Miles Mosley and the West Coast Get Down at the Santa Monica Pier

Christopher Hoard By

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Miles Mosley and The West Coast Get Down
Twilight Concerts at The Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA
September 3, 2015

The West Coast Get Down continues to manifest themselves in myriad versions this year. They've been a fixture for more than a decade in Los Angeles, bringing in standing-room only devotees to small cubs and jazz dive bars—among them their long standing free shows at Hollywood's Piano bar, where they established a successful residencies and backed in capacity crowds for months and years on end. Most of the members' origins as jazz performers can be traced to a "multi-school" after school program at Locke High, taught by a celebrated and recently retired music teacher, Reggie Andrews. Andrews was present on a balmy summer Thursday at twilight on the Santa Monica pier, listening avidly to the evening's opening set which featured several of his former students from South LA on the bandstand.

A gentle ocean breeze found a paired down sextet version of the Get Down playing to an audience of several thousand gathered on at the pier's stage area. The set's musical director and leader this time around was bassist/singer Miles Mosley. Like with prior local Get Down performances in 2015, led by two of his fellow collaborators on stage, this hour long set featured primarily songs penned by Mosley from two ongoing recording projects currently in production, one leading the Get Down, and another duo group, BFI, a collaboration with drummer and producer Tony Austin. The set opened with a vibrant and funky instrumental from the BFI project, "Smash," which seemed to evoke both the beachside urban setting and a massive Southern California crowd soaking in pastel sunset rays, and representing the full spectrum of ages, colors, and ethnic backgrounds from all the southland's neighborhoods.

Next up, "Young Lion," featured Mosley's distinct and masculine voice cutting through an incendiary R&B anthem announcing the coming of age of Mosley's generation of musical journeymen—a tune which nonetheless harkens back to the elaborate and lush dynamics and pocket grooves of Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye. The following arrangements unfolded into organic, and deftly arranged power funk, without the often clichéd augmentation of beat loops and DJ textures. Mosley plays an electrified standup bass, and here dove into a solo with a bow and wah pedal, emanating baritone and violin range wails and scales; he can dig deep into swinging, masterful grooves and saw and scrape out flurries of notes that actually communicate ideas. As an instrumentalist Mosley's crafted crafted a fresh, unique voice on his instrument.

The lyrics of "Abraham," could serve both as the fiery incantation of a righteous preacher or biblical scenes from a Sunday school lesson. The song's core riff builds up tension and power in a mashup of hard rock, soul, and jazz merging into a single, overwhelming pulse. When the horns—saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trumpeter Ryan Porter, and trumpeter Shawn Erick—dramatically kick in, four or five thousand pier goers become instantly mesmerized. Mosley's music was amply propelled throughout the set by the masterful polyrhythms and pocket grooves of drummer Tony Austin. A more recent "charter" member appearing with the Get Down present is one of Southern California's most versatile jazz keyboardists, Dennis Hamm. Like all his colleagues on stage, Hamm has amassed an astonishingly diverse range of studio and tour credits over the past decade, ranging from Josh Groban, Kenny Loggins, and Allan Holdsworth to Flying Lotus and his current tour with Thundercat.

With "High School," Mosley and ensemble dialed back some of the instrumental pyrotechnics. In The WCGD's anything and anywhere goes tradition, the audience was treated to a delightful, romantic jazz ballad, masquerading as a pop hit—yet infused with playful outbursts of hip hop. At this point it was apparent the feminine half were quite enthralled by Mosley's good looks and the song's story line: a man in his 30s suddenly finds himself regressing back into a bewildering state in his head over heels encounter with some angelic vision. He finds himself overwhelmed and frozen in place—reliving memories as a teen too shy to approach that object of his desire. The frosting atop this jazz pop confection was the introduction of rapper Justin Sky, who connected with the crowd, sharing alternate verses with Mosley. Sky's words cut through with immediacy, panache, and a refreshing penchant for poetic verse, something in stark contrast with the predictable litany of rap's default self-obsessed, ego driven clichés. Sky is clearly a rising star, who's associations and musical inclinations are firmly tied to a younger generation of jazz luminaries. He's just as comfortable riffing off of Austin's inventive counter rhythms over an obscure Cannonball Adderly instrumental as he is providing a balanced counterpoint to Mosley's soulful singing.

Several more Mosley originals provided Sky an opportunity to stretch out with a range jazzy hip-hop, blues rock, and tight horn funk motifs. In their various incarnations, the WCGD effortlessly shift and morph, throwing in a couple kitchen sink's worth of genre blending, replete with Broadway or TV show and classic rock references, in both subtle and overt fashion. For those of us in the audience who respect Mosley's song craft, but yearn for muscular, virtuosic soloing—Kamasi Washington, Ryan Porter, Shaun Erick and Tony Austin all took turns taking flight with expressive and masterful riffing. Mosley, along with Porter and Austin had just returned home after finishing a long segment touring with Kamasi Washington's ongoing national and world tour in support of his widely acclaimed, jazz chart topping 3-CD studio set, "The Epic."

The output of this ever changing ensemble in 2015 has been nothing less than astounding. In July, for Grand Performances, an expanded ensemble led by Washington includedMosley, Sky, and their fellow WCGD bassist Thundercat with special guests, resulting one of the most ambitious public concerts downtown Los Angeles has ever witnessed. Two sets commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots at, and contrasting mid-60s jazz celebrating the likes of Mingus, Billy Higgins, and Ornette Coleman, and early hip hop classic these musicians associated with the '92 LA riots, interpreting Pharcyde, Cypress Hill, and Snoop Dogg among others.

Now Mosley clearly joins the ranks his WCGD brethren Washington and Thundercat, who have been headlining to large audiences, and winning over thousands of new fans young and old. Others in the WCGD are finishing their own projects as leaders, including Ryan Porter, Ronald Bruner Jr., Cameron Graves, and Brandon Coleman—all of whom along with Mosley have appeared in various legs of Washington's current tour. Mosley, along with Washington and others in the WGCD have a long list of superstar jazz, rock and pop recording and tour credits; both of them made session contributions, along with other WCGD stalwarts (Thundercat, Ronald Bruner, Jr., Terrace Martin) to the most acclaimed and controversial hip-hop recording of the year, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. Mosley's intuition and as a singer/songwriter with his distinctive and virtuosic bass and arranger chops, makes him the most likely among this crew to connect to a large audience as a pop crossover.

The set concluded with "L.A. Won't Bring You Down," segueing into Mosley's Hendrixian bass riffs and a brassy take on Jimi Hendrix' "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" morphing into a few familiar bars of "Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." Thousands of beachgoers erupted in approval. The spectacle Mosley and crew staged left little doubt that the West Coast Get Down, with their seemingly infinite musical vocabulary and provide the epicenter of a new jazz movement which has emerged into the limelight in 2015. Their many facets, collaborations, and a new plethora of varied recordings promise to engage new generations of jazz enthusiasts in the idiom's mother nation—where many not too long ago assumed it was fading into history.


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