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December 1, 1998

El Buho's Foreign Policy

Robert O'Conner

El Buho's Foreign Policy

While many of today's jazz musicians seem bent on taking the standard cannon from the small club scene to larger concert hall audiences, Arkansas musician Gary Gazaway has something different in mind. Remembering Charles Mingus' projects from the 1970's and hearing Weather Report for the first time, Gazaway explains, "I respect anybody that takes a different approach, and most jazz musicians today aren't doing that. The state of jazz today is not in good shape. It's not forging something new."

Gazaway is equal parts musician and musicologist. "My roots are in rural, country life - not urban," claims Gazaway, a Pocahantas native. "Growing up, I heard blues and country music and learned jazz and big band in school," he continues, citing trumpet players Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, and Thad Jones as influences on his instrument. After graduating from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, he traveled to Memphis, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, South America, and Hawaii, absorbing each area's local musical color and playing with a host of well regarded international musicians such as Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Milton Nascimento. "My career took me in the Latin American direction - which influenced my writing." The result of this musical anthropology is Gazaway's acid jazz project, El Buho, ("The Owl").

Following a South American sabbatical and a succession of high profile recording and touring projects including Joe Cocker, Delbert McClinton, and The Commitments, Gazaway explored the modern underground with Atlanta's alternative innovator, Col. Bruce Hampton, opening a network of popular artists and a younger audience to his music. In 1996, El Buho performed with jam band torchbearers Phish to a sold out Atlanta Omni audience on their popular Halloween concert.

By fusing the acid alternative-meets-world music sound of El Buho with a "funky, hip, modern groove", Gazaway wants to "merge rhythm and melody" and bridge the musical generation gap that his friend and Arkansas native, the late New York Times music writer Robert Palmer spoke of. According to Palmer, a high school senior in 1947 was more likely to listen to the same music as their parents enjoyed, but Elvis Presley and the advent of rock-n-roll changed that. "I want to create a situation appealing to all ages, something not obtrusive for the older crowd, but hip enough for the younger audience," says Gazaway. This is a surprisingly true sentiment from Gazaway, as a typical El Buho audience ranges from the older, AARP set to younger fans of modern jam music.

Though staunchly committed to "expanding into new sounds", Gazaway is quick to lobby the value of traditional jazz study. "Standards will teach you anything and help you musically." But, true to his multi-cultural alter ego, he also takes cues from a new listening interest, Arabic music. Because the music of the Middle East, according to Gazaway, isn't based on Western scales or time, the forms are very complex. "Musical forms are very important to me. . . with rhythm and melody, the mind and body of music."

Based in Nashville, El Buho shares a management agency with jazz guitarist Larry Carlton and vocalist Michael McDonald, and fans can expect a soon-to-be-released album of original material, as well as a "from the vaults" collection of El Buho's musical travelogues. Just as El Buho's sound defies the conventions of any one distinct musical idiom, the new album eschews the modern digital recording technology. According to Gazaway, Warren Peterson recorded all tracks live to two-track at Havalina Studios in Nashville. "We want to set a new precedent," said Gazaway. "Our approach is organic, and the essence of our sound is live music performed spontaneously."

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