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Pioneering Experimental Turntablist Jazz Trio Livehuman Celebrate "scratchBop" With March 16th Amoeba San Francisco In-Store

Posted by Billyjam, March 11, 2017 02:28pm | Post a Comment
Livehuman celebrate "scratchBop" with Amoeba SF in-store Thursday March 16th @ 6pm

San Francisco progressive jazz trio Livehuman have been together now for two full decades. In that time the turntablist/bass/percussion experimental ensemble, comprised of DJ Quest, Andrew
Kushin, and Albert Mathias, have performed countless concerts both locally and internationally including at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival and released a string of critically acclaimed albums. But it is only now with the recent release of their 2017 album scratchBop that these hard-working musical perfectionists feel that they've finally found their proverbial groove. They will celebrate the new album with an Amoeba San Francisco in-store Thursday March 16 at  6pm.
"Livehuman was born of an inspiration I had listening to Miles Davis' doo-bop record," percussionist Albert Mathias told the Amoeblog this week. Added the artist who cites among his other "jazz heroes"
as Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago, "That was a long time ago and for me scratchBop is what I dreamt might be possible….though I didn't realize it would take most of my adult life to achieve it." This insight by the gifted percussionist should not come as a total surprise to longtime fans of the band, familiar with such past album releases as Monostereosis: The New Victrola Method or Elefish Jellyphant, since scratchBop displays somewhat of a new musical chapter for the trio. Or as bassist Andrew Kushin calls it, "an uncovering" of sorts following years of tirelessly playing together and honing a distinct innovative jazz style. 

Years before Livehuman formed percussionist Albert Mathias
and bassist Andrew Kushin had been playing in a free jazz trio called Thread along with baritone saxophonist and mentor Charles Sharp. Kushin credits Sharp for much of his and Mathias' early jazz musical influences. "He was the guy that got me into playing upright in the first place," Kushin told the Amoeblog this week. "He would make me these amazing mix tapes with music by Albert Ayler, Grachan Moncur, Ornette with David Izenzon, Archie Shepp, Art Ensemble, David Murray, the list goes on. But you get the picture. He basically said, 'Here listen to this and play the bass like this.' So that was my indoctrination into the music and the instrument. Albert had been studying North Indian percussion at CalArts and had studied a bit with Tony Williams when I met him in '93. Charles kept telling Albert to play non-forward rhythm which I remember confused the fuck out of him at the time, but ended up really opening up his playing."

Thread, who recorded an unreleased studio album's worth of material, disbanded when Kushin and Mathias both got hired by choreographer, performer, and teacher Sara Shelton Mann to join her touring dance ensemble Company Contraband. When a couple of years later the dance company broke up they initially went their separate musical ways. "Albert started sitting in on drum kit at these freestyle sessions out on Clement Street. He would just hold down breakbeats all night long behind MC's and whoever was DJ that night," recalled Kushin. That in turn led to Mathias joining creative forces with DJ Quest and, along with the DJ, regrouping with Kushin for what they thought would be a one-off freestyle session. "After that first session we all kind of knew we had to keep playing together," recalled Kushin of Livehuman's organic formation as an actual group back in 1997.

Percussionist Mathias figures that to truly "feel comfortable" as a cohesive trio that it took Livehuman, "about twelve years of swin
ging together" to arrive at that point.  Kushin remembers the formative days of Livehuman as, "A unique concoction of hip-hop, free jazz, funk and noise" which he stressed was, "not because anybody had any kind of preconceived ideas about mashing up genres or anything like that." Rather it was the melding of their divergent musical backgrounds. "Quest came from the world of battle records and rocking parties," said Kushin. "And we just came in with open ears and tried to meet each other musically. We were each able and willing to follow wherever the music went. It was very freeform and raw." Recorded after only three months of playing together was the group's 1997 eponymous debut on Cosmic Records.

"You can hear the free jazz influence just as much as the hip-hop," said Kushin of the group's first album. "What you don't hear on that record, or on any of our subsequent studio releases, are references to overt jazz idioms like walking bass figures or swinging ride patterns. Why? It's not that we were purposely trying to avoid it. We just didn't go there naturally as a group at that time. As the music started to take form in the studio over the next couple of years we leaned on the breakbeat as the primary canvas. With multi-tracking it just kind of made sense for composing in the studio," he said adding that, "Of course those studio sessions then began to influence the live performances. And so it went."

As for the groundwork that led to making of the new album scratchBop? "We spent the better part of two years rehearsing before we recorded this album which meant tons of experimentation. We even worked on jazz freestyle with all electronic instruments," confided Mathias. Then over a one week period at the artist's Tin Pyramid studio in San Francisco they recorded live and in real time (no overdubs or studio trickery) a solid five hours of music that in turn would be edited down to the 66
minutes that became the 12 track album scratchBop. In many ways scratchBop and those freeform practice sessions that paved the way for the new album were a return to the group's roots. "All of those early influences just started coming to the surface again," said Kushin. "We found ourselves riffing these freebop motifs. Quest's scratching was swinging in a way that I'd never heard before [and] we just followed that sound. Basically that's what you're hearing on scratchBop."

As so many other diehard turntablist fans (myself included), who have noted of the criminally under-appreciated artist that is DJ Quest, Mathias is equally in awe of his longtime musical collaborator. "DJ Quest's skills are limitless! Never have I played music with a more engaging soloist. His ability to create from scratch, pun intended, such musical expression out of thin air is unmatched on this planet or any other!" As for the role of a turntablist / scratch manipulator as musician in the traditional jazz setting Mathias noted that, "When all is said and done we only seek to explore what scratching as an instrument is capable of expressing: to create interactive live scratch music. And although we borrow from the revered context of jazz improvisation it  was not the goal to be 'jazz' but instead to embrace the freedom embedded in the tradition and to utilize the widely established musical language as yet another spaceship for creatively interactive sonic ideas."  Mathias added
that just because his group may only now have reached that vision he had for Livehuman all those years ago that, "As a musical group we will never stop exploring!"

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In addition to performing scratchBop live (and album signing) at Amoeba San Francisco
during an
instore Thursday March 16 at  6pm, they will also perform tonight (March 11th)
at El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on a bill with
Spinmaster A-1, Nitsua, and Chily-T opening
for Shing02 & The Chee-Hoos as part of a tribute for Nujabes. Tomorrow afternoon, Sunday March 12th at 2pm they play at 1 Stop DJ Shop in Modesto. On Saturday March
18th they perform
at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom's downstairs venue Social Hall.

Relevant Tags

Albert Mathias (3), Livehuman Regency Sf (1), Andrew Kushin (2), Dj Quest (54), Miles Davis (39), Freebop (2), Jazz (150), Free Jazz (6), Live Human (6), Livehuman Amoeba Instore (1), Livehuman El Rey (1), Livehuman (4)