by Cotton Sumlin
The New York Times described Kamikaze Ground Crew (11/1) as “by turns an oom-pah-pah circus band, an earnest pit orchestra, and a bluesy septet.” As co-founder, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Gina Leishman describes the band: “KGC is indeed something of a super-group these days — old friends who are all at the top of their game, each a band-leader in their own right.”
To take stock, here’s a member-by-member look at the many projects and accomplishments of this talented group of musicians and composers.
There is probably an instrument that Gina Leishman doesn’t play, but it’s hard to imagine. Besides being a vocalist, she plays piano, accordion, pump-organ, ukulele, alto and baritone saxophones, and the bass clarinet. The native of England and former student at the Vienna Conservatory combines her instrumental prowess with compositional talent—she’s written operas, performance pieces, and theater scores. She leads Mr. Wau-Wa, a band that focuses on the songs of Bertolt Brecht, and performs under her own name with self-described “infrequent regularity.”
A multi-instrumental threat, K.G.C. co-leader Doug Wieselman plays a wide variety of reed, string, and percussion instruments. He’s also a skilled composer, whose music underpinned the Oscar-winning Holocaust documentary The Long Way Home. Much of his soundtrack work (including music composed for the Kamikaze Ground Crew’s The Comedy of Errors) can be found on his 2004 Tzadik records release, Dimly Lit: Collected Soundtracks 1996-2002.
Berkeley native Apfelbaum was only a senior in high school when he formed his first Hieroglyphics Ensemble. Though he has worked with a wide variety of innovative musicians, blending groove, world music, and blazing improvisation, it has been his work under the Hieroglyphics banner that has defined his career. Their album, Signs of Life, “revealed not only a compelling vision of jazz in the present, but with the onset of the millennium, what jazz might yet become” (The Essential Jazz Records, Vol 2; Mansell Publishing, London & New York, 2000).
This year has seen two major projects by trumpeter Steven Bernstein come to fruition: His Millennial Territory Orchestra, which grew out of his work on Robert Altman’s 1994 film Kansas City, released its debut album, MTO Volume 1; and his longtime pop-cum-lounge act Sex Mob put out its sixth album, Sexotica. Besides serving as a sideman to artists as diverse as Sting, David Murray, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, arranging horn charts and composing film scores, Bernstein also has three phenomenal albums in Tzadik Records’ “Radical Jewish Culture” series to his credit: Disapora Blues, Diaspora Soul, and Diaspora Hollywood.
After receiving his BA degree in Classical and Jazz Performance from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, trombonist Noah Bless moved to New York in 1990. He hit the Latin and Big Band scene, touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri, the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, and Tito Puente, while taking hometown gigs with the Vanguard Orchestra, the Latin Legends Band, and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
It’s rare to find a tuba player who reaches beyond orchestral work. As a result of his versatility, Marcus Rojas has played with reggae legends Sly and Robbie, jazz great Lionel Hampton, industrial rockers Foetus, and the American Symphony Orchestra. He’s been a regular sideman with Henry Threadgill, and played regularly with downtown luminary John Zorn and with Steven Bernstein and guitarist Tronzo in the trio Spanish Fly.
Drummer Kenny Wollesen has manned the sticks for an astonishing variety of acclaimed musicians. He’s lent his loping rock beat to Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, and Norah Jones; and he swings with the best jazz musicians, including Bill Frisell, John Zorn, and Myra Melford (appearing 11/4). A Bay Area native, he is now a fixture on the downtown jazz scene in New York as a founding member of the New Klezmer Trio, with his band The Wollesens, and as a very busy session and club drummer.