Scott Kinsey: It's About Meaning
“ The way I think about phrasing and playing in general, a lot of it comes from Ahmad Jamal. ”
Kinsey made his name in Tribal Tech, one of the most important bands in the electro/jazz-fusion scene of the last twenty-five years. Joining Tribal Tech straight out of Berklee, Kinsey remained until the dissolution of the band, a decade and a handful of critically acclaimed albums later.
In the intervening years Scott Kinsey has successfully juggled a variety of musical projects, having contributed music to film soundtracks and produced albums for Philip Bailey and the great Austrian keyboard maestro Joe Zawinul. He has also toured and recorded with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Nicholas Payton, James Moody, Robben Ford, Joe Zawinul and Tim Hagans and, since 1994, with saxophonist/composer Bob Belden.
Now Kinsey is taking centre stage with the release of Kinesthetics and is clearly reveling in the spotlight. From his L.A. home, Kinsey tells All About Jazz about the philosophy and processes behind Kinesthetics, and his ambition to expand his discography as a leader. He also heaps high praise on Souvik Dutta, of record label Abstract Logix, and pays heartfelt homage to piano legend and major source of inspiration, Ahmad Jamal.
All About Jazz: Now that Kinesthetics is out, are you surprised that it has taken fifteen years to produce a record as leader?
Scott Kinsey: Not really surprised as it just gets tougher and tougher to make creative music a reality, especially when it comes to the business. I was sort of waiting around for record companies for years and finally I just said forget it, I'll do it myself. So that's what I did, figuring that it was so overdue that it almost didn't matter how long it took anymore. I could just put it out when it was ready. When the time was right [producers] Souvik Dutta [Abstract Logix] and Joe Zawinul [Birdjam] found me. It was perfect.
AAJ: The album was cut in a remarkably fast two days. Was that your intention from the outset or were you surprised at how smoothly it went?
SK: Well the current music that I've been playing around L.A. for the last two years was recorded in those two days. There were also a few tracks that I had started as long as fifteen years ago, but never finished. Sometimes those things were combined with new material or in a way remixed from what I had done years ago. I just didn't want to have made all that music and then not ever use it or for no-one to ever hear it. And there's really a lot more where that came from. This record is like the tip of the iceberg and it was tough narrowing it down to only this music. There was definitely enough for a box set.
S.K: The tunes usually started as improvisations and then I would write them out and see what I needed to change or add. Joe Zawinul was an inspiration in this area. I read that he worked like this when I was a kid and it just stuck with me. Some songs can have elaborate forms and others can just be sketches. I like the more open idea more because it lets everybody do their thing and that way the music breathes and has more life.
AAJ: How long did the mixing take?
SK: I don't even know! Quite a while! The thing is I did everything myself, so that required some trial and error checking things on my system and others and then having to figure out why it did or didn't sound right. I also mastered it myself so that was a whole other learning curve, but I figured that's just what this record is. Danny Carey [Tool drummer] had me over; he has some serious mastering speakers so I got a pretty good idea where the problems were. There was really no budget so I just did everything in my studio, mostly with the things I already had. I'm more or less glad I did it like that. It was a good experience, but a lot of hard work.
AAJ: You used three guitarists, four percussionists, six bass players and four drummers. The studio must have had a revolving door, why so many musicians?
SK: Because a few tunes had been started years earlier, I knew it wasn't really going to be possible to make a band record. It's funny because I've always thought that "band records were better, but it just wasn't going to be possible with this one. Anyway, I didn't even have a set band in L.A. Sometimes [guitarist] Scott Henderson would play, other times [saxophonist] SteveTavaglione. Same with bassists, sometimes it's Jimmy Earl, but other times Jimmy Haslip or Armand Sabal-Lecco would do it too. So then I just decided it would be OK to have who ever seemed to be the right person for a particular song.
AAJ: On the title track, "Kinesthetics, where does the strange vocal come from?
