Hart on New Band, New Dead

Grateful Dead drummer to tour with new ensemble, remastering recordings

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Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart will head out on the road with a new internationally-minded ensemble, Bembe Orisha, starting October 28th in Clearwater, Fla., for a seventeen-date tour that will run through mid-November.

For the always-busy Hart the new ensemble is just one activity in a flurry of activity that includes his ongoing work digitizing music for the Library of Congress, his work as a producer (he recently recorded an album for Japanese percussion group Kodo, which is due this month) and maintaining his ties to the Dead.

As for Bembe Orisha, Hart's new group includes players with whom he has collaborated, but in a configuration that promises something new. Comprised of Cuban vocalist Bobi Cespedes, guitarist Barney Doyle, bassist Rahsaan Fredericks, percussionist Nengue Hernandez (a protégé of the legendary Mongo Santamaria) and the percussion/vocal duo Vas (Greg Ellis and Azam Ali), Bembe Orisha is a globe-trotting cultural amalgam. "It's roots music, it's celebratory in nature," Hart says. "It has a lot of influence from West Africa, Afro-Cuba, Brazil, Persia. It's sort of an extension of my Planet Drum excursions, a logical continuum. It's sort of a good model, especially in these times. I think, the best way to know a culture is through its music. This is the roots music of how we got our music, rock and roll, and jazz and blues, big band. This is where it came from."

Hart says the group will be a balanced collective, rather than a ship under his leadership. "It's an interesting mixture," he says. "In a band like this, everybody's a participant, it's not like I'm the Grand Poobah. I like a conversation. It's not new agey or anything. You move your feet. It's really just an experiment, a work in progress."

Following the events of September 11th, Hart thought twice about taking the group on the road, but he quickly made the decision to go forward. "I think music can be an antidote to hatred. I was weighing the options of should I play or should I not play. And I decided I didn't want to take that option. This is a time for music. You can find joy in it, you can find solace in it. Music is a great energy, I've always believed that it's a healing agent," Hart says.

There are no plans yet to record the band, but Hart says a recording may come about following the tour. "Perhaps, sooner rather than later, we'll go into the studio," he says. "I like to play stuff first. I like to take it out and burn it in."

In addition to Bembe Orisha, Hart has been remixing the Dead classics American Beauty and Workingman's Dead in 5.1 Surround, both to be released next month. "This is real art," he says enthusiastically. "It's not just repackaging and remastering. It's a whole new approach. I found new vocals, new guitars, extended some of the songs that were cut off prematurely. So it's not just exactly like the old work. And I was able to mix it under modern conditions. I didn't know how I was going to feel going back after twenty-five, thirty years."

So how did it feel? "Great. It's beautiful work. It really stands the test of time. Bobby [Weir] and Billy [Kreutzman] passed through, but they left me alone. It's a solo thing, mixing, it's not a team sport. And they trust me with it. They've heard a little bit of it and they love it. But that's what I do, I love studio work and they don't, so it fell on my shoulders. Surround is new life for me. You will fall in love again with sound. Stereo is like prison. It's a dead creature."

Mickey Hart and Bembe Orisha tour dates:

10/28: Clearwater, FL, Ruth Eckerd Hall
10/29: Sarasota, FL, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
10/30: Naples, FL, Philharmonic Center
10/31: West Palm Beach, FL, Kravis Center
11/2: Mobile, AL, Saenger Theater
11/4: Atlanta, Rialto Center
11/6: Knoxville, TN, Bijou Theater
11/7: Charlottesville, VA, Performing Arts Center
11/8: Greensboro, NC, War Memorial Auditorium
11/10: Bethelehem, PA, Zoellner Arts Center
11/11: Wilmington, DE, Grand Opera House
11/12: Richmond, VA, Carpenter Center
11/14: Washington, DC, Lisner Auditorium
11/15: York, PA, Strand Capitol PAC
11/16: Sugarloaf, NY, Lycian Center
11/17: Morristown, Community Theater
11/18: Bronx, NY, Lehman Center