Words by Art Howard

There was a nip in the air as the winter solstice neared, but the vibes were warm among the kind music fans packing the fourth annual gathering of the Zambiland Orchestra at the Variety Playhouse last month.

The Zambiland Orchestra is the creation of the Apartment Projects, which consists of Rainbow Ross and husband Jeff Sipe, who drummed under the name Apt. Q 258 with jam band apostle Colonel Bruce Hampton in the Aquarium Rescue Unit.  The Apartment Projects is a play on the Apt. Q 258 name.

Blueground Undergrass' Jeff Mosier in a state of pure Zambi

The first Zambi show took place four years ago as a way to get jamming buddies like Derek Trucks and Widespread Panic together for musical mirth during the holidays.  Ross says of the first Zambiland Orchestra show, "Honestly, we didn't think everyone would show up when we invited them.  We thought maybe 10 or 15 would show, and it turned out we had 45.  We were trying to give everyone a chance to do something since they were all kind enough to show up."  The something players are given to do is toss aside all conventional notions of music.  "It's the whole idea of a free form of inventiveness and going more left with the music, not playing in the norm of what is expected.  A lot of the players prefer to de-tune when they play.  Breaking out of old musical patterns is part of the purpose of the orchestra, and how Zambi can be integrated into that," Ross says.

Yonrico Scott and Friends

Though it may be tough for anyone to pinpoint what is Zambi, it is easy to pinpoint who is Zambi.  Zambi is Joe Zambi, an old friend of Bruce Hampton's.  Mr. Zambi took the stage at the concert during Blueground Undergrass' set with a lovely young lady named Erel.  Zambi seemed to beam at the event that has borrowed his name.

The show is always a who's who of the "jam," "groove," "kind," "hippie" scene.  There are so many people onstage at a Zambiland show, anywhere from 40 to 80, that even the organizers aren't sure who's doing what all the time, which is where the Zambi comes in.  This year saw John Cowan, bassist and vocalist for the ground breaking New Grass Revival, doing a blues-rock tune with guitarist Jimmy Herring of Jazz is Dead.  Then Herring and young blues guitarist Derek Trucks performed...some Zambi.

Derek Trucks

This was followed by some true bebop jazz performed by a group introduced as the New York Jazz All-Stars, who may not be from New York at all.

Taking the stage alone was a thin young man with what looked like a giant tobacco accessory.  It turned out the tobacco accessory was an Australian Aboriginal instrument called a didgeridoo.  The man behind the didgeridoo was "Dr. Didg," Dr. Graham Wiggins.

Dr. Graham Wiggins, a.k.a. "Dr. Didg"

The highlight of the show was New Grass Revival's Sam Bush taking the stage with his old bandmate Cowan to deliver a bluegrass-ified version of "Billy" Bob Marley's (Bush's joke) "Lively Up Yourself."  After a break, Blueground Undergrass closed the show with a shuffling "I'm Workin' On a Building" and several other gospel tunes sung by Joyce Brookshire.

Every year the Apartment Projects select two area charities to receive the proceeds of the show.  This year the beneficiaries were Hospice and Food Bank.

Sam Bush, formerly of New Grass Revival

Lester Walker

Zambi!