Interview: Jean-Paul Bourelly of the Black Stone Raiders
The funky power trio's gifted guitarist looks forward to February 9's Prague show
The closest thing to a contemporary black supergroup arrives in Prague on Thursday in the form of the Black Stone Raiders. A power trio that serves up an original blend of rock, funk, jazz and R&B, the Raiders boast three headline performers: Jean-Paul Bourelly, a jazz and blues guitarist who has played with Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Cassandra Wilson, among many others; Will Calhoun, the Grammy Award-winning drummer from Living Colour; and Darryl Jones, who has been playing bass with the Rolling Stones since Bill Wyman's departure in 1994.
The band is touring with their debut CD, Truth to Power, which excoriates The Money Disease, as one track describes current global economics, and calls for a new social order. The theme is in keeping with much of Bourelly's previous work, which coupled pioneering musical efforts with political consciousness. An American expat who currently lives in Berlin, Bourelly answered questions by e-mail.
You left the US in 1994 and have been based in Europe ever since. What prompted the move?
I relocated because I always felt that Europe had more to offer as far as experimental music was concerned. I had done New York City from top to bottom, and needed to keep growing. Berlin gave me the room to breathe artistically that I needed.
Have you noticed significant differences between audiences in the US and Europe, particularly in former Communist countries like the Czech Republic?
Yes, I would say that post-Communist countries are still very engaged in the newness of hearing some of us artists for the first time. Beyond the myths. Face to face. It's a stimulating exchange. I think certain places in the West have lost that engagement. They had it for over 50 years, but staying actively engaged is harder to do now in a world where reality TV is considered entertainment.
You've played with a lot of very good musicians across a number of genres. Is there a common denominator to your work?
The infinite quest for rhythmic communication. I would say it's a progressive way of seeing rhythm and blues.
Who are your biggest musical influences, and how do they show up in your work?
Many people hear Hendrix, Coltrane and James Brown in my playing. But there's even more there, including my own methods.
What brought the Black Stone Raiders together?
Darryl and I grew up in Chicago together, and we always wanted to come together again. We met in Los Angeles in the winter of 2010, and I asked Darryl if he knew Will. He said that Will had just been over his house. So I knew that was a good omen, almost like destiny. It was just the right time to do it. By summer we had a tour, and by December we had a record deal.
A lot of your work has a political subtext, or at least a higher consciousness. What is the larger vision you're trying to convey through your music?
I want to be a trigger for awareness, partly for selfish reasons. If your audience is aware, then they push you to reach farther and do better. If your audience is not aware, then you are constantly playing down to them, and that is a commercial trap I do not want to fall into. I want us to push each other, and in the end discover and create incredible energy. That's my reason for being an artist: to travel to different sonic places, and share that vision with my fellow human beings.
What can we expect at your Prague performance?
We are playing a special brand of rhythm and blues. Don't come expecting Otis Redding, it's more expansive than that -- we've added funk, jazz, avant-garde and rock in there, too. There is a lot going on with this trio that has never been heard. Darryl is a fantastically groovy bassist, and Will is an incredibly visionary drummer. We are trying to build up some bridges in progressive funky music that were broken in the 1980s, and I think we're doing that. Come and see for yourself.
• The Black Stone Raiders play Lucerna Music Bar on Thursday, February 9, 2012, from 9pm. Advance tickets are available from the Lucerna Music Bar box office (no booking fee) and through the Ticketpro, Ticketstream and Ticketportal networks for 330 CZK plus booking fee
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