An eclectic and dynamic group improvises unique jazz
Call it grOOve.imProV.arTiSts 2.0.
Jazz musician DeShannon Higa debuted the latest version of his rhythm-based acid jazz project at the refurbished thirtyninehotel on the last Thursday in March. Considering that the eclectic bunch of musicians hadn't even rehearsed beforehand, they meshed pretty darn well from the get-go.
With DeShannon Higa and grOOve.imProV.arTiSts
On stage: 10 p.m. Thursdays
Place: thirtyninehotel, 39 N. Hotel St.
Cover: $5, 21 and over
Also: A three-piece version called Mixology performs at "Skyline" club events held 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. the first and third Saturdays of every month in the Hanohano Room of the Sheraton Waikiki (21 and over)
Higa held an impromptu meeting with the musicians just before the set began, expressing how he expected the evening to start simply, then build, and finally climax, leaving in its wake a satisfied and dance-happy audience wanting more.
Considering the skill level of the invited musicians -- including percussionist Lopaka Colon, bassist Dean Taba, drummer Adriano Larioza, keyboardist Mark Tanoue and ukulele player Abe Lagrimas Jr., well-versed and seasoned players all -- Higa had never come closer to realizing his vision. Coming along for the ride was his regular grOOve.imProV singer Maria Ramos, plus, from the local hip-hop community, MC Seph1 and DJ Danny1.
Things started with a mini-tribal drum circle between Colon and Higa. Then Colon broke up the beat and Higa picked up his trumpet to herald a rhythmic breakout, his strong playing amplified by the acoustics of the room.
It was the perfect music for this art and performance space. Seph1 and Ramos were able to go with the flow with freestyle raps and improvised singing. With a hand signal or a short, shouted instruction, Higa directed the musical change-ups at the drop of a dime. The group proved it could smooth things out sonically, then double the time signature, slow it down with an ear to the floating cosmos, and have particular musicians "converse" with one another.
That night, things really heated up when the band hit an Afrobeat groove that grew in ferocity, chopped it down and then, wham!, Tanoue started a syncopated montuno vamp that ended the set on a glorious salsa groove.
THIS KIND of music has been foremost on Higa's mind ever since he was inspired by the sounds of the acid jazz contingent Groove Collective, introduced to him in a CD exchange with a fellow musician on a cruise ship gig.
"I never heard jazz like that before," he said between sets. "It wasn't smooth jazz, it wasn't bebop, but something in between. It was revolutionary sounding to me. It brought the music into a new modern context.
"I've never been satisfied. I always strive for a higher musicianship. And tonight, all of us are holding our own. We're all pieces fitting into the same puzzle, all contributing to the same pot of stew to make for a satisfying recipe."
The word-of-mouth was such that the grOOve.imProV.arTiSts attracted a pretty diverse audience that night. "This kind of music is meant to cross a lot of boundaries. It's neat to bring in the 20-somethings to the 50-somethings. I want my music to have a universal appeal," Higa said.
"The 60-second talk you saw me have with the guys before we started playing was the extent of our rehearsal. Considering how we moved and negotiated our way through the music, I couldn't be happier. It felt extremely organic, there was a definite flow to it, and everybody had a chance to shine. Together, we made a sound that was more than the sum of its parts."
In the weeks to come, regardless of a constant shift in lineup, Higa guarantees that the music "will always be dynamic. It's got to be that way. And it will always have a forward momentum."