SK: It's my voice singing through a Korg Vocorder and a TC Voiceworks box. A little of both mixed together. The strange vocals on "The Combat Zone are from Cyril Atef, then in the second half the ensemble vocals are me again through the TC.
AAJ: Let's talk about some of the musicians on Kinesthetics. Can you tell us something about Jinshi Ozaki?
SK: Jinshi's a great jazz guitarist. We were students at Berklee together in the late '80s and early '90s. And by the way he's also an incredible chefa very serious chef. So I have to credit some of my extra lbs to him! He's worked with [saxophonist] Kirk Whalum and [pianist] Keiko Matsui among many others. He's also making his own solo CDs. He's a very talented musician. He plays acoustic guitar on this song and he really nailed exactly what I had in mind.
The tune "One for Jinshi came about in '91 as I was showing him how to record in Performer on his then new Mac SE30. He called me a few weeks later and said that the stuff I had improvised while just showing him the program wasn't bad and he gave me a floppy disc of it. I never really played it until I was looking for material a couple of years ago when I started to play around L.A. with my band.
AAJ: Armand Sabel-Lecco?
SK: Armand Sabel-Lecco is a brilliant bassist from Cameroon. He lives in L.A. He does a lot of stuff. He played with the Brecker brothers. He's quite famous for doing the Paul Simon Graceland tour.
AAJ: Cyril Atef?
SK: He's another brilliant guy that a lot of people may not know. On the other hand he's well-known in Europe. He's a great drummer/percussionist, living out of Paris. He also went to Berklee. I met him there. Every time he comes here we record something.
He's part of a few different groups. He has his own group called Bumcello and it's him with cellists. They do a lot of concerts in Europe, all improvised, avant-garde. He also works with a French pop artist called M who is huge in the pop scene in Paris.
Then he also has a very experimental, strange group called CongopunQ which is him with a conceptual performance artist and they do something that I can't even talk about!
AAJ: Percussionist Satnam Rangotra?
SK: He's a very good musician who plays around L.A. a lot. He has some groups of his own, one is called Alien Chatter. Satnam's track I recorded actually in '94. That's how far back that one goes! I never really did anything with it and I got it out for this record. Of course, when I told Satnam he was horrified when he found it was ten or fifteen years old!
AAJ: Steve Tavaglione?
SK: Steve is incredible. We play all the time together in L.A. and I feel lucky because he is one of my favourite all-time musicians. If there is an instrument in his hands there isn't a moment when he isn't creating something beautiful, both on the saxophone and on the synthesizer via the ewi. There is just no-one else like him, he's a deep conceptualist. Steve is one of my best friends too and you might have noticed that he is the only person that is pretty much on all the tunes.
AAJ: On "Quartet you use [drummer] Vinnie Colaiuta. How did you get him involved and what was it like to work with him?
SK: Vinnie is one of those rare people who just live and breathe and beautiful music comes out. It has nothing to do with technique, it's pure art. He played so good it was just ridiculous. "Quartet is a first take and the first time the four of us have ever played together. He just nailed it as if he'd been playing it for a month on the road.
He got involved through Steve Tavaglione. They've been friends for years and years but hadn't had the chance to really play together for a while, so this was an opportunity to play a little music together again. It was such a great experience and I'll never forget his enthusiasm and all the heart he put into it. He was so much fun. We had a blast! I have to say that we did a couple of other songs too that were totally outrageous, but I'm saving them for my next CD!
AAJ: On Kinesthetics you are joined by your old Tribal Tech buddies, Scott Henderson, [bassist] Gary Willis and [drummer] Kirk Covington. Do you ever talk about getting the band back together?
SK: Scott and I talked about it last year, though none of us in the band really felt like it. Willis is living in Spain and he's got stuff going on and he's pretty happy with that. Then Scott is doing his blues band and I'm doing my band and in the end the thought of doing a record long distance is not that inspiring. We may do it at some point, you never know.
Tribal Tech was great and finished on a real high note because the band sounded better than ever when we stopped. That band had a really long life, a lot longer than most.
AAJ: You have also managed a parallel career as a producer; what was the first record you produced?
SK: I was involved in production on a couple of the Tribal Tech records and one or two of Willis's records. Those were probably the first ones I had a hand in. I also did some production for [vocalist] Philip Bailey's last record and I did a lot of production work for Joe Zawinul on Faces and Places (ESC, 2002) and some stuff for [sqaxophonist] James Moody.
AAJ: Are there any producers you particularly admire or are influenced by?
SK: I don't know about producers per se, I get ideas from things I hear all the time without even knowing what they are. In a way, it's just something I do intuitively and naturally. It's just an extension of what my tastes are I guess.
AAJ: One of the producers on Kinesthetics was Souvik Dutta of your record label Abstract Logix. What has it been like working with him?
SK: It's been a great experience, right from the beginning. I had finished the record about a year before and was holding on to it. Souvik just sent me an e-mail and said, "I heard you just did a record and I'd love to hear it. I wrote him back saying, "I'm sorry but I'm saving it for another label and I'm really not that interested.
Then I thought: "What am I saying this for? [laughs] I called him back and said, "Yes, I would like you to hear it. He listened to it, got back to me, said he loved it and would love to release it. I thought, "Why not? I've been waiting way too long already and I really need to get this thing out there. I felt like now was the time.
Within a day he had a release date for me. He had the distributor saying that he had some art work started. He had all this stuff happening. Everything moved extremely fast and that was the main thing I was looking for. I wanted things to happen ASAP because I had waited way too long. For years, people have been asking me about it on tours and I kept saying, "I don't know. I was sick of that. Souvik just made it happen.
The situation was very good right from the start, because he didn't want to buy the record like every other label on the planet who will give you a certain amount of money to own the master. He never wanted to go there. He realizes that this is your music, you've worked hard on it and you should own it.
I just liked the guy, the organization. Even though they're small they care. They're interested and they put the time and effort in I'm very happy with that.
AAJ: It's a pity that there aren't more Souvik Duttas around in the music business.
SK: He does it because he loves it and that's 99%. This is not some generic company that just throws it out and doesn't care about it. I didn't want to go that way. I had a lot of offers like that and I just turned them all down.
Then on the other side of the coin I'm releasing the album in Europe on Joe Zawinul's label Birdjam. Joe and I are very good friends and he's working with Joachim Becker on the label. Joachim Becker was the guy who did the Tribal Tech stuff for the last couple of years, so I've known him for a long time. They'll put out the record there. Overall it's a great partnership.
AAJ: Where did the inspiration for "Sometimes I... come from?
SK: It's a Steve Tavaglione tune that changed direction a few times but it just sort of happened organically. It was really based on a drum pattern and a vey chromatic melody that in Steve's original version was a lot more avant-garde than what we ended up doing. That rhythm is actually inspired by the early Miles band and the early Weather Report with [drummer] Eric Gravatt and [bassist] Miroslav Vitous, and that kind of forward pulse, a free jazz sort of approach.
AAJ: Your Joe Zawinul/Wayne Shorter influence has been cited endlessly but less well-documented is the influence of Ahmad Jamal. How significant an influence has he been on your playing?
SK: You know, I'm glad you asked me about that. Everybody talks about Joe and Wayne and so forth. It's a kind of an obvious one, but I think if you listen you can hear the Ahmad influence.
I'm very happy to say that because I love Ahmad Jamal. I love his playing. He's really one of my very favorite pianists. All the stuff from the late '50s all that stuff with his original trio. It's so inspiring to me, the way he plays, the way he hears music, the way he phrases, the use of space, the touch, everything. His concept and the feeling he has, and the swing that they had as a trio.
When people ask me what I'm listening to I can never think of anything, but if I sit down and think about it I always come up with Ahmad. There are a thousand MP3s on my iPod and they're all Ahmad Jamal.
