Imaginary Homeland - Jump for George
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Imaginary Homeland
Jump for George (Jumbie Records, NY)

This is one of those 'what can you say?' sort of recordings. Composer, saxophonist, and percussionist David Rogers, percussionist Mark Stone, violinist Marlene Rice and funky bassist Matt Pavolka have found the link between Appalachian string bands, Ghanian percussion, downtown jazz and host of other unrelated ideas that miraculously fit together as if they had the deepest of ethnomusical roots. Another one to file under: rootless cosmopolitans.

Listen:
Kanawa Girl
Anthem
Mobius Strip

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Here's what the ensemble has to say for itself:
Composer, saxophonist, and percussionist David Rogers writes music that combines the influence of jazz's most innovative composers with a deep knowledge of African musical forms. In his new quartet, Imaginary Homeland, Rogers's nimble saxophone joins with African xylophone, rattles and talking drums, and the sounds of fiddle music from Appalachia to the Sahara.

The band has collaborated with leading African (Bernard Woma) and jazz artists (Regina Carter). Rogers and percussionist Mark Stone have spent years studying and performing traditional music with leading artists in Ghana and Uganda. Marlene Rice and Matt Pavolka are leading string players in New York's creative new music scene.

LINER NOTES (by David Rogers): When I started writing for this band, I had just returned from two years in rural Ghana (West Africa) living and studying with masters of drum language, fiddle, and xylophone music. I had these African traditions in my mind, as well as some of their descendants (jazz, Cuban son, Appalachian fiddle), as I composed in New York. I was also inspired by a sense of various traditions being drawn together and finding new directions. When Mark Stone returned from Uganda he spent his first week in Detroit performing music from East and West Africa, America, and the Caribbean. Together we hoped to unite something from these many traditions-in the music of an imaginary homeland.

KANAWHA GIRL is written for Mark's daughter Abena, who was born in West Virginia and whose mother, Serwah, is a Ghanaian dancer. "Kanawha" is itself an imaginary homeland in history. During the Civil War, the northwestern counties of Virginia chose that name when they broke away from the Confederacy to rejoin the Union. The Union overruled the name, and determined that Kanawha would instead be called West Virginia. This piece is inspired by Appalachian music and its African and Scots-Irish roots. My sax theme at the start is based on an old Appalachian folk song about a "foreign lander." You can hear in Mark's drumming the call-and-response of an African water drum (dansuom) and American "hambone" body percussion.

Every homeland needs an ANTHEM. Ours is inspired by the one-string horse-hair-and-calabash fiddles (called gonji) played across the savannah of West Africa. I was often awoken at night by their melodies drifting through the thatched roof of my hut when I lived with the family of master drummer Dolsi-naa Abubakari Lunna in Tamale. Gonji music is played by groups of dancing fiddlers weaving melodies together against a swishing rattle and a male singer's reedy voice. In this piece Marlene and Matt play the dueling fiddles, Mark's Ugandan rattle provides rhythm, and my talking drum and sax join in the groove.

A mobius strip is what you get when you twist a ribbon once and tape the ends together: a one-sided surface that flips over on itself and back over again. MOBIUS TRIP follows the same twist: the main riff is heard first in the melody, then flips over to the bass line, then flips back up to the melody where it started. Mark gives this jazz tune an African edge with his eclectic drum set. Instead of a bass drum he uses a square gome frame drum, instead of a snare drum he uses a lizard-skin engalabi hand drum, and for a hi-hat he uses an oyo nut rattle on his foot pedal.

JUMP FOR GEORGE was written for my son while he was still jumping in his mother's tummy. Mark plays the gyil, a 16-key xylophone played by the Dagara people in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Cote D'Ivoire. The gyil's wooden keys resonate over 16 gourds, which each have holes lined with papery spider egg-sacks. These vibrating membranes create a buzzing sound, or "spirit," around the melody that is a crucial element in music across Africa. The rhythm of this piece comes from bewaa, a Dagara dance with spectacular jumping and music that alternates singing and percussive solos. In our group, Marlene's violin and my alto sax are the "singers," joining Mark and Matt in a jubilant call and response.

TRAVELOGUE features the lunna, a talking drum of the Dagbamba kingdom in northern Ghana. My deep-toned lunndogo (bass lunna) opens the piece with a soliloquy and later enters into a duet with the higher pitched lunna. At festivals, funerals, weddings, and ceremonies of chiefs, these drums "speak" proverbs that can be used to recite history, give counsel, and praise or mock those in attendance. This piece tells the story of my honeymoon trip with my wife Karen through southern Ghana and up to the north for a homecoming with Dolsi-naa's family. The piece follows the arc of that trip, traveling through a shifting terrain of rhythm and tone without ever returning to where it started. The music's loose transitions are inspired by the fluidity of African music we heard on that trip.

EL SONERO takes Cuban son music as its point of departure, celebrating the laid-back rhythm of early septetos, the searing brass riffs of 50's groups like El Sonero Matancera, and the harmonic freedom of pianist Eddie Palmieri. A mixture of African and Spanish dance rhythms meet in the Cuban son tradition. We explore new instrumental colors for those rhythms with my tenor sax and the African sounds of Mark's drum set. El Sonero was written with love for my wife, Karen.

THE WORLD IS NOT YOUR HOME takes its name from a Hausa folk song. The violin plays its plaintive melody as the tune begins. Lunna and drum set then enter with a Dagbamba-inspired groove that launches the main jazz theme and a series of solos. The Hausa melody and the lunna finally meet as the piece concludes. The unspoken lyrics of the folk song remind us: "One by one we come into this world, one by one we leave it.
One by one we come into this world, one by one we leave it.
This world is not your home.
It is just like a shaky hut."

David Rogers, New York City, August 2003

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