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Live at Forward Hall
J.D. and the Sons of Rhythm
  • collective improvisation
  • Forward Hall [ 25th and Peach, Erie PA ]
  • Friday, January 31, 2003
  • sponsored by J.D. Records

PlayErie.com Review:

Once again JD Hopkins commandeered Forward Hall to bring spontaneous improvised music to the Erie area. Operating under the heading of JD & the Sons of Rhythm, Hopkins and sons Ricky & Jason form a foundation of acoustic drums and electronic percussion. Over this is a unique and ever changing collection of many of Erie's finest players. Tonight the band blossomed into a nine piece unit featuring four percussionists, two bass players and three guitarists.

The all star line up this evening consisted of JD and Jayson Hopkins on electronic percussion, Ricky Hopkins on acoustic drums, Joel Polacci on congas, Tony Stefanelli and Ken Cornelius on bass and guitarists Scott Cravener, Frank Singer and Mike Ohm. Ricky Hopkins and Polacci also play in Mambo, Jayson Hopkins works with Skudd, Stefanelli and Singer play in Cat's A Bear, Cravener and Cornelius are in Starfish and Ohm works with Potato Battery. OK... now that we are straight on who's who lets get down to the music.

We spoke with Mike Ohm during a break and he confirmed that the music was totally improvised (except for one case where the theme from "Barney Miller" was used as a launch pad for an extended improvisation). Ohm said that the only thing decided in advance was what key or mode a particular piece was in. Throughout the evening one could watch the musicians making changes to the pieces via gestures, eye contact and also by simply walking over and talking to one another while in the midst of playing.

It is a rare treat to see these players in a purely improvised setting working with extended pieces. Actually, extended is an understatement - most of the sets this evening consisted of two or even one "song". Of course with this kind of chance taking there are times when things aren't gelling, or fall into a lull. However, the flip side is that at other times both the band and the audience get to experience something brilliant, some true creativity. Music is always waiting just outside the door for a musician, but the trick is to figure out how to open the door and let Music in. To quote Robert Fripp "when we know what we are doing, we do what we know." Many times tonight the musicians did not know what they were doing, and therefore in not playing by rote they were actually able to open the door and let Music enter.

Each player had a good deal of brilliant moments and all of the guitarists and bassists took several outstanding solos. Meanwhile, the approach of the four percussionists was to simply lay down the groove, which was non-stop and very dense. With this backdrop the other five musicians were quite free to roam around musically.

Of particular interest was the line up of two bassists. (About the only other application of this that comes to mind would be one of Frank Zappa's bands.) Both Stefanelli and Cornelius are top notch players and the combination of Tony's fretless Alembic bass and Ken's venerable Fender made for a beautiful blend. Because of both player's sense of space the dual bass idea worked well, were lesser players might have turned things to mud.

The only disappointment was the small attendance of listeners. It is sad that such an array of dazzling talent, performing in a club as technically and aesthetically pleasing as Forward Hall can not attract more of an audience. It would seem that even if the crowd was mostly made up of other musicians, surely more people would have been present than were here tonight.

Erie has the talent, it has the venues and it has the potential. Apparently it does not yet have the local support that it needs to truly become a music city.

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Scott Cravener, Kenny Cornelius, Tony Stefanelli, Mike Ohm, Rickie Hopkins (behind drums),
Frank Singer, Jayson Hopkins (behind J.D.), J.D. Hopkins | not shown: Joel Polacci
[ photo from playerie.com ]

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