of the
Creative Performing Arts bro Christian McBride was bristling wit' gristle
after touring with the likes of Sting and playing on the tame and critical
contemporary jazz circuit. Apparently, classical composer and Sun Ra
fanatic sci-fi brainiac Uri Caine was eating a cheesesteak because faster
than you can sing Eye of the Tiger, The Philadelphia Experiment was born.
Pat Martino....hmmmm...12 years old, 1957, rolls into AC to see a Les Paul show, get a quick lesson. Hear it from Les', the blues master says he got a
lesson from the sixth grader Martino!. The guy is just a sage, a sea of reinvention. Older efforts with Reuben Wilson, albums like El Hombre planted seeds that sprout famously in today's jazz-freakadelic guitar netherworlds, he finds new avenues to travel with new peoples in his hometown. Just a wonderful manifestation of a home team, and the squad rolled into the TLA with an opening set spun by labelmate DJ Logic.
Logic repped with a set that mixed rare groove, old sample 45s, new school breakbeat, jazzy trance, drum and bass rollers, and 2Live Crew and Pete Rock instrumentals. Other assorted goodies were Jimmy Smith's "Root Down" and Herbie Hancocks powerful "Hang Up Your Hangups." There was a heavy presence of backpacker indie-hip-hop cats in the crowd, as well as critical snobby jazz cats who worship Pat and marvel at Christian. And yes, there were many young heads, so many that I heard this obnoxious (in the Philadelphia sense, of course) disgruntled gibroni wonder aloud if the "jamband kids" are gonna "discover" Pat Martino! Too bad buddy, we are waaay past that.
Shortly after 10:30, TPE took the stage and opened with the straight dark and rumbling downtempo rolling jam that revealed itself as "Call For All Demons." Martino broke a string early on. He was a determined player from the outset, obviously inspired by the effortless circus of Rhodes theatrics courtesy of Caine. This Sun Ra penned foray into Afro-Ameribeat really pushed the envelope, developing into funky two-step that dropped breakbeats throughout. They each soloed around the horn, and McBride established himself as the de facto band leader and resident commander. After a vicious fifteen minute opus, McBride conceded to Caine's melody "Grover," a homage to a man whom would undoubtedly be the fifth experimentalist if he hadn't left us a few years ago, saxophonist extraordinaire Grover Washington Jr.
TPE just bled Philly all evening, from the performers' attire (Ahmir rocked a bi-centennial Dr. J Sixers jersey, Christian a Chad Lewis Eagles jersey emblazoned McBride on the shoulders), to the eclectic mix in the audience, which watched silently for the most part, with heads a bob and eyes affixed. Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man Theme" ushered in some hard funk, McBride's enormous filling bottom end driving the perfect snap of ?uest's hand-clap snare. The first of many James Brown rhythms came through this R&B reworking. McBride joked that he and Ahmir would find room for JB's "Doin it to Death" quite often during their adolescent band and orchestra practices, or whatever occasion. The bassist recalled a performance of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" that turned into "Cold Sweat" with the smoothest of transition. Then they two brothers demonstrated said transition seamlessly , much to the pleasure of the "jamband kids" and the chagrin of the snooty jazz heads who were still talking shit.
As the quartet maneuvered through Sherman Ferguson's swanky "Lle Lfe", the seventies Philadelphonic vibe recalled Garcia's Reconstruction outfit in its blaxploitation swagger, yet with the cool composure of jazz veterans just kickin' it. There was just so much room in these compositions, with each player sliding snuggly into their niche as the grooves evolved into bop maddness. Eddie Green's "Ain't It the Truth" kept everybody honest, except McBride, who decided on whim throughout the song that he was gonna drop clinical mastery on top of a settled groove or tranquil passage. The adrenalized energy was not lost on Martino, who raised the stakes at any opportunity, lacing sweet hollow body tone atop these boom-bap soundscapes. It was interesting to follow ?uest's remarkable patience and reserve being tested by the same qualities in Pat's playing, with Caine and McBride filling out the equation with tasteful and spicy rhythmic stew. Sometimes Caine would geek out so hard on the Rhodes, Pat and Christian would grin a "hey that's not fair!" before attempting to climb on the vehicle while moving.
