Bob Bralove Has Both Hands Full
by Blair Jackson
So, what’s been happening with Bob Bralove—the former GD MIDI guru; Mickey and Bill’s partner in second set weirdness during the late ’80s and early ’90s; the genius behind both the exceptional Infrared Roses drumz-n-space CD and the instrumental group Second Sight (whose fine album marked one of Garcia’s last appearances outside the Dead); and many a mind-bending duet with ex-Dead keys man Tom Constanten in the ultra-trippy union known as Dose Hermanos?
“Well, I just finished a new record of solo piano called Stories in Black and White,” the always affable keyboard titan tells us from his San Francisco home overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. With visions of melodious George Winston or Keith Jarrett piano paintings dancing in my head, I suddenly remember who am I talking to and quickly understand that there’s bound to be something a little, er, different about Bralove’s approach to solo piano.
Though he has been playing piano since he was a wee lad, Bralove says that it’s only in recent years that he’s devoted himself to honing and deepening his keyboard skills, in part because of the influence of T.C. “I wasn’t playing much until Dose Hermanos came around,” he says. “I wasn’t working on my chops the way they needed to be worked on, but once you’re sitting next to Tom, you’ve got to kick up the gears just to keep up.” Indeed, T.C. is a true piano virtuoso, schooled in the classics and modern music. “Tom and I share a deep interest in the 20th century classical aesthetic,” he notes, adding that he’s been influenced by the piano work of Jarrett, Terry Riley, Bill Evans and many others—“anyone who’s at all adventurous,” he says.
Bralove recorded Stories in Black and White at home on a 1916 Steinway piano that once belonged to his father. “They’re improvisations, of course,” he says matter of factly. "I was doing all these improvisations and I started recording them, but when I’d listen back I found I was sort of editing myself too quickly. I was so inside the music that I wasn’t letting things develop. So I did these sessions over a few months where I invited one or two people over as an audience. We’d start by eating a ‘cookie.’ I’d put some food in the oven, play a set, take a break; we’d eat dinner. And then I’d play a second set. So I did a series of these with a whole bunch of friends and it was really fun and I found that working that way it opened up my playing a lot and I got into some interesting areas.” As with many of his recent explorations, Bralove has devised spacey video accompaniment tied into his music, as well.
You can read more about Stories in Black and White and order your own copy now through Bob’s cool website—bobbralove.com—or through iTunes.
But wait, there’s more! Bob told us that he’s also been working on mixes for a forthcoming CD by the Psychedelic Keyboard Trio, an aggregation featuring Bralove, T.C. and the late, great Vince Welnick. “These are recordings we did here in my house about a year and a half ago,” he reveals. “We got Tom in for about a week, and Vince was around. We had just done a show in New Paltz [NY] which was like the second show we’d done together, and we realized something special was happening, so we figured, we better get this on record quick! So I had the Steinway in the living room wired down to the studio; I had a Hammond B-3 in the garage; I had a Fender Rhodes 88 in the basement, and three MIDI keyboards in the studio. And for the entire week we were like: ‘I’ve got an idea for the Steinway!’ ‘Let’s try this on the Fender Rhodes!’ Anybody could grab whatever they wanted and then when we started working really late at night, for my neighbor’s sake, we’d go into headphones in the studio and do MIDI stuff,” he chuckles. It’s mainly instrumental music, though “we also have this really great version of [Dylan’s] ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ that Tom does that’s just so wacky; the organ part he plays on it is outrageous. There are also a couple of Vinnie songs, and one or two of mine that might get on there.
“It was crazy. I was producing, engineering, composing and playing at the same time, and we’d have three people on three different floors all wired in…” he laughs at the recollection.
When we reached T.C. the next day, he said of the Trio’s work, “It’s utterly, totally wonderful; it was lightning in a bottle. It was Vince at his best because nobody was dumping on him; nobody was saying, ‘You better do this, boy.’ He was free to be himself. And we all brought out the best in each other. Some of it is radically new stuff.
“I’ve been playing with the mixes a lot,” Bralove offers. “On Infrared Roses, I liked to play with the sonic movement, but I’m finding with this material it’s wonderful to really feel like there are three distinct voices interacting, and if you play with it too much, the energy of listening and talking to each other through the music gets overwhelmed.”
We’ll let you know when the Psychedelic Keyboard Trio disc is ready to come out.
I.R.'s 2 Naaaaa I would prefer a whole series Like say Bob's picks.12disc set one for each month of the year ...I have ALWAYS enjoyed MIDI...Look at the stuff Robert Fripp does ..I really wish Jerry was still around to Tinker with his MiDi set up...only good things could have been the out come......Hey Marlo who pissed in your corn flakes...open up your mind to something new....
I second that emotion! I would absolutely love an IR2!
Wow Bob! Great to finally see you 'out'. Your creative potions added to the Deads' soup was a real audio trip. I really enjoyed where Brent took the Dead with the Hammond and Synths and your branch to the tree really helped to create a whole new vision. I really dug the sound that Jerry and Bob conjured up and of course the devils always were a favorite-you became the icing.
