Around the World and Back Again – Ancient Future returns to S.B. for an intimate concert


Back when Ancient Future co-founder and guitarist Matthew Montfort attended high school in Boulder, Colo., his locker partner was Eric Reed Boucher, who would go on to change his name to Jello Biafra and form the Dead Kennedys. The two didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye back then, but neither can deny that they’ve both followed their muse, whether into fiery punk or — in the case of Montfort’s Ancient Future, founded the same year as Biafra’s band — intricately arranged large ensemble world music.

The version of Ancient Future that stops by Yoga Soup this week has been stripped down to just Montfort and Mariah Parker. This makes things different than their last Santa Barbara visit in 1997, when the band was a quartet with a dancer. But that’s the Ancient Future way, a series of fluctuating lineups.

“Having a set band like The Beatles wasn’t the way to pursue the mission of promoting world music,” Montfort says. “There is one band, but we have different programs, like a chamber orchestra. The duty is to the musicians who play with us. I act as a sort of facilitator, so everybody learns from each other.”

The concert will be both improvised and arranged, and it is helping to promote three Ancient Future releases. One is the remaster of “Planet Passion,” the seventh band release from 2001; another is Parker’s solo CD, released last year, “Sangria.” Montfort recently released his solo CD as well, “Seven Serenades for Scalloped Fretboard Guitar.”

Montfort has been one of the main proponents of the scalloped guitar, which has carved out spaces on the fretboard. This means the player’s fingers only touch the string, leaving more room for string-bending and bringing the guitar closer to Indian instruments. It’s a very particular sound to which Montfort has devoted his career.

Ancient Future started in 1979, around the same time Monfort first got his guitar scalloped. He was in his 20s and studying Indian music at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, along with other Ancient Future members Mindia Klein, Benjy Wertheimer and Phil Fong. The scalloped guitar allowed him to play Indian style, freeing up his guitar skills and leading to the band’s formation and prerogative to play and record.

At that time, “world music” was barely an idea. If stores stocked any kind of non-Western music, it was through Nonesuch Records, but the idea of Westerners playing a blend of styles was still new. There was, however, ethnomusicologist Dr. Robert Brown, who had started the Center for World Music in the Bay Area and was bringing in musicians to play for and with his students. Ancient Future and Diga Rhythm Band started around the same time.

Brown called the traditional music “world music,” so Montfort chose “world fusion” to indicate the contemporary blend. Brown’s term stayed, but over time it has taken on Montfort’s meaning.

For a while in the 1990s, it almost looked like world music was breaking big. But then the music industry collapsed.

“Right now, it’s like we’re having to reinvent everything,” Montfort says, referring to the marketplace, the fans and the venues. “It’s easier now to get one group of people at a time interested in us, but harder to get more than one groups together. And we have so many influences, it’s much more time consuming now, especially if we have a show that, say, combines Indian, Latin and jazz.”

Maybe that can bring us back to his famous classmate, who knows a thing or two about going independent. In fact, Biafra sent him the first review, hand-written, of Montfort’s solo CD.

“He’s kept track of my career and even mentions what I do in his spoken-word concerts, and that leads to e-mails from kids who hear about me.” He laughs at the impression they must have, knowing the source. “Wow, they must think I am really alternative.”

When: 7:30 Monday
Where: Yoga Soup, 28 Parker Way
Cost: $12 advance, $15 at the door
Information: (805) 965-8811,

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