Hotel X
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Hotel X

Band World Jazz


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The best kept secret in music


"Eighth Annual Theresa Pollock Prizes for Excellence in the Arts"

Ensemble Catagory Hotel X

Finding for X
by Harry Kollatz

The selectors said: Hotel X, Richmond, Va.'s 10-member World Jazz Collective, makes an irresistibly joyful African-based sound. Featuring the lyrical trombone of Dave Brogan and the tenor saxophone stylings of "Instrument Of Mass Instruction" Danny Finney (supported by a cast of drums, congas, bass, dual guitars, keyboards, alto sax and bass clarinet), this multigenerational ensemble lays down a foot-stomping rhythmic groove, and their rich melodies dance all over it. This is music for the mind, booty and spirit, and the enthusiasm of its presentation is truly contagious.

The film-noir-style name of this Afro -jazz world music organization is derived from the nickname given to 809 Idlewood Ave. For more than 20 years, musicians lived and bands formed there.

Co-founder Ron Curry remarks, "Its been a remarkably prophetic name-some have stayed [with the band] for a night, others for years."

With a laugh, co-founder Tim Harding adds, "Two checked in and didn't check out."

They estimate that since its 1992 inception in 809's basement, there have been about 60 members of Hotel X. The current roster of 10 includes, Harding says, "the two known genders, all shapes and sizes and colors and hues."

Two weeks after its formation, the ad hoc band (with a name borrowed from another band that had stopped gigging) sent a tape of improvised tunes recorded on a cheap boombox to Greg Ginn of SST Records. Harding remembers, "A few days later, he called us back and said, 'I want to record you guys.'"

Hotel X made six recordings between 1992 and 1996 for SST, a label founded by members of punk icons Black Flag, which was expanding its offerings. A seventh record was almost completed before SST folded; thus the band has tapes in the vault.

Curry, from Front Royal, Va., and Harding, from Williamsburg arrived in Richmond to attend VCU during the 1980's, Curry to study art, Harding as a physics and music double major. They instead graduated into music making.

Over the years the band has played with a diverse group of performers ranging from "free jazz" flutist and saxophonist Byard Lancaster to former Ornette Coleman guitarist Bern Nix. Their music is influenced by African by way of Africa, via the Caribbean, and through the interpretations of the members, including some 60 original compositions by Harding.

"Much of the great material that goes back to Africa is amazing because it is embracing the joy of life," he says. "Despite what horrible things may be happening politlcally, this is endlessly rich music because it doesnt deny the struggle it is to live in some of these countries, and because it embraces the complicated beauty in life, and in music."
- Richmond Magazine

"Free-form world-beat jazz group Hotel X has aged well"

by Peter McElhinney

At 9:30 p.m. a quorum of Hotel X members are stuffed onto the shoebox stage at Bogart’s Back Room. While they wait for a couple of key players, they burn time with an anarchic, propulsive jam. Flights of impassioned soloing are swept along with a thundering cascade of percussion. This early in the evening, the room is more than half empty and the big beat a bit repetitive, but the group’s joy in unified creativity is completely disarming. This latest 10-member incarnation of the venerable Richmond band is perhaps its most accessible. Longtime advocates of the difficult-listening school of jazz, they haven’t abandoned their spiky avant-garde affinities. They’ve merely set them in a more engaging rhythmic context.
“It’s such an incredibly diverse group of people; there’s a 40-year age difference between the oldest and youngest,” band co-founder Tim Harding says. “Finding that middle ground that offers individuality and opportunity for everyone is wonderfully fun and a neat challenge.”

Hotel X came together in 1992, crystallizing around bass duets between Harding and co-founder Ron Curry. Drummer Jim Thompson joined in the first day. Since then, more than 50 players have moved through the ever-evolving lineup. The band has released seven CDs. And this month it will receive a Theresa Pollak Prize by Richmond Magazine for excellence in the arts.

Harding speaks as he plays, in a cheerful torrent of eclectic knowledge and free association. “It’s the bane of the Eurocentric experience to explain everything away,” he says, proceeding to triangulate his band’s approach with references to everyone from Satchmo to Schopenhauer, from Nigerian Fela Kuti to ’70s Scottish soul rockers The Average White Band.