I also dug the Infrared Roses-it reminded me of a video I had shot in the parking lot of Irvine Meadows in Ca. years ago as I wound my way through the sea of heads while on roller skates. I travelled from one scene to another picking up on the different sounds and sights and conducted mini interviews. Sadly though I cannot find it now.But the sounds from 'roses' brought back memories-nice work. I'll check out B&W. Thanks for all you've done-Darrell
Bob, congrats on the new album, gonna check it out ASAP.
Bob B is yet another testament of brilliance in how and why this band lived in the sonic exosphere.
The MIDI in the hands of Garcia et al. was just straight up awesome in my ever so humble opinion.
“The Omnipotent Grateful Dead!”
The CD is great Bob!! Nice job.
I am a MIDI musician too, it has it's drawbacks: TIMMING issues, but it has it Plusses: editing, arranging, prints out notation, and the output can be put thru effects too. Maybe Jerry had an issue with an earlier version (mentioned in someones comment above), but what you do with the MIDI sound is very important (and that may have been Jerry's issue, perhaps his position on the main Graphic Equalizer was too narrow and non-harmonious for the MIDI sounds. I have lots of MIDI music at www.archure.net but I also have MP3's too, and there is a big difference, but I love MIDI, once its made, it could last for thousands of years, I may be considered a Classical Composer some day, thanks to MIDI. So, if I recall correctly, I met BOB in Vegas, when I was on the job (I am a hotel casino showroom photographer, I cant recall where I met him? Harrahs? Stratosphere? (or Tropicana?), or Imperial Palace (has a good chart astrologically, especially for show biz and rock, but by the sidereal system of astrology). And Bob was saying how he knew the Dead, and I was telling him how I used to hang out with them just a bit, near College of Marin when I was a music major there, in the 70s. MIDI is also QUICK LOADING small file size like 22K to 100K while MP3's are at least 3 meg (my small ones are). Maybe a Roland MIDI sound can be routed thru a ZOOM 2020? I love my ZOOM 2020 (got it upon the advice of old friend Marcus McCallen III). -ARCHURE www.archure.net
Music for the New Millennium by ARCHURE reg tmrk www.archure.net
I've seen more than my share of comments like Marlo's - about this, that, or the other thing - sort of a "Expert" mentality or "play what I want to hear" thing. Now don't get me wrong I have my favorite Dead phases (Cowboy Dead is my thing) and Bobby should have never played slide (he butchered it and Donna Jean well she couldn't hear herself) or Bobby spitting on us or Jerry forgetting the lyrics and well "who cares" - once you get past that judgmental stage it's all one big experiment - which gives the magic a chance to happen and that was always the adventure as far as I could tell. We used to laugh and say Jerry's playing underwater again - so thanks Bob for the undersea adventures of Jerry Cousteau - different sounds and textures are just the variety of colors in the palette for the artist to explore and use. As a player, painter, lover of life and writer I can reaffirm "Variety is indeed the Spice of Life"
I'll be exploring your work Bob as I hope you do mine!
Author of "Journey Home"
May you stay forever young...
I signed up for an account here to add my two (and a half) cents to this discussion. The midi was yet another in a long list of the ways that the Grateful Dead and their esteemed associates (Bob B.) were forward thinking and ahead of their time. The opposite of growth is being stagnant. I'll choose growth. I personally loved it when Jerry started ripping up a trumpet solo during Aiko or Mexicali (and others). Listen to the Aiko jam on the Dicks Picks from MSG '90 and tell me that is not top notch GD. It took me a while (89-90?) to figure out what the heck was going on during drums when no one was on stage but there were still some cool sounds coming out. It was then that I heard about Bob Bralove and his particular form of magic. I have Infrared Roses and Dose Hermanos and enjoy them both and look forward to listening to this latest effort.
I love the new album!
Great review by the way: http://www.bloggernews.net/17993
It's wonderful to hear about all of your new creative material.
I look forward to checking out your solo record. (Congrats on that!)
And also, how special and poignant the record with TC and Vince sounds.
I would like to reiterate the call for a sequel to Infrared Roses...
The original is a very special CD in my collection. We played that
CD over and over again while I was at college in NYU in the 90's.
We probably drove our neighbors nuts with the wild noise...but
my friends and I adored it.
I think one of the least told stories about the Grateful Dead was
the fact that they were able to bring weird, atonal music to
football stadiums and arenas. I know that for me and for many others...
they truly expanded our collective ears and opened up
relationships with sound and music that I had yet to realize.
I know that within the vaults...there must be many, many lost or
forgotten moments that really deserve to be pulled out,
shaped, arranged and heard in hi-fidelity.
Of course, this isn't a big-seller type item. Even within the Deadhead
community, it's a smaller percentage that are drums&space freaks.
However, I think the historical importance and artistic achievement
really warrant this sort of project happening...and we know that Bob
has the sensitivity and understanding to put it all together beautifully.
If there's a petition going around...I'll be there to sign it!
Thanks for listening and much love and inspiration to everyone...