On Sunday, September 26th, three titans of improvisational music will come together at Brooklyn Comes Alive as Joe Russo, John Medeski, and Dave Harrington collaborate onstage for the first time. Ahead of this one-time-only musical summit at The Brooklyn Mirage, we’re taking a look back at the intrepid musical histories of these three unique artists [get tickets here].
Many BCA attendees will recognize Joe Russo from his work at the helm of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Anyone who has seen or heard the Grateful Dead-inspired quintet knows that the ensemble goes far beyond the simple chord progressions of the jam forefathers. Rather than acting as a band playing Grateful Dead covers that evolve into jams, JRAD freely improvises until those off-the-cuff musical journeys take the form of a familiar Dead tune.
Yet well before JRAD and his high-profile stint in post-Jerry Garcia Dead outfit Furthur, for which he provided the backbeat for from 2009—2014 in support of Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Russo made some of his first waves in the mid-to-late 2000s with another familiar face, Marco Benevento, in the Benevento/Russo Duo. The psych-jazz duo’s pared-down personnel allowed for Benevento and Russo to lock into each other’s sonic frequencies to produce results that were well outside the worlds of jam, jazz, and possibly even Earth.
While these days you may see Russo headlining amphitheaters and festivals with JRAD, you’re just as likely to see him playing semi-regular jazz shows in small, dark, downtown clubs.
Benevento/Russo Duo – Blue Lamp – Sacramento, CA – 5/20/05 – Full Show
[Video: Jim McLain]
Dave Harrington has similarly seen his career blossom from experimental NYC roots. As one-half of Darkside along with Nicolas Jaar, Harrington continually defied stylistic classification, weaving ambient soundscapes through industrial, electronic, droning motifs during the early 2010s. Just like Russo, Harrington would become a lightning rod for myriad projects, cruising the New York indie scene with bands like ARMS, Thunder And Lightning, Translations, and later Dave Harrington’s Merry Pranksters, which performed at Brooklyn Comes Alive in 2017.
Darkside – Boiler Room NYC Live Set
[Video: Boiler Room]
While Harrington has long existed in his own sphere well outside the realm of jam bands, he was brought to the vicinity of the genre back in the spring of 2017 when Russo led an all-star performance of the experimental 1971 Jerry Garcia/Howard Wales jazz-fusion album, Hooteroll? at The Capitol Theatre. While there, Harrington rubbed shoulders with fellow improvisational wizard Stuart Bogie and others in the Russo-led ensemble. Harrington must have enjoyed himself, as he returned for another telling of Hooteroll? with the same cast in early 2020.
In 2018, Russo and Harrington took to a fan-favorite lower-Manhattan haunt, Nublu, for a series of all-improv sets. In addition to becoming the stuff of legend in the city’s music scene, the power and potency of the off-the-cuff collaborations during that run directly inspired the creation of this special Brooklyn Comes Alive trio.
Dave Harrington & Joe Russo – 3/2/18 – Nublu – Full Show
Russo and Harrington both stood on the shoulders of giants in the early-2000s New York acid jazz/avant-garde scene. One of those “giant” forefathers was John Medeski, the keyboardist who gained international acclaim with improvisational powerhouse Medeski Martin & Wood in the early ’90s. He has gone on to become revered as an elder statesman in multiple circles—from the jazz world to the galaxy of the Grateful Dead—often helping to draw musical talents young and old down the path of the unknown.
John Medeski, Skerik & Stanton Moore — Oak Garden — Miami, FL — 5/4/21
Even with all of this musical history—some of which is intertwined—there is still no way of knowing what will happen when Joe Russo, John Medeski, and Dave Harrington take the stage together on September 26th at The Brooklyn Mirage. The only way to find out is to get tickets to Brooklyn Comes Alive.