Somewhere behind the searing guitar, there's a jazzman within Scott Henderson, co-leader of Tribal Tech, which carries on in the melodic spirit of Henderson's mentor, jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
"There are songs we play that are coming 100% from jazz, such as 'Formula One' and 'Peru' from the new album," said Henderson, who will play the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach with Tribal Tech on Monday. "A lot of our songs depend on band interplay and are improvisation-oriented. We approach those the same way our jazz ancestors did.
"But what makes a lot of people think that we're playing fusion is that the guitar is not a hollow body, not the Joe Pass or Jim Hall sound. A lot of times we could be playing what I would consider to be a real jazz tune, but when people hear the tone of the guitar, they think 'Rock!' "
Henderson grew up worshipping guitar heroes ranging from Jeff Beck to John McLaughlin and Bill Connors, who made one album with Chick Corea's Return to Forever. Henderson formed Tribal Tech seven years ago, but since then, bassist Gary Willis has emerged as an equally prolific writer, and the two now consider themselves co-leaders. On Tribal Tech's new, self-titled fourth recording, released last month, there are six songs by Henderson and four by Willis.
Both men point to electric jazz band Weather Report and the melodic direction given the band by its saxophonist, Wayne Shorter, as their ongoing sources of inspiration.
"Just about anything Wayne's been involved with has been a major influence on my music," said Henderson, who was a member of Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul's current band, Zawinul Syndicate, until last summer. "I've just sort of tried to keep those ideas in my playing, to incorporate space, to try to make melodic statements. We're really trying to make this a melodic band rather than a chops band."
Adds Willis: "Growing up, I really studied a lot of Wayne Shorter's music, his writing, the Weather Report material. Plus I got to play in Wayne's touring band in 1986."
Tribal Tech takes full advantage of technology, using computers for composing. Henderson and Willis frequently write by modem, sending computer files of musical ideas to each other over phone lines. But unlike some bands, Tribal Tech can reproduce its studio sound live, with Henderson's guitar and guitar synthesizer and Scott Kinsey's keyboard synthesizer delivering an array of sounds (the four-piece band is rounded out by drummer Kirk Covington).
Willis said the band's 9 p.m. show at the Belly Up will incorporate much of the material from the new recording, along with a selection of music from the band's three earlier releases.
Trumpeter Bill Berry names Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown and Louis Armstrong as seminal influences, but his main man was Duke Ellington. Berry, who plays the Horton Grand Hotel in downtown San Diego on Friday and Saturday nights, became an Ellington disciple as a member of the Duke's Big Band from 1961-63.
He remains a dedicated worshiper. Last week, fresh off a European tour as a leader, he was at "Ellington '91," a gathering of Ellington faithful in Los Angeles, where he and his Big Band performed Ellington's music.
"I don't know when I fell in love with Ellington's music because I was raised with jazz," said Berry. "My father was a jazz bass player. There were records around, and some were certainly Ellington's. I've always been crazy about him, I don't know why. When I played with the Ellington band, that really capped it. Duke was a pure genius, the only one I ever met."
Berry has made about 10 albums as a leader, including "For Duke," his 1978 tribute to the master. He hasn't released anything in the United States for several years, though his recording "Bilberry Jam" came out in Europe last year and a collaboration with Los Angeles pianist Jimmy Rowles was released in Japan.
He does, however, play on singer Johnny Mathis's all-Ellington collection, released earlier this year.
Berry is playing the Horton Grand Hotel with locals Holly Hofmann on flute, Bob Magnusson on bass and Mundell Lowe on guitar. Berry has known Lowe for years. Berry took over from Lowe as director of the Monterey Jazz Festival six years ago, and the two have also recorded together. Naturally, this weekend's sets will include a few of Berry's favorite Ellington tunes.
RIFFS: In celebration of its 16th anniversary, KIFM presents its annual pop jazz orgy Sunday from noon until at least 8 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency in the Golden Triangle. As many as 5,000 fans are expected pack the hotel's tennis courts and various indoor venues to hear light jazz Pied Piper Kenny G, plus a host of other acts including Acoustic Alchemy, George Howard, Dave Koz with Phil Perry, Dan Siegel with Kenny Rankin and Michael Tomlinson. Tickets are free, available from the station. . . .