Blue Notes: Tribal Tech

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 6:00pm

Thursday night will be a big one for fans of hard-core jazz fusion, as one of the genre's "supergroups" is appearing in Chai Wan.

Tribal Tech, who went their separate ways in 2000 after releasing nine albums, reconvened in 2010 to record a new disc, which was finally released last year under the title X. They are now going back on the road to promote it, and Thursday's performance at the Youth Square Y-Theatre is the first of a world tour; the Asian leg also takes in Tokyo, Seoul, Jakarta and Mumbai. It will be the band's first live performance together for 12 years.

Tribal Tech were formed in 1984 by guitarist Scott Henderson, the best known member of the quartet, and bassist Gary Willis. They are the only original members in the band, but had settled on a stable line-up with keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington by the time the quartet made the 1992 album Illicit, and went on to record another four CDs before going their separate ways.

This is the last configuration of the band which recorded and is touring X. All four musicians have busy independent careers and are much in demand as sidemen in jazz, rock and blues contexts.

Henderson, a blues-based player with strong rock influences, is one of jazz fusion's most acclaimed guitar heroes, with a resumé which includes stints with Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea's Elektric Band and Jean Luc Ponty, as well as his solo albums and recordings with the trio Tech Tones.

Henderson was with the Elektric Band when they played the AC Hall at the Baptist College in Kowloon Tong in 1986.

Bassist Willis, a Texan who lives in Barcelona, has played with another of the greats of fusion guitar, Allan Holdsworth, as well as Wayne Shorter and fusion-influenced bluesman Robben Ford.

Keyboardist Kinsey and drummer Covington have both also worked with Ford and Zawinul and are strong individual stylists.

Listening to X, or the earlier Tribal Tech albums, the Zawinul, Shorter and Corea connections make perfect sense. The type of fusion jazz the group play derives from the bands which spun off from the Miles Davis In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew sessions, in which all those players were involved - Weather Report, Return To Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Henderson, Kinsey, Willis and Covington are among the few players to emerge during the 1980s who choose to keep the early 1970s fusion flame burning.

There is nothing "smooth jazz" about Tribal Tech. The playing is often aggressive, and much of the music on X evolved from studio jams which were subsequently worked into finished compositions. The tracks retain an exploratory feel. Complex, intricate and fiendishly difficult to play, Tribal Tech's music nevertheless has an underlying bluesiness which keeps it grounded.

They are not a nostalgia act, and the new music will presumably form the bulk of the set, but they can be expected also to delve into some of their back catalogue.

The concert is the latest in the Jazz World Live Series, organised by Hong Kong promoter Clarence Chang. The show begins at 8.15pm on Thursday and tickets priced at HK$480, HK$380 and HK$280 are available from Urbtix. Youth Square Y-Theatre is a five-minute walk over a footbridge from the MTR.

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums featuring the members of Tribal Tech.

  • The Chick Corea Elektric Band (1986, GRP): although his stint with the band was brief, it was Henderson's playing on this album that got him the attention that led to his status by the end of the 1980s as a poll-winning jazz guitarist. Corea was already a star, but the Elektric Band also put bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl on the map. Henderson plays on only three tracks, but they give him enough room to make his point.
  • Dog Party (1994, Mesa Records): Henderson goes back to his blues roots with a little help from Kinsey and Covington, among others. Guitar Player magazine voted it the best blues album of the year against a strong field which included Eric Clapton's From the Cradle and B.B. King's Blues Summit.
  • Thick (1999, Zebra Records): Tribal Tech with the "classic" line-up of Henderson, Willis, Kinsey and Covington depart from the band's previous policy of playing meticulously arranged music, and begin to compose with improvisation as a starting point. Adventurous music and the beginning of the approach to recording they developed further with Australian alternative rock group Rocket Science in 2000 and more recently with X.