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Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Singer/Songwriter


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"Build[ing] an Ark at The Getty"

The Getty Center’s “Sounds of L.A” concert series came to an end last weekend with a two-day showcasing of Build an Ark, a jazz/experimental music coalition. During the early parts of Saturday night’s show, art-patron audience members seemed unsure on how to receive the diverse troupe whose players held traditional percussion instruments alongside more classical tools. But towards the end of the event, many listeners were brought to smiles, nods, and, for a select few, tears. This was the result of Ark’s synchronization of classically trained jazz musicians and some of the old school’s greats professing messages of healing and uplift.
L.A.’s endemic jazz talents playing under the roof of wealthy museums that hold some of the world’s recognizable (and sometimes looted/stolen) art treasures is nothing new. The introduction to Horace Tapscott’s book, “Songs of the Unsung” recalls the irony he felt while playing in LACMA during the mid-90s. But on Saturday night, awkwardness was dissipated by music that presented L.A.’s potential for mixing disparate talents and scenes in order to create something capable and unique.

The show’s greatest highlights were two songs dedicated to John Coltrane. The first had lead male vocalist Dwight Trible singing with transfixing conviction as he summoned the inspiration which Coltrane has. Lead female vocalist, Waberi Jordan offered her own range which went from opera-like peaks to meditative, hushed whispers. Musicians Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (violin), Mark Maxwell (guitar), Nick Rosen (stand-up bass), Nate Morgan (piano), Rebekah Raff (harp), Damon Aaron (lead-guitar, vocals) and others contributed equally. There wasn’t any of the chops competition which are typical of most current jazz shows, even though the group’s conga player impressed audiences with one enthusiastic solo. The next song, a version of “A Love Supreme”, never took over the former sax player’s instrument; Phil Ranelin’s trombone assumed its place instead. Wind players walked away from the stage in order to play amongst audience members in outreach. Respect, collaboration and careful inspection of melodies were the themes of the evening.

Initially, the audience took in the event with distance. But towards the end, it was clear that a potent stimulus-diffusion had occurred while a microphone was passed amongst listeners during Ark’s final song, “Always There”. The result was L.A.’s different sides having come together in celebration of love, melody and roots–a rare and necessary sight for the City of Angels.

Two days prior, I had a chance to interview the event’s lead female vocalist, Waberi Jordan, for some insights on LA’s jazz scene and more:

CZ: What do you think is the current state of L.A.’s jazz community?

Waberi: I think its like a rose growing in concrete… strong, stubborn, and often overlooked. A Beautiful Tragedy. There are a lot of gifted, young men and women in this city, really playing the music; really having sat at the feet of the Masters here. But Jazz is the anti-thesis of mainstream - so as such, Jazz doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

With that being said, there is a really tangible feeling of urgency, in Los Angeles and in the larger Jazz community of the World really… about how we, as Jazz Musicians, forward this music into the 21st Century; how to nurture it into its powerful, healing state. The music that is being created NOW is so awesome that it’s undeniable - Jazz is a relevant component in our cultural identity and our future survival. I KNOW for sure that here in Los Angeles, there are many musical ‘roses in concrete’ pushing up against what seems like insurmountable obstacles, and are creating history RIGHT NOW. Its amazing to be a part of it! I am encouraged!

CZ: What albums and projects have you been working on recently?

Waberi: While I am continuing to write and record music, this year I have had the great fortune of being involved with some amazing ensemble work with a few of my very favorite composers/friends. I did a series of performances with the big band, Isaac Smith and O Chest of Rah Orchestra. I have known Isaac Smith for nearly 10 years and he’s one of the most gifted composers and trombonists I have ever heard play; and he’s my good friend. His compositions are very challenging musically and very touching… it creates a place for me to continue learning and growing as a musician to be a part of his work… and I have an ongoing musical relationship with Build An Ark - an another orchestral ensemble here in Los Angeles, of which Dwight Trible is the lead vocalist. And most recently, I have had the honor of singing with and making what I have termed ‘a Cosmic re-connection’ with Boston Fielder, Shena Verett, and Lou Rossi of The MuthaWit Orchestra - from New York… and it was an answered prayer because I love their music just that much. We met on Myspace first and have had an ongoing respect for each other’s music for close to a year. They made it out to Los Angeles in March and we had a great connection vibrationally and musically, and I got to sing with them twice during their mini-tour. I will be a part of the URB ALT Festival in New York this summer, which is founded by Boston Fielder, founder & orchestra leader of MuthaWit. I remain on-call for The Great Voice of UGMAA too.

CZ: Aside from The Leimert Park Village, what in Los Angeles inspires you?

Waberi: My Daughter. My friends… the beautiful, mysterious weather here… the vistas visible after a nice rain or windy day…

Much of the inspiration I receive comes from the conversations and experiences I have while in the company of the many gifted soul/friends here in the City of Lost Angels. Its amazing the stories that Lost Angels have…

CZ: What methods do you use when improvising onstage?

Waberi: I listen. I don’t know any other way to be a part of something like that. The most important part of an improvisational set is to hear what the other players are feeling; thusly playing… and to be with it there… so that you are communicating together. I find that I also watch how they are moving; the body language communicates a lot of subtle information too. It all helps me be open to receive and share what is being channeled into the NOW through the music.

CZ: As a mother and performer, how do you find the balance to fulfill these two roles?

Waberi: I am very favored because of the kind of person my child has come to the Earth as… it is so easy to be her Mother! The reality of this life is that I schedule anything I can around what she has to do. She’s an honor student and an athlete which means there is a lot of going and coming/coming and going. She is my biggest fan and when I do something musical, she’s always into it… always supportive and usually right there with me - unless there is an age limit.

CZ: Finally, you once mentioned that you often feel a great hunger for food after a performance. What restaurant(s) do like to visit after singing?

Waberi: HA HA HA! I said that? Yeah I Probably did, lol. Its usually a time thing - we get off stage pretty late for many gigs and other than fast food, there is Thaitown. It stays open until 330 or 400 in the morning. Red Asia is a favorite. If its early enough, I go for Jucy’s Natraliart… the BEST Jamaican food outside of Ocho Rios, Period. I’ve been to some great Persian places - pretty late too but I forget the names… - L. A. Cityzine

"Build an Ark @ The Temple Bar"

I got to the Temple Bar just in time to catch a few of the tunes from a soul sistah on the jazz scene named “Waberi”. I have seen her many times as a supporter of the music but did not know that she could get down like that! There are so many people on the planet with such God given talent; it is a shame to not let the light shine. This goes for you as well! You may have a job, a family and many other responsibilities in order to exist but you cannot be true to yourself if you do not share with the world the talents that the Creator has bestowed upon you.

The earth moves upon creation and when music is personified and molded into imagery that you can see and hear simultaneously, a new drop of water is born into the pond of life that continues to reach out until you are caressed with it’s experience. Waberi’s approach to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” arrived at its destination from entirely different directions like a flower that you love but don’t recognize until it is in full bloom. - The Jazzcat.net - Leroy Downs

"KPFK's Spring Equinox Benefit Concert"

"...In the lounge was Miguel Atwood-Ferguson playing amazing sets with Nick Rosen, Dexter Story, Ralph “Buzzy” Jones and singer, Waberi Jordan. What was most enjoyable was being in the midst of their free sessions. More than simple rounds of jamming, these bouts led the way into deeply felt messages that were delivered to an appreciative audience. Waberi Jordan took to the mike and captivated all in her presence with beautifully wide ranging vocals. The jazz was excellent and well-combined." - L.A Cityzine


Living Water 2003 - Dwight Trible "John Coltrane", "Ishmael"
The Trajectory of a Starah (Far I) 2007Waberi and The Mellyomatic
Love Part 1 2009 - Build An Ark, "Sunflowers in my Garden" et al.



Waberi Jordan, vocalist and songwriter rooted in the Leimert Park Jazz Community of Los Angeles, was born at a crossroads of sorts.

Her grandparents raised her on a steady diet of straight-ahead jazz music, at a time when R&B was the most popular form of music on the radio and among her peers.

Her Great Aunt had her sing for church members after Sunday services, raving about her "contralto" voice, while she and her friends took turns mimicking the female soul singers of the day.

Entering college with a broad knowledge of music history, theory, sight reading, and harmony, Waberi's choice of classical voice as a major would challenge her ideas about what music and singing was for her.

Miss Jordan's voice resonates in an alter-reality... beautiful, a haunted timbre evoking the great vocalists that were her predecessors. The comparison is not solely in the sound of her voice, but more, the legacy she embodies.

Lyrically, she relates an image that quickly emerges into a stark connection with those who are hearing her. One would say, its the true meaning of music manifested as her craft... the richness of her ability to improvise melody... a sense of texture that translates fluently within any given musical situation.

She effortlessly moves from orchestral configurations of Jazz or Classical with complicated meter and harmony, to contemporary Soul sessions with ease. No tricks, or showy vocal gimmicks, but the simplicity of knowing your instrument and the inspired use of it.

Waberi Jordan is comfortable enough to lead her own band, or blend seamlessly within an ensemble. She is capable enough to sing a cappella and be totally convincing, again relying on the gift of improvisation; call and answer - an art form that has long been lost, but found again here and embodied in her own time frame and music. As she puts it, "singing in tongues, future moments... memories songs."