By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Several luminaries from New York City’s Black Rock Coalition come to SFJAZZ this week when bassist Melvin Gibbs and renowned guitarist Vernon Reid lead two separate power trios at the Joe Henderson Lab through Sunday.
Founded in 1985 by Reid, Village Voice music writer Greg Tate and producer Konda Mason, the Black Rock Coalition is a non-profit aimed at destroying the restrictive expectations the music industry has of African-American artists. Despite the fact that black blues and R&B artists had laid the foundation for rock music decades earlier, by the 1980s many black musicians felt pigeonholed in terms of the styles the business encouraged them to play, even as bands like Reid’s then fledgling Living Colour and ska/funk/punk group Fishbone were finding a wider audience.
In the 35 years since the organization came to be, the BRC has worked to fight against racial discrimination in the music industry while promoting both educational programs and regular performances by Black Rock Coalition members (including the group’s own BRC Orchestra).
Two players who were instrumental members of the organization bring power trios that embrace elements of jazz, rock and funk to the SFJAZZ Center this weekend. Bassist Melvin Gibbs first came to fame as a member of Joe Bowie’s jazzy funk outfit Defunkt. He would work extensively during the early ’80s with Reid as a member of drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s groundbreaking band the Decoding Society, an ensemble that mixed Ornette Coleman’s harmelodic theory with free improvisation, funk and rock. Gibbs was also a longtime member in avant-jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock’s quartet in addition to playing in the all-star trio Power Tools with Jackson and guitarist Bill Frisell.
In 1993, Gibbs became the bassist in established heavy rock group the Rollins Band fronted by former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, playing massive festivals like Woodstock ’94 and recording two albums with the group while injecting their sound with more of a jazz and funk element. He also was a prolific session bassist, recording with downtown NYC guitar great Marc Ribot, Brazilian songwriter Caetano Veloso and hip-hop crew Dead Prez.
More recently, Gibbs has been focused on a number of collaborative projects, but his main band has been his trio Harriet Tubman. Playing with noted guitarist/banjo player Brandon Ross (saxophone giant Archie Shepp, pianist Geri Allen, violinist Charles Burnham, saxophonist Oliver Lake and vocalist Cassandra Wilson) and drummer J.T. Lewis (Lou Reed, Don Pullen, Herbie Hancock, Bill Laswell), the threesome explores the intersection of free jazz, funk, hard rock and blues when it plays the Joe Henderson Lab on Thursday and Friday nights.
One of the most notable guitar heroes to come to fame in the late ’80s, Vernon Reid and his band Living Colour made a splash in 1988 with the bracing rock-radio hit “Cult of Personality” from the band’s debut Vivid. Reid also gained notoriety for his blunt outspokenness when he called out Guns ‘n’ Roses for their racist and homophobic song “One in a Million” when both bands were supporting the Rolling Stones for an infamous run of shows in Los Angeles.
Living Colour would split up in 1995 after the group’s ambitious sophomore album Time’s Up, but not before appearing on the inaugural Lollapalooza Tour in 1991. The band would eventually reconvene and release three more albums in the 2000s, but Reid would embark on a number of different creative ventures, collaborating with harmelodic blues/funk avatar James Blood Ulmer on a string of albums, turntablist DJ Logic (in the group Yohimbe Brothers), the Roots as well as issuing several solo albums.
Reid’s latest project the Zig Zag Power Trio teams the incendiary guitarist with Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun and Gibbs for an exploration of fiery free jazz, explosive fusion and blues tinged with dub and psychedelia. The trio’s first recording, Woodstock Sessions Volume 9, came out in 2018 and features ecstatic takes on such avant-garde standards as Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and the classic Pharoah Sanders tune “Upper Egypt.” The trio makes its SFJAZZ debut this weekend for four performances starting Saturday.
Thursday-Friday, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. $30
SFJAZZ Center Joe Henderson Lab
Zig Zag Trio
Saturday-Sunday, times vary $40
SFJAZZ Center Joe Henderson Lab