Todd Sickafoose
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Todd Sickafoose

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The best kept secret in music


"Exquisite Atmospheres"

"Blood Orange": what a perfect title for such a luscious, deeply colored and sensual album which lulls its listeners through a trippy and dreamy mix of jazz, psychedelic chill and suggestions of pop. With melodies that trail like smoke through dimly lit corners of space and sparkling, harmonic echoes that delicately trail along the edges of each soundworld, the Todd Sickafoose Group captures exquisite atmospheres with absolute ease and holds their beauty within the smallest of places- a simple sax line, a looping guitar pattern, just the right touch of reverb. You might call this headphone jazz. It's nothing short of a magical album where within each song, some unseen bud of inspiration is lying hidden under a frosty, frozen layer of reflection. - CD Baby

"Melody and Rhythm"

"Seems like everywhere you look, Todd Sickafoose has got his bass in something fascinating. Besides acting as an essential limb to Ani DiFranco the last few years, he’s soldiered strongly and subtly on several instruments with some of my favorite songwriters: Noe Venable, Carla Bozulich, Jennifer Terran. Add his work with sax avanteer John Zorn, piano storyteller James Carney and groove mothers Crater...the dude is just out of control. Sickafoose launched his career in the late ’90s as a jazz conceiver, and he’s never let the improv dog stray, as evidenced by the sharp young group (with a new CD, Blood Orange) he leads tonight, featuring guitarist Adam Levy, saxist Ben Wendel, trombonist Alan Ferber and drummer Ches Smith (plus special guests). His compositions show a stubborn refusal to lurk in the shadow of tradition — except the traditions of melody and rhythm, which are his gods." - LA Weekly

"A Savvy Composer"

"A savvy composer too adventuresome to be constrained by conventional jazz forms and colors, Sickafoose moves fluidly between a driving swing feel and dreamy abstractions, making full use of the textural potential of his fellow instrumentalists." - San Francisco Bay Guardian


"Sickafoose has a bold and refreshing imagination." - East Bay Express

"Master of Collaboration"

After two years of performing her nakedly confessional songs alone onstage, do-it-yourselfer Ani DiFranco decided that she needed some fresh musical blood pumping through her work. She found the perfect transfusion in Bay Area acoustic bassist Todd Sickafoose, a captivating improviser, imaginative composer and master of collaboration. They've been touring together as a duo for much of the past year, and are currently participating in the anti-Bush "Vote Dammit!" tour of swing states.

Sickafoose, DiFranco writes in an e-mail from Japan, "has expanded the parameters of the possible world for me. ... 'Check this out!,' he'll say with his hands, and suddenly we'll be running down a narrow alley together that opens into another expansive unknown. I've never been more intrigued or excited to make music with anyone."

Sickafoose, 30, has that kind of effect on other musicians, too. The San Ramon Valley High graduate has been a driving force on the Bay Area music scene since moving back to the East Bay in the summer of 2000 after a Southern California sojourn at UCLA and Cal Arts, where he studied with bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist-composer Mel Powell.

With his huge, woody sound and forceful but slippery attack, Sickafoose is a galvanizing player who elevates whatever musical situation he finds himself in. He's probably best known for his work anchoring drummer Scott Amendola's electrifying quintet, and for his contributions to albums and performances by singer-songwriter Noe Venable, whose last two albums he produced.

Somewhat less visible has been Sickafoose's own band, an intermittent project he first documented on his intriguing CD "Dogs Outside" (2000, Evander Music). He's pursued the group as a vehicle for his ravishing compositions during the rare periods when he's not on the road, intervals that have grown so brief in recent months that he gave up his Oakland digs.

Sickafoose returns to the Bay Area briefly to present his own music Thursday at Bruno's, with a group featuring saxophonist Eric Crystal, trombonist John Gove, drummer Ches Smith, guitarist Justin Morell and JHNO on laptop.

Inspired by the legacy of such great bassist-bandleaders as Charles Mingus and Dave Holland, Sickafoose is developing a group approach in which each player's improvisational impulse can be applied to any musical element. His tunes put a premium on melodic invention, but rather than relying on traditional theme and solo structure, his music ebbs and flows, with a gradual accretion of texture that keys on the often astounding array of sounds he draws from his bass.

"All of those sounds are important and are right there at the front of what the bass can do, and how it can relate to other instruments," says Sickafoose, calling from a tour stop in East Lansing, Mich. The Bruno's performance offers a preview of Sickafoose's forthcoming album, "Blood Orange, " a project he's worked on with noted Berkeley producer Hans Wendl, widely admired for the albums he's produced for Tin Hat Trio and clarinetist Don Byron.

Drawn to musicians who confound genres, Wendl sees Sickafoose as a superlative accompanist who is creating a sound rooted in a California aesthetic.

"What attracted me to Todd is that he's an interesting writer, with a sound that's very personal," says Wendl, who signed the band Medeski Martin and Wood to its first contract when he headed Gramavision. "There's a chamber music quality, a concept I hear parallels to when I listen back to Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer and Jimmy Giuffre, the artists who established the West Coast sound. His band can sound rambunctious, but there's a softness, a lyrical quality that appeals to me. Singers like working with him because he's such a great listener."

Sickafoose's gift for accompanying vocalists will be on display Friday at 12 Galaxies, when he reunites with Venable for a duo performance, opening for violinist Andrew Bird of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame.

It's no coincidence that Sickafoose has been a collaborator of choice for such an ostentatiously creative group of female musicians. He's connected most deeply with DiFranco and Venable, but he's has also contributed to important work by violinist Jenny Scheinman, tenor saxophonist Jessica Lurie, clarinetist Beth Custer, vocalist Carla Bozulich, and neo-folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Laurie Lewis.

"I've found myself to be in a really lucky situation, to be playing with lots of really inspiring women," Sickafoose says. "Their music is all so different, but they have this common element, which is that they're these very strong women. Noe and Ani in particular are the two big ones in my life. Their music is so rich and four dimensional. It's like rock climbing on really good rocks, with lots of things to hold onto. That's an exciting thing for me, and I think I'm spoiled by that." - San Francisco Chronicle


Blood Orange (2006)
Dogs Outside (2000)


Feeling a bit camera shy


"A captivating improviser, imaginative composer and a master of collaboration." (San Francisco Chronicle)

"Sickafoose is Ani DiFranco's secret weapon." (New Yorker)