L:R: Seamus Blake, Kirk Covington, Scott Kinsey, Matthew Garrison
If you listen to my CD, on the surface you may not hear it at all, but if you really listen you'll understand. A lot of the phrases and even some of the rhythms, on "Under Radar for example. It's in me, the way I think about phrasing and playing in general, a lot of it comes from Ahmad Jamal.
He's playing differently now than he used to, but of course he still has all that, everything he used to have and more. Nobody really phrases like him. He has a very conversational way of phrasing and sweetness in the melodies. And just beautiful ideas. I think Keith Jarrett got that from him. I don't know if he says that or not but I feel it. I also love Keith Jarrett and am inspired by what he does.
AAJ: A musician with whom you've had a long association is Bob Belden. Could you tell us about your involvement with him?
SK: I met Bob through a friend of mine, Jim Goetsch, who told Bob about me when I first moved out here. [L.A.] Bob flew me up to New York to do a record date and it turned out to be the Prince Jazz (Blue Note, 1994) record he made for Japan. Since then I've ended up working on almost every record he's done, and done a lot of tours with him.
It's been great. Bob's a very inspirational guy. He's a true genius, the kind of guy who can write a big band chart in ten minutes starting with the partsdoesn't even need the score. He's ridiculous! He's a really brilliant person and he's also a great saxophonist and producer.
We have a very good relationship and we're still doing stuff. We just did a concert at Merkin Concert Hall [New York] about three weeks ago. We did [Miles Davis'] Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969), the whole album. It's a concert series that they're putting on to recreate classic jazz records.
AAJ: That's interesting to hear. I've recently been listening to Gregg Bendian's Mahavishnu Project where he plays entire Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in concert, and I wonder if this is maybe a new trend to revisit influential old classics?
SK: It is an interesting idea. I hadn't heard about it before but it's not my cup of tea in general. I'd much rather just create. But for an album like that and with Tim [Hagans] and Bob it's worth it to me to do it.
AAJ: How did Bitches Brew go down with the audience nearly forty years later?
SK: It went down really well. It was pretty much sold out and the response was excellent. We didn't do an exact recreation. We did it our way. We had a DJ and took some liberties. It was always forward looking so you have to approach it that way.
AAJ: You've worked on film soundtracks, produced other people's records, recorded with big bandsdo you have any unrealized musical ambitions?
SK: I just want to keep doing my stuff. I did this record and I feel it was sort of a hump to get over. Now that it's out I've got twenty more that I'd like to do tomorrow. I've got too many things that I'd like to do, just in terms of my own stuff. I don't want to do too much stuff, but one record a year anyway.
I already have another record that is almost finished, and I have a lot of material from Kinesthetics that I didn't put on the album. Then I have a lot of live stuff with my band and some of that should definitely be released.
I'd like to do more soundtracks. I'd like to do more soundtracks on my own. And just keep creating and interacting with musicians, which is what it's all abouthaving a conversation with someone you like on your instrument. I hope it comes across like that. It's not about a lot of notes, it's about meaning.
Scott Kinsey, Kinesthetics (Abstract Logix, 2006)
Michael Landau, Live (Tone Centre, 2006)
Various Artists, Code 46 Soundtrack (Commotion Records, 2004)
Matthew Garrison, Shapeshifter (GJP, 2004)
Matthew Garrison, Live (GJP, 2004)
Nicholas Payton, Live in N.Y.C. (Kufala Recordings, 2004)
Various Artists, Ocean's 12 Soundtrack (Warner Bros, 2004)
Joe Zawinul, Faces and Places (ESC, 2002)
Philip Bailey, Soul on Jazz (Heads Up, 2002)
Kurt Rosenwinkel, Enemies of Energy (Verve, 2000)
Tribal Tech, Rocket Science (ESC Records, 2000)
Tribal Tech, Thick (Zebra Records, 1999)
Tim Hagans/Bob Belden, Animation - Imagination (Blue Note, 1999)
Tribal Tech, Reality Check (Mesa/Bluemoon, 1994)
Tribal Tech, Face First (Zebra Records, 1993)
Tribal Tech, Illicit (Mesa/Bluenote, 1992)