STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
“It’s a lot like Mahavishnu Orchestra with strings.”
That’s how Philadelphia’s avant-garde drummer Grant Calvin Weston describes his new ensemble, Phoenix Orchestra.
Weston has been a long-time fan of the legendary prog rock ensemble Mahavishnu Orchestra and especially Mahavishnu’s original drummer Billy Cobham. He befriended Cobham around 30 years ago when he was performing with James ‘Blood’ Ulmer’s band and they opened for Cobham’s band in New York City.
“I always liked (Mahavishnu’s) music. I like playing fusion and off-meter timing stuff,” said Weston in a phone interview from his home.
Weston explained how he got the idea for Phoenix Orchestra.
“After I came off tour with Marc Ribot [as a member of his group The Young Philadelphians] — he uses a string section — I said to myself ‘I want to do some music using strings’ because I always liked string instruments, like violin, cello and viola.”
Weston said he took the concept of this band from Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Apocalypse” album [CBS/Columbia, 1974], which they recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Weston said his music has “some funk stuff, some really far-out string parts” and some selections featuring vocalist Kaylé Brecher.
“I configured all the music. I just told the musicians what I heard. I told them what to play, told them what the bass line would be, (what the) guitar parts would be, (told) the keyboard player how to feel it out and we just worked it out like that,” explained Weston.
This project could be considered the next logical step from Weston’s band Treasures of the Spirit, a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band. Keyboardist David Dzubinski and bassist Elliot Garland from that band join Weston in Phoenix Orchestra. Dzubinski also wrote out the string parts for the ensemble. The other band members that will perform at World Cafe Live with Weston include Frank Butrey on guitar, Carlos Santiago on violin, Ajibola Rivers on cello, Ashley Monique Vines on viola and Brecher on vocals and small percussion.
This will be Weston’s second performance with Phoenix Orchestra and the band will feature selections from their new CD “Dust and Ashes.”
Weston has established himself as one of the top avant-garde drummers around. He developed his style while working with free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. He continues to utilize Coleman’s harmolodic approach in his playing. In addition touring with Marc Ribot’s Young Philadelphians he is also currently in a project with John Zorn, John Medeski and David Fiuczynski.
Weston said that he would like to do more performances with Phoenix Orchestra but it is difficult to coordinate all the musicians. In addition all the booking, scheduling and financing falls on his shoulders. So come to World Cafe Live if you don’t want to miss out on this unique musical experience.