Though the first soulful strains of world-music quintet Ba Man Bia are recognizably passionate and raw, their instruments—other then the upright bass plucked by Trevor Stoia—are a far cry from the guitars and drum kits of typical bands. But Ba Man Bia, formed in January of this year, is anything but typical.
The group, a collaboration between Stoia, cellist Billy Jack, percussionist and pipa (Chinese lute) player Aaron Kaczmarek and percussionists Chukk Bruursema and Rusty James, christened their particular improv style with the name “AfroAsian jazz groove”—a mouthful even in fusion-friendly Asheville.
As I settled into a window seat at a recent Thursday night BoBo Gallery show, I felt pretty certain that in such a casual venue, wordy explanations were not what the intimate (and likely worldly) audience wanted. Still, Ba Man Bia’s exotic instrument collection lends itself to an educational component. A brief introduction would be both fascinating and insightful.
Several songs into the performance, two young women sprang onto the open area in front of the band. Stretching and writhing (equal parts yoga poses and club moves), they turned the space into an impromptu stage, offering the audience a visual to the already heady music. First there were two, then three, and finally four as the show evolved into a passionate collaboration between the band and dancers. The intuitive, freeform music pulsed raw energy over the audience, accompanied by the low hum of bass notes. Though Ba Man Bia’s sound is hard to classify and its roots challenging to attribute, the end result is ultimately welcoming.
Like modern jazz, world improv is an acquired taste. Stringed instruments are tuned to scales rarely heard by the American ear. Syncopated rhythms require an adventurous spirit on the dance floor. And Ba Man Bia doesn’t sugarcoat their creation with a digestif of lyrics: This is straight-on experimentation.
The band’s members, however, come with a following from their various local projects: Jack is the mascot of Unifire Theatre; James and Kaczmarek (aka Aaron Kaz) perform with the Sunday Night Ensemble; Bruursema drummed with Avec la Force; and Stoia is known for his namesake band, Trevor Trio. Case in point: Throughout the show, people trickled into BoBo until the room was packed. Outside the bar’s window, more people lounged under a glaring streetlight. Some were passersby, caught in the beat of the moment and staring curiously in. Others, transfixed—and perhaps despite their best intentions to spend their Thursday evening elsewhere—became permanent audience members.
Find Ba Man Bia’s upcoming shows listed at www.myspace.com/bamanbia.