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Hart Carft: A fire-headed beast that would even scare Odysseus.

Odysseus Would Be Proud

Musical Argonaut Mickey Hart sets out on a new adventure

By Peter Koht

The last thing I expected to hear from Mickey Hart was the phrase "I don't want to sound too hippie dippy here." Unbelievable. For a man who spent 30 years behind the kit for the Dead and released such New Age favorites as "Music To Be Born By," Hart should have no fear of using the h-word.

In Hart's defense, his latest project, Hydra, doesn't sound like a member of the patchouli underground. An amalgamation of the groove rock band Particle and Hart's percussion work, Hydra's sound reflects its name, alternately brash and atmospheric, tribal and electronic. It's more rave than hoedown, but Deadheads should have little difficulty adjusting to the new sounds emanating from this five-headed beast.

Although outnumbering Hart four to one, the members of Particle have radically changed their approach to improvisation within the context of this band.

"I think that Particle plays at a higher dynamic more of the time," says Particle's keyboardist Steven Molitz, "but Hydra has opened our minds to exploring new dynamics and it has really broadened our groove." Hart interrupts at this point--"What he is really trying to say is that they are slowing down for the old man."

Unlike Hart's other projects, this group features both electronic and acoustic percussion, found objects, shortwave radios and sampling capabilities.

"I have everything all in one place, all my favorite processors are onstage.I can do things in this band that I couldn't do in the Grateful Dead. These kids were born digital," says Hart. Molitz concurs. Though Particle's sound incorporates elements of electronica, Hydra's arsenal is "far more technologically advanced than anything that Particle has ever done. The stage looks like a space station."

Despite all the electrical accouterments, "It's a trance band, just like the Grateful Dead. These songs are zones, they are emotions and colors rather than verses and chorus."

Listening to their recordings, one is reminded of Sound Tribe Sector Nine and Combustification-era Medeski, Martin and Wood.

Seeking new modalities and song forms to explore, Hydra draws from a wide variety of source material. As a trustee of the Library of Congress, Hart's main extracurricular activity has been cataloging and preserving recordings of rare forms of indigenous folk music-work that has definitely informed Hydra's approach to improvisation with its numerous references to aboriginal trance patterns and polyrhythms.

"I am a hunter/gatherer of sounds and feelings," Hart says, "and this band can morph into a marimba band from Guatemala, a bluegrass band or to a cold-blooded rock & roll band just like that. We're going to take people to different parts of the world and different cultures and different ways of thinking throughout the set. We are trying to take people on a ride."

The members of Hydra are also excited about the possibility of further morphing on the road. In a nod to the hordes who used to take to the road with the Dead, Molitz has a promise for repeat customers: "Those fans who come to multiple shows are going to see that this band is all about the process of evolution--of going places that we haven't been before. I'm looking forward to the metamorphosis that is going to happen on the road."

For Hart, that metamorphosis is a catalyst for personal change and growth. "The thing about the energy of music is that it is a life-giving force." Whether it heals or just makes you feel good, Hart wants to make that warm fuzzy feeling viral: "If I feel good, I'm going to pass that on to someone else. I am going to make a better world. We give it to the audience and hope the audience takes it home and does some good with it."

Molitz's goals are a little more concrete. "I will feel that Hydra has succeeded if people leave inspired."

Even with these lofty goals and aspirations, the ultimate result of this group is, according to Hart, "A jackhammer groove. You gotta bring your sneakers, because this is a dance band."

Hydra, featuring Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and Particle, plays on Thursday, April 7, at 8:30pm at the Catalyst. $20/$25.

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From the April 6-13, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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