05/27/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Phil Reser
Photos: Courtesy of Tempest
There’s a progressive edge to their music that recalls the ambient sounds of early Jethro Tull and Yes, whose members played organic world instruments like bouzouki and flute with (and against) rock rhythm sections.
Norwegian immigrant, lead singer and electric mandolin player, Lief Sorbye, besides holding down the production and management of the band since he organized it in 1988, is now joined by San Francisco fiddler Kathy Buys, a medal winner in the Comhaltas Irish music competition, along with Cuban-born drummer Adolfo Lazo, bassist Vince Lucchesi and guitarist Gregory Jones to complete the hard-rocking, Oakland-based Tempest.
Growing up in Oslo, Norway, Sorbye begin his music career playing on street corners throughout Europe.
As he recalls it, “You pass the hat, playing for tips, and in the ’70s, there was a real flourishing artist scene in the cities of Europe. It was very common that you could get a permit to go out to perform in public on the street corners and actually make a living at it. If you are a teenager, it beats going to school. It beats having a 9-to-5, I can tell you that. As a result of that, I never really got a straight job.”
Sorbye moved to America in 1978, shifting gears to playing acoustic folk collaborations with various other musicians.
“For me, folk music never really seemed to get beyond a limited size of performance opportunity, but when you fuse it with rock ’n’ roll, you can change that. This is what we did with the creation of Tempest. You end up playing not only clubs and folk festivals, but everything from Celtic or World Fusion festivals to the corn-dog crowd at the county fair to rock festivals and even motorcycle events.”
The folk style, however, is what showed him the importance of storytelling in a song.
“I think a lot of mainstream pop music is shallow in that sense. There is not a lot to learn from a run-of-the-mill pop song, but a folk song usually has a story that can survive a couple hundred years because it may reflect the human condition. Had they had electric guitar, bass and drums 200 years ago, you know they would have used them.”
Twenty-five years after Tempest’s formation, the band finds itself fusing folk, Irish reels, Scottish ballads and other world music elements with rock ’n’ roll which has proven popular enough to afford the five-member band the opportunity to tour the world, appearing at prestigious annual events like The Philadelphia Folk Festival, Denmark’s Skagen Festival, Britain’s Cropredy Festival and The Winnipeg Folk Festival in Canada.
Their music ranges from pub-ready stompers to contemplative instrumentals to ballads about knights and knaves.
It includes rocked-out traditional Celtic tunes, such as an adaptation of “Black Jack Davy,” and original compositions like “The Great Departure.”
They usually include a traditional song or two in Sorbye’s native Norwegian, such as “Jomfru,” a ballad about a maiden stolen away from her own wedding.
All three songs can be found on their latest studio album, “Another Dawn.” Also on the album is their cover of The Rokes’ song “Live for Today,” which was made popular by the American rock band The Grass Roots.
They also have a newly released Live CD, available on their current tour, “The 25th Anniversary Concert.”
“Things have changed over the years,” he says. “The world has changed tremendously, especially when it comes to understanding other cultures. Now, the whole idea of world music or anything ethnic fused with modern rock ’n’ roll has been charted out and done a lot.”
“Working with this musical form is timeless,” Sorbye adds. “You don’t outdate yourself in the market. You might be trendy for, say, five minutes, but you’ll never outdate yourself.”
Tempest at The Summer Serenade, Anderson River Park
June 18 (opening act Nicole Stutesman at 5:30 pm, main act at 7 pm) Free event www.summerserenade.wordpress.com