We caught up with bassist and producer Lex Sadler for a look into how he’s bringing his passion for electronic music into the jazz realm. Touring as Blitz the Ambassador’s bassist and planning projects with Ari Hoenig, Sadler has spread himself over a wide range of musicians and is bringing it all together with his numerous innovative projects. With the release of ‘Twenty Three Seven,’ Sadler shows us a glimpse of the future of integrating live musicians with loops and samples. Check out our interview and take a sneak peak at how the album was made in the video below.
Tell me about how you got started in music originally.
I’m originally from Western Australia, a little city called Perth. I’ve spent a lot of time in Perth playing a lot of funk music or Afro-Jazz as it was called back then. A lot of Brazilian music and so on. I really started playing bass after I left high school. I did a little music when I was a kid, but we didn’t really have much of a music program in high school, which is kind of common to a lot of Australian schools. So after I left high school I started playing bass and quickly started playing a lot around the city. I did that for a number of years. I eventually moved to New York and have been playing here quite a bit, mostly as a bass player and mostly hip-hop.
You play bass with Blitz the Ambassador. How did you get that gig?
One of my friends was his drummer, a guy called Sydney Driver. So I knew Syd and also Raja Kassis who plays guitar with the band. There was an opportunity there when the last bass player moved on, so I started doing a lot of dates with him.
What makes Blitz a great artist to work with?
I like working with Blitz because he’s a great emcee, but what I really love about it is that it’s a real show. You’ve got a horn section, percussionists, dance steps and so on, and the show kind of flows from start to finish. It’s super high energy and it’s just like a party onstage. For anyone watching it’s super entertaining.
You just released a record as well called Twenty Three Seven. It seems to have an overlap of electronic and live instrumentation. What’s it like mixing these two mediums?
I’m fascinated by it now because there is the right technology now to actually do this. I run Ableton Live. I don’t only produce in Ableton Live, but I take my studio session out to the stage with me. It allows a lot of freedom. I haven’t produced electronic music in the past until now, but I can assume that there wasn’t the same amount of freedom to improvise. I think when a lot of people think of electronic music they think DJs either mixing two songs together or just hitting the play button.
My project is very much an improvised live performance. When I do perform live, I perform with other instruments. At my next show I’m going to have Sydney on drums and I’m going to have Shareef Clayton & Robert Stringer come and play trumpet and trombone respectively. I’m trying to bring that live feel to electronic music. I think the perception always is that if you’re electronic it’s really sterile. It’s not really music and it’s not made by musicians. I think nowadays it is the complete opposite.
Ableton allows you to launch different loops and samples to create the song on the spot. How does that interplay with the live musicians?
For a drummer, you really have to be able to lock into the grid. But I’m doing a number of projects now where I solely just perform with Ableton and with a lot of the musicians I bring in to play with, it’s fairly new ground for them. I think they are fairly excited by it. It’s a very different experience. For me, I can play off what they’re doing and they can play off what I’m doing. With song structures and so on the sequences are never the same, but it’s just laying down parts like any other instrumentalist would do. But it’s cool. I run samples of musicians who I’ve already recorded and have them play with those samples. So we also kind of interact in that way.
For the record, who else did you bring in to work with?
As far as some of the keyboard parts, I worked with Yuki Hirano. Yuki and I play a lot together around the scene and I just really love his approach to playing keys. So our process in the studio was very much that I gave him guidance as far as what I was looking for and we’d have him record through the quick tracks so there was no rhythm track or anything like that. I probably recorded a few hours of his material and him playing different sounds and different vibes. Then I went back and sampled that all and started to piece it together into the material that I already had. He’s pretty heavily featured on the last track, “Shibuya Crossing.”
Then I had a couple of other guys. Pat Van Dyke provided a lot of the acoustic drum loops. Most of the tracks have a blend of electronic programmed drums and then acoustic drum loops.
I had Shareef Clayton play trumpet on the second song called “A Science Faction.” Robert Stringer played on trombone on “Meadow Street Song.” With those guys, we were actually on tour with Blitz coming from Brazil to Canada and we missed our flight. We were stuck fro about six hours at the airport terminal, so I actually recorded those parts in the airport.
That’s awesome! Where did you go to record?
It was pretty interesting. We were just kind of sitting there in the departure lounge and I was talking with the guys about what I’d been working on. I always carry an interface and my laptop with me wherever I go. The guys had their wireless mics and we just kind of rigged it up. We had a bit of an audience looking on. Shareef did his thing, Rob did his thing, and we did it. We talked about re-recording it with a better studio environment, but when I listened back to it, it really grabbed the spirit of the moment.
You have a few new projects in the works. Tell me about those.
I have a project called Beats in the Attick with Jonathan Levy, Isaac Teel and Hannah Sumner. This is another kind of blend of electronic and organic. A lot of these dates I do with Jonathan we remix and reinterpret songs on the fly. It’s a great mix of electronic and acoustic. We’re also doing an adaptation of that with myself Jonathan and Ari Hoenig. We’re trying to bring some of that electronic music into the jazz world with Ari and then getting his spin on everything.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
Be sure to grab a copy of Lex’s record over at Rhythm & Stealth!
December 8 at Nublu — Jonathan Levy, Ari Hoenig, Lex Sadler