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Drummer Bobby Previte Cooks A New Brew In Hudson

Photo: Michael DiDonna

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Bobby Previte has long been associated with New York’s once-thriving “Downtown” scene, where avant-jazz excursions and other musical experiments used to happen with regularity at venues like the Knitting Factory.

Though that spirit lives on in certain pockets, the ever-creeping cost of living in the City has helped kill the sense of kinship that used to predominate, he says. So when the much-accomplished drummer and his wife bought a house in Claverack last year, he started playing regular gigs at Helsinki Hudson with the goal of importing some of that old Downtown spirit.

In fact, he created a Hudson version of the shape-shifting ensemble with which he used to hold court in the City, dedicated to Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. Voodoo Orchestra North, as he calls it, has played a series of Monday-night residencies at Helsinki. They’re currently booked through the end of August, and more dates are sure to come.

“Really, what I was trying to start was a community. A community of musicians playing a kind of music they might not get a chance to play up there. We can play anything we want, because we’re not trying to please some bandleader, or anybody,” he says on the phone from Manhattan, where he still keeps an apartment. “That speaks to one of the larger reasons I moved to the area. I missed the Downtown community, which I thought was fragmented and not there anymore. I wanted to go back to where there was a scene, where people knew each other and there was cross-pollination and everybody spoke to each other.”

It sounds like he’s finding it by the Hudson.

“I thought it might be like that,” he adds, “and I’ve been very happy that my suspicions were confirmed. There’s a lot of great musicians there and a lot of cool people, and there’s more all the time.”

Photo: Kate Previte

His Monday-night happenings feature local players from assorted musical backgrounds, as well as the occasional New York-based cat. Previte has found the local music scene so rich, in fact, that he’s started a new quintet made up of some City players and some Voodoo Orchestra North folk, and will debut the group at Hudson’s Half Moon on August 30.

Previte is particularly associated with John Zorn, Elliot Sharp and Wayne Horvitz—guys who aren’t household names in Peoria (or Hudson, necessarily), but are near-deities to in-the-know fans of various shades of experimental music. Among his many current projects is Omaha Diner, a quartet with Charlie Hunter, Skerik and Steve Bernstein that plays radical re-imaginings of former Number 1 hits.  He started the Voodoo Orchestra concept for a weekly residency at the Knitting Factory in 1999, and held court there for years. He’s also taken the concept on the road, using Miles’s music as a proving ground for students and young musicians in various cities.

So what’s so special to Previte about Bitches Brew?

“Other than the fact it changed my life?”

He remembers buying the album [cover at left] upon its 1969 release and wearing out the grooves despite finding the contents, in a sense, mystifying. Though Miles had been tinkering with electronic elements in sessions for the previous year, the whopper of a double album served startling notice that he was leaving the world of postbop behind. Dark, dense and filled with swirling cross-currents of rhythm and (occasionally) melody, it’s an album that yields up its many secrets slowly, upon repeated listening.

Mammoth in size, scope and ambition, the album is not an easy one to “cover.” Previte painstakingly created his own transcriptions of the music, a process he likens to an archeological dig as he created, in effect, his own arrangement of the full piece. “My Bitches Brew is one version of Bitches Brew. I’m sure there are many others that are possible,” he says.

Previte enjoys having a new respite from the City.

The idea is to create a musical platform within which he and his collaborators can create something new every time they’re on the bandstand. He’s also quick to point out the key, partnering role played by Helsinki Hudson, which he lauds as a “world-class club with a world-class sound system and sound engineers.” And to encourage the sense of community surrounding the residency, he and the venue keep ticket prices ridiculously reasonable: $5 in advance, and $7 day-of-show. (That’s not a typo.)

“I wanted to create a scene. I wanted people to be able to just kind of go, off the cuff: Oh right, that’s tonight. Let’s go!” Previte says. “I wanted it to be spontaneous — like the music.”

The music may be spontaneous, but the effect is by design. Indeed, if you’re looking to join a new musical scene, what better way than to invite everybody over to toss their own ingredients into the brew? 

Voodoo Orchestra North
Club Helsinki Hudson
August 18 & 25

Bobby Previte New Quintet
The Half Moon in Hudson, NY
August 30

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 08/05/14 at 07:40 AM • Permalink