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.
(you probably don't remember me, but we did an interview at some cafe in SF many years ago.)
So glad you're here!
Marlo, above, is completely wrong.
Midi is only a tool, and it allowed the boys to explore places and create musical textures that weren't previously accessible. It took their music to a new level by allowing them to create collaborative explorations on an unprecedented scale. I know of many 'heads who didn't like Midi sounds, but they all seemed to be those who only enjoyed 70s shows and maybe a few 80s and who didn't want the music to change from the predictable paradigm that they were used to. But that's not what the Grateful Dead were all about. They were about expanding and growing as a collective in search of places not previously explored. That was a large part of what defined them, and when Midi became available it gave rise to some of their most powerful work in terms of sheer musicianship: shows in 1989 and 1990 that were simply gargantuan testimonials to their power as a band. I find it extremely hard to believe that 'heads such as Marlo can't hear the genius at play during those years. I can only assume that they prefer to live in the past and do not have the imagination required to understand exactly what the boys had evolved into.
Sure, the 90's saw the gradual deterioration of the music, but this was due to Jerry's addiction, not Midi. If you can't hear the difference between the playing in, for example, Spring of 1990 and the Spring of 1992, and prefer to simply state that it "all sucked after Midi," then you're exhibiting a closed-mindedness that goes contrary to the Deadhead spirit.
I apologize for using this space for something other than a discussion of Bob's new CD, but I felt that Marlo's comment warranted a response, and was, after all, referring to Bob's work as it pertained to the Grateful Dead. You did a fantastic job with them, Bob!
Hey there everyone,
First of all thanks to all those who find interest in what I am doing now. My experience with the GD was an amazing and wonderful one. Their openness, musical and spiritual generosity changed my life forever and I will always be grateful. After Jerry died, I continued technical support for some of the post Dead projects (Further Festival, Other Ones etc). I eventually realized (with the help of a few psychedelics) that to continue the personal growth process that I had started with the band I needed to focus on my own music. I needed a way to practice the teachings I had learned. This started with Second Sight (while the Dead was still together) and moved into Dose Hermanos, The Psychedelic Keyboard Trio, and now to this solo project (as well as the Museum Installation at Morris Graves Museum of Art). Whenever I work I find that the voices (musical and not) of all my teachers seem to flow in and out of my consciousness. In that way, they all continue to teach me, even if they are not present.
Thanks David for your wonderful Note…
Del…Infrared Roses II ..I would love to work on that project and several deadheads have asked the same question, however, at this point there is no conversation about that recoding. The first one was an idea I had come up with and the band went for. But at that time I was on salary, the band had a studio, and I could sneak in and work on it during my “time off” and on break from touring. Now the situations have changed so it seems difficult. I would love to do it so keep talking it up and we’ll see if something comes of it.Marlo….I am sorry you were not able to appreciate the direction the band decided to take when they hired me. My initial audience, of course, was the six guys on the stage (and Dan Healy), so that is where my attention was. I was designing systems for them. I will remind you though that “Stories in Black and White” is an acoustic piano CD. There are no synthesized sounds on that recording. Perhaps this will let you see into my musical world more clearly.I do use midi with the piano to play visuals so that you can have a visual representation of every note. You can see some of that at bobbralove.com
I appreciate the fact that you continued to listen to the band after Brent’s death at least enough to have opinions about what they were doing. That dedication is fantastic no matter what you think of my contributions.
What a shame, that, in our little world of love we have someone here with such obvious hate, and inability to see the positive side of life. How about putting something here that has relevance to Bralove's new CD. Keep your hurtful rants to yourself. No one cares to hear them. I can't wait to hear Bob's new CD I bet it is great. GO BRALOVE!!
I AM SORRY BUT I GOTTA BE HONEST HERE WHEN GARCIA HAD HIS MIDI PUT ON HIS GUITAR IT WAS ONE OF IF NOT THEE SADDEST MOMENT OF MY LOOONG GRATEFUL DEAD CAREER.WHEN IT CAME TIME FOR JERRY TO TAKE OFF ON SAY EYES OF THE WORLD,BIRDSONG,LET IT GROW I EXPECT TO HEAR GUITAR SOUNDS NOT FREAKING TRUMPET OR TUBA OR ANYTHING OTHER THAN GUITAR SOUNDS..I MEAN IT REALLY BUMMED ME OUT.AND I MUST SAY WHEN THE MIDI MADE IT'S APPEARANCE DURING SPACE IN '89 AND THEN DURING THE WHOLE SHOW ON THE FALL TOUR OF '89 IT WENT DOWNHILL AND WHEN BRENT PASSED AWAY THAT WAS IT ..THE GRATEFUL DEAD IN MY MIND WAS OVER.AND I WILL NOT EVEN GET IN TO WHAT A LET DOWN VINCE WELNICK WAS HIS SONGS SUCKED AS WELL AS HIS VOICE AND HIS PIANO SKILLS WERE LACKING.I AM NOT TRASHING HIM AS A PERSON BECAUSE I DID NOT KNOW HIM.
Any chances of an Infrared Roses II? I know that the Dead did some surround sound shows, did any of them make it to tape. Take care.