Thursday, July 24, 2008
As a university student in the early 1980s, Ian Dogole was fascinated by the ancient world. But by the time he enrolled at Stanford in a graduate program focused on Greek archeology, music had become his primary passion, and rather than delving into the past, he decided to forge a world jazz sound that points to the future.
“The academic world wasn’t where I saw myself, stuck in a library somewhere,” Dogole says. “After one year I dropped out and formed my first band. The vision really took off at that point.”
Dogole presents his sweeping ensemble Hemispheres on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company, featuring Bill Douglass on bass and Chinese bamboo flute, Frank Martin on piano, and Sheldon Brown on the reed instruments.
Hemispheres possesses an embarrassment of improvisational riches. All the players are steeped in jazz, and they’ve honed a repertoire of ravishing originals, as well as arrangements of folk melodies and jazz tunes by Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Herbie Nichols.
“Everybody is so open to going in any direction,” Dogole says. “We’re not genre specific and we’re not interested in being purists. We play tango, choro, Middle-Eastern modes.”
Immersed in a multiplicity of global rhythmic currents, Dogole performs on a dazzling menagerie of instruments, including Nigerian clay pot (or udu), Peruvian box drum (cajon), Middle Eastern goblet drum (dumbek), African thumb piano (kalimba), and a trap set of his own creation played with the usual implements (sticks, mallets and brushes). Over the years he’s collaborated with some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, including Nubian oud master Hamza El Din, Pakistani vocalist Shafqat Ali Khan and guitarist Alex Degrassi.
The concept for Hemispheres started taking shape in the early 1990s when Dogole led ensembles with various configurations featuring Douglass and Brown. The group’s name didn’t arrive until years later, with the release of a captivating 2003 DVD recorded live at Mill Valley’s 142 Throckmorton Theatre. The following year the group recorded Convergence, a gorgeous CD that centers on tributes to Coltrane and beloved trap set poet Billy Higgins.
“The name ‘Hemispheres’ seemed to capture what we’re about,” Dogole says. “We’re sort of chameleons. You have no clue where we’re going next.”
The band’s multi-directional sensibility flows from its constituents. Douglass, a commanding bassist with a huge woody tone and propulsive sense of swing, is best known for extensive work with jazz piano doyenne Marian McPartland.
Brown is a bandleader in his own right, but he mostly works as a supremely flexible sideman capable of elevating a vast array of musical settings, from the silent film scores of Club Foot Orchestra to the San Francisco Klezmer Experience. He’s toured and recorded widely with Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, and plays a key role in Clarinet Thing, the all-clarinet ensemble led by Beth Custer.
Martin is the newest member, and his experience is similarly broad. As a sideman, the pianist/keyboardist has worked with jazz’s finest improvisers, including Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie. And, through his ongoing relationship with the Grammy-debecked producer Narada Michael Waldon, he’s played on recording sessions with everyone from Diana Ross and Ray Charles to Sting and Madonna.
“Frank is a powerhouse, a virtuoso, a master improviser, and a great arranger,” Dogole says. “He brought the open mindedness, the adventurous nature that’s so much in synch with the rest of us. He really tied the bow on this thing.”
Ian Dogole and Hemispheres perform on Saturday, 7:30pm, at the Jazz & Blues Company on San Carlos and Eighth. $35. 624-6432, www.thejazzandbluescompany.com.