By Janet Hamill
I first became aware of Beacon’s own Judith Tulloch in 1997, when I was working in an Orange County public library. I had heard from musician friends that Tulloch was one of the most original singer-songwriters in the Hudson Valley. Being responsible for scheduling the adult programming at the library put me in the position to invite Judith to perform. It’s an occasion I won’t forget. Her voice was as original as her self-composed songs, and she had a magnetic presence.
Since that day, I’ve observed Tulloch evolve from a solo performer to the leader of one of the Hudson Valley’s most singular ensembles – The Judith Tulloch Band. The group consists of Tulloch (guitar and vocals), Steve Franchino on flute, Bansuri Indian flute and soprano saxophone, Ron Figueroa on bass and Alex Arlequin on drums.
Together they have established themselves as one of our region’s most versatile and accomplished quartets, performing at premiere venues throughout the lower Hudson Valley including Bodles Opera House, The Falcon, The Howland Cultural Center, The Towne Crier, Bannerman’s Island, Bethel Woods Harvest Festival, and many other festivals. They’ve also worked their magic in New York, at spaces ranging from Central Park Summerstage to the Bronx Zoo, the NY Aquarium, the Central Park Zoo, the Queens Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo and clubs throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.
In addition to Tulloch’s original compositions ( a short list would include “Grooving to the Beat of the Times,” “Sweet Changes,” “Head in the Sand,” and “Keeping Our Love Alive”), the band excels at renditions of bossa nova and samba classics, as well as contemporary Brazilian and Latin songs (song in Spanish and Portuguese). And capping off the band’s virtuosity is their unique re-workings of popular American standards.
To see them live is to be seduced. Tulloch’s approach to singing utilizes her voice as a musical instrument, creating vocal phrasings that work in counterpoint to Franchino’s flute and saxophone stylings. Her fluid, understated guitar voicings provide the harmonic backdrop that the vocal and instrumental melodies ride on while Figueroa and Arlequin provide the subtle beat.
Before settling in Dutchess, Tulloch traveled to Kenya and the Galapagos Islands to see the animals she so adores in their natural environments. Her travels have inspired songs such as the “Beast of Paradise,” the “Lemur Song,” “Timber Wolf Goodbye,” and “Pheromonious Scent.” Such compositions are meant to raise animal awareness. As Tulloch states, “My trip to Kenya and the Galapagos Islands has to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. In my songs, I try to provoke images of nature and wildlife in hopes of protecting habitats so all animals may live and roam safely.” Her love and passion for Brazilian and World Music infused with exotic rhythms and melodies are also very present in the the mix. Being a citizen of the world informs her band’s cosmopolitan style and the group’s empathetic response to the diverse audiences for whom it plays.
For purposes of writing this article, I met recently with Judith at a restaurant on Newburgh’s waterfront. It was a hot day and the place was mobbed, both inside and on the outside deck. I’d come to talk about the Judith Tulloch Band, but in Judith’s almost self-effacing way, she wanted to talk about almost anything other than her music. It was an effort, but I did manage to get her to turn her thoughts to her art. A lot was said about her introduction to music as a child in New York City, and her vision of music as a tool to call attention to the oneness of humanity and its need to preserve other species. But her most memorable quote that afternoon was, “rhythm is freedom.” She expressed the words with such joy, as though she was making the realization for the first time.
As a special treat before we parted, Judith played a disk in my car of a brand new composition, “Snow Monkeys.” The song was a beautiful, almost danceable, tribute to the Macaque monkeys of Japan. When the song was over, Tulloch spoke excitedly about the customs of these exotic creatures that live at high altitudes where snow covers the ground almost year round. Unlike her music, it was a subject she could easily talk about forever.
For her growing fan base, both in the Hudson Valley and NYC, Tulloch’s future ambitions for the band include writing, performing, and ”keeping our love alive”…
For information on The Judith Tulloch Band’s schedule of upcoming events visit www.judithtulloch.com.