Concord Records’ NEXT Collective brings together what many are calling the supergroup of this generation of musicians. Combining the talents of Ben Williams, Christian Scott, Matt Stevens, Jamire Williams, Kris Bowers, Walter Smith III, Logan Richardson and Gerald Clayton, these musicians give some credence to the term “supergroup.” Originally conceived by Chris Dunn, Senior A&R at Concord, the record moves past the outdated “jazz” labeling and delves into the more pop-oriented influences of these incredible musicians.
Leading up to the February 26th release of ‘Cover Art,’ we will be bringing you interviews with the musicians and previews of the songs each one arranged for the record, so check back with us often! Today we’ve got an interview with Kris Bowers, one of two pianists on the record, who arranged “Wonderfox” by The Stepkids and “Little Brother” by Grizzly Bear for ‘Cover Art.”
What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the NEXT Collective project?
I definitely thought it was a great idea. It is exciting for me being a new member of the Concord family to be a part of this project that in a way is a debut of a lot of the new artists on Concord — I think everyone except for Jamire is now a Concord artist. So it was a nice reminder that I’m a part of that new wave of artists that Concord has now. I was excited about that and then also just this idea of playing current music. When I spoke to Chris Dunn about it, it made a lot of sense because these are the new standards for our generation in a way.
You look at straight ahead music from back in the day and a lot of those bands were playing popular songs from their era. I remember talking to Marcus Miller about how his parents would go to a play and hear some of these popular songs on Broadway and then go downtown and see some jazz bands playing those same songs in a different way. And they could still relate to them because they were songs that they were familiar with. I think that in a way, that’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re taking these popular songs so that there is still something for the average person in our generation to tie onto, but we’re doing them in a different way.
Which tracks did you arrange?
I arranged a track called “Wonderfox” by The Stepkids and I think it’s actually going to only be on the iTunes version. Then I also did a solo piano version of a Grizzly Bear track called “Little Brother,” from their album Yellow House.
What went into your decision picking these tunes and artists?
The Stepkids track was actually Chris’s idea. We were bouncing some ideas back and forth and then one day he was like, “Yo this is a really dope track by this band The Stepkids. Check it out and maybe you can arrange this one, but obviously you don’t have to.” I listened to it and thought it was really dope. It starts off with this bassline that immediately gave me some ideas of what I could do with it. It was the perfect track for me to take.
The Grizzly Bear track I chose because they’re one of my favorite bands right now and I listened to each one of their albums on repeat. That album I thought was really conducive for solo piano because it was an acoustic album and the harmonic movements were a bit more intricate. I think it related to a jazz sensibility a bit easier. In my version I did parts of it with just piano and parts of it with just a synthesizer and the end has a combination of both.
What was the studio vibe like considering you have all for the most part played together in different settings?
It felt great! As you said we kind of all have played with each other in different contexts and we’ve all known each other for a decent amount of time. So it was great because a lot of those all-star type bands they put together that are kind of invented rather than just organically put together tend not to be as successful because the people don’t really know each other or egos get in the way and things like that. That obviously wasn’t the case with this band. We’ve all known each other and played with each other for a while so it definitely was almost like we were a working band already even though we had never played together in that specific instrumentation. Each one of those musicians is so selfless and puts the music before themselves that it was just a great and easy process.
It’s also interesting that all of the tracks we picked were so different. It was all stuff that we were into individually, but at the same time they were really different. I didn’t play on Gerald [Clayton]’s version of “Africa,” but I really liked that. Playing on “Marvin’s Room” that Christian [Scott] arranged was pretty cool. I think we captured that song really well.
With the album done and getting ready for release, what do you see as the lasting influence this project will have?
I think it’s another demonstration of what’s really happening right now. I think the music that we chose is also interesting because in each of our individual projects, either the music we play and cover or our own original songs are influenced by the music that we grew up with and the music that we were really into as kids or even just recently. I think it’s really important because although we all went to school for jazz and have all studied and listened to so many iconic jazz records, to limit ourselves to just playing that music or just playing in that style wouldn’t be honest in my opinion. I feel like our own music and our own bands are extremely honest with who we are musically. This album furthers that point and proves it even more. We’re actually really into these other bands and this other music just as much as we’re into Miles and Herbie and Chick.
I feel like it’s important to not only demonstrate that, but prove that this music has a lot more to it than people assume on the surface. A lot of people think that pop music is four chords and that’s it. Yet, a lot of these artists and bands are doing some really interesting things. I challenge anyone in jazz schools to play and improvise on some of these other more current songs. It’s not as simple as they would like to think it is. So it’s going to be nice for them to hear us play that music and treat it with just as much respect and seriousness as we would with some famous jazz standard.
You’ve had some time to settle on what’s been recorded. Looking back on the process, if you were to do it again are there any other artists or songs you would include?
Yeah, actually I’ve been really into James Blake recently. I would definitely include some of his stuff on there. I’m really into Bon Iver too, but we did a Bon Iver track on the record already. I’d say Frank Ocean as well — I’m really into his album. Also the Fleet Foxes, Florence and the Machine, J*Davey. There are a bunch of artists that I could think of.
What else have you been working on? You have your own record in the works as well.
Yeah the most exciting thing for me is my album coming out this year. I finished recording that last year and I actually just got off the phone with my manager to figure out when we’re going to release that. I’m really excited about getting that music out there. I’ve got Burniss Earl Travis on bass, Jamire on drums, Kenneth Whalum III on tenor, Casey Benjamin on alto and vocoder, Adam Agati on guitar, and then I have three special guest vocalists — Chris Turner, José James, and Julia Easterlin. The music is different, but also has an overall concept for sure.
I’m also on José [James]’s new record and I’ll be touring with him for the whole year. Then I’m on Etienne Charles’ record that is coming out soon. He just finished mastering that and it’s dope. So I’m excited for a lot of projects this year.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
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