The (DJ) Logic of Miles
Miles Davis was unquestionably one of the truly great innovators in the history of music. His playing style was comprised of short, sharp statements- potent and succinct. But it was hardly just Miles’ playing that earned him kudos from generations of musicians from all genres. Much of his fame came from his eternally forward-looking vision. During his distinguished career he blazed trails through the vast visage of the jazz world, the initiating force in such sounds as Bee Bop, Cool Jazz, Free Jazz and Fusion. Yet even that aspect of his genius cannot fully account for the prestige of Miles Dewey Davis.
Along with style, and styles, the third thing that grounds Miles Davis’ long lasting effect was his ability to pull together musical forces, both raw and refined, and organize them into concise ensembles, each one nothing less than whole in its incarnation. Consider just some of the giants who got their starts with Miles: Coltrane, Herbie, Cannonball, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Chick Corea. All of these musicians are well known as masters of their instruments, and talented innovators in their own rights. But they each have one other crucial trait in common; Each of them feeds off of other players, draws inspiration from what is happening on stage, whether he is acting as a band leader, sideman, or simply a guest. And it is a tribute to Miles’ skill that he was able to take these musicians, place them in the proper position, and push them beyond their limits to new realms of creativity. Consider the basic “free jazz” line up of the mid sixties. Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums, playing breakneck counter point or gelling into a solid line on which Miles and Herbie, and whoever happened to be playing sax, could draw their pictures. This band was incredible, producing some of the best sounds to come out of the sixties- passionate, vital and altogether present in the moment.
It wasn’t long after that time that Miles electrified and pushed the limits again, creating music that is incredibly challenging to listen to. Essentially free form jamming without a declared, or even implied, focus, “there was no direct harmony present, meaning chord changes as such.” Horn man Dave Liebman continues in his liner notes to the re-release of Dark Magus. “Concerning the elements of form, there were no intros, outros, codas, interludes, tags, etc. All the tunes segued into each other in live performances and even in the studio there were no dramatic beginnings or endings to songs.” It was in this environment that Miles was put to the real test. He had to put together groups that could respond at the drop of a hat, with no direction at all, and very little rehearsal time. And although at the time fans and critics were shocked and even horrified at what was happening, the recordings are now getting the respect they deserve as snapshots of a seminal period in music history- creations that truly shatter the boundaries of everything that existed before. It is from this wild period that folks like MMW and Fat Mama take many of their cues. But the group that takes the philosophies of Miles Davis most sincerely to heart, whether intentionally or not, is Project Logic.
If you’ve never seen the Project live, or heard a live recording, it may be hard to understand just how similar Logic’s approach is to Miles’. The Project Logic CD does not capture the feeling or even the sound of the unit in action. It is much too short, harsh and fast. In concert, however, Project Logic is a sound to behold. The center of the band is, of course, DJ Logic on tables and FX, and Skoota Warner on drums (a very often Melvin Gibbs on bass). Around those constants, however, swirls a universe of modern musicians, a constant rotation of the very best of what is happening in music today. Notable members include Marc Ribot, Oteil, the Sex Mob and John Medeski, just to name a few. Joining them are a number of less well known, but skilled and inspired performers, from rappers to violinists. Often enough members of Project incarnations do not even really know each other, yet they create first rate musical manifestations. A bass line or sample starts a groove. Everyone listens for a bit, testing the waters before easing in or simply jumping in cannonball style. Waves of sound rush over one another, creating elaborately textured sound structures that are both challenging and utterly danceable. Project Logic’s approach to music is certainly reminiscent of early seventies Miles, with little structure and a real dependence on focused and adaptable musicians; even some of the sounds are similar. But it is DJ Logic’s ability to create the bands, to piece together a variety of sounds and styles, and create an extremely vital and wild mosaic time and again that truly ranks him as one of the inheritors of Miles Davis’ legacy.
DA -Tell me about the New Orleans set with John Medeski, Warren Haynes and Jon Fishman.
