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 Originally conceived by Chris Dunn, Senior A&R at Concord, the record moves past the outdated “jazz” labeling and delves into the more pop-oriented influences of these incredible musicians.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! This past week we spoke with guitarist Matt Stevens who arranged “Oceans” by Pearl Jam for ‘Cover Art.’
Since signing with Concord Records, this will be your first release. What was the process like for you?
Well the project was conceived after the fact in a way. Chris wanted to sign Logan, Walter, and myself all at the same time, so we thought we would just be jumping into doing our own projects. But Chris suggested that we collaborate on this project and it was after I already knew I was going to be doing something with Concord, so it felt like a fun way to kick things off. It didn’t feel like it was going to be labored or unnatural or anything because everyone has a genuine relationship with one and other. I’ve played with every one of these guys in some context. So it really didn’t feel fabricated at all, it was more of a suggestion [laughs].
Tell me about the tracks you arranged.
The one that’s going to make the physical CD is “Oceans” by Pearl Jam. The other one that I think will come out in some capacity as a bonus track or as a promotion is “The Rip” by Portishead.
I just thought it would be fun to do something that had some significance for me in my teenage years. That’s a formative musical time and I think it goes without saying that a lot of people really have a longstanding attachment to music that they were listening to throughout high school. So that [Pearl Jam’s Ten] was an important record for me and I thought it would be cool to arrange something a little bit lesser known from that album. So I chose “Oceans” because I like it, but also because it’s a really beautiful song and it has a strong melody and had a lot of room to add things and really reimagine it however I wanted to do it.
When I arranged it, the only thing that I was incredibly true to was the melody. Otherwise, something that I think is really interesting when you arrange a song is to add things to the arrangement — or rather to the song itself. You’re arranging the material that is already there, but also composing additional material to complement your arrangement of it. So that introduction you hear at the beginning of the track is basically a tiny seed of the opening piece of the melody that I composed around. It just fit as an interesting introduction to the arrangement of the piece. I also added something at the end of the form of the song. So I arranged it and reconceived some of the harmony, but I also composed a couple of extra passages to complement it.
That’s an interesting thing to me. I don’t want to speak for him, but I have a sense that Miguel Zenón did that on I think his second-to-last record [Zenón’s Alma Adentro] with a bunch of famous Puerto Rican pop songs. I love that album and it seems to me that in listening to the original versions, he sort of took a creative license to add on to things. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say, but that’s what it sounds like and it was very inspiring for me.
The recording session must have been interesting considering the group. Was it pretty normal or did it have some different things going on?
It was normal in that it felt relaxed and fun. It was not normal in that we were just having an extremely good time [laughs]. Everybody was just happy to be together and to be doing this project. I don’t want to blow it up and say it was the most magical, kinetic experience ever, but it also wasn’t just another day in the office. It had it’s own very special thing, like all good sessions do. They all have their own kind of feeling when you leave them. These guys are all such great musicians and really good people and also pretty humble. I find that there is a lot of machismo and posturing and feather-flapping and chest-pumping in the jazz community. In my own experience, whenever you’re able to sort of cut that away or surround yourself with people that just don’t really play into that in all, that you wind up making better music.
With this session there were no egos and a really good attitude in general. We had a lot of fun and I definitely say that having Chris Dunn around was really helpful for us. He just has a very unique and great ear for things and is also game for whatever. He’s the kind of producer who will let you give anything a go, but at the same time will tell you his honest opinion about whether it’s working or not. We had carte blanche in terms of how we want to go about making this and what we want to try on it. If it’s good, it’s good and it doesn’t matter what it is.
This record has the potential to reach further than just the “jazz community,” because of its concept. What do you expect the impact to be?
You know, I don’t have much to say about that. I’m really proud of it and I certainly hope that other people like it as much as I do. In terms of expectations, I try to just put it out there and let it be received how it’s going to be received. I think it’s really difficult to say. All I can say is that I think it’s a great record and that I’m really proud of it. Whether or not it’s something that really resounds with people, I mean, we’ll see. I think it will and I hope it does because it certainly does with me and everyone who I’ve played it for. It’ll be exciting to see what happens with it.
This is what you do as an artist though. You do something that you can get behind 120% and by virtue of that fact, hopefully other people can as well.
Concord Records is picking up so many new artists to go along with their existing roster that is already really so deep. What’s this growing Concord scene like?
It’s a community that I feel very fortunate and glad to be a part of. I think looking ahead, we’ll end up with a lot of really great records coming out from all of the new signees. In a lot of ways we’re all very like-minded and in other ways we’re very different and have our own aesthetics. I think it’s cool though; it’ll meet its mark in terms of defining a certain sound at a certain time that was produced and collaborated on by a certain group of people. It’s an era of music. I hope people like it and I think they will, but time will tell. It’s a great and exciting thing to be part of right now. Again I have to take my hat off to Chris Dunn for this one — he just believed in every one of us and brought us all into the fold. We’re all excited to be working with him, with the label, and to just be in such good company. So it’s a very exciting and artistically fertile time right now.
What are you working on now aside from this project?
Primarily I’m working on getting a lot of material ready for my debut record that I will be recording this year. So that’s taking a lot of my time and energy. I can tell you that what I’ve been thinking about a lot is that in the jazz idiom and in instrumental music, there’s a real tendency to take all of the material that you’re writing for a record and sort of force it to fit into whatever static instrumentation you’ve chosen to be on the album. If you have three songs with guitar, bass, drums, and saxophone, then you feel obliged to have the whole record be that regardless of the other songs and what you’re hearing.
So what I’m excited about doing and thinking a lot about, are different instruments that I want complementing different songs and specifically some different soloists that I want for certain songs. I’m thinking about how I’m going to put it all together and have it be coherent and cohesive.
In addition to that, I just got a couple of gigs that came in for May with Terri Lyne Carrington that I’m really excited about. I’m also in Erimaj and that’s really busy. It’s a super fun band; it feels like a rock band. So that’s always a good time. Then I’m playing with my own band more and more — I’m going to do a couple nights at the Bohemian Caverns next month. Also next month I’ll be at the Jazz Gallery with Walter’s band as well as this ongoing tour with Ben Williams and the Sound Effect at a bunch of performing arts centers. I work with Christian a lot too, but he’s out in LA doing a TV show, so I just have some spot dates here and there. It’s a nice mix of all kinds of different stuff.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
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