The inspiration or vision for a recording, the source or the sound that I can hear (and almost see) in my head seems to arise in a moment. But it may take years to actually realize. That was the path of this album, Dance Hall. I can trace it back to the first recording I made with Bill and Robben in 1992, A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing. That’s when I started hearing the sound of two guitars as one big one – and that sound was Bill and Robben, both friends and colleagues. When we finished that recording, there was the spark for this work – wanting to hear them play rhythm and blues. Well, it took a long time, until 2015, when backstage at the jazz festival in Halifax; Bill asked the question “Are you ever going to record with that band again?” I said, “I have this idea for a rhythm and blues project.” He says, “I’m in.” I call Robben – same answer. “ Lee, what are you seeing?”… “Of course. Let’s do it.”
Finding the Material
The key for me was not doing covers, but finding songs that were personal to my journey. That is what each one of these songs is for me – from hearing Louis Jordan and “Caldonia”, I guess back to 4 years old, all the way through to hearing ARETHA sing “Never Gonna Break My Faith” on a flight from Europe a month before the recording. So that’s part of the story of how we got here.
This work for me reflects deep gratitude for all the artists who originally wrote and recorded these great songs, and for me at this point in my life, the sheer joy of playing the drums. We kept it as open and spontaneous within the forms as possible. Even Steven Bernstein’s horn writing, though precise, also left many options. And J. Anthony’s bass lines did the same. So perhaps this one is about the joy of finding the freedom in the form.
01 Meet Me In The Morning 05:47
02 The Great Pretender 06:08
03 Boogie Stop Shuffle 08:40
04 Ain't The A Shame 04:31
05 Driva Man 04:43
06 This Bitter Earth 05:36
07 Never Gonna Break My Faith 05:19
08 Caldonia 03:36
Robben Ford – Electric Guitar
Bill Frisell – Electric Guitar
J. Anthony Granelli – Electric Bass
Horns: Derry Byrne – Steve Kaldestad – Bill Runge
Drummer Jerry Granelli Reunites with
Guitar Greats Bill Frisell & Robben Ford After 25 Years
for Blues-Soaked Repertoire on Dance Hall
Twenty-five years later, Granelli returned to the studio with the same producer from that landmark session, Lee Townsend, along with the same guitar tandem of Frisell and Ford for another blues-soaked outing. Inspired by his upbringing as an aspiring musician in San Francisco, Dance Hall, is at once a joyful reunion and a fond salute to his own youth. “This is the bookend,” said the revered, 76-year-old drummer from his home base in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “When I told Bill and Robben I wanted to make another blues record, they both said, ‘I’m in.’ It took about a year to get everybody in the same place, but it was a great session. This record really meant a lot to me. There’s magic on these tracks.”
Granelli’s 20th album as a leader has him tackling hit singles from yesteryear, including The Platters’ “The Great Pretender,” Dinah Washington’s mournful “This Bitter Earth,” Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Louis Jordan’s “Caldonia.” He also tips his cap to Max Roach on a dramatic reading of “Driva Man” (from 1964’s pivotal protest record We Insist! Freedom Now Suite featuring singer Abbey Lincoln) and to Charles Mingus on a straight shuffle version of “Boogie Stop Shuffle.” An earthy reading of “Meet Me in the Morning” represents one of the artists Granelli knew from the early days of the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Bob Dylan. The drummer explains that his laid back, behind-the-beat groove on this Dylan tune was more inspired by a funkier version by Texas bluesman Freddie King from his 1975 album Larger Than Life. Aretha Franklin is also represented here with a newer tune, the gospel-tinged “Never Gonna Break My Faith” (from the 2006 movie Bobby about the death of Bobby Kennedy). “I heard that song on a plane and I just felt, ‘That’s the time we’re in, that’s what we gotta do now,” Granelli maintains. “We gotta stand and not let these motherfuckers break our faith.’”
The core quartet – Granelli on drums, Frisell and Ford on guitars and Granelli’s son J. Anthony Granelli on bass – puts its stamp on “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” “Driva Man,” “This Bitter Earth” and “Never Gonna Break My Faith.” A punchy three-piece horn section, arranged by Steve Bernstein of Millenial Territory Orchestra and Hot 9 fame, are augmented on four other tunes — “Meet Me in the Morning,” “The Great Pretender,” “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Caldonia.” Granelli, who has cultivated a two-guitar sound in his previous bands V-16 and UFB, says he fell in love 20 years ago with that combination from the Frisell-Ford hookup he heard on A Song I Heard Buddy Sing. “I just always loved that sound, where it’s like two guitars meshing into one big guitar to the point where you can’t tell who’s playing what.”
For the drummer and educator, who is approaching 77 in December, Dance Hall represents a return to the fundamental desire to play the blues. “I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my career, starting out playing straight ahead in piano trios led by Vince Guaraldi and Denny Zeitlin, then playing that right-in-the-pocket Mississippi-Louisiana thing with Mose Allison in the ‘70s. I’ve gone through the ‘out’ stuff with free jazz and all that. But the beauty of playing this instrument, the drums, is playing time for people who can just do it and use it. And these guys really know how to use it.
“Everybody did this session as a labor of love all the way down the line,” he added. “There was a lot of laughing, a lot of joy at the sessions. It was a real love fest. And to me, personally, it just feels like artistic freedom has finally been reached with this recording, where you can actually do what it is that you love. For me, it feels like a pretty outrageous record to make at this point in my life. Just to play the drums that way…that’s what I grew up in. I can’t wait to get on the road and play this music and see what happens. That’s the next step.”