Oct 17, 2023 3:36 PM
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Roxy Coss first made her name as a force to be reckoned with on The Future Is Female (Posi-Tone, 2017), her provocative response to the 2016 elections. The album cover showed Coss girded for battle, ready to wield her saxophones as weapons. The album also marked the debut of her five-piece ensemble, which she formally christened Roxy Coss Quintet on her acclaimed 2019 album.
The quintet proves to be much more than the sum of its Disparate Parts, the aptly named new release on Outside in Music. Recorded during a brief lull in the pandemic, when Coss was seven months pregnant with a baby girl, the album amplifies the quintet’s solidarity by giving voice to the vision of each member: Alex Wintz on guitar, Miki Yamanaka on piano and Rhodes, Rick Rosato on bass and Jimmy Macbride on drums. Most contribute compositions, and all fly free with solos that punctuate the conversation.
Coss explores the intersection of “The Body,” “The Mind,” “The Heart” and “The Spirit” in her own evocative four-part suite, and uses all five takes of Yamanaka’s “February” to frame the album’s sequencing — a brilliant last-minute decision that makes Disparate Parts a cohesive work reflected in its cover. Designed by her mother, Mary Coss, it shows a plaster-cast life mask of Coss shadowed by the bent-wire words “disparate parts” washing up on the shore of a female future that’s still revealing itself.
DownBeat spoke to Coss via Zoom from her home in Bloomfield, New Jersey, shortly before the quintet’s CD release party in March.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You really throw down the gauntlet with “The Body.”
Yes! After that first take, I felt like we’ve got it. I’ve never felt that way in the studio before. It was so much energy, especially with being pregnant. Afterwards, exhaustion set in, but the good kind of exhaustion.
How did you come up with the four-part concept?
For a long time, I had been thinking about having disparate parts of myself that aren’t really integrated with each other, which can stand in your way of realizing your full potential. Each of these musical ideas was related, even though they were very different.
And as they started to develop, I thought this is clearly “The Body,” it’s very visceral. Whereas “The Mind” is more intellectual, about things like changing time signatures.
“The Mind” is also very playful.
I attribute that to Miki, who’s featured on that track. She’s such a playful person and player. “The Heart” of any band is the bassist, so that one was pretty organic and powered by Rick’s solo. “The Spirit” was the last piece I wrote, a couple years after I wrote the others. We tried the first three out at a small stage and at least six months went by before I said, this isn’t done. It needs a new piece. What is it? It’s something you can’t really describe. It’s in the air. It’s evolving and ethereal. So I wrote the melody that became “The Spirit,” which completed the suite.
“Maebs” is dedicated to the late, great pianist Harold Maeburn. What was your own relationship with him?
He was a personal mentor. I met him at this jazz workshop when I was 16, and ended up working with him at William Patterson University. He was always so supportive. When I had a gig at Smalls, Maebes would sit in the first row and say, “Genius, genius.” He made me feel like I mattered and my music mattered.
And you make your band feel like their music matters. Several members contribute tracks, like Alex’s tune, “Ely, MN,” which is pretty epic.
That was very much part of the concept. Each of us are disparate parts of the band. I feel you get the best band experience when you really hear every person, and it’s not just about one person.
I wrote the tune “Disparate Parts” at the very last minute because I wanted one more track for the album. And I had four different ideas, so I decided each would feature one of us. They’re all disparate parts and this is the title track.
Another disparate part is the post-production I did with Johannes Felscher, who mixed the album. We experimented with soundscapes that pushed the boundaries beyond straightahead jazz, which I’d like to do more of in the future.
What was it like recording during the pandemic?
We delayed the recording for more than a year. Then, when things were starting to get better, and I was about to have a baby, we got lucky. We recorded right before the Delta wave hit, and we each had our own room, or our own booth, in the studio. So we felt pretty safe and it was great to actually play together again.
How did being pregnant affect how you played in the studio?
For one, I was out of shape. [laughs] My body, my chops. Physically, certain things were out of reach, so there were definitely some challenges. But when we were doing “The Body,” I did feel a different energy, a sense of urgency I don’t normally feel.
Maybe because there were two of you in your body.
Yes — and it was cool to think that she was there and part of all that. DB
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