Jay Lane’s Dead Beats
A few years ago, Mose previewed some recordings that Lane had been working on. Immediately, Lane wanted to be involved. Rather than simply jump into an Alphabet Soup reunion, he and Mose—along with Burger—expanded their musical vision from the acid jazz sounds of the past. They embraced stylistic influences from Jamaica and Africa and a lyrical outlook that adopted a united front similar to its moniker—a nod to Shakespeare’s “Henry V” ( We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me; Shall be my brother ).
Trading computer files, the trio developed a mash up that featured hip-hop, live instrumentation from Wasserman and sitarist Gabby LaLa, acoustic drums (including Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum), electronic beats and sampled loops.
After much hesitation, Lane dove into the Grateful Dead catalog as a resource for further hybrids of sounds. Samples and/or musical phrases by the Dead became the starting point for many of the new recordings.
“I didn’t want to ride anybody’s coattails,” he says of the debate about including Dead samples before remembering the advice of friend and fellow musician Happy Sanchez. “He said, ‘Honest truth is, you could have the greatest project and it could go nowhere just because lot of times it takes a lot to break a brand new thing. But if you could wrap it in something people are familiar with, it might be easier.’”
What Lane wants to clarify for listeners is that “it’s not like we pulled up a sample of the Grateful Dead and somebody’s rapping over it. We labored over it with singing, harmonies and live instruments.”
Longtime Deadheads should notice the familiar organ strain and chorus from “The Golden Road” in the Brotherz track “Hey Hey,” but those recognizable elements are merely building blocks for a reconfigured exploration of the original source using hip-hop and reggae. The signature guitar rhythm of “Franklin’s Tower” receives the same treatment. In “The River Song,” it becomes the basis for a multi-layered sonic puzzle that contains Caribbean and African flavors.
“Now that we’ve been through 9/11, I think everybody’s sensibilities are more world-oriented and that’s where music seems to want to go.”
Band of Brotherz debuted Deadbeats and Murderous Medlys during a series of shows last year, some of which were aftershows during The Dead and RatDog tours. The ad hoc ensembles included Wasserman, Gabby LaLa, Andre Marshall, Sanchez and the rappers Mic Blake and Rowski. Lane hopes to bring Band of Brotherz back to the stage during any breaks in his busy schedule this year.
“I didn’t grow up listening to Grateful Dead stuff,” he says. “That was part of the reason I got the gig from Bob Weir. I didn’t know too much about the Dead and he liked that. It’s been a challenge, learning a new idiom. I came from playing with Les Claypool and funk bands all through the ‘80s. I’ve immersed myself, like a Born Again Deadhead. And now I’ve just adapted it to the music I make on the side, too.
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