AllAboutJazz August 2008 – Postcards from the Highwire – Kamikaze Ground Crew (Busmeat) In My Skin – GinaLeishman (GCQ)

by Sean Fitzell

Gina Leishman revels in eclecticism, cherishing the journey as much as the destination. She plays saxophones, piano and bass clarinet as well as atypical wares like accordion, ukulele and harmonic glass. Best known to jazz listeners as the co-leader of the perennial horns-and-drums ensemble Kamikaze Ground Crew, she’s also worked in musical theater as a performer, musician and composer; a cabaret vocalist; a composer for television and film and a voice-over specialist. Typically, her two recent CDs are stylistically diverse.

Postcards From the Highwire is the fifth Kamikaze album and the second with the “east coast” lineup: trombonist Art Baron, tubaist Marcus Rojas and drummer Kenny Wollesen joining longtime tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, trumpeter Steven Bernstein and co-leading multi-instrumentalists Doug Wieselman and Leishman. The virtuosic ensemble builds episodic pieces drawing on jazz, rock and other influences while jettisoning the manic quirkiness of their earlier work. After rollicking group passages and exchanged solos, Apfelbaum’s “Shotgun Bouquet” untethers Rojas from the bass role, encouraging his sonic freestyle for a rousing finish. The fleet Dixie-swing of Bernstein’s arrangement of Chu Berry’s “Christopher Columbus” launches Apfelbaum and Baron’s growling mute over the traditional form. Leishman’s delicate piano leads over the dynamic terrain of her “Love-Go-Round”, while she wields ukulele with spare accompaniment on “O Mistress Mine”, her setting of Shakespeare to music and warm singing.

Kamikaze records have always featured a Leishman vocal, but only in recent years has she developed and documented her singer-songwriter material. In My Skin is the second installment of her songbook, the breezy tunes mostly written on and propelled by baritone ukulele within an unusual string quartet of guitar, violin and bass. Lyrically, songs like the title track, “The Scenic Route” and “Girl With a Curl” are bemused personal reflections on themes which one can relate to like finding identity. On the latter, violinist Charlie Burnham colors and reacts to the words with clever bowed and plucked retorts. The languid ballad opening of “Food First” later quickens behind guitarist Matt Munisteri’s loping bluesy runs and bassist Greg Cohen’s emphatic thrum, his round tones a steady anchor. Leishman’s incredulous commentary on our wars forms “Nightwind”, boasting the unmistakable twang of guest guitarist Marc Ribot’s prodding fills. Leishman charmingly unfurls her narratives, revealing another stop along her picturesque musical road.

For more information, visit ginaleishman.com.
Kamikaze Ground Crew is at MoMA Sculpture Garden Aug. 21st.


SF JAZZ FEST 2006 website – KGC: A member-by-member look at this avant-jazz super group

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.

Gina Leishman
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.”

Doug Wieselman
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.

Peter Apfelbaum
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).

Steven Bernstein
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.

Noah Bless
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.

Marcus Rojas
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.

Kenny Wollesen
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.


Covers (for Koch Jazz January 26th, 2000)

by Derk Richardson

At the rate Kamikaze Ground Crew cranks out albums, we can expect the all-star band’s next pit stop around 2006. That’s OK, because there’s enough musical and emotional content under these Covers to fuel high-altitude listening for years to come. Originally organized to accompany the acrobatic antics of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, KGC recorded its first LP in 1985. Before Covers the rambunctious septet had produced only two other CDs, 1990’s The Scenic Route and 1993’s Madam Marie’s Temple of Knowledge. In the meantime, the personnel has shifted around original members Gina Leishman (accordion, saxes, bass clarinet, Hammond organ, vocals), Doug Wieselman (clarinets, saxes, electric guitar, balalaika, Hammond organ), and Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet). Since the last outing, tenor and soprano saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum has returned (replacing Ralph Carney), and trombonist Art Baron, tuba player Marcus Rojas, and drummer Kenny Wollesen have come on board.

