Jon Cowherd: Mercy, Mercy Me

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: Brian Blade, as always, plays beautifully throughout, especially on "Baltica" and "Newsong." You probably know him as well as anybody; what does he bring to any musical setting?

JC: Firstly, he brings an immediacy, an in-the-moment feeling like this might be the last time we ever play and I'm going to give it all. He's been that way ever since I've known him. He's very respectful of people's compositional ideas. He's really a team player as a drummer, and a leader. Drummers have a lot of control in terms of the dynamics and he's so intuitive in that sense. He knows what a song should be. He's not someone who just plays a groove through the whole song. He really makes a composition sparkle. [guitarist] Peter Bernstein once said that playing with Brian is like Christmas every time—he just keeps giving you gifts.

AAJ: Live with the Mercy Project you usually play with Blade, Patitucci and [guitarist] Steve Cardenas but I saw on your gig list that you played the Mercy Project with guitarist Mike Moreno, trumpeter Matt Penman and drummer Rudy Royston at Dizzy's Club in the Lincoln Centre; was that a one-off line-up?

JC: It kind of was. WGBO, the local radio station approached me. They've been doing these monthly shows where they feature someone who's putting out a record and they said "We know you have Mercy coming out and we'd like to give you this night." It was a great chance to get some exposure and play. Brian, John and Steve are really busy doing other things so I knew it was important to have another band. I've been playing with Mike [Moreno] a lot. I hadn't played with Matt [Penman] in a while but I love his playing. I'd been playing with Rudy [Royston] in different situations.

They did a live broadcast on the Jazz at Lincoln Centre website and WGBO streamed the concert for a week to give people a chance to check it out. I'm hoping to get out there and play more, not mattering who the sidemen are necessarily.

AAJ: A singer you work a lot with is Rosanne Cash; some would describe her as a country singer; how do you see her?

JC: It's definitely not just country. She knows so much music and really loves punk music and rock music, R&B and soul. I can hear that in her singing and her writing. She's inspired by so many things. Her husband John Leventhal is also a well known pop producer. They're really into roots music, the blues and early rock 'n' roll. John can imitate the sound of all these guitar players. He knows all the musicians on all the records. He's like an encyclopedia and it's been great to be around him. I've learned a lot and heard a lot of great stories. They're great musicians and good people.

AAJ: There's a new Fellowship album coming out next year; can you tell us a little about the music we can expect to hear?

JC: Some of it is music we've been playing for a couple of years. Most of it is Brian's compositions. A lot of the songs are personal to Brian. We do a cover of "Shenandoah," the folk song. We captured some really great moments with the band and that's hard to do in the studio. We recorded it down in Brian's brother's new studio down in Shreveport and I guess because we weren't in a New York studio it felt very relaxed. The tunes are really strong and I'm excited about it.

AAJ: Neither in the Fellowship nor with your own bands do you play jazz standards; do you think that maybe they're beginning to sound their age?

JC: I like to arrange standards for singers but if I'm going to create a statement as a player then I want to write my own music. I have nothing against standards, as long as it's played sincerely. And they can be played in any style. I like it when people play a standard and it sounds as if they've checked out the lyrics.

It's rare that I play standards but I did a gig the other night where we were just calling tunes and it felt really refreshing. In a jam the other day someone requested a really old song called "I Don't Want to set the World on Fire," which is an amazing tune. In a lot of ways they don't write them like they used to and I love that about standards.

AAJ: There seems to be an ever-growing number of musicians from all nationalities going to New York and to Boston to play and to study; do you think New York is becoming more open to jazz musicians from other countries?

JC: That's an interesting question. It definitely is open. I don't know if that's a new thing. Maybe jazz is becoming more popular in other countries. I know a lot of musicians from all over the place and they're down at Smalls [Jazz Club] I think musicians are always open to other musicians if they can play and it doesn't really matter where they're from.

AAJ: Is there a growing awareness in America about contemporary jazz from Europe, Australia or South Korea?

JC: Yeah, I think so. I'm learning more and more about other bands and musicians. There are more European labels now than there used to be. I think it's grown a lot.

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