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Sample Pattern

[whitespace] Bob Burnett
Loop, There It Is: Jazz man/sampling wizard Bob Burnett celebrates his debut CD, 'Loops & Lines,' at Kuumbwa on Friday.

George Sakkestad

Bob Burnett proves his sampling wizardry with tastes of music past for a brand-new soundscape

By Karen Reardanz

SONIC DOOMSAYERS have been predicting a musical Armageddon for years. Everything's been done; innovation is doomed, they proclaim. But musical evolution prevails. What's retro is futuristic; what's past will soon be present. Take the rebirth of swing, the rockabilly renaissance--even jazz perennials like Herbie Hancock realize the power of recharging their musical batteries by spinning the past. Hancock is even in the midst of a reunion collaboration with his '70s cohorts, the Headhunters, for a decidedly '90s take on funk-jazz fusion.

Santa Cruz's Bob Burnett has a similar perspective and approach to the future of music: Go backward, young man, by way of sampling. "I'll take Thelonious Monk or a Coltrane ballad," Burnett explains, "and put a hip-hop beat into it to give it a completely fresh sound. It's all about borrowing from your predecessors and making something new."

The sampling concept is no epiphany to the musical world, and Burnett is quick to recognize that variations of it have existed since the dawn of this century. "That's how music has continued to reinvent itself over the years," he says. "Bebop [musicians] did it--[they] took swing standards and wrote their own melodies over them, creating a whole new sound."

Burnett shows off his sampling wizardry on his debut CD, the locally and self-produced Loops & Lines. Though it contains only a scant six songs, the album is a veritable assortment pack of, aptly enough, loops and lines from past and contemporary tunesters as varied as Charlie Parker, Igor Stravinsky and the composers behind Fox's King of the Hill theme song. Emblematic of Burnett's influences, the record's mellifluous approach meshes world-beat grooves, modern-classical phrasing and ambient noir, then lays the concoction down on a sturdy bed of jazz.

"The CD combines a lot of areas of my personal musical interests," Burnett says. "Jazz is my first love--I especially love all the standards--Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker. On a great morning, I'll wake up and throw Ornette on the turntable. But I also love 20th-century music--Debussy, Bartók--and the experimental energy of it. And then there's African music. King Sunny Ade and Djamu Adamu are two of my favorites."

Burnett has been tapping that African/world-beat vein for years now, as a ready-for-prime-time player with the Santa Cruz music-scene staples, Pele Juju and, until recently, Kosono.

"I was with Kosono for eight or nine years," he recounts, "but I recently had to leave because of scheduling conflicts. But I've been with Pele Juju for almost three years now. I've toured all across the Northwest with them."

His ties to Pele Juju run deep and long, however, far beyond the years since that band formed. Burnett met Pele member Annie Steinhart shortly after he moved to Santa Cruz (Boulder Creek for the nitpickers) from New Jersey almost 20 years ago.

"My sister, who was living out here then, introduced me to Annie," Burnett remembers. "We were in my first band out here together. It was a swing band called Carried Away. We've played together off and on ever since."

Steinhart also shows up on Loops & Lines, thumping her bass on the tropical track "Lower Nile." She joins a practical legion of Santa Cruz players who form the album's guest collaborators (including Rick Walker and Daniel Lewis) as well as Burnett's live band.

Drummer Jim Norris, bassist Paul Henderson, clarinetist/saxman Mark Sowlakis and percussionist Rhan Wilson all put in their time on the recording, but the foursome also plays an intregal part in bringing Loops & Lines' sounds to real life.

"There's a lot of experience among all of us," Burnett laughs. "But best of all, everyone enjoys playing and has a real appreciation for music.

"The five of us have been playing together for about five months. We play a regular monthly gig at Mobo Sushi, which we sort of view as a 'working-out' gig. We learn what works live and what doesn't, particularly with the sampling. Some of the songs work great in the studio and on record, but live they just don't cut it."

THOUGH IT IS FULL of sundry influences and musical stylings, at the heart of Burnett's music is sampling. His command of the technique is not about the breakbeats and vocal looping of '70s soul and funk tunes commonly associated with the more familiar sampling of, say, rap and mixmasters. Put simply: Puff Daddy he's not.

What Burnett does do is rework songs, musical phrases and hooks to turn them into the sounds he hears in his head. "For me, it's about taking music or sounds, even something like a glass breaking, and converting it," Burnett begins excitedly, growing more and more animated as he explains, "slowing it down, playing it backwards, manipulating it to get it to match what I'm hearing in my head. It's a really amazing thing that you can capture sounds and reproduce them with the touch of a button."

Burnett discovered what he could do with sampling in the '80s when he worked at EMU Systems, the Scotts Valley company known for developing audio products based on digital sampling technology. "I got a chance to rub elbows with musicians and musical directors while I worked there," he says, "and began learning how to experiment with sampling technology. Now I've been collecting samples for 10 years."

He shies away from synth-driven technology, though, getting his sounds from a less techno-heavy keyboard sampler rather than a drum machine. "Using a drum machine, you just get rapid beats," he explains. "Because of the jazz and ambient vibe of my music, I decided not to go with the [tinnier] drum machine.

"Besides, there's a more organic feel to this kind of sampling--I'm sampling and reproducing live sounds and bringing them a new feel. It is similar to the sampling in a lot of hip-hop, except the kind of sampling I do is less an exercise in technical technique."

Burnett's Loops & Lines has become his musical progeny through and through, and like a child, it's not always perfect. "There are things I would love to have made better, but finally you just have to let it go," he laughs. "I left mistakes on the record, but that was OK. I wanted a jazz feel. Some of the songs were first takes, and I left them because they were not so overslick. The playing this way seems more human and honest."

But Burnett is pleased with the end result of all his tireless work. "The CD is like an artistic calling card for me," he says, "and I put a lot of myself into it."

Bob Burnett hopes to realize his visions of musical grandeur for his future, but he recognizes the true source of his inspiration. "Ultimately, I play [music] to feed a part of myself," he admits. "But it's the audience that makes up the important part of the communication in music. It's like the 'If a tree falls in the forest' adage--without them, we'd just be playing to ourselves. It's really nice to get the feedback and appreciation from the audience."

But ultimately, he summarizes, "I just really love music."

Bob Burnett plays a CD release concert on Friday (Sept. 11) at 8pm at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., SC. Tickets cost $8/$6. For more info, call 831/427-2227.

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From the September 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro.

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