Guitarist Jack Gates enjoys incorporating into his sound subtle musical stylistic traits, motifs and rhythms from around the world, which explains the title of his new album, Bring The Flavors. “Music can be like cooking where you add a variety of spices to come up with something new,” he states.
Gates has spent his career studying many music genres especially from India, South and Central America, Cuba and the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. His music includes a raga form here, a samba beat there, an Afro-Cuban structure elsewhere, and much more. Those world-fusion elements are then blended with the sounds of new age, jazz and folk to create a delectable mix with broad appeal to many audiences.
“This album was written and recorded while I was living in a forest in the mountains above Santa Cruz, California, where I was studying Tibetan Buddhism,” says Gates. “The music has a peaceful quality and is certainly an outgrowth of meditation and being close to nature in a place where I could explore music without a lot if interruptions. I found a recording studio in those mountains down a winding dirt road and it had just the right ambience.”
Gates is joined on most of the tunes on the album by drummer and percussionist Steve Robertson and acoustic bassist Stan Poplin. Other guests include Damien Masterson on harmonica on two tracks, and Michal Palzewicz playing cello on one piece. “We all had the same sensibilities because all of these players have studied widely in both the world music and jazz arenas.” Robertson (Tassajara Trio, Deepak Ram, The White Album Ensemble) has studied North Indian classical music and sacred sounds from around the world. Poplin has played with Robben Ford, Jimmy Witherspoon, Dave Brubeck and Dub Nation. Masterson (San Francisco Harmonica Ensemble, Zerro Santos, Gerald Beckett) has spent extensive time in Brazil, Cuba and Africa. Palzewicz is a member of Duo Sapphire, Elsner String Quarter, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Orchestra and the world-fusion band Trine.
Gates’ previous recordings are New Geography (produced by Mark Lemaire, and featuring Michael Manring and Phil Thompson), Earth Messenger (with drummer Kevin Mummey and bassist David Motto), the solo guitar album Boulevard (including original material as well as compositions by Jobim, Egberto Gismonti, Baden Powell, Cole Porter, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Lennon/McCartney), and Voyage of the Troubadour (with Phil Thompson, Dean Muench and Sharyl Gates). Jack Gates also has recorded two duo albums with sitarist Tim White, Morning Song Evening Song and Impromptu.
More information on Jack Gates is available at his website (jackgatesmusic.com). His CDs and digital download tracks from those recordings are available at online sales sites such as CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody and many others.
In addition, Gates is a longtime live performer, producer, arranger, session musician, composer and guitar teacher. He has produced albums and sessions for Larry Stefl, Bill Meyer, Marc Silber and Deborah Henson-Conant. Gates also arranged and played guitar on an album for singer Helene Attia that also featured musicians such as Norton Buffalo, Roger Glenn and Celso Alberti. Gates has performed on recordings by Silvia Nakkach and Kit Walker (with Paul McCandless), Joanne Shenandoah, Steve Deutsch (with Omar Sosa), Chris Saunders, Juanita Newland, Rafael Manriquez and Quique Cruz, Fernando Sanjines and Samba do Coracao, Faranak, Bob Giles and many others. Gates has performed live with Frank Biner (Tower of Power), Tyler Eng (Greg Kihn), Claudia Gomez, Jeff Narell, Klezmania, Chalo Eduardo, Monica Pasqual, Marcos Silva and others.
Jack grew up in Northern California in the Berkeley-Kensington-El Cerrito area. When he was young his parents introduced him to classical music and a little later on to folk-singers (Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs). Soon he was listening to the guitarists Andres Segovia and John Fahey. Gates took some folk guitar and flamenco lessons as a youngster, but it was jazz guitar lessons when he was 16 that opened new doors of understanding and he started appreciating George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. After becoming enthralled with the playing of Jimi Hendrix, Gates put together a rock’n’roll band, Underock, at age 18 to play at local dances and eventually nightclubs. While a music major at Cal State Hayward, Gates began playing classical guitar. He studied with the renowned David Tanenbaum and also audited a master class taught by Julian Bream at the San Francisco Conservatory. Gates had the opportunity to go to the John Cabot School in Italy for six months and study art history (while there he also played music with his friend Tim White). After returning home, the association with White led to Gates studying North Indian classical music under famed musician Ali Akbar Khan and learning to play the sarod.
After switching his focus back to guitar, Gates broadened his musical studies even further. First he immersed himself in Sixties jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner), then R&B and finally Latin music. “Getting deep into Brazilian music was a revelation,” says Gates, who began exploring the music of Jobim, Baden Powell and Milton Nascimento. “This was important for my guitar playing because it showed me how to stretch and simultaneously incorporate many elements into my music. South and Central America have always been a fertile place for music where so many styles have come together including jazz, blues, indigenous music and elements from Portugal, Spain and Africa.”
For his Bring the Flavors album, Gates plays both nylon-string acoustic guitars as well as electric guitars, often overdubbing them onto the same piece to create interesting interplay and deep textures. The album opens with the Latin-tinged title tune featuring Gates on two acoustics “plus there is an electric guitar in the background playing shimmering chords.” The track “Time In,” featuring harmonica, “takes a cue from Brazilian traditional choro music.”
Gates calls “Wave Theory” a “psychedelic piece combining the Northeastern Brazilian rhythmic style called baiao with music from the Sixties like Quicksilver Messenger Service or the Grateful Dead, and I have been spending a lot of time at the beach watching the waves and surfers.” The piece “Waterfalls” features Gates’ friend Michal Palzewicz on cello (“we have often improvised together during summer music retreats”). “Seraphic Journey,” the longest composition on the album at more than eight-minutes, “starts as an acoustic guitar Renaissance classical piece and then becomes more of a Brazilian samba when the electric rock guitar part joins in.” There also is acoustic and electric guitar interplay on “Enigmatic Land” (“my sonic description of the huge trees in the Santa Cruz forest, an almost primeval environment”). Its companion piece is “Cloud Forest” featuring Gates playing both classical and flamenco guitars with Robertson on pandeiro, a Brazilian hand frame-drum.
“‘Marketplace’ is my interpretation of an African market where I play the rhythm on an electric Stratocaster and the melodic part on an acoustic flamenco guitar.” The one solo acoustic guitar tune on the recording is an Afro-Samba piece titled “The Magician,” influenced by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell and “Candomble” (“a syncretic religious practice that combines West African indigenous ritual with Catholicism and White Voodoo”). The acoustic-guitar and harmonica duet “Dawn Walker” refers to early mankind, the hunter-gatherer, with the unusual chords inspired by Brazilian jazz guitarist Toninho Horta. “Beach Traffic” incorporates acoustic strumming with electric soloing over a Latin-Cuban groove with conga. On “Choco Latte” Gates tips his hat to Afro-Cuban jazz using two acoustic guitars, while the following “Electric Sonata” includes solos on both electric and acoustic guitars. The recording closes with a raga-influenced number, “Liquid Entropy,” utilizing two electric guitars.
“When you are in a restaurant you might say, ‘Bring the flavors!’ That is exactly what I said in the recording studio to myself and the other musicians. I wanted all of us to explore different sounds, tastes and textures by bringing in elements from all over.”