Monday 30 September 2013

Jesse Fischer: Past, Present and Retro Future [Interview]

Written by Imran Mirza

2013 has genuinely been a great year for Jesse Fischer.  The Brooklyn-based mastermind behind the jazz/funk/soul/electronica band, Soul Cycle, and the continual brilliance that he, and his ever-evolving group of musicians, continue to deliver over their multiple album releases saw them kick everything into overdrive this year.

Still raking in the plaudits from his 2012 album release, and first under the ObliqSound banner, the aptly-named ‘Retro Future’ was another self-assured and confident declaration of Fischer’s proficiency and inimitable technique of creating music rooted within the essence of classic jazz, funk and soul stylings, but being brave enough to push those genres and boundaries into the new millennium resulting in a contemporary style all of his inimitable own.

‘Retro Future’ continues to serve as a source of inspiration amongst a seemingly non-stop touring schedule, most recently having chalked up performances at New York’s prestigious ‘Blue Note’ (which also sees the legendary pianist McCoy Tyner take to the stage within the same month), and recruiting friends and collaborators currently including Solomon Dorsey, Takuya Kuroda and Rachel Eckroth. 

Fischer’s penchant for collaboration continues to generate exhilarating results, with a consistently-expanding  list of artists who have benefitted from his virtuoso skills (be it as a performer, engineer or producer), including Stevie Wonder, Laura Izibor, Saunders Sermons, Melanie Charles, N’Dambi, Freddie Jackson and, most recently, Kat Webb from her sophomore album ‘A Better Picture’ released earlier this year, of which Fischer handled a hefty dose of production duties with Christian Ver Halen.  Describing her work with Fischer, Webb explained:

“I also met Jesse through other musicians, and saw his band, Soul Cycle, totally rock out live. I loved their funky and jazzy sound and wanted that for my original album as well.”

Jesse Fischer is one of those rare-breed of undeniable talents whose enthusiasm and passion soars almost as high as his musicianship.  Although specifically an album of cover versions, his 2010 release, ‘Flipped’, further demonstrated his propensity not just for ‘creation’ but ‘recreation’ as a selection of songs originally performed by artists as varied as Stevie Wonder, Andre 3000 and Duke Ellington were stripped down and totally reimagined with new vocalists and incorporating that indistinguishable ‘Soul Cycle’ aesthetic.

The Blue-in-Green Blog was truly most proud to catch Jesse in between touring duties and studio sessions for our exclusive one-to-one.

What are some of your earliest memories of music growing up?

Well, my dad and his friends would get together and play chamber music a lot so I was hearing a lot of Bach and other early classical music. My mom was a big Beatles fan so I had every Beatles record memorized by a really early age. My first band was actually with my brother and our two friends covering Beatles songs! We also listened to a lot of traditional American music as well as folk music from all over.

Can you tell us a little about the artists that were a big influence on you?

I was always drawn to the minimalism of people like Miles, Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock. Especially later when I was listening to a lot of golden-era hip-hop, Herbie was a huge influence on me because of how he formed the bridge between hard bop, funk, free jazz, classical, and hip-hop. In high school, I listened to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Nirvana, Soundgarden, DJ Shadow, and Pharcyde... more recently I’ve been studying and checking out everything from Hudson Mohawke to YMCK to Bruno Mars to Laura Mvula to Caetano Veloso to Debussy to Sousa... a really wide range of music on a day-to-day basis.

You must be overjoyed with how well your latest release, 'Retro Future' has been received?
It’s been great! I’m always happy when I can touch people with my music.

How are plans shaping up for a follow-up album?

I’ve done five albums with my Soul Cycle project and now I have about four or five different records in various stages of completion, all with different concepts and different bands. I’m working on some big-band stuff, a chamber jazz group, a couple different electronic albums... we’ll see what comes out first!

Our site interviewed Kat Webb earlier this year who was full of praise for your work on 'A Better Picture': what was the experience like working on that album?

That album was a lot of fun to make because I got to work with two of my best friends and favorite collaborators (Solomon Dorsey on bass and Adam Jackson on drums) – we work together in Laura Izibor’s band and we’ve become a sort of house band for all my production and engineering work. I love working with the both of them because they’re simultaneously very precise but very much in the moment.

I also wanted to ask about Melanie Charles: I am a big fan of her debut 'Introducing Melanie Charles & The Journey', and she's now become a frequent collaborator of yours, in the studio and touring.  How would you describe the way you work together?

I also met Melanie Charles when we were both touring in Laura Izibor’s band. We work really well together and we have a level of respect for each other’s artistry that makes everything easy. She was a guest on my ‘Flipped’ EP a few years ago and recently I helped her out co-producing and mixing her song ‘Drifting’. I look forward to doing more music with her!

Who would be a dream collaborator for you to record or perform with?

Well, there are a few singers that I really would LOVE to collaborate with either in the studio or live on stage: KING (the group), Emily King, Laura Mvula, Chantae Cann, and of course Cassandra Wilson. In terms of instrumentalists, I’m actually really excited to have the legendary Mino Cinelu sitting in with us at our Blue Note (NY) show Sept 16, as well as saxophonist Dayna Stephens. I’d also love to get a chance to work with Etienne Charles, Lionel Loueke, Julian Lage, Zach Brock, and Derrick Hodge, among many others. But most of all I’m really happy to work with the guys in my regular touring band – they’re all amazing!

'Flipped' has long been one of my favourite releases of yours (took me ages to find a hardcopy version!): how did you go about picking the songs to cover?
Thank you :) Glad you enjoyed that record. It was a lot of fun to make. I basically tried to keep it simple and picked songs that resonate with people. I’ve played a LOT of cover gigs at bars, weddings, corporate functions, etc, in my lifetime, so I know the repertoire really well, from the American songbook through Motown through today’s pop, and I have a feel for what kind of songs work with what kind of audience. When you’re recording new arrangements of classic songs, it’s a balancing act to keep the musical essence of the song while allowing yourself some liberties in the superficial aspects — hence, the ‘dirty south’ version of ‘Sentimental Mood’ or the soulful house version of ‘I Can’t Help It’.

You seem to be consistently touring – how do you enjoy being in front of a live crowd?

I LOVE being on stage and there’s nothing better than being completely in the moment and joining with your bandmates and the audience to create something special and one-of-a-kind. That said, I also really like being at home and having a regular schedule, and working in the studio allows me to sort of have a ‘normal’ life. Also, studio work is a different type of creation – it allows you to be a bit more analytical and create something that has a potential to reach a whole lot more people. I’m working on getting the perfect balance between the two for me.

What one song would you play for someone who had never heard your music before?

I would have to say ‘Digital Savanna’. Every album has one song that everyone requests, and that’s the song off Retro Future. It also happens to be the simplest and the most catchy song off the album, and came to me fully formed, so I would say it’s the least filtered and most successful recording to date. There’s also a great live video that I’m really proud of on YouTube!
Thank you so much for the questions!

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