On stage, jazz musicians know how to turn a mistake into an opportunity. For Berkeley-reared singer, flutist and drummer Jeff Weinmann, a simple error has led to an extravagant musical communion bringing together a multi-generational cast who share Berkeley roots.
Working under the double-entendre name Alma Matters, a reference to school ties and the ensemble’s soul-infused sound, the group made a triumphant debut at the Berkeley High Jazz fundraiser at the UC Theatre last May. Alma Matters gained some attention with the release of a gorgeous self-named 2017 debut album, and on Friday Weinmann brings the 11-piece soul/jazz/reggae/gospel collective to Oakland’s Uptown Nightclub for a special performance which will be filmed for a music video.
Currently in the process of recording tracks for their second album at Fantasy Studios, the band is using the Uptown concert to premiere new material by trombonist/vocalist Natalie Cressman and multi-instrumentalist and music director Peter Apfelbaum along with songs from the debut release. The show also features rapper Chris “CB” Burger, a veteran of the pioneering Bay Area jazz-hip hop combo Alphabet Soup, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Artistic Director Terrance Kelly, and vocalist Sandy Cressman (Natalie’s mom).
Making the first album took six years, as Weinmann had to work around the schedule of Santana trombonist Jeff Cressman, a busy sound engineer who recorded all the tracks. Compared to that prolonged process, the new project is on the fast track. “My goal in doing the project was for everyone involved to want to do more, and after that UC Theatre gig there was such enthusiasm,” he says.
“We come from different places and everyone is really busy. Since Jeff left Santana, Natalie is probably the busiest, and she had a window in March. We deiced to make this video to try to get more gigs. One thing that inspired me to start the group was the sound of the Cressman women singing together. There’s something about that genetic thing, that blend emotionally and spiritually that’s so powerful.”
In addition to Apfelbaum on tenor saxophone and keyboards and the Cressmans, Alma Matters features a foursome of Berkeley High alumni with trumpeter Erik Jekabson, guitarist Will Bernard, drummer Josh Jones, and bassist Keith McArthur, who spends his days as a private detective helping free wrongly convicted people.
The Peter Apfelbaum/Josh Jones Duo opens the show, a potent partnership combining the former’s joyously polyrhythmic keyboard approach and the latter’s love of Afro-Cuban rhythms. Their set offers a sneak preview of material from Apfelbaum’s upcoming solo CD Songs Of The Tree Of Destiny (Loove Arts). Whether or not it was destiny, Weinmann says it was a hang with Apfelbaum following a wrong date on a Facebook post that led to the creation of Alma Matters.
“I was at a camp for adoptive families in Truckee,” Weinmann says, “and I saw on Facebook that he had a gig at Moody’s,” a bar and bistro that used to present a lot of jazz. “It turned out that his gig was the following day, but we hung out, and had a deep talk. Both of our moms had passed away recently and I had a moment where I realized I really wanted to do some recording together.”
The project has taken on a life of its own, adding another layer to a tangled skein of friendships and musical relationships that trace back decades to Berkeley’s public schools.