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 Originally conceived by Chris Dunn, Senior A&R at Concord, the record moves past the outdated “jazz” labeling and delves into the more pop-oriented influences of these incredible musicians.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! Check out tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III who arranged Bon Iver’s “Perth” for ‘Cover Art.”
You recently signed with Concord Records and then became a part of the NEXT Collective soon after. How did that come about?
I’ve been working with Chris [Dunn] for a number of years on some Christian Scott projects and we’ve always sort of been in touch about doing some stuff for the label. When this project came up I guess he had the idea to sign a couple of different people at the same time. This was a way to put us out there before our individual solo records came out. It was a yearlong process of brainstorming between a bunch of us. It was funny because as soon as the idea was formulated, which was like in November, the album was done by January. It was a really quick process once it got going.
You arranged a track by Bon Iver for the record. What went into that decision?
Yeah, I did the Bon Iver track “Perth.” At the time I was just picking stuff out of thin air because I didn’t have a clue what anyone else was going to pick. I assumed everyone was going to pick a certain kind of music, so I thought that nobody would really pick that. I didn’t even know that he was super famous. Then the weekend we recorded it he won a Grammy for the “Best New Artist.” I knew everybody listened to him, but I didn’t know it was like that. I thought I’d be making a little bit of an obscure pick, but I guess not [laughs].
What is it about Bon Iver’s music that made you think it would work for this project?
When the idea of this album was set in stone and we knew it was happening, the first thing I thought of was the instrumentation of the band and I was hearing that guitar riff from “Perth.” I thought it would be perfect for this. So it started with the hook from that song.
What about in the studio: supergroup or just another day in the office?
I mean, I don’t think it can be considered a supergroup [laughs]. I might be the oldest person in there; I’m 32. Everybody else is like 28. But it is some of the best musicians of a generation for sure. With that being said, it was effortless. Everybody brought in their stuff and it was like, let’s look through it maybe one time and then we just ran it. Almost everything on the record is a first or second take. There was very little room to improve on the initial thing. Everybody was so familiar with the original versions of the music, so the run-through was just to see where the surprises were or what the differences were in the arrangement. But after that it was just vibing for all of the songs.
You had to go outside of your comfort zone a little bit and pick up the bass clarinet for “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse,” right?
You know, I decided a while ago that doubling was not going to be part of my career. I kind of avoid doing it as much as possible. For this project I was down to do it, but I didn’t have a bass clarinet in New York. I borrowed one from somebody and there were so many problems with the instrument. It was like a joke — the mouthpiece wasn’t even really fitting it, it was just hanging loosely. I had to hold it at a certain angle for it to stay together. So it was definitely an experience, that’s for sure. It was fun though.
What kind of a statement do you think this album is going to make?
There are a lot of influences in it for sure. We each have our own unique things and then also a bunch of things in common. I think it kind of provides another perspective on what everybody is doing now, even with music that is not necessarily considered jazz. Something like even Jamire’s band Erimaj, which is influential, as well as Glasper’s Black Radio record. This is kind of along those lines, but maybe with more improvisation involved in this album than those. It’s kind of following in those footsteps, but a different version of it. I don’t know what you would call it, but whatever it is I think it came out well [laughs].
Aside from this record, what have you been working on lately?
I’ve been playing with Ambrose Akinmusire’s band a lot and I think we’re supposed to record at some point coming up soon. In the next couple of weeks I’m going out with Dave Douglas and his band for a little bit. I’m playing with my own group and we’ll be in New York in March. Then I’m also doing Eric Harland’s Voyage band and we’re recording a new album in April. We’ll be doing a US tour for three weeks and then a Europe tour for four or five weeks.
And as far as the NEXT Collective experience went, did you have a favorite moment?
Every time Christian Scott talked, he’s a funny guy — nothing that can be repeated though [laughs].
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
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