In 2007, pianist Andrew Oliver was participating in the U.S. State Department’s Rhythm Road program which sends 10 bands abroad each year as cultural ambassadors of the U.S. While setting up in Dakar, Senegal, he encountered a musician with a kora, a traditional 21-string harp of the West African Mandinka people. Much to his surprise, this instrument blended very well into a jazz context and the unexpected success of this collaboration caused Andrew to dive deeper into the relationship between jazz and West African music upon his return to the U.S., along with Mark DiFlorio, the drummer from that tour. His exploration eventually led to the founding of the Kora Band, featuring Kane Mathis on kora. Kane is one of the most accomplished American Kora players, having studied with the famous Jobarteh (Diabate) family in Gambia, in the same compound that produced three generations of the country’s most famous musicians. The group was rounded out with Seattle trumpeter Chad McCullough and bassist Brady Millard-Kish.
The band performs original compositions by Oliver and Mathis as well as covers of traditional and contemporary west African repertoire, providing uplifting and unique music that reflects the increasing globalization of today’s world. Rather than adding the kora on top of a jazz context as an exotic flavor, the group works to truly integrate the instrument’s timbre and idiomatic style into the band, creating a new soundscape reflective of both traditions but forging new territory in its scope and concept. The music is contemporary but doesn’t lose sight of groove and accessibility, retaining the strong pulse characteristic of much of West African music and the improvisational aesthetic of contemporary jazz.
In 2009 the ensemble released their debut album “Just 4 U”, which Portland’s Willamette Week called “a gorgeous, moving record” and which the Seattle Weekly said was “one of the better world-music releases to come out of the Northwest all year.” Their second album, “Cascades,” on Origin Records in September of 2010, reached #12 on the U.S. World Music Airplay charts and #22 on the JazzWeek Radio Charts as well as winning the Earshot Jazz award for 2010 Northwest Jazz Album of the Year. Jazziz called the album “unhurried and constantly inviting” and All Music Guide noted that the album “fuse[s] the musics into something that is at once modern, thoughtful jazz and innovations upon traditional music.”
In 2012 Andrew was awarded a New Jazz Works grant from Chamber Music America to commission, debut, and record a new concert-length piece of music for the band. This new suite draws on specific traditional tunes, using them as building blocks for new compositions and further exploring the unique integration of these two musical styles and the roots of jazz in West Africa. It will be premiered in October 2013 in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle and subsequently recorded for release in 2014.
Andrew Oliver, piano and keyboard
London-based pianist and composer Andrew Oliver performs and composes music across many genre boundaries but with a focus on contemporary jazz. Originally from Portland, Oregon, he studied in New Orleans before returning to Portland in 2005 thanks to Hurricane Katrina. A London resident since 2013, he continues to be involved in a wide range of interesting musical projects internationally. His first group, the Andrew Oliver Sextet released 2 albums to critical acclaim in the Northwest before disbanding in 2010. Since 2009, he has toured Canada and the U.S. yearly with the collective band Tunnel Six. With support from the Canada Council for the Arts and Portland Regional Arts and Culture Council, they released their debut album “Lake Superior” in 2011 on OA2 Records. The title track, a composition of Andrew’s, was awarded a 2010 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award. Their second album, “Alive” was released in April 2013. Andrew was the co-founder and former executive director of the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Oregon which commissions and performs new works by local jazz composers for 12-piece ensemble and works to encourage the creation and dissemination of jazz and creative music in the region. In 2013, the PJCE instituted a new record label, PJCE Records, releasing one CD a month of new original music by local artists on the Portland scene.
