Trance Mission

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Trance Mission is a world fusion ensemble co-founded in San Francisco by American clarinetist and composer Beth Custer and British-born didgeridoo player Stephen Kent in 1992, with Canadian musician Kenneth Newby and American percussionist John Loose. Their music incorporates elements of jazz, fourth world and ethnoambient music styles. In the 1990s, the group recorded four albums on the ambient label City of Tribes.[1]


After spending time in Africa, England, Spain, and Australia, Stephen Kent settled in San Francisco in the early 1990s after finishing a European tour with his band Lights in a Fat City.[2] He first met Beth Custer while playing with Lights in a Fat City at a party for Mondo 2000.[3] Custer, who had been playing with the Club Foot Orchestra ensemble, began playing with Kent on Sundays at the (now defunct) Radio Valencia cafe in San Francisco's Mission District. They soon invited percussionist John Loose of the Blue Rubies to join them.[4] Canadian composer Kenneth Newby, who had previously played with Kent in Lights in a Fat City and had known Kent since 1985, joined the band after the trio had played only a few times together.[5] The newly formed quartet solidified in April 1992 with a trip to the Wine Country region where they completed their first recording. These recordings were self-released on a C60 cassette by the band.

Trance Mission (1993)[edit]

Trance Mission's self-titled debut album was recorded later that year in December 1992 at Mobius Music in San Francisco. In the studio, the band recorded only live performances, with the entire session lasting just one week.[3] Produced by Alex Stahl and Oliver di Cicco, the album was released in 1993 featuring special guests Will Bernard on guitar, Eda Maxym on vocals, Dan Reiter on cello, and Jai Uttal on dotar and kartals.[6] Upon its release the album sold 10,000 copies with minimal marketing, and became, according to music critic Craig Harris, "a staple of college radio world music shows".[7][8]

Custer's performance on the debut album earned her a nomination for "Outstanding reeds/brass player" at the 17th Annual Bay Area Music Awards (Bammies),[9] now known as the California Music Awards.[10] The band appeared on West Coast Live at the Cowell Theater on January 8, 1994.[11] The host, Sedge Thomson, credits Kent for influencing his choice of iconic shoewear—red Dr. Martens.[12]

Meanwhile... (1994)[edit]

Their second album, Meanwhile... (1994), featured special guests Robert Anthony performing spoken word, Eda Maxym on vocals, and Peter Whitehead on rebab. Billboard magazine published a critic's choice review of Meanwhile in November 1994, calling the album a "seductive world-fusion journey", with the band joining "the ranks of Jon Hassell, Steve Roach, and Robert Rich in exploring a primary, techno-tribal music".[13] Approximately a year later, Trance Mission was voted best "World Music" band at the Sixth Annual SF Weekly Music Awards.[14]

Head Light (1996)[edit]

Head Light (1996), the band's third album, remained heavily rhythmic but more ethnoambient. Produced by Simon Tassano, the album has, notes music critic Bryan Reesman, "an equally dense and spacious feel, creating a clear mix".[7] Writer Sam Prestianni observes that the album's "digital aura remarkably marries the indigenous instrumentation with a rare naturalness" and that it "resonates with the full flame of world-derived trance power".[15] The album was nominated for "Outstanding World Beat Album" at the 20th annual Bay Area Music Awards.[16] Busy with other projects and unable to tour, Loose and Newby left the band towards the end of 1996. Newby left the United States for Canada while Loose returned to working full-time for Dolby Labs.[17]

A Day Out of Time (1999)[edit]

Vocalist and keyboard player Eda Maxym and percussionist Peter Valsamis joined the band, touring Europe multiple times. On May 30, 1998, Trance Mission played the Benefit Concert for the Refugee Children of Tibet at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts along with Silvia Nakkach and Nina Hagen.[18] The group played a farewell concert on July 25, 1998 at St. John's Church in Berkeley.[19] The concert was recorded live, mixed by Simon Tassano, and released as their fourth album, A Day Out of Time (1999).

Recent work[edit]

After producing four albums and touring North America and Europe, including music festivals in Vienna, Hamburg, and Berlin, the City of Tribes label went bankrupt. The original members (Kent, Custer, Newby, Loose) reunited in 2008 for a concert at Yoshi's jazz club San Francisco.[20] Custer has discussed the possibility of reissuing and remastering older recordings from the 1990s.[17] Custer and Kent continue to perform live together several times a year.[17] Another version of Trance Mission performed at the Starwood Festival in 2006, featuring Stephen Kent, Peter Valsamis, Geoffrey Gordon, Eda Maxym and cellist Rufus Cappadocia.[21] (Kent had performed as a soloist at Starwood the previous year, opening for Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira.[22])

Band members[edit]

  • Stephen Kent – didgeridoo, percussion, cello
  • Beth Custer – clarinets, trumpet, vocals
  • John Loose – multi-ethnic drums, samples
  • Kenneth Newby – Asian winds, percussion, digital atmospheres
  • Eda Maxym – vocals
  • Peter Valsamis – drums, samples


Self-released cassette

  • Trance Mission (1992)

All regular albums were released on the City of Tribes Records label.

