You may know Lance Ferguson from his funk/soul band The Bamboos, but there is a deeply rooted jazz side to Ferguson that is getting featured on his brand new project entitled Menagerie. With an forthcoming album entitled ‘They Shall Inherit’ on the horizon, we got Lance to make us a Spiritual Jazz Selector Mix to preview his style.
Your upcoming album is in the “spiritual jazz” vein of music. What got you into that?
When I went to the Victorian College of the Arts, I got really into straight-ahead, bebop, and hard-bop as I was learning my craft on guitar. But the music I really liked listening to at that time was the free and out there stuff. So I was listening to a lot of late-period Coltrane records, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, and things like that. I don’t know what my fascination was with it, but I think it was just the freedom principle and that these guys were so well versed in music and on their instruments that they were actually able to take it beyond the things I was studying. They weren’t confined by those aspects that I was learning about in school; they were taking it to outer space. So I’ve always really been into that type of music. It wasn’t always called spiritual jazz though; it was just free jazz or the new thing or whatever.
I had wanted to make a jazz record for over ten years, but I didn’t want it to be the type of jazz record that is just a showcase for my guitar solos or that sort of thing. I wanted to do much more of a conceptual thing. It occurred to me that I would really like to go back to that music that I listened to originally which was the more out there stuff. I wanted to make it like Sun Ra or something from Strata-East or some of those labels. And that doesn’t always involve the guitar as being such an upfront thing, so I was happy to sit back and let the ensemble take the lead and have more horn solos. That’s the style of jazz I enjoy most and the key players and innovators were horn players. Thus I wanted the horn players to be more upfront.
You brought in Roy Ayers for one of the tracks, how did that come about?
He’s always been a massive influence on me from just way back. I collected his records when the whole Rare Groove scene was happening. Also a couple of gigs he did in Melbourne early on were some of the first live gigs I went to coincidentally. It just really blew me away. His particular use of chords in such a sort of signature way really influenced a lot of the broken beat and I guess future jazz music that I was making a while ago. I think the broken beat scene was heavily influenced by Roy Ayers and his style of chord changes as well as his vocal style. There is an underlying sense of that.
But what happened with the Roy Ayers thing is that I had recorded him a couple of years ago and I had the stuff sitting on my hard drive. I just really didn’t have the right project and I didn’t want to just put out a 12” or something. So I sat on it for a while. When it came time to make the Menagerie record I knew it was the right time. So I reached out to him again and he was totally cool with everything. It was a real thrill to have him on the record.
How did you originally get together with him?
He was in Australia and I was supporting him with The Bamboos for a brief tour. Because we were working with the same booking agent, I just kind of mentioned that I would really love to do that. We actually recorded him up in his hotel room literally with some mics. I went up there with my engineer and just did it with a laptop with some preamps and mics. I literally did it in his hotel room to make it really easy for him.
I had it sketched out already, and he took a bunch of solos as well. That tune was really just fueled out once we recorded the rhythm section and everything. It was a weird way to put together a jazz record, but logistically it was the only way it could happen. I like the result though; it does sound natural.
The mix that you put together has an interesting range of influences. Tell me about putting that together.
It’s not often that you get asked to do a mix like this. Because I collect so many records in this genre, I was just going through a short list of what I wanted to put on. I wanted to put everything on, but obviously I couldn’t. It was a thrill to be able to put together a spiritual jazz mix. I feel there is a bit of a buzz around the style; it can be challenging for people to listen to it because of the often dissonant nature of it. I felt like I wanted to make a mix that had a bunch of the hippie stuff on there, but also something that people perhaps had never really gone into. It could still be accessible for them. So I picked out some tracks that could bridge the gap between certain other styles. It was a lot of fun to put together though.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)