Kane Mathis, kora and guitar
At 16 years old, after hearing many African records from all over the continent, Kane felt a strong interest in pursuing West African music and did so by incorporating the styles into his solo acoustic guitar playing. Just before the first year of his education at the Lawrence University Conservatory, Kane procured a 21-string West African harp from an American kora player, David Gilden. After his first year at Lawrence, Kane had the opportunity to travel to the birthplace of Kora, The Gambia, to study with the Jobarteh family, one of the country’s most famous musical families. There, in the same compound that had produced three generations of the Gambia’s most famous musicians, Kane would start his new musical education. Surprisingly, the father of the compound, Malamini Jobarteh, oversaw Kane’s education himself. This study resulted in diplomas and certificates of recognition from Malamini Jobarteh, The Gambian minister of culture, and the President of the Gambia. Subsequent trips have found Kane headlining concerts organized by the American ambassador to The Gambia, performing with his Gambian trio on national television, and performing at the first annual Gambian heritage festival. Kane’s Oud study began with Mutlu Torun of the I.T.U. conservatory in Istanbul and continued with 5 and a half years of courses with Oud virtuoso Münir Nurttin Beken. Since completing his study Kane has been sought after as a soloist and accompanist internationally on both instruments. As a composer Kane is generating new works for both instruments as well as experimental work for electronic fixed media for film and modern dance. Kane is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.
Chad McCullough, trumpet
Chicago-based Trumpeter/composer Chad McCullough… called “a thoughtful improvisor with technique to spare” by Allaboutjazz.com, Chad’s various albums have received wide critical-acclaim. His stable of collaborators is a diverse collection of unique musicians and speaks to the depth of his palette. As a composer, he has scored for film, written for various brass ensembles, dancers, and string quartets and quintets- in both classical and jazz idioms. He is also in high demand as an educator, and frequently speaks about jazz music and the trumpet to students of all ages, giving clinics at high schools and colleges throughout the country. He has been involved with mentoring projects run by the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, the radio station KPLU, and has done educational outreach in several nationally-recognized high school music programs. Chad holds a M.M. from the University of Washington, and a B.M. from the University of Idaho, where he was a Lionel Hampton Scholar, and was the first student to graduate with a jazz emphasis on his degree. He has played and arranged for the Disneyland College Band, played both piano and trumpet in the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and in 2009 he attended the jazz workshop at the Banff Centre in Canada. As a trumpet player who constantly obsesses over sound, Chad proudly endorses Facet Mutes, and Hub Van Laar trumpets.
Brady Millard-Kish, acoustic and electric bass
Brady Millard-Kish grew up in Michigan, where he studied with Peter Dominguez and earned a B.A. in classical music at Michigan State University. A graduate fellowship then took him south to the world-renowned University of New Orleans jazz studies program, where he studied under greats like Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste. During the five years he spent in New Orleans as a full-time musician, Brady was a founding member of the critically acclaimed jazz ensemble “Quintology.” He also performed and recorded with members of Soul Asylum, G. Love and Special Sauce, Blind Melon, and Galactic, among others. Now a resident of Seattle, Brady also performs with The Sahel Band and offers private bass instruction (www.seattlebass.com).
Mark DiFlorio, drums and percussion
In 1986 Uncle Dennis gave Mark his first drum set. In 1993 Mark moved to New Orleans seeking to tap into the source of jazz. By 1999 he had toured Austria and Italy, graduated with a M.M. in Jazz Performance from the University of New Orleans and had recorded the “Best new Jazz Album in New Orleans, 1999″. Playing on the scene in New Orleans with great bands such as Astral Project, Quintology, The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, James Singleton and Ed Petersen shaped Mark’s person and his performing. In 2002 Mark left The Big Easy to wander through the forests and search for something or nothing. After a short and difficult time in Brooklyn, New York and then a few months at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist monastery in Thenac, France, he went back to New Orleans in the beginning of 2005 and back to music. Hurricane Katrina flooded Mark out of that magical city and he washed up on the west coast in Portland, Oregon. Portland and the people were kind, helpful and gracious. Mark was performing all over the city with great local musicians as well as a small contingency of displaced New Orleanians. In 2007 he had the great opportunity to be part of The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad Program, sponsored by The U.S. State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Mark toured 5 countries in Africa as a cultural ambassador of the U.S.A.. After meeting Lilla, his wife, Mark moved to Seattle where he now performs, has a very successful teaching studio, Red Sparkle Drum Studio, and is raising his family. Mark DiFlorio is endorsed by Bosphorus Cymbals.