Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Epicness of the West Coast Get Down - KCET's Artbound

Earlier this month, more than three dozen, influential jazz, R&B and soul musicians took over the stage of the sold-out Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles. With a soundboard manned by National Public Radio and the giddy anticipation brought on by global accolades -- Los Angeles Times profileNew York Times profileFlea's twitter feed -- jazz tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington was finally getting the recognition he had worked so hard at. This wasn't the birth of a new era of jazz in Los Angeles. But it was a cosmic communion, and a breakthrough for Washington.
"I do feel an obligation to promote Los Angeles jazz," Washington says. "I was one of those people overlooked."
The origins of the evening's massive band, the West Coast Get Down, is a bit nebulous. The double-down rhythm section grew out of Los Angeles's Leimert Park. Washington, an Inglewood-raised UCLA graduate, booked a gig upstairs at Fifth Street Dick's coffeehouse more than ten years ago. When childhood friends -- bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and keyboardist Cameron Graves -- informed Washington they couldn't make the gig, he called another trio, upright bassist Miles Mosley, keyboardist Brandon Coleman and drummer Tony Austin. Then to Washington's surprise everybody showed up. The formation stuck, later adding trombonist Ryan Porter, trumpeter Dontae Winslow and vocalist Patrice Quinn.
That core group can easily be linked to thousands of musicians around the world.
Washington toured with Snoop Dogg after college and Chaka Khan. Bassist Bruner, Jr. has worked for Kenny Garrett and Suicidal Tendencies. Mosley has had recording contracts since he was a teenager and even toured with Jonathan Davis of Korn. Austin has held it down for Santana and Willow Smith. But they have always returned to Hollywood's Piano Bar for their twice weekly residency.
Washington has been a towering local presence since the late 1990s. He was a vibrant burst of youthful firepower in the Gerald Wilson big band. He has toured with drummer Harvey Mason.
In the last decade he has performed under his own name at Walt Disney Concert Hall, LACMA and Grand Performances. And earlier this year he was an integral part ofKendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" ensemble, contributing string arrangements and some horn work. Finally, this spring a recording with his name as the headliner was coming out.
Washington's debut on Los Angeles-based Brainfeeder Records is making up for lost time. Called "The Epic," the album is nearly three hours long, spread across three discs. Through hard-hitting originals and a few unexpected left turns ("Clair De Lune," "Cherokee"), Washington presents a sound that is 21st century jazz. It is informed by hip-hop, brushed with a little reggae but wholly in the pocket, full of fire and sensitivity. Washington blares through the dense arrangements with unwavering confidence. It is as grand a statement as one could hope for from someone with so much to say.
"The record was playing in my dream," said Washington of the marathon recording sessions that took place back in 2011. "I would dream the whole three hour record. It tripped me out. I took it as a sign."
He also took it to his label boss Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, and told him that all seventeen tracks had to be released together. Ellison, a cornerstone of the Los Angeles electronica scene, and an increasing advocate for the jazz world, expected that response and agreed to release Washington's vision in full. "Lotus shined a light and opened a door," Washington says, "he gave me the confidence to go all in."
Washington's armfuls of tapes were just part of the recorded output. All ten members of the collective are capable bandleaders with very different perspectives and many of them came away with recordings of their own from that original session. Brandon Coleman, on loan from the Mothership, has an album waiting. Bruner, Jr. has his own double-fisted project ready to go and Mosley and Austin have a duo called BFI that clobbers with funky precision.
So how long can the West Coast Get Down last? Will they perhaps splinter under the weight of some long-deserved recognition? How long can they continue playing twice a week in Hollywood? Thundercat was the first to step out with a pair of releases also for Brainfeeder showcasing his astounding bass work and dilated psychedelic "third-eye" influence. Those albums helped him become an in-demand entertainer, even headlining a tent at the Cape Town Jazz Festival last March, eschewing his usual chainmail for colorful dashikis. Washington is filling his calendar with tour dates reaching as far as New Zealand and with each spotlight-worthy excursion, the West Coast Get Down will become harder and harder to contain.
But Washington keeps spreading the group's gospel. "I'm making a point to tell everybody how amazing my friends are," he says. "Ronald Bruner is a genius. Brandon Coleman is a genius."
And the world is finally paying attention.

Josh Nelson On Exploring Mars - KPCC's Off-Ramp

This is a description of an interview with pianist Josh Nelson in anticipation of his newest album "Exploring Mars." For the full audio, click the link below.
______What does Mars sound like on a piano? Pianist Josh Nelson came up with one answer on his latest album: Exploring Mars.
Nelson has performed and collaborated with musicians like Jeff Hamilton, Peter Erskine and vocalist Natalie Cole. When performing live, the pianist and composer often includes a live videographer to collaborate with his band.
Off-Ramp contributor Sean J. O'Connell went to Nelson's home to talk about the newest album. Here are some highlights:
On writing an album about Mars
Mars is awesome, lets just start with that. Second, it's been in the news quite a lot. For me, it was the landing of the Curiosity rover in August 2012 that kind of seeded the project. And then with all of the Space X stuff going on, with trials of people hopefully populating that planet someday... it seemed like an apropos time to release something with that subject matter.
It all started with "Martian Chronicles" — Ray Bradbury and his vision for the Martian fantasy world definitely got me going before that. 
I really love the romanticism, the idea of musically reflecting upon the planet. But at the same time, paying homage to someone like Gustav Holst, who took Mars and the astrological meaning of the planets, and putting my own spin on it.
 On translating the concept of Mars to music
For this record, I would take other records — or also films, like "Invaders from Mars" from the 1950s — and just put it on and just start playing. Solo piano wise, [it sounds] romantic and kind of other worldly. But I really love the idea of just kind of improvising, especially with the films of Mars, or the JPL/NASA stuff that they've been putting out from the Curiosity rover landing — that's super inspirational to me as well. 
 On performing live with a videographer
I love film, I love theater, and I just wanted to marry the two with my music. Growing up a Disney kid, my dad was an Imagineer with Disney. My brother and I got to be the first guys to ride on a lot of rides at Disneyland, testing them out. And we were fascinated by the theatrics that go into it. And the mechanics, but also the resulting art — the feeling that you get from seeing something like this.
So, yeah. We have the Discovery Project. I'm surprised more  jazz artists don't do it, actually. Because there's a serious visual component that I think a lot of them deal with. It's really fun for the band. It's fun for the audience. It's a really fun journey from beginning to end. 
 On the impact video has on the musicians' performance
Absolutely, there's different performances, yeah. They respond visually and then it manifests different sonically when they perform it. I actually like really hearing the tunes performed with video and without to see how they're different and to see if the guys are, in fact, reacting.
Josh Nelson @ KPCC's Off-Ramp