Six of the band’s recordings were on the seminal punk label SST, but whereas “punk/jazz” bands like the Lounge Lizards tended toward wiseass irony, Hotel X was a true believer. Its hero was the controversial innovator Ornette Coleman, whose “harmolodic” approach rejected established musical convention and whose ’70s-’90s band, Prime Time, was the gold standard in free-funk improvisation.

Curry sees his band’s late-’90s movement into world music as a logical progression. “A lot of the sensibility, the naturalness, is the same as Prime Time,” he says. “Of course we used to have more complex arrangements. Now we are more focused on the groove.”

Simplicity is not simple-mindedness. Hotel X’s central inspiration is African music, a virtually bottomless well of polyrhythmic sophistication and folk universality. If earlier incarnations of the band reveled in raw intensity, disdaining bourgeois notions of technique and tone, the new music, while retaining the churning undercurrents, has a less jagged surface.

Onstage at Bogart’s — the room now full and the full band assembled — the appeal is obvious. The arrangements are tight but not constricting. And the occasional tart bits of abstract expressionism are blended with an almost conventional sweetness.

People are even starting to dance. “This big band has gained a momentum of its own,” Curry says. “It speaks to people in a way that a quartet cannot.”

“As we get older, we appreciate age more,” Harding says. “Our culture loves the explosive nature of youthful vibrancy, the dazzle, glimmer and glitz. But youth is fleeting and ill-informed. When you are 20, it is all gut — action and reaction. When you’re 70, the subtlest gesture can speak worlds.”

Hotel X’s movement from soaring, youthful iconoclasm to seasoned respect for the depths of traditions isn’t really a new story. Then again, the best stories are seldom really new. - Style Weekly


Hymns For Children (2003)
Routes Music (1996 SST)
Uncommon Grounds (1995 SST)
Ladders (1994 SST)
Engendered Species (1994 SST)
Residential Suite (1993 SST)
A Random History Of The Avant-Groove (1992 SST)



Founded in 1992 by Tim Harding and Ron T. Curry as a setting to explore electric bass duets, Hotel X was quickly joined by a host of Richmond, Virginia underground music scene veterans and released six albums on the L.A. based SST Records. SST Records was founded by members of the seminal punk rock group Black Flag and included in their catalog some of the great American underground groups such as Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Sound Garden, Universal Congress Of and Sacharine Trust.

Hotel X toured regionally and nationally between 1992 and 1997, received reviews in Jazz Times, Washington Post, Option, The Wire and Alternative Press among others; was nominated for Best Jazz Group by NAIRD (National Association of Independent Record Distributors) 1996, and participated in the JVC Jazz Festival in NYC 1997. National Public Radio selected soundbites of several songs from Hotel X for use between news stories in 1994. Richmond Magazine awarded Hotel X with the Pollack Prize for Excellence in Arts in September of 2005.

In the biography "Fela - the Life and Times of an African Musical Icon" by Yale professor Michael E. Veal, Hotel X gets a brief mention (alongside of the Art Ensemble of Chicago , Brandford Marsalis and Steve Turre) on page 259 when the author talks about the broad influence of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat style. Anyone interested in African music and culture would love this book.

In 1994 Hotel X contributed an original composition, "One Way Street" (released on the cd 'Ladders' in 1995), to the trailer of the film "Hands of Fate" by Chris Quinn which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

Between 1998 to the present Hotel X has been mining the musical wealth of Africa and Latin America by using rhythmns and melodies inspired by traditional music and contemporary composers from those regions. The 2003 self produced/released seventh cd by Hotel X titled "Hymns for Children" marks the departure from the groups' earlier more electric, harmolodic adventures into the organic, world music inspired band of today.

Hotel X has shared the stage with Bern Nix (Ornette Coleman and Primetime), Greg Ginn (Black Flag), Balla Kouyate (Super Rail Band), Papa Susso (Gambian kora master),The Roots, Yellowman, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Ran Blake, Hasidic New Wave, Marc Ribot, Plunky Branch, Wayne Horvitz and Pigpen, Amy Denio, John Bradshaw and Bazooka just to name a few.