Big Medicine Tour
Canyon Records

“The man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization. And when native man left off this form of development, his humanization was retarded in growth.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

R. Carlos Nakai, a native Navajo-Ute, is the world’s premier Native American flutist. His enchanting compositions, both original and collaborative have graced dozens of CD’s including the soundtrack for the film, Geronimo. As a native of Arizona, Nakai has dedicated his life to the preservation of the Indian flute. Nakai was classically trained on the cornet and trumpet but it was his study of traditional instruments that led him to the wooden flute. It was through this study he came to appreciate the rich tones of the cedar wood flute over the oak wood flute he was playing.

Nakai is the focal point of the elite R. Carlos Nakai Quartet, a unique Native American Jazz ensemble that transcends any definition used to contain their music. The four versatile and accomplished musicians, Nakai, Mary Redhouse, Amo Chip and Will Clipman are outlaws to their genre. Says Nakai on the morning of their Philadelphia engagement in support of their latest Canyon release Big Medicine; “Native American music is a specific music for a particular culture group. It is seen as music for a traditional music expression. What we are doing is so far off the wall from what most people expect from traditional Native American music.”

“When I travel,” reflects Nakai, “the audience wants to see the beads and the buckskin and the smoke associated with Native American music. But what we do is all together something different. We find there is kind of a backlash among the indigenous tribes and among the music world in general because (1) natives aren’t suppose to be doing this kind of music, (2) there isn’t a niche for us among any of the contemporary music forms and (3) within the culture itself we’ve gone a little bit too far to play this music and mix it with other influences.” Which is exactly what a performance of the R.Carlos Nakai Quartet is.

The International House played host to this astonishing quartet with packed seating and an enthusiastic response. “On a professional level,” says Nakai, “you can’t limit yourself to one category or philosophic mode. We’re all products of our influences.” Group bassist and exceptional vocalist, Mary Redhouse agrees, “As artists we shouldn’t be questioned. As individuals we are trying different things all the time but it seems when we put it on a record we get questioned. People have a problem when it doesn’t come up to this other image.”

That night’s performance the group filled the hall with an unparalleled cacophony of sounds from traditional jazz inspired moments to the easy sway of the willows in communication with the swallow. The mixture was intense, richly deep and soulful. “When I started this whole adventure, I wanted to play in symphonies. Then I ended up with the flute and lately I’ve been looking for other musicians that can improvise; musicians that have a good enough background in music theory and discipline to actually have conversations with one another on stage. I’ve found it with the musicians I play with now. Sometime we don’t know what we’re going to do ‘till we get out there. But it’s fun living on the edge. It pits you against yourself not against the other musicians.”

Amo Chip, the group’s versatile Afro-Native American Indian explains, “You spend your whole life studying tonality, chordal arrangements and structure, you’d think when it came to playing it live you could just spout it out. That’s what we try to do. Deliver these forms, these movements that continually change every night.” One such number, an improvisation was created that night just for Philadelphia. It was a captured moment like wind on a hot day.

For more info on the R.Carlos Nakai Quartet click here