Herbaliser smokes up Ballroom

By Lawrence Bailey

A trumpet blast, a bass line, a scratch solo and an eerie synth interlude: Herbaliser brought their incomparable fusion of jazz and hip hop to the Ballroom Fri., Oct. 20, redefining the collective consciousness of all who were present.

The hip hop heavy Ninja Tune duo morphs into an avant-garde jazz septet when they take the stage. No more MCs and no more bass-driven studio sounds; when ingested live, Herbaliser is an organic entity with a brass trio front and centre.

"We started with just the studio stuff, working with different hip hop artists and breaks," said Ollie Teeba, DJ and co-founder of Herbaliser after the show. "But then there was a desire for the live aspect. So we stripped it down to basics and built it up again to be played by a seven to nine piece band. We wanted to do something different, to change the live show, to keep the music fresh."

An audience that seemed unsure of how to respond at the dawn of the set was whipped into a frenzy by the time it all faded to black. The ring leader of the live experience, trumpeteer Ralph "Nasty" Lamb, continually egged the faithful on, ensuring the energy never ebbed.

"That’s what it’s all about," commented Teeba on the philosophy of live performance. "You have to incorporate a wide variety of emotions, you have to manipulate the crowd."

This love for creating the live sound, and the contrast between it and their studio tracks were the driving forces in the release of their new album, Studio One, a studio recording of the live sound. The show was part of a tour to promote the other half of Herbaliser’s persona.

"We love playing Canada," said Jake Wherry, bassist and Teeba’s "other half."

"It’s the only country we’ve found where scenes truly crossover, where fusion is welcome and where an album can gain notoriety through nothing more than word of mouth."

Fusion is the word to describe this eclectic progression. From their hip hop roots at Ninja Tune in 1994 to appearances at the last two Montreal Jazz Festivals, Herbaliser continues to impress, improve and influence the next generation.

Constantly taking new forms and moving in new directions, Teeba has a side project in the works called The Process and is trying to do something with his good friend Iriscience of Dilated Peoples.

Wherry on the other hand has more literary aspirations.

"I think the next thing I’m going to do is write a book on all the beautiful mountain ranges I haven’t seen because the bus rolls through them at night when I’m sleeping."

With all this on their plates you may think Herbaliser is being phased out, which is not the case. Teeba said there should be a new studio album out sometime in late 2001 and in the interim who does he suggest?

"Motley and Blade, as well as The Creators; definitely must check them out."

There you have it, the master has spoken.


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