Christian then announced they would be bringing out Logic for a couple of numbers, and he appeared on stage back left. Logic always has been ahead of his time in the contexts he chooses to throw his hat into. Whether it was back four years with MMW, Eye and I a decade ago, or lately with the resident baddass Karl Denson, Mike Clark or Ratdog, he has always added new flavors to the different projects he has lent his hands. On the real, I like Jason both musically, and personally; he is certainly a cornerstone to our burgeoning scene and down fo' whateva. He adds much more to his craft than say DJ Lethal does for Limp Bizkit, or DJ Homicide to Sugar Ray.
However, when it comes to turntablism, his skills are average at best, and that has for better or worse become apparent often of late. The stakes were high as he jumped on with this Philly crew, him being NYC for life, and a jam DJ, onstage with this masterful group bleeding authenticity. Like so many times before, the inimitable Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson just made the bed, neatly turning down the soft, plush covers in which for Logic, Martino, and Caine (who seemed to be exacting some sweet revenge on classical new age whiners) to maniacally lie. The BEST hip hop drummer alive, his simple boom-bap and tight snap-kick made it just too easy for Logic, and honestly I have never heard Jason sound so at home. His simple stabs and cuts fit nicely, what with no wild drum fills or cluttered bottom end, no real jamming for that matter. Just trip-hop Philly style with a spice of Brooklyn, the determination of Pat Martino, the mindfucking chordal dissonance eminating from within Uri, and rolling bottom end warmth and virtuoso Christian McBride. The bassist seemed reborn in proud new company as he clearly relished the opportunity for newfound relevance and genre-busting. The consumate innovators, Caine, Martino, Logic, and McBride just waxed soulful spirit in the form of "The Philadelphia Experiment," Uri Caine's composition that began this dangerous liason, and was the very tune that piqued my curiosity on a Ropeadope sampler that fateful summers eve. The excursion included a welcome bass diversion into the Pink Panther Theme ala A Night in San Francisco, yet another detour into JB territory, and a mind-bending psychedelic ghostride on behalf of Illadelph's own guitar man.
The band (including Logic) took a bow and then proceeded to shake hands (with one another and some lucky members of the audience) and grin ecstatically, recalling the scene after a Little League game. After some prodding, they returned sans DJ for an encore from the heavens. Penned by the famed R&B songwriters MacDonald and Salter, "Mister Magic" is a tune that Grover Washington rode to greatness. A staccato funk number, organic hip hop, and sexy as the models in a Ja Rule video, I have been a HUGE proponent of this classic since I first came upon it crate digging my freshman year in college. Since that discovery (in the tweaked out little world I live in) Grover's "Mister Magic" has been a soundtrack to snowboarding, sex, study and just about everything in between, as well as the sampled break for many hip hop songs (including Nas blessing a vicious Escobar freestyle over it back in "97.) Needless to say, there was no better choice for an encore. Along the way, Caine, Thompson, and to the greatest extent McBride, delved into Herbie's "Chameleon," and instead of another tired cover of the song, it served as a lesson to today's "Jammers" on the mechanics of funk. Then they neatly returned to "Mister Magic" to seal the deal, and walked off stage like the champions they are.
At times I found TPE wandering into MMW/New Deal territory, and it was here in this bugged out zone that the true school musicianship of the quartet was put to new tests. McBride had early in the show dubbed the experiment "free-form funk," a description that may be applied to a certain era/mood/energy that MMW cultivates (to mixed results) and others emulate as well. However the "free" in Christian's approached relied less on the music connotation of the word "free" and more on the notion of "freedom." Freedom of man, of genre, of one's soul, color, history, tradition, brotherhood, love. From the ground beneath to colors upon, Philadelphia freedom was inescapable throughout the experiment, and in the distorted "whisper-down-the-lane" history annals we have been forcefed, it is in this city that our freedom was born. Whether one chooses to celebrate or exercise this breeding ground, its historical, musical, spiritual and political relevance is undisputed. It may not be the mecca of culture that is NYC, but it is far less pretentious as well. That happy medium provided a fertile breeding ground for experimentals of an Illadelph kind.
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