As Trance Mission
  • The Event Horizon (1994)
  • The Event Horizon (1996)
  • The Event Horizon (1997)



  1. ^ Goldman, Marlene. (1997). "Trance Mission". The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock. 5th ed. Fireside. ISBN 0684814374. p. 758.
  2. ^ Kent, Stephen. Stephen Kent bio. 2010, cited April 28, 2014
  3. ^ a b Kent, Stephen. (2010). "Inside Story Archived 2014-04-16 at the Wayback Machine".
  4. ^ Ragland, Cathy. (September 21, 1993). "Global Music Community Makes Waves In Western Pop". The Seattle Times; See also Kent 2010b Archived 2014-04-16 at the Wayback Machine: "Later, as my stay in the Bay Area became a residence here, we began jamming together and soon invited multi ethnic drummer John Loose to come into the mix. I remember meeting John by chance on Valencia St in the dark one evening and popping the question. Sure, he said." John Loose recalls: "After an extended series of improvised evenings at Radio Valencia in the Mission District of San Francisco with Stephen Kent and Beth Custer, Trance Mission was born."
  5. ^ Richardson, Derk. (August 22, 1993). "Trance Mission Running Smoothly". Sunday Datebook. San Francisco Chronicle. pp. 40–41.
  6. ^ Liner notes for Trance Mission (1993).
  7. ^ a b Reesman, Bryan. (1998). "Trance Mission". Musichound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide. Schirmer Trade Books. ISBN 0825672538. p. 1123.
  8. ^ Harris, Craig. Trance Mission. All Music Guide.
  9. ^ Sumrall, Harry. (December 2, 1993). "Isaak, Primus Lead Bammies Pack". San Jose Mercury News. p. 3C.
  10. ^ "Artist Profile: Trance Mission". Retrieved 2020-03-03.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Past Programs 1994. West Coast Live.
  12. ^ Thomson, Sedge. The Red Shoes in the Halliburton Case... West Coast Live.
  13. ^ Billboard defines "critic's choice" as "new releases, regardless of chart potential, highly recommended because of their musical merit." See: Verna, Paul; Gillen, Marilyn A.; Cronin, Peter. (November 19, 1994). "Reviews". Billboard. 106 (47): 56.
  14. ^ The awards took place on November 14, 1995. See: Michel, Sia; Garner, Gabriel. (November 15, 1995). "Samples: Winners' Circle". SF Weekly.
  15. ^ Prestianni, Sam. (August 23, 1996). "Let's Trance!". BAM. (491).
  16. ^ "Bammies Returning To Civic Auditorium". San Francisco Chronicle. November 22, 1996.
  17. ^ a b c Melton, Jeff. (June 1, 2012). " The Beth Custer Ensemble plays live film soundtrack this weekend Archived 2012-10-08 at the Wayback Machine." Oregon Music News.
  18. ^ Tudor, Silke. (May 27, 1998). "House of Tudor". SF Weekly.
  19. ^ Richardson, Derk. (July 23, 1998). "Concert Notes: Goodbye Trance Mission, Hello Eighty Mile Beach". San Francisco Chronicle; Tudor, Silke. (July 22, 1998). "Riff Raff". SF Weekly.
  20. ^ "Trance Mission Archived 2013-02-10 at". Yoshi's San Francisco. August 12, 2008.
  21. ^ Starwood by Stephen Kent Archived 2013-07-03 at
  22. ^ Life Among the Neo-Pagans by Paul Krassner, The Nation, August 29th, 2005
  23. ^ "Trance Mission 'Le Pendu' release party". East Bay Express. Retrieved 2020-03-03.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Aborigine Chic". San Francisco Chronicle. September 18, 1994.
  • Diliberto, John. (March 1997). "New Age: Beyond the Stars". Billboard. 42.
  • Foyston, John. (October 13, 2000). "Musically Diverse Group Trance Mission Thinks Global, Plays Local". The Oregonian. p. 45.
  • Friar, William. (January 30, 1998). "City of Tribes Circles the Globe". Contra Costa Times. p. TO24.
  • Shuster, Fred. (May 29, 1995). "Three of a Kind". Los Angeles Daily News. p. L17.
  • Sullivan, James. (December 1997). "A Wealth of Talent Rushes for the Gold". Billboard. 109 (51): 74.

External links[edit]