Roughly 15 years ago, just as the jazz ethos was changing the guard and deeming electric instruments marginal or verboten, the decidedly plugged-in guitarist Scott Henderson got together with virtuosic bassist Gary Willis, fresh in town from Texas. The mission: create a new kind of fusion unit, bowing to the deeply embedded influence of Weather Report, while also bowing to Henderson’s direct, affective link to his rock roots.
Heading up the aptly named Tribal Tech, they were men with chops, and men out of time, and proud of it. They made a big, intricate sound in small venues, like the modest-yet-historic, defunct jazz club Donte’s, in the world-famous San Fernando Valley, made famous by Frank Zappa’s hit, and, out Burbank way, the breeding ground of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. The neighborhood is fitting: somewhere between Zappa, Looney Tunes, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Joe Zawinul, Tribal Tech carved out its own little niche in the jazz world. You don’t hear them on the radio, and many jazz critics tend to look the other way, but the band has made it the old-fashioned way: with obstinacy, humor, and an independence born of outsider status.