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 Originally conceived by Chris Dunn, Senior A&R at Concord, the record moves past the outdated “jazz” labeling and delves into the more pop-oriented influences of these incredible musicians.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 have a great interview with Gerald Clayton, one of two pianists on the record, who arranged D’Angelo’s “Africa” for ‘Cover Art.’
You were approached to do this project by some of the other musicians correct?
By Chris Dunn as well. But I was talking with Ben Williams and Matt Stevens about the project beforehand and I thought it was a really great idea. Sure enough everybody came with some really interesting song selections, so it made for a cool album.
Which songs did you arrange?
I did D’Angelo’s “Africa” and a Missy Elliot tune called “Beep Me 911” that will be on the iTunes extras.
D’Angelo’s music is probably closer on the spectrum to jazz than a lot of the other music on this record, but also wildly popular. What went into your decision to pick that tune?
For me it was finding the music that I really liked first. That D’Angelo record was a really impactful record for me. I remember just falling in love with that album in high school, and it seems to be universally so — everybody loves that record. So I went through all of those records that were meaningful to me first and then just sort of went on the hunt for something that would translate well into the groove and the instrumentation. There’s a track on that record that has a jazzy bossa nova feel in C-minor and all of the cats cover it, but I thought that would be a little obvious and might even stifle people’s ability to bring their own thing to it. So when I found “Africa” on the record, I knew it was the one. The harmony and the vibe were so great.
How about the Missy Elliot track?
It was kind of the same process. I just love that record and I’ve been checking it out for a long time. For both of these songs it had to be something that spoke to me first. I think the first thing I heard was how interesting the harmony was compared to a lot of other pop music. Just the chord structures alone were intriguing. And then the melody that she sings on top of it moves more than a lot of pop tunes do. There’s a long melody in it that flows in interesting ways and I thought it would translate well for an instrumentalist. Also Timbaland’s beats and grooves are always interesting to me. So to jump on that and pay tribute was cool.
As far as the recording process went, these are guys who you’ve worked with before or at least know pretty well. Did you have any favorite experiences?
The hang was great. Like you said, I’ve worked with these guys before and I know them personally. They’re all really cool and really funny, so the vibes were definitely the right type of vibes for making music. There’s a lot of respect and love that we have for one and other.
We pulled this together fairly quickly compared to some other projects. It’s not like we were on the road for six months before we recorded. It definitely took a certain sense of professionalism from everybody to internalize the music as quickly as possible and I think everybody did that. So yeah it came out really well.
There have been points in the other interviews where guys will talk about your ability in your playing to emphasize what they are doing while they solo. From a theory standpoint, what are you doing?
Man, I don’t have a system necessarily. I’m actually surprised that they said that — that’s really nice. But when you’re making music with people and it’s improvised music, it’s sort of like having a conversation. Depending on what the vibe is of the party, it might be your job to just be a yes man — just sort of listen mostly and add the occasional, “uh huh” and what not. Or maybe your role is to stir things up and to cause some friction and tension or a counter-idea to what people are talking about and go against the grain. So there is really no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of how you respond to what’s going on around you and how open your ears are and how honest you are in that moment.
So really I’m just trying to read the vibe and kind of get a feel for the attitude behind Walter’s solo or Logan’s solo or Christian’s solo or whatever it is. I’m trying to support that in a way that I think the music is asking me to support it.
What do you think this record is going to say to people about your generation of musicians?
I hope people enjoy it; I hope people check it out. I think it definitely has the potential to reach a lot of people that maybe didn’t think they’d be into the type of music we play because these are familiar songs. But yeah man, I don’t know. I hope people love it [laughs]. I wouldn’t want to force my idea or opinion of what the music is or what it’s about on other people. I just hope other people dig it. That’s my thing. And I think they will.
What’re you working on outside of this project that people can check out?
I’ve got a record that I finished and it’ll be out on Concord I believe in April. So that’s just finished and I’m really excited about it. It’s an extension from my last two records, so it’s trio along with like six other people. I’m really happy with it.
I also worked with Terri Lyne Carrington on her Money Jungle project where she recreated the music of Duke Ellington. I’m truly honored to be a part of that session, so check that out if you haven’t yet. On top of that, just the usual — I still play with the Clayton Brothers and whoever calls. So I’m staying busy.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
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