Jam superstars combine forces in San Andreas Experiment
Take ingredients from the best jam bands—a little Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, some Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, some Global Funk, a little Network: Electric and Santa Cruz Hemp Allstars—put them all together and you’d have one hell of a band, right? Well, guess what? You do, and it’s called the San Andreas Experiment. The brainchild of Global Funk keyboardist Anthony Smith, this new jazz/funk/what-have-you “supergroup,” a term that the even-keeled Smith would probably shy away from, consists of Smith on keyboards, monster guitarist Jason Concepcion from Network: Electric and Santa Cruz Hemp Allstars, saxophonist Cheme Gastelum of Robert Walter fame, Global Funk bassist Jonathan Stoyanoff and KDTU drummer John Staten.
Smith spoke to me recently (wearing a Sacramento Kings jersey, he wanted to point out) by cell phone from Telluride, Colo., “the heartbeat of the jam band scene,” as Smith describes that state, where Global Funk was getting ready to play its last show of a Western U.S. tour. He happily talked to me of the new experiment he was about to embark upon as soon as the Global Funk tour came to an end.
“We’re getting together through fortuitous circumstances,” Smith explained, speaking of the coming together of San Andreas Experiment. “It’s not that often that we’d all be free at the same time,” since each member of SAE has a touring schedule to keep with their regular bands. When he talks of SAE’s lineup, you can hear the satisfaction in his voice: “These are all guys that I have an affinity with. It’s something I have wanted to do for a while. … We’ll all get some new stimulation and get to play some new material.”
He speaks fondly of drummer Staten, for one, with whom he was one of the original members of self-described “new century soul collective” Giant People. “We quickly became friends. … John and I always knew we’d get together again [after Giant People]. We had such a natural connection. I always loved to play with him. … He’s a fun drummer and fun to be around.”
Smith met phenomenal reedman Gastelum 10 years ago when they played together in a hip-hop band in Southern California called Phazz. “I rapped and played keys,” he chuckles slightly, remembering.
“You know, everything under the jam band umbrella—rock, folk, bluegrass, funk, world music, jazz—it’s the jazz of our time,” he explains as we get into a conversation about what has become in big part an institutionalization, a codification of mainstream jazz. “[Jam band music] resonates with the culture and issues of its time just like jazz did in the ‘40s and ‘50s. … [Straight-ahead] jazz has become disconnected from the culture. … You can partially blame Ken Burns for that!”
He goes on to compare the festival stage-hopping of members of various jam bands to the club hopping of New York jazzers back in the day, pointing out that the music-loving, adventurous spirit of the musicians is similar.
SAE’s plan is to get together for a little bit of rehearsing and “a few shows, to find a musical identification,” and Smith, who does not assume to be the leader, says their get-togethers will be a “forum for everybody’s ideas. … They’re such great musicians with such great ideas.”
“We want to reach people with a lot of energy, not over people’s heads. We want to strike a balance: Challenge people without alienating them.” SAE wants people to want to dance.
“This is not gonna be some half-assed all-star jam session that’s a fabrication of some Macchiavellian promoter,” Smith adds, half-defiantly, but with humor. “We’re aspiring to a fairly higher aesthetic. Mark my words, we will not be playing '[The] Chicken,’ ‘Chameleon’ or ‘Red Clay'!” he announces, referring to what have become expected fusiony standards.
“For what we will be playing, you’ll have to come to the show to find out," Smith says.