Tumble is a Northern California-based collective that includes Robert Heirendt on mbira, Sean Kerrigan on guitar, Randy McKean on tenor saxophone and clarinets, and Bill Douglass on acoustic bass. The quartet plays intricate, trance-like compositions that combine folkish melodies and driving rhythms with an improvisational jazz sensibility. On their two studio albums and in their eclectic live performances, together they weave musical influences including traditional Zimbabwean trance music, modern improvisation, modal jazz, Afro pop, and experimental compositional structures.
Tumble’s repertoire is centered on song, be it traditional Zimbabwean melodies, classic jazz tunes, or the band’s many original compositions. “Shumba” combines a hypnotic African groove with soaring horn lines, qualities echoed in the band’s transformations of the Wayne Shorter classics “Black Nile” and “Down in the Depths.” Their version of Thelonious Monk’s melodic seesaw “Misterioso” is echoed in their sing songy originals “Much Happy” and “Callie Mac.” “Frisco” dips and sways like the winding hills of its namesake city, while “Sub Drift” rides Douglass’s deep bass groove. The atmospheric “Saffron Robe” and mesmerizing “Dark Clouds in the Sierra Madre” conjure physical landscapes, and “Avian Migration” and “Nuthatch” are multi-part evocations of natural wonders.
Robert Heirendt provides the core of the group’s sound on the mbira, the Zimbabwean instrument similar to the kalimba and sometimes referred to as the thumb piano. Heirendt’s interest in African music began in his teens when he heard elements of it in the work of artists like Talking Heads, Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel. Attending concerts by the jazz/fusion quartet Oregon and African legend Thomas Mapfumo led Heirendt to get an mbira and study with Erica Azim, an expert on the instrument and its music.
Tumble formed in 2014 when Heirendt joined up with avant garde reedman Randy McKean, and classic rock/jazz guitarist Sean Kerrigan. Within a year they recorded the album Music for Trio, reflecting the influence of their heroes Mapfumo, Oregon, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and the Art Ensemble. Bass legend Bill Douglass joined the group in 2015. Douglass, who has worked with countless jazz masters, including Mose Allison, Marian McPartland, and Oregon’s Paul McCandless, helped refashion the group’s sound with his deep listening sensibility and seasoned musical artistry.
Tumble has performed at venues across Northern California. Their new album is due for release the Summer 2018, just in time for their first appearance at the California WorldFest.