Photo by Kelsey Winterkorn, (Kelseywinterkorn.com)
The Chris Berry Trio (CB3) with guest, Steve Kimock, gave Ashland’s newest music venue, CultureWorks, solid ground to plant roots and flourish. As the second band to play on their second night, they infused funky, conscious, dance grooves into the fresh, healthy, space.
Chris Berry, the only man who plays an electric Mbira, integrated the ancient African instrument into the electronic world of heavy, Afro pop beats, winking at Reggae while dipping its bottom in otherworldly sounds. The instrument’s metal teeth, laid in textured layers on a wooden block, played sweet flights of music that bounced in high octave symphonies out of a modernized rustic harp. I imagine these sounds as ones the dusk would conduct between stars on clear nights, streaming dream-quality music in stripes of light across the sky. Chris Berry started each set with an Mbira solo. Setting a unique tone, he ran his fingers over the small metal teeth like playing the guts of a piano directly. The drum and bass then joined in, transforming the music, adding credibility, making it music I could dance to. The delicate lullaby of the Mbira with drums laying heavy echoes and tapping a cymbal beat, while the bass explored depths of sound plucked in inverted parachutes, elevated the music, surprising me—it was so close to something else entirely. Berry sang uplifting vocals weaving devotional songs with the scent of an African night into a hip-hop danceable jive building in layers that swallowed the room from the periphery.
Steve Kimock’s guitars paired well with Chris Berry’s Mbira and hand drum percussion rhythms. The other two musicians, Aaron Johnston on drums and Jesse Murphy on bass, turned the music on its head with a mixed media of raw percussion from a standard drum set interwoven with drum pads, and a bass that looped and sampled sounds the instrument had only read about in convoluted dream sequence bass diaries. It was an interesting marriage of raw musicianship and synthetically produced sounds. Deep resonant bass streamed through drum pads while percussion rhythms and toad croak chants, that a bass would sing if it had more vocal chords, erupted from the bass and a small keyboard sampler.
The addition of Steve Kimock’s musicianship complemented the band’s unique and interesting, largely percussive, sound. He soared over the music, under the music; adding a layer of his own to this interesting combination of sounds like the wind stream of hawks diving over an already active forest. Pressing a gentle rock sway, he pushed music out with a solid glass cylinder riding the guitar arm. The tool also shook violently at times, infusing sensitivity into the instrument that allowed big effects from subtle, light touches at the very base of the strings. Touched, barely, by acute practiced fingers, they incited sweet melodies, gasping and echoed across the venue’s’ smooth floors. Kimock rubbed his fingers and slide tool over the strings with the firm pressure of a hand teasing the hair-end tips of the body’s fuzz. Hovering over his instrument strings with gentle authority the music was heightened, ready, anxious to pour out, waiting on the cusp of a virus, tickled on the tip of the tongue and ready to sneeze. He walked his fingers over the string ends at the base of the frets, where music’s not accustomed to living, while the glass slide tool rubbed the strings raw, holding them down, so that those minute fingertip walks amplified sound into the room.
The combination of heavy beats, dance grooves and conscious funk from an amplified ancient instrument, mixed with the current of Kimock’s sailing guitar, filled the edges of CultureWorks. Sound stretched in from the edges like a charcoal rub creating depth in thread pool banks building personality with beard stubble scratch crosses dancing their way to a clear center being painted in soft notes that flow out a breath before the notes step onto the surface. Until Kimock’s fingertip dance pranced up above the slide tool, onto strings that know music, and had been waiting, and sound poured out from that clear center and washed over the room like an ocean shared between circular shores.