NEXT Collective Reimagines Contemporary Tracks
Walter, you tackled a few songs on this project—Bon Iver’s “Perth” and Dido’s “Thank You.”
Walter Smith III: There’s also the Becca Stevens song [“Weightless”], which is the first song that I wanted to do—the first one that popped into my head. It’s on the iTunes version [of Cover Art]. I talked with [Stevens], and she sent me some of the music. I just ended up orchestrating it…The other two [songs] were kind of the same thing. As soon as [Chris] told me who was playing and what the project was, they were the first two things that popped into my head. The Bon Iver one, I was just thinking “guitar,” and the Dido song, I just always liked the melody to and thought it would be something easy to do.
This project has been described as a showcase for the next generation of jazz players, but it also seems to address the controversy about the void of inspiration and deep meaning in today’s popular music. Did that factor into what you were trying to do?
GC: I think you can find issues with every genre at this point. We have problems with the jazz community as well as the pop community—the level of the music that’s being put out, the way that the music is being perceived, the responsibilities of the artists, the people promoting the music, the club owners and the listeners. It’s always nice to have a project that serves as the glue between all of those things. It’s not about one particular genre or audience. It’s about trying to convey this message that from all sides we need to be open-minded. Hopefully, somebody from the jazz community will dig this, and maybe it will hip them to some artists that they wouldn’t have checked out before, and vice-versa.
BW: It kind of proves a point about popular music and our standards on how we measure what’s good and what’s bad. This makes everybody reconsider what they think of as good music and what’s worthy of presenting on certain stages. A lot of people in the jazz world wouldn’t think of Jay-Z and Kanye West as something musical, but we found an element that we did our thing with. Some of the artists that we picked are a bit obscure. I think [our album will] help people take a closer listen to the pop music that’s out there.
MS: I hope this is ongoing, where we can come back together every couple of years and do another set of songs. It could be a really cool thing to do in addition to everything that everybody’s doing individually—to revisit this idea and arrange new songs. I think that it could be something that’s really interesting and have a lot of interest and longevity.
What lies ahead for all of you—any upcoming concerts and projects?
GC: I’ve got an album that I’m releasing April 2 on Concord [Life Forum], so I’m excited about that and touring for that. And just continuing to play with whoever else calls.
MS: Yes, my album—we’re just hoping to get it going [due for release later this year]. ERIMAJ is doing some touring this year just for fun. I also have some upcoming stuff with Ben and Christian and Walter, too; we’re doing a couple of nights in New York.
WS: I’ve been playing a little bit with Dave Douglas, as well as my own stuff coming up. I’m playing with [Eric] Harland—he’s recording some more and has a tour coming up.
LR: We just got done recording Gerald’s latest project, and I just recorded another album with drummer Nasheet Waits, couple of tours coming up with him. My debut solo album for Concord will be recorded this year but it won’t be out until next year.
JW: The force that is ERIMAJ is alive and well. We have a lot of touring coming up this summer in Australia and Japan. We’re also releasing some vinyl, some single 45s through Truth and Soul Records. I got another project with a good friend of mine, Jawwaad Taylor, called Black Fetish. Just keep your ear to the street, I might pop up.
BW: I have some more tour dates with my group, Sound Effect. I’m going back into the studio with Pat Metheny—we’re doing another record and going out on the road with him next year. And [I’m] tentatively planning to record my next [album] this year.
CS: Going out and touring more with this new double record that we did. Right now I’m working with a guy named Glen Ballard, a producer in L.A. on what may turn into a TV project. I’m also going out with Femi Kuti for a little while and doing some more Latin stuff this year and going back out with Eddie Palmieri—I was in his band when I was a teenager—going to revisit him and play with Poncho [Sanchez] too, so that’s going to be a lot of fun.
Bowers has an album due for release later this year featuring tenor saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III, altoist Casey Benjamin, drummer Jamire Williams and vocalist José James, with whom he’s currently on tour. He also scored his first full-length film, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, which will premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 17–28.
—Shannon J. Effinger
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