Whereas previous KGC recordings featured mostly original Leishman and Wieselman compositions, Covers showcases the brilliant way they and Bernstein arrange other people’s material. Opening with a dreamy version of a pop tune from Bhutan, Covers turns pieces by Stockhausen, Hendrix (“Electric Ladyland”), Satie, Huey “Piano” Smith (“Blow Wind Blow” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia”), Eisler and Brecht, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo into vehicles for extended collective gliding and individual soaring, consistent with the idiosyncratic interpretative styles of other bands that have featured these players, such as the Lounge Lizards, Spanish Fly, Sex Mob, Hieroglyphics Ensemble, and the Carla Bley big band. A hybrid of jazz, modern classical, rock, avant-cabaret, and New Orleans R&B, KGC’s music yields pleasure on its own terms, much like that of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Mothers of Invention, or Willem Breuker Kollektief, its bent but beautiful structures providing cover from the mainstream culture’s hail of mediocrity.


JAZZIZ Magazine May 1994 – Kamikaze Ground Crew

by William Stephenson

“Kamikaze Ground Crew”. Let me guess, Some John Zorn-ish enterprise with wailing horns and screaming voices and frenetic drumming. Ninety second barrages of improvisation, where the moment is everything, and each is crazed, anarchic, and unrepeatable. Serious hard core free jazz, right?

Nope. Despite its evocative name, Kamikaze Ground Crew is more about attention to the landscape than scorched earth policy, more about structure than free improvisation, more inviting than in-your-face… even if the ensemble did start out eleven years ago playing in a circus.

“The name and the music that we play these days have gotten very far apart,” admits composer and Kamikaze co-leader Gina Leishman. “The name belongs to where we started.” Here’s the story. As Leishman was travelling across country, heading towards Broadway for a stint with the Flying Karamazov Brothers in a then nameless stage band, she recalled with amusement the title of a radio play by an Irish friend. Perhaps the Flying Karamazovs would need a little support for an unexpected landing, she thought. She liked the humour and the alliterative K’s. Kamikaze, Karamazov. It seemed right. “We were all a little crazy,” she explains. So she called ahead, suggested the moniker, and continued on her way, never realising how long it would follow her.

That Leishman’s group might outdistance a label, even a very clever one, should come as no surprise to anyone who listens to her music or knows her background. Born in England, and shaped by studies at the Vienna Conservatory of Music and Edinburgh University, Leishman continued, after settling in the U.S. in 1977, to cultivate cosmopolitan musical interests. In fact, listening to a recent Kamikaze Ground Crew release is a bit like sitting through a witty and unpredictable travelogue.

Their 1990 release on New World Records “wasn’t called The Scenic Route for nothing”, Leishman insists. Kamikaze Ground Crew recordings are “put together in such a way that if you listen to one from one end to the other then it will take you on a very wild journey, and bring you back.” The trips are individual ones, however. “Everyone has their own ideas of what the pictures are.”

The potential views are limited almost solely by the imagination of the listener, bec .…ause the perspectives offered in the compositions are wide and various.

While the American improvising tradition is an important aspect of what Leishman and her fellow musicians write and perform, jazz is only one of the influences that shapes the music, along with European street music, klezmer, circus, rock and roll, classical chamber music, and various other world cultures, whether it be Italian… Fellini movies…African, Bulgarian, Balkan, or whatever.

Which is not to suggst that the music they make is simply a hodge-podge or crazy quilt. From the brief excursions that make up The Scenic Route to the lengthier voyages which mark their latest release, Madam Marie’s Temple of Knowlege (also on New World Records), each composition provides a more or less stable environment, each cultural hybrid creates its own peculiar locale. According to co-leader Doug Wieselman, who plays variou .s woodwind instruments and composed three pieces on Madam Marie’s, “I look at parts of the pieces as places. They’re actually sort of physical or imaginary places that I am drawing from or going to”. The ensemble’s variety, he continues, comes from “trying to be true to what we hear and like and love.” Adds Leishman, “It’s who we are, and what we bring.”

What they bring together is not only a global vision and singular skills in composition and arranging, but a highly talented group of performers. Trumpeter Steven Bernstein has played with Carla Bley, the Lounge Lizards, and Digable Planets; trombonist Jeff Cressman plays with Peter Apfelbaum’s Hieroglyphic Ensemble, and Apfelbaum himself put in a stint form 1987 to 1990. He was replaced by saxophonist Ralph Carney (best known for his work with Tom Waits) after The Scenic Route, Bob Lipton, tuba, and Danny Frankel, percussion, round .out the ensemble.

Wieselman himself has performed with musicians like Wayne Horvitz, Guy Klucevsek, Bill Frisell, and Anthony Coleman. Leishman has a productive career as a composer, with premiers of at least a dozen works – primarily scores for the theater – since 1988, and she is a multi-instrumentalist who, on Madam Marie’s, performs on bass clarinet, alto sax, piccolo, accordion, and piano. She also sings.

Though the group began as a wind and percussion band for theatrical reasons (volume and portability), the strengths of the particular players have kept it that way, long after they left the circus to enter the studio and concert hall. Both Leishman and Wieselman emphasize the importance of the ensemble’s individuals to its evolving sound. To Wieselman, performance is “another level, beyond composition.” Leishman says that reliance on individual talents and personalities are fu .Êndamental to the way she writes. “I have this very strong feeling that if you’re going to use live musicians, then they should be part of what’s going on,” she insists. “Otherwise, you can put on a tape deck and go home.”

Given the full musical plates of each of its principals – in January, for instance, Leishman was preparing for performance of her first opera, The Dream Project – and limited venues for performance, it can be tough keeping even valuable enterprise like the Kamikaze Ground Crew going. “It’s pretty much once a year that we get together,” says Leishman, “with recording time and from one to four concerts.”

Have no fear that the Kamikaze Ground Crew grand tour won’t continue, however, even if the logistics are difficult and revenues small. Some time ago, Leishman explains, “We decided that we would keep the band together as an affair of the heart rather than of the pocketbook.” Some trips are worth any price.


PULSE Magazine – Kamikaze Ground Crew – The Scenic Route

by Marc Weidenbaum

That line between classical and popular music is the crux of a musical philosophy that led to the formation of CounterCurrents, a year-old subsidiary of New World Records.

CounterCurrents was created by Arthur Moorehead in an attempt to expand New World’s perspective on American classical music.

Though Moorehead despises the term “chamber jazz”, it describes much of the CounterCurrents’ output, including work by the Jazz Passengers, Butch Morris, Tom Varner, Paul Dresher and Ned Rothenberg, and the New York Composers Orchestra. Moorehead explains his aversion: “If only because it’s a term that’s primarily associated with European classical music, and when I hear that term I think it’s an attempt to legitimize jazz, and I don’t think it needs it. The music is not played in chambers; it’s played in clubs. I prefer small-group music.” Perhaps the series’ two strongest efforts not coincidentally evidence the strongest European flavor: the Kamikaze Ground Crew septet’s intoxicating debut, The Scenic Route, includes a Stravinsky cover and an explicit ode to Satie and Chopin; and multi-instrumentalist Marty Erlich’s Dark Woods Ensemble, heard on Emergency Peace, mates his saxophones and wooden flutes with a cello and string bass, evoking strong tonal, if not compositional, affinities with the string quartet.

Having been suggested to that the Kamikaze’s effort stands above the rest of CounterCurrents’ releases, Moorehead responds enthusiastically: “There’s a group that really defines my idea of what ‘jazz’ should be, and that is it’s heavily compositionally influenced. The role of improvisation is something that comes after the context of the composition is outlined, and the improvisation fits into the compositional framework of the pieces. It’s not, ‘Let’s play heads, everyone blow three choruses, head out.’ There’s clearly a design.”