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Creative Quest

Tribal Tech guitarist says group revels in the original musings of 'free' music.


It was with a mixture of awe, consternation and relief that guitarist Scott Henderson reported on his latest European tour with Tribal Tech, the jazz/fusion band he co-leads with bassist Gary Willis.

"Man, we did 24 nights in a row, playing in seven different countries," Henderson said from his home in Highland Park. "I wish we'd had a couple of nights off. After a while, you get tired of hearing yourself, but you don't have a choice about stopping. But we're home in one piece and we're still sane."

Tribal Tech, which has six albums out, goes from loud rock ("But we're nowhere near as loud as a rock band") to soft jazz, focusing on originals. These days the players are increasingly into playing free--numbers that are composed on the spot.

"If you play a composition more than a few times and it's coming out the same because there's not a lot of room for improvisation, you can go crazy," said Henderson, who has played with the likes of Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul.

"That's why I love free music. Sometimes it sucks, but when it's good, it's amazing."

Back at home, the guitarist, a native of West Palm Beach, Fla., has become a regular at La Ve Lee in Studio City. He plays there tonight and May 22. The bands are quartets like Tribal Tech, and often feature Tech's keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington.

Instead of Willis, though, Henderson hires acoustic bassists like Tom Warrington, who appears tonight. And he focuses on jazz standards by the likes of Wayne Shorter and plenty of free numbers. "I like to play free about half the night," he said.

These tunes start anywhere by anybody and can become anything.

"Somebody just launches it, and the other guys fall in and play," Henderson said. "The music is completely open so it could be funk, a ballad, kind of a floating tune where there isn't necessarily any set bar lengths. "Sometimes it's even noise, more about making sounds than making music, like sounds from a horror movie score," said Henderson, who then added with a laugh, "We might do one of those, depending on how many Tequila Sunrises we drink."

* Scott Henderson's quartet plays tonight, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., at La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Cover charge, $5, two-drink minimum. Information: (818) 980-8158.


Reunion, Sort Of: Pianist Karen Hernandez and drummer Earl Palmer go way back. They used to be part of a trio--with bassist Eugene Wright. Starting in the late '70s, the group held down the fort at the Money Tree in Toluca Lake.

For well over a decade now, Hernandez and Palmer have pretty much gone their separate ways, Karen playing at Monteleone's in Tarzana and Miceli's in Hollywood, while Earl has been hosting the heralded Tuesday night jam at Chadney's in Burbank.

On Friday, the pair will get together again at Chadney's. Dennis Duke, who books the club, wanted to add Wright and make it a real reunion, but the bassist was not available. So Brad Bobo, one of Hernandez's favorites, will fill that chair. "He's great and can play all styles," said the pianist.

Hernandez is looking forward to playing with Palmer, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his appearances on recordings by Little Richard, Fats Domino and many other New Orleans-based artists in the 1950s. "Earl's really a good swing player, so we'll probably stick mostly to stuff that swings," she said.

"I like that style because it's fun to play. But we might do other things, too. I'll just have to wait and feel out the audience. I can adapt to whatever mood there is."

* Karen Hernandez and Earl Palmer play Fri., 9 p.m.-1 a.m., at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one-drink minimum per show. (818) 843-5333).

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