From 1998 to 2004, birth, a Cleveland/New York-based saxophone, electric bass, drums trio, received attention and praise from some of the leading voices of the avant-garde jazz and creative music world.
The late Harvey Pekar, a Scene
contributor in the early 2000s, proclaimed that birth was "so good that it's scary."
Birth released four records to great acclaim, including two studio records, as well as collections of live recordings. The trio toured the U.S. and Europe and regularly performed at infamous jazz clubs such as Knitting Factory and Tonic.
After a performance at the High Mayhem Festival in Santa Fe New Mexico in 2004, the group went on an indefinite hiatus as its members disbursed to various corners of the country. Saxophonist Joshua Smith relocated to just north of San Francisco, where he has performed with various groups under his own direction and as a sideman. Bassist Jeremy Bleich relocated to the Southwest and drummer Joe Tomino decided to devote his time to studio and touring projects.
“We didn’t intend for that to be our last gig in 12 years,” says Smith via phone from his San Francisco home.
The band will play its first public show in over a decade on Oct. 16 at Mahall’s
in Lakewood. Cleveland stalwart jazz drummer and improvisation guru Carmen Castaldi will open the show.
“It was funny because [the festival show in New Mexico] coincided with me moving with a carload of stuff to the Bay Area," Smith says. "I played the festival along the way. If we had had a crystal ball, we would have seen that our lives would take some turns, most of them positive. There was never an ideological rift between any of us, but we did feel that we needed to hunker down and figure out our new situations.”
Members have made significant strides during the hiatus. Smith worked with the Scott Amendola Quartet, performed with Wilco's Nels Cline and served as the musical director for leave me alone
, the Harvey Pekar opera featuring music by Cleveland native Dan Plonsey. He also performed with bluegrass and jazz acts such as Peter Rowan, Blaine Sprouse, Ches Smith, Sean Hayes, Mike and Ruthy, Tao Seeger, Ben Goldberg, Trevor Dunn Simon Lott.
Tomino has performed and/or recorded with the Fugees, Lady Gaga, Mike Patton, Wyclef Jean, Matisyahu, Blondie, Rahzel, Del Amitri and many other artists. Jeremy Bleich moved to Santa Fe in 2005 and has composed music for Lifesongs, Wisefool New Mexico, the Santa Fe Opera's all arts integration program. He recently won a grant to write the rock opera, Love and Emma Goldman
and also produces music for his Grasshopper Music label.
The show at Mahall’s comes as the band has decided to record at a new studio space in the Masonic Temple in Ohio City.
“We’re excited to be in our old home to make a new record,” says Smith. “It will mark the end of a long silence. The language that we converse in musically as birth never went away from any of us. When we played together earlier this year, the energy felt so good. It was like a warm bath. [The show at Mahall’s] will be both a momentous occasion and an organic continuation of where we left off.”