Likemind: a commonality of individualism

I’ve been a believer in pianist-composer Orrin Evans‘ artistry for many moons; thought he was robbed (as did Randy Weston, who was a judge that year) at the Monk Competition some years back (when he finished second), presented Orrin’s engrossing concert tribute to his late dad, playwright Donald Evans, at the scene of many of the latter’s theatrical triumphs, Cleveland’s historic Karamuu House Theater, and have appreciated Orrin’s career arc ever since. One positive aspect of his career has been his diversity, in terms of his vast array of affiliations and his desire to explore his music in a broad array of different contexts, ranging from his trios to his Captain Black Big Band, which was recently cited in the 2013 DownBeat Critic’s Poll as the Rising Star large ensemble.

Nasheet Waits drumming pedigree stems from his late father, Freddie Waits, whose brilliant work on McCoy Tyner‘s classic Time for Tyner release was grits & gravy for me coming up as a jazz enthusiast in college. Proving the old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Nasheet has developed as simply one of the most resourceful and consistently intriguing A-list drummers on today’s scene. Look no further than the diverse range of his affiliations, including Jason Moran‘s insightful Bandwagon, Andrew Hill, Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Douglas, , Antonio Hart, and Fred Hersch. Mentored by Max Roach, Nasheet’s most recent recording as a leader is Equality (Fresh Sound)
nasheet waits 16b

Bassist Eric Revis brings a broad range of affiliations to Likemind. He’s worked with a distinguished array of artists, including such masters as McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Betty Carter, who like many of the great singers was always very meticulous and particular in selecting bassists for her trios, and Gary Bartz. More recently he has been a mainstay in the rich quartet tradition Branford Marsalis has established. Each of those affiliations, as well as stints ranging from KRS One to guitar stylist Kurt Rosenwinkel, has informed this bassist’s broad outlook. Marsalis has remarked that Revis’ bass work “…is the sound of doom: big, thick, percussive…” As a leader City of Asylum is the fourth entry in his growing discograhy, with Kris Davis on piano and the distinguished, uncompromising drummer from Haiti, Andrew Cyrille. Like his other releases City of Asylum (Clean Feed) also suggests a detailed sense of original composition that is not so much about gratuitous displays of bass chopsmanship, but a real desire to craft an ensemble sound out of the raw materials of that most basic improvising ensemble, piano, bass & drums.
Eric Revis by Jati Lindsay
(photo by Jati Lindsay)

Vocalist JD Walter, whose work is the newest to these ears of these four, is definitely a new contender in the suddenly growing ranks of prime male vocal stylists with a jazz & beyond attitude and prowