Saturday, December 12, 2009

New tracks posted for streaming (reprinted from myspace)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Current mood: excited
Category: Music

Sokoband has posted three songs from their upcoming self-titled CD for streaming on myspace:

1. Coast to Coast.
Belongings-era Jarrett/Garbarek meets Steely Dan? Joyful, uptempo seven-beat jaunt with big horns and smokin' guitar to complement the high-energy core piano/bass/drum trio of Mike Sokolowski, Houston Ross, and Nir Z. Guests include: George Brooks, Bobby Read on lead soprano and alto saxophones. Horn section: David CasT, saxophones; John D'Earth, trumpet; Greg Howard, alto sax; Mark Maynard, trombones. Guitar: Mike Colley.

2. In November Sunlight.
Brisk jazz waltz perhaps evoking Vince Guaraldi and featuring gorgeous soprano sax work from the late LeRoi Moore.

3. Body Home.
ECM-ish improvisational voyage. Rich, shimmering textures and deep powerful bass content carry the listener on a dreamy flight. The great cellist, David Darling, adds poignant lines and harmonies.

The album is scheduled for a spring release. In the meantime, Breezeway Records will be rotating selections from the CD through the band's myspace music player. Enjoy.

Goodbye, John (reprinted from myspace blog)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Current mood: sad
Category: Life

It's been two days and it feels like two months. My brain can't really process that a random series of molecular events on Thursday night pulled my dear friend from this realm. Johnny was one of the most sincerely loving human beings on this earth.

Secondarily, he was a master practitioner of his instrument and a supremely creative artist. Those of us who have had the thrill of making music with him know that the likes of John Gilmore (he really preferred "John" to "Johnny") will not pass this way again. At his best, his playing was like liquid, like glass, like thunder and rain, like ballet. When the music was happening it just rolled, flowed, and weaved -- carrying everyone along. "Traveling music," as Darrell Rose would say. Leroi Moore simply called it magic. Gilley had the magic touch.

Never superficial or phony, John made connections with people. He found the beautiful within a person and latched onto that. He wanted to know you. He reached people to the core. The last few weeks he'd call and ask me to take him to see my father, who is suffering from dementia. I filtered the request though all sorts of rational thoughts -- "Dad won't remember him," "the situation will be awkward," "should I even bring this up with Mom?" Etc. It had probably been ten years since they had seen each other. Turns out Dad was crushed. He remembered. He kept me on the phone longer than usual, struggling persistently to get out his heartfelt sentiments and feelings of sadness. I bring up this personal anecdote only to illustrate something extraordinarily powerful about our friend: the force of his loving personality cut through a decade of memory and cognitive dysfunction in a 90 year-old man. Mom confessed that Johnny (sorry, man -- I seem to need to call you that) was her favorite of my friends.

He saw people -- really saw them. He loved my family -- as I type this I'm dreading the return of my eldest daughter from a backpacking trip. She's known him since infancy. He loved her so much. I could tell he was proud of my kids. Recently, I played him a video of my youngest performing on guitar -- I will treasure the memory of him hunching over my laptop grinning ear to ear, laughing with joy.

Unlike most musicians I know, Johnny never talked about himself, his accomplishments or his supersized helping of talent. I've known him now for coming on 26 years and I don't think I ever heard a self-promoting word from him. He'd tell road stories and he'd tell of some of the friendships he'd make with great musicians the world over, but he was not prideful. He knew he was a badass and he didn't need to say it. His family says he never talked about his career -- he always talked about family. You couldn't share a few minutes with the man without hearing about his parents, his siblings; his nieces, nephews, and cousins. And they always followed the entreaty as to the welfare of your own family. Even if you had spoken to him two days earlier.

He developed relationships with your music in the same way he established personal connections -- he sought the core of it. Once he found it, once he understood what it was all about, he became fierce friends with it. He wasn't above mistreating it or taking it for granted, but sometimes -- often when you least expected -- he'd bestow upon it a field of tulips. The metaphor, unsurprisingly, evokes Van Gogh. And come to think of it, John was a sort of a Van Gogh drummer. Imagine the energy, color, movement, and emotional force of a VG tulip field; that pretty much sums up John's music.

I'm thinking of all the people touched by Johnny and the list is endless. I've talked to people I haven't seen or heard from in over twenty years, and I'm thinking of more and more I want to reconnect with. I ask myself, "does so-and-so know," "how can I find X to let him/her know?" I'm supposed to remember how to play the piano tonight at a memorial event -- the crowd is going to burst the venue, I'm sure. Before I do that, Houston and I have to go to a memorial for the mother of another musician friend. I can't help but wonder if Johnny knew she passed. He'd be so sad -- and he'd be there, for sure. "Gotta pay my respects, Mike," he'd say. That guy never missed a funeral. Never missed a call on a holiday. Never missed a chance to send a card. Postcards from the road, birthday cards, notes left on the door with a foil-wrapped gift of freshly cooked fishcakes. Always written with a calligrapher's penmanship.

For the last year or so, he had been playing in church -- several churches -- and he was so excited about it. It was renewing to him, a chance in a way for a fresh musical start. He would call and talk about the experiences he was having playing in church and would get so excited and the conversation would build with anticipation for a new phase of his life. There's a wonderful local organization -- the Music Resource Center -- that is built in an old church. Johnny wanted to take me in there to record pipe organ/drum duets. "Mike, it's there, just waiting for us." And like the visit to my father, I put it off, figuring we'd find a way to make it happen at a time when I was less busy. Meanwhile he's slipped through some strange fissure in the fabric of the universe.

Damn it.

Anna Gilmore, his beloved mom (RIP), and Curtis Gilmore, Sr., his wise and steady father were always so proud of their son. John's joined her now -- that particular circle is completed as one is broken with his father. But it's really all one circle anyhow. It just sucks to be separated.

If I may paraphrase the words of advice Warren Zevon gave to David Letterman shortly before his death:

Enjoy every fishcake.

I love you, John.


Soko to Sokoband (reprinted from myspace blog)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Current mood: rejuvenated
OK, so after 19 years our name still wasn't original enough and never really stuck. We started out as "Third Ear," until we received a "cease and desist" order from the attorney of a bluegrass band in the San Francisco bay area. We then became "Zoom" for a while, but nobody really liked that. Then Houston said "it's gotta be 'Soko.'" That's what people had been calling me for as long as I can remember, and Houston felt that it was a snappy name (it is) that had to be original (it wasn't). Shame on us -- especially after the "Third Ear" go-round -- to not perform due diligence and find that there was already a groovy funk band by that name from the American south, who had released a successful album called Hurry Up and Wait. We also didn't take note of Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot, nor did we consider the numerous Japanese and American businesses with the name of "Soko." Then, of course, came "SoKo" -- AKA St├ęphanie Sokolinski -- the compelling indie singer from Paris, who just blew us out of the water in terms of name recognition. So, finally, we get it. Time to try again.

While it would be fun to brainstorm and vet a bunch of new band names (who doesn't enjoy doing that?), we are falling back on "Sokoband." It's close to our previous name but it's unused -- and "" has been our web URL for 14 years. It only makes sense.

Keep an eye out for a completely overhauled website at that address in the near future, and stay tuned for our next album: Sokoband, featuring our new drummer, the great Nir Z (Genesis, Chris Cornell, Jason Mraz, and others), and special guests: Steve Kimock, Leroi Moore, Tim Reynolds, David Darling, Dave Matthews, and more. The record has been mixed and mastered, so release should not be too far behind.

Thanks for reading,

Michael Sokolowski
and Houston Ross

LeRoi Moore, R.I.P. (reprinted from myspace blog)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Current mood: sad
Category: Music
We are devastated by today's passing of our brother and mentor, LeRoi Moore. Not only was he one of the kindest, most generous, most deeply intelligent and hilarious people one could ever hope to meet, but he was one of the greatest saxophonists ever to walk this rock. He'd scoff at the notion, but those who know, know. We are blessed to have shared air with him. He was also our biggest supporter -- "thanks" doesn't remotely do it justice.

As many of our fans know, we've been working on a re-do of our first album, which featured Roi on 5 tracks -- an album that he prodded us to do in the first place. The re-do of the title track, In November Sunlight, features a solo from LeRoi that moves us to the core. So, here's a non-mix, bass-heavy and not ready for prime time, with an absolutely beautiful LeRoi solo. You need to hear it.

In November Sunlight, 2008
(dead link -- see footnote below)

You gotta listen past the raw, bass-heavy nature of this mix. This is not even a mix, per se, just some tracks quickly exported out of my computer program for us to listen to as we work on the record. In fact, Houston and I had been talking about sending a clip to Roi, but kept holding back, wanting to wait for a nice mix. Big regret, as I think he would have been surprised to know that there was a take that good in the can from those sessions. But I believe that in some way, he's hearing it now.

The thing about Leroi -- and the reason so many millions of people feel a sense of personal loss -- is that his music was completely devoid of bullshit. Like any musician, he had musical peaks and valleys, but he never played an inauthentic note. No musical exhibitionism from Leroi Moore; it was always pure communication. That's why, even though he lurked in the shadows of the bandstand, didn't sing the songs, or rap to the audience, people felt they knew him. And they DID know him -- they knew the essence of who he was, because he made the choice to speak honestly through his horn. To use his horn to actually reach people, and not simply (or simplemindedly) to try to impress them. He could start anywhere in the measure, end anywhere in the measure, and it always flowed. It was an effortlessly beautiful floating and weaving of melody, phrasing and dynamics expertly controlled -- like a captivating storyteller. Never forced. Never clever for cleverness' sake. It wasn't jazz, it wasn't folk, it wasn't rock, it wasn't classical. And it wasn't about eclectically mashing those together in a conscious way. LeRoi's music was the result of a brilliant and open-minded student of music taking it all in and speaking back to us, naturally.

Houston used to tell him that he was in his "top five," and Leroi would scoff at that notion, modest and obviously made uncomfortable by the suggestion. But damn it, it's true for me, too. Sure, you've got your Coltrane and you've got your Wayne Shorter and maybe a couple of others -- absolute unequivocal masters of the instrument -- but if I could have called any living saxophonist to play my music and serve it the way I envision it to be and without having to explain it, it would have always been him. A kindred spirit, a master musician whose level I won't attain in a couple of lifetimes, and a beautiful person who simply breathed when he played. God Bless you, Leroi. I miss you and I think you'll dig this take.

(Note: the version of In November Sunlight referenced here is no longer available. To hear the final "album" version, go to