Logic: Damn man. It was so amazing. I know Fish and of course I know John, but I got to tell you, I never met Warren before (my manager hooked it up) and that cat changed EVERYTHING. He just took the sounds we was laying down to another dimension – he was laying down some COLTRANE shit, some MUDDY WATERS shit, and some crazy WARREN HAYNES shit that just rocked everyone. It was a great mix, great chemistry between everyone and we just kicked it. Fish too, he was SUPER tight, I think the turntables and my beats woke him up a bit cause he was BANGIN those drums boy.
One of the best things about the Project is that it has this constantly rotating cast of characters. That keeps the music incredibly fresh. There are some core folks like Melvin, Casey and Skoota who are around often but then the guests are people like Medeski, Oteil, Marc Ribot, Kraz just sick musicians. How much practice do you put in before a gig?
Logic: ummmm, NEVER. Man, can you imagine how good things would sound if we did? But for real, we’ve never ever once had a practice for the band. NO, LA was a great example…half those cats never even met before and we was all about to go on stage and someone was like “Yo – what are we gonna do” and I just told
them that to start off abstract until they heard a beat come in and from there – straight improv. That’s how it goes when we mix it up with the Project. But now, with my touring band…. we’re super tight and we actually have set lists (never had them before) and I guess we do practice at soundchecks…. but that’s it.
DA- It seems like you just jam on someone’s beat, rather than play actual songs. Also I remember that fiddle player at the Wetlands in January. You said you had just met her, but she grooved hard.
Logic: It’s really hard to explain, you have to be on stage to feel what happens when musicians improvise…. and it always depends on the musicians at hand. But yeah, people just kinda feel out the situation and jump in and out as they feel… as the leader, sometimes I’ll look around and encourage folks to be more aggressive, or I’ll change the beats around if the tunes are dragging, but basically, I was raised by musicians and with musicians and it’s just like this language we all speak…it’s really a natural process. As for the fiddle player (it’s a violin) she’s another person that my manager knew and just threw into the mix… right before the show he was like- “Yo Jay, this is Meri-ben-ari, she’s bad-ass, she’s gonna jam with you tonight” and I was like “O.K., cool”. Now SHE’s super special…we INSTANTLY fell in love (musically). We was just feeling each other big time, and it just happens like that.
All this leads up to the big question Tell me about Miles’ influence on you. I see a major similarity between the Project and early 70’s Miles, both in terms of sound and style. The sounds often have deep funky grooves, but just as often fly off into these wild amorphous places- like Miles. The band’s approach seems to be just listen and then go with it- just like Miles.
Logic: No doubt and no secret. Miles is my #1 inspiration. I’ve learned a lot about him from my friend Teo Macero who was Miles’ producer…. Actually Teo produced a few tracks on my record too. I guess his influences are most obvious when we just jam, but Miles was just having fun, he loved to create and to improvise and he always kept things fresh by rotating musicians and styles. I like to that too – we change our band around a lot and our Styles too. Like this month, we’re going to Europe and playing major Jazz Festivals where we’ll do a jazz thing, but there are nights in France where we’ll be playing dance clubs too and we’ll do some jungle or drum and bass…ya know, we just go with the flow.
DA -Favorite albums?
Logic: All the late 60s early 70s stuff…. Live Evil, Dark Magus, Bitches Brew. All that stuff
DA -You kind of run neck and neck with Oteil [Burbridge] and Warren as far who sits in the most with other bands. All three of you gel well with whomever you’re playing with, but you tend to groove a bit more, not overly dominate the sound. You’re pronounced but fit just right. What is it about either your approach or instrument that allows you to do that?
Logic: I think it’s more like who I am and what my personality is like.
When it’s not my band, I like to just hang in the back and listen ya know? Like to add colors to the mix and I don’t like to just go out and scratch-scratch-scratch up someone else’s shit. I like to pick my moments and take them.
Dan Alford is constantly trying to answer the question, “What is this crazy bee-bop?”