Tumble returns to perform Grass Valley
In its first local appearance since 2018’s California World Fest, the music group Tumble brings its unique blend of jazz, pop and traditional African sounds to the Wild Eye Pub in Grass Valley, according to a release.
Tumble plays from 6:30-9:30 tonight. Three sets may appear a bit of an endurance test for a three-piece ensemble, but it turns out the trance-like swing of much of its music induces a blissful suspension of temporality the band refers to as Tumble Time.
“We’ll be practicing a tune, often we’re so caught up in the music, an hour will go by before we even think to take a rest,” said Randy McKean, tenor sax and clarinet player for the band.
McKean blames the lack of rehearsal breaks on Robert Heirendt, Tumble’s mbira player. According to McKean, the sounds Heirendt coaxes from the traditional Zimbabwean instrument — often called the thumb piano because of its array of resonant metal tongs, are so mesmerizing and grooving McKean and Sean Kerrigan, the group’s guitarist, can’t help but trance-out.
Apparently the effect is most acute when developing new ideas. “We’re creating layers of riffs and melodies, there is a lot of search and discovery,” McKean said. “It’s intoxicating.”
The group formed in 2014 when McKean invited Heirendt and Kerrigan to a session in his garage studio, feeling their respective approaches would work well together.
McKean recalls: “We started with Robert teaching us a piece called Shumba, a traditional Zimbabwean tune with this pendulum-like, almost sing-song melody. It was so fun. Sean and I were hooked.”
Expecting more traditional tunes, McKean was unprepared for the flood of original compositions that soon followed.
In subsequent rehearsals, Heirendt brought in pieces informed by his wide range of influences, including saxophonist Wayne Shorter and the world-fusion groups Oregon and Codona. Kerrigan was exploring advanced jazz harmony at Berkeley’s Jazz School and was bursting with ideas he wanted to try.
McKean’s experience with modern classical music helped shape many of the band’s arrangements.
“I think it’s one of the things that set us apart from other groups. Instead of a string of grand solos, we may focus instead on small variations of the written material, or have a group improv or a round robin of shorter solo ideas.”
The group celebrated the release of its first CD, Music for Trio, in 2017, with a CD release concert at Nevada Theater. Local bass legend Bill Douglass played with Tumble for a two-year stretch, which broadened the group’s sound and brought an added maturity to the band.
“There’s a tendency to play so many notes,” McKean said. “Bill’s approach brought more space and listening to the music. We all connected on a deep level.”
The quartet recorded an album, Waves, which is scheduled for release later this year.
Although they are back to their starting lineup trio configuration for their Wild Eye gig, Tumble has invited several guests to join them onstage. Bassist/percussionist Rob Holland will be sitting in later in the evening, and Heirendt’s daughter Mei Lin, an up and coming violinist, will be playing on several numbers.
And they promise, no matter how epic the jams or mesmerizing their renditions of traditional tunes, there will be bathroom breaks.
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