doc_beast

“My original idea for the UFQ, was inspired in part, by British jazz drummer Bill Bruford's original 1987 acoustic-electronic Earthworks group. Bruford had been one of the first proponents of using electronic drums in jazz, notably with his Simmons SDS 7 electronic drum kit, in addition to the sounds of a Yamaha DX-21 synthesizer. Bruford was able to use his kit to play chords, melodies and samples, creating an other-worldly texture to his compositions.

Bruford enlisted the acoustic tones of tenor and soprano saxophonist Iain Ballamy, the acoustic bassist Mick Hutton, and later, acoustic/electric bassist Tim Harries, to counter-balance his electric timbres, and those of the keyboardist, “the disgustingly talented” Django Bates, who would often double Ballamy on his E flat tenor horn.

The balance worked amazingly well, the music was incredible, as Earthworks' success over the last twenty years can attest. Bruford had sought out the best and brightest youth of the British jazz scene; open-minded and energetic, however, as time wore on, the limitations of this new technology took its toll on him, and Earthworks ultimately re-emerged in 1999 as an all acoustic group.

With the memories of that brilliant Earthworks combo still fresh in my mind, I nevertheless got my hands on a basic 5 piece, Simmons SDS 9 kit from my friend, composer Stephen Bray in 1988. A few months later, I bought 5 more pads, a Roland PM-16 brain, a Yamaha TX81Z, an Alesis HR16 and Voila! I had a virtual duplication of Bruford's kits and sounds, and after seeing him use it live with Earthworks and David Torn's Cloud About Mercury tours, I taught myself how to play many of his patterns and melodies from the kit. The Simmons served me well until 1995, when I built the first Drummstick, a MIDI percussion controller I could wear like a guitar. It took off and my musical journeys began anew. I retired the Simmons shortly after, and got into the world of the Zendrum in 2007.

The original line-up UFQ began in 2007, and consisted of myself on Drummstick and Zendrum and featured saxophonist Charles Unger, keyboardist Sam Peoples and bassist Mike Shea. The UFQ recorded 2 albums, including one featuring poet "Robert Anbian and the UFQ". There have been several other incarnations, with Wilbur Rehmann or Rich Berman on sax, Edo Castro or Ariane Cap on bass, and Peter Fox or Nora Maki on keyboards, with occasional guest guitarists like John Moremen or Cas Lucas.

Thanks to my musical partner in crime, bassist Castro, I was extremely fortunate to discover the San Francisco jazz keyboardist Steve McQuarry and his wonderful bassist, Ted Burik and saxophonist Georgianna Krieger. Their love of both jazz, and the electronic music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report's Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, mirrored my own.

Following many performances and McQuarry’s recent tributes to both Carla Bley and Gil Evans at SFJazz in mind, I felt now the time right for me to revisit the works of Bruford’s original Earthworks group that had been played some twenty years earlier. Following many more enthusiastic discussions with McQuarry, I offered up the idea for my project, and by using Bruford's “recipe”. He loved the idea and encouraged me to add the energetic bassist Burik and Krieger on saxophones from McQuarry's Resonance Jazz Octet. Having opted to use my recently refurbished Simmons SDS 9 kit, and like Bruford before me, I was fairly sure they would help to balance my electronic drum samples and McQuarry's keyboards, against the warm tones of Krieger’s sax, and Burik’s electric and acoustic basses.

This “formula” works similarly to Bruford’s by off-setting his electronic kit and Bates keyboards, against Ballamy’s sax and Hutton’s acoustic bass. As Bruford often stated during their initial Earthworks tour, “It’s a lot of fun, and if we play any jazz, let us know!” That being said, there was very little sheet music of Bruford's first Earthworks group, and trying to transcribe those improvised pieces seemed a Herculean task. It was then that Burik suggested we perform the music of Bruford's acoustic Earthworks, but with own electronic twist; there was sheet music aplenty and I loved that music! Songs like "Tramontana" and even "Beelzebub" from his original Bruford band were now at our fingertips!

With the UFQ, I’m not only able play chords, melodies and drum samples, I can also play world, techno, and jazz timbres, not unlike the “chordal drumming” made famous by the original Earthworks band on songs like like “My Heart Declares a Holiday”. Improvising over those lines was different on any given night, which was one of the things I’ve always loved about playing jazz.

Groups like the Grateful Dead inspired “Dark Star Orchestra”, and Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith’s “Yo Miles!”, pay tribute to those bygone groups, but add their own unmistakable musical stamp. That is what the UFQ hopes to do today...”

-E. Doctor Smith