NEXT Collective Reimagines Contemporary Tracks
Posted 3/27/2013

How did you choose to interpret D’Angelo’s “Africa”?

Gerald Clayton: Everybody has a good, personal relationship with that record [Voodoo], and it touched pretty much everybody, musician or otherwise. There were a few tracks that seemed like obvious choices—there’s that C minor, bossa nova one [“Spanish Joint”] that Charlie Hunter’s playing on, and he’s already a jazz musician. I just scrolled through and finally got to the last track, got to “Africa,” and I was like, “Oh, this has a nice vibe.” It was easy decision. [I] just added a couple of different chords and voiced it out.

Why did you choose to stay close to the original composition in your arrangement?

GC: We could have tried to go a completely different place, but it would have maybe been a little bit forced. There’s some bootleg versions going around [with] just D’Angelo playing the piano and singing it—a closer interpretation of how he thought of it. It’s pretty just stripped down, with beautiful chord progression and him just singing his message about Africa. I just wanted to keep it kind of what it was.

Roy Hargrove was a major part of the Voodoo album, although he’s not featured on “Africa.” Did working with him factor into the decision?

GC: No, I loved that record before I even met Roy. It had more to do with what we were inspired by in high school, and for me, that’s what I thought about first. You can sort of make the connection—six degrees of separation—between all of the music that we listened to.

Matt, much of your work—including Pearl Jam’s “Oceans”—has combined your rock influence with jazz, giving you a unique niche on the album. Was that a conscious decision you made as a guitarist?

Matthew Stevens:It’s sort of being like a writer, like that cliché “If you don’t write what you know, then it’s fairly obvious.” It’s great to be open-minded, to expand and to get better. Something that I really admire about each of [the band members] is that they’re really committed to improving. They’re demanding it of themselves rather than other people demanding it of them. I got to be true to who I am; to deny those influences would just be really unnatural. You would smell it a mile away, and it would suck.

It was interesting to see Stereolab’s “Refractions In The Plastic Pulse” on here.

Jamire Williams: I just love Stereolab. I was actually sampling that song on my MPC before I heard about this project, so I have another version that’s all chopped up. Chris Dunn reached out to me about it and explained the concept. I had a bunch of other songs that I wanted to do, but that song just stuck with me. I didn’t know what anybody else was doing until a few days before the session, but I knew I wanted to do something that was a bit more abstract. Stereolab gets slept on a lot, so I thought it was my duty to bring some light.

Kris, you lend your Fender Rhodes sound to both Jamire’s arrangement as well as Christian’s handling of the Drake song “Marvin’s Room.” Did you feel a sense of freedom when working on their tracks?

Kris Bowers: Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t think I ever felt stifled or that anybody ever felt that way. I think we all felt like we had the freedom to do whatever. It’s interesting [how] they asked us to play those instruments or play our parts because they knew that whatever we did they would want. Even in the songs that I arranged [The Stepkids’ “Wonderfox” & Grizzly Bear’s “Little Brother”], I was more so concerned with making sure that I was playing the melody right and respecting the song than whether or not I was shining.

You can hear these wonderful influences from the 1970s soul-jazz era, with artists such as Roy Ayers and Johnny “Hammond” Smith, on the track. Did they or similar artists inspire your arrangement?

JW: Not while I was arranging it. I wanted to do something just off the radar, so I had them playing doubles—Logan playing flute and Walter playing incredible bass clarinet. I’m proud about that. I wanted to get that vibe where you could just put it on and chill to it, that you could ride to it. I think that’s the only song with electric bass on it, so it added to the variety of the whole record.

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The NEXT Collective performing at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge on Feb. 26 (Photo: John Rogers/


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