personal tales from a (very-) musical family
royal hartigan
Edith Piaf
Eve People of Ghana
Hafez Modirzadeh
ray hart
hafez modirzadeh
royal hartigan
sandra poindexter
weihua zhang
conrad benedicto
yu fuhua
danongan kalanduyan
Masaru Koga
c. k. ladzekpo
timothy volpicella
Catalog Number: 

Dartmouth, MA

Release Date: 
Dec 13, 2011
Liner Notes: 
2 CD
One Sheet: 

Ancestors is the story of royal hartigan’s personal and global family, enshrined in music, poetry, tap-dancing and reminiscences. This diverse collection is united in his own existence and musical pathways. He writes: 

I began working on our Ancestors double compact disc after the death of my mother, who was the last person in my immediate family to pass away, leaving only myself to continue on life’s paths. 

It occurred to me that most of us have people in our families or meet on our journeys for whom we have a deep bond. Their departure in my view makes them all ancestors, and this album is to honor these forebears, with my personal experiences as one gateway to an expression for us all in the human family. 

In a parallel way, the paths of world cultures from ancient times to the present are the ancestors of the world’s family on its journey through time and space. My idea is to express that heritage through traditional and cross cultural compositions and improvisations. 

We have recorded a diverse group of duets, trios, quartets, and solos that center on my work with master artists from global cultures and cross cultural styles: West African master drummer C. K. Ladzekpo, Philippine kulintang master Danongan Kalanduyan, Chinese guzheng artist Weihua Zhang, African American vocalist Baomi, Persian American saxophonist and flutist Hafez Modirzadeh, violinists Sandra Poindexter and Yu Fuhua, banjoist Timothy Volpicella, Japanese shakuhachi artist Masaru Koga, and Philippine percussionist Conrad Benedicto. I contribute percussion, drumset, piano, and tap dance to this musical story. 

The music here does not fit a single commercial category. Its genesis and final form are based on the deepest feel and sense my musical colleagues and I have of life, death, remembrance, loss, and transcendence. 

Our music attempts to bring our ancestors to life and speak to a universal human condition we all share. We hope you are moved by our music. 


These two releases present a lot to take in. Both are double CD sets and in both cases the styles of music presented are far reaching and complex. In an era when most musicians tend to stay within a specific genre and play with familiar musicians and friends, Royal Hartigan easily stands out from the pack...mainly because he is playing by his own set of rules. And the rules are obviously rather loose and unpredictable. Hartigan is a percussionist whose interests and influences spread all over the map and back. On these double disc sets, Hartigan plays with whomever he happens to be with at the time...and plays whatever style of music happens to be the weapon of choice at any particular moment. As such, there is a wonderfully unique spontaneous feel to his music. Instead of hearing one predictable song after another, with these discs you simply never know what will pop up next. And we would bet that Royal gets a major rush out of delving into such diverse terrain. As we mentioned earlier, there is a lot to take in here. Ancestors presents a whopping 34 tracks while Blood Drum Spirit boasts 17. This is probably too diverse and odd for the casual listener. But our guess is that more esoteric music fans will really appreciate this wildly inventive stuff... (Rating: 5)

- Babysue

Top 10 Cds of 2008

- Bill Barton, CODA

On paper, combining the musical influences of West Africa, America and Asia can appear a bit overwhelming. That's not the case at all on Royal Hartigan's Ancestors. The pianist/percussionist's trilogy—Blood Drum Spirit (Innova, 2004), Blood Drum Spirit Live in China (Innov a, 2008), and now Ancestors—reflects a universal viewpoint without being neatly categorized as world music. Jazz is pervasive throughout this collection, and the various musical ethnicities serve as reminders of where the genre came from and where it could go.

Ancestors was born out of Hartigan's sense of loss. It is a catharsis without closure and an acutely personal exploration of life, death, afterlife and, mostly, family, in the immediate and universal sense. "Flight/Homecoming" opens the set with saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh covering a spectrum of emotions including keening a brief mourning. Baomi's wordless vocal improvisation continues the theme of movement and transition, before Modirzadeh returns to transport the vocalist to a spoken word suite reaffirming the continuous cycle of life beyond the physical form. Throughout this opening segment, Hartigan alternately augments and drives the music, using bells, dondo, bass drum and hi hat before moving to piano.

Within the two-disc set, Hartigan's own family emerges as a Greek Chorus. A poem by his grandfather is carried by Sandra Poindexter's poignant violin work, while Hartigan's tap danced "Waltz Clog" is a tribute to both his uncle and mother and in a much lighter vein. Pop standards of past generations, as well as Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto," appear as favorites of Hartigan's parents, adding personal insight in the midst of more multicultural styles. Hartigan's piano brings to mind Jelly Roll Morton on "Hazel's Dance" and "Five Foot Two."

Haritgan is masterful at tying complex themes into a story, but more than that he brilliantly conveys human emotion through the music. Ancestors accepts sadness and loss as a reality, but also celebrates ongoing rebirth and treats time as an elastic continuum. Musically, he manages to incorporate instruments and styles as diverse as stride piano, Turkish bendir and Chinese zither in a collected work that is both universal and tangible at the same time. Ancestors is a blend of musicology and genealogy that is quite unique and memorable.

- Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz