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Professor of Fusion

Jerry Granelli
Winging It: Jerry Granelli (right) and UFB re-interpret Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" on their new album.

Photo by John Sherlock

Jerry Granelli ranges from Monk to Hendrix

By Nicky Baxter

THE PROFESSOR'S not mad that he's been compelled by a rather ungenerous Bay Area music industry to get out of town. Those are the breaks, drummer Jerry Granelli says with a shrug in his voice. Things have actually worked out quite well for the native San Franciscan. After all, had he remained here, it's unlikely that he would have landed a music professorship in Germany. Which means, consequently, that he probably wouldn't have met the young players comprising his unit UFB. Which would have meant no News From the Street (Intuition), an album that lays waste to preconceived notions of what improvisational music is and is not.

Though it's been out over a year, Granelli and UFB are still touring in support of the album. That the drummer/composer/arranger is excited is hardly extraordinary; after all, it's his ball of wax Granelli's talking up. This collection of tunes is as eclectic as you're likely to find on any disc. Imagine Monk's "Brilliant Corners," Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's "Sad Hour" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" atomized to fit Granelli's picture of a borderless sonic world. It is a world rather like the one he knew coming of age in San Francisco. "I was lucky," he says. "I grew up at a time when music was at a peak. From the post-war period on up until about 1964, San Francisco had a flourishing jazz scene. When the whole 'free' music era started in New York, we had our own version here."

The Summer of '67 changed everything, of course. Jams with the likes of Hendrix are among the experiences the time-keeper has never forgotten. Hendrix is probably one of the reasons why Granelli, once half of the late Vince Guaraldi's rhythm section, is so enthusiastic about guitars. UFB boasts twin-attack guitarists, both of whom are capable of going off at a moment's notice. Such moments are plentiful on News From the Street

Its lengthiest track, Hendrix's "Little Wing," is the album's centerpiece. "['Little Wing'] was a real act of love," Granelli affirms. "It was intended as a love song and soliloquy. People tend to like hearing that song a lot." Interestingly, Granelli's arrangement is a fetching ballad saturated in undulating, liquid blue-toned guitars taking their sweet time to tell the story of Hendrix's mythical Indian princess. Additional tonal colors are supplied by the bandleader, whose sensitive brush work ebbs and flows without calling attention to itself.

In any case, Granelli has no problem with being overshadowed by his sidemen. "Being a rhythm section player--and enjoying that role--you play for the band. And for me, the band's what's important. It sounds corny, but it's true: the music is the important thing."

Jerry Granelli and UFB plays Saturday (Oct. 5) at 8:30pm at the Agenda Lounge, 399 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $4. (408/287-4087)

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From the October 3-9, 1996 issue of Metro

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