Scott Kinsey: It's About Meaning

Ian Patterson By

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The way I think about phrasing and playing in general, a lot of it comes from Ahmad Jamal.
Scott KinseyIt has taken fifteen years, but keyboardist Scott Kinsey's eagerly awaited debut recording as leader, Kinesthetics (Abstract Logix, 2006) is out and receiving rave reviews.

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.

AAJ: How much music was already written going into the studio and how much was improvised?

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 chef—a 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.

Scott Kinsey

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.


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