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Kala Rupa - Explorations in Rhythm
Narada World


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Master Percussionist Greg Ellis
To Join Mickey Hart on Tour

Los Angeles, CA:  Greg Ellis, best known for his work with the world fusion duo Vas, will continue touring this fall as a featured guest musician with legendary drummer Mickey Hart and his touring ensemble, Bembé Orisha.    

 Already a successful drummer and in high demand with other artists, Ellis was profoundly affected by Mickey Hart’s book Drumming At The Edge Of Magic, which inspired him to delve deeper into the heart and soul of the vast world of rhythm, exploring the rich history and traditions of percussion in India, the Middle East and Africa.  Since that pivotal point in his career, Ellis has earned the respect and friendship of Hart and is now joining him on tour as a guest musician, completing the circle. 

 Ellis and Hart previously worked together on the recently released Mondo Head CD by world renowned Japanese taiko drum collective, Kodo, on which Ellis co-wrote four songs and played as guest musician along with tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, legendary percussionist Airto and conga master Giovanni Hidalgo.  Mickey Hart produced the CD.

Ellis, who has released three highly acclaimed CDs with Vas, is currently promoting his debut solo album Kala Rupa – Explorations in Rhythm on the respected label Narada World.  Featuring guest musicians from around the world including Azam Ali (Ellis’ partner in Vas), Kamancheh (Persian violin) master Ardeshir Kamkar and Persian percussion master Pejman Hadadi, Kala Rupa has earned praise throughout the music press, with calling it “a strong testament to the powerful magic of drumming” and All Music Guide saying, “At once meditative, entrancing, sensual and exhilarating…Kala Rupa is simply a sonic feast.”

 Tour Dates:

 Sept. 14 & 15     St Joseph, MN     College of St. Benedict

Sept. 17 Madison, WI       Barrymore Theatre

Sept. 19 Athens, OH         Ohio University

Sept. 20 W. Lafayette, IN Purdue University

Sept. 21             Pittsburgh, PA    Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall

Sept. 22             Oberlin, OH        Finney Chapel - Oberlin College

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Greg Ellis

As one of the top drummers and percussionists in the music industry, with a healthy and growing session and touring schedule, Greg Ellis continues to strive for the purest essence of his art: to uncover what is true in rhythm, and how that rhythm illuminates the human soul. That ideal has led Ellis to work with a range of master percussionists that include Taiko drum group KODO, Mickey Hart, Airto, Zakir Hussain, and Giovanni Hidalgo, as well as drumming for top rock acts ranging from Beck to Billy Idol. As his career progresses, from his groundbreaking work with his group Vas, to composing movie soundtracks, to participating in musical collaborations and seminars, Ellis has grown both more and less sure of his own sound, a paradox that he welcomes with open arms.

Ellis is himself a paradox. Despite his eclectic list of credits, he has never wavered from the uncompromising pursuit of his own music. In seeking its pure devotional spirit, Ellis has taken the less-traveled road of the artists who most inspired him, such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Brian Eno and Ravi Shankar. And, as these legends also discovered, his music is reaching people in ways that he had never imagined. In the power and subtlety of organic rhythms — the hand-delivered beats that define each of his compositions, Ellis has found his creative manifesto.

"It’s the very nature of music — push and pull, ebb and flow. The organic rhythm of live percussion ties into this relationship as does nothing else," says Ellis. "With minute variations in the beat, gaps emerge where listeners nest themselves in the composition. This connection between drum and body both nurtures and nourishes the listener on the most lasting and primal level." 

Ellis is slightly abashed when he says that he is, for the most part, a self-taught musician. But he also credits this less formal training as the source of his ability to move freely between an array of musical styles. For his journey into the vast world of percussion, though, he knew he would need a guide. In 1991, he found it in Mickey Hart’s book Drumming at the Edge of Magic.  The book inspired Ellis deeply and was his catalyst into exploring the true possibilities of rhythm. He began collecting percussion instruments and CD’s from around the world, free to directly encounter each musical tradition without the intercession of teacher or textbook. Through the music of India, the Middle East, and Africa, Ellis encountered rhythmic traditions thousands of years old. In their resonance, he continues to feel the deep power of the drum, as well as a profound responsibility to connect with its legacy. "The first time I put my sticks down, and felt my skin against the skin of a hand drum, it was indescribable — as if I were a blind man first experiencing color.”

In November 1995, as a result of his recent musical transformation, Ellis met Azam Ali at a concert of the Master Musicians of Jajouka at UCLA. At a party afterwards, Greg heard Azam sing for the first time. "I had always imagined a voice in my compositions. Azam was that voice I had been hearing in my head for years." Ellis and Ali began creating music together the very next day and alternative world music group, Vas, was born. Together, they have three critically-acclaimed albums: Sunyata, Offerings, and In the Garden of Souls, that have defined and forever set a new trend in world fusion.

After In the Garden of Souls, with Ali’s urging, Ellis began work on his solo album, Kala Rupa. "We’d be in the studio, creating these rhythm tracks for her voice, Azam would sing to complete the compositions. Azam would often say, ‘You should try releasing some of these tracks by themselves.’ As time progressed, I thought about it, and realized that I should let some of my ideas stand alone. Each of these forms says something, both as a closure and a beginning to the continuing cycle of my musical development."

That cycle is leading Ellis into yet another role, that of rhythm therapist. Ellis has discovered not only that rhythm reaches the inner workings of a wounded mind, but in some cases, it is the only thing that can penetrate the veil of mental illness. "I have seen near catatonic patients who are completely unreachable with traditional approaches come to life when a drum is placed in front of them. They are able to emotionally interact with others through drumming. It is an unforgettable, magical affirmation."  In 2001, Ellis presented a seminar at the National Congress of the American Music Therapists Association, and in 2002 was invited by the British Society of Music Therapy to present his work on rhythm therapy to the 10th World Congress of Music Therapy at Oxford.

For Greg Ellis, these new developments are continual reminders of how much more there is to discover. "I learn something new every day about the drum. It all comes down to a hand and a drum. Sometimes I touch a dumbek, trace its construction with my fingers, and wonder how something so simple can contain so much."



On his breakout solo debut, Greg Ellis has fully realized his passion for Eastern percussion. Ellis composed the music for Kala Rupa around the rhythm rather than the melody, allowing the tonal and emotional center of the music to be established by the percussion and rhythm. Employing instruments as culturally diverse as the udu and bendir from Africa, the tabla, dholak, bansuri, and nagara from India, and the riq, tombak and kamancheh from the Middle East, Ellis and his guest musicians create an extraordinary range of sounds, moods, and styles.

The drums and rhythms are the centerpiece of the 10 ‘forms’ on the album. As Ellis recalls, “Once the rhythms were complete, I brought in the other musicians who helped to reveal the natural form of each piece. The musicians who took part in this project all have a deep respect for rhythm, which is exhibited in the interplay of the melodic instruments with the percussion. Many times I abandoned my initial ideas of the direction I wanted the music to take as new rhythmic and melodic elements were added. I didn¹t want the music to be forced into any pre-conceived images I might have had, therefore confining it to one reference point. That is why I decided to bypass conventional titles for any of the pieces. I want the listener to start in a neutral space of his or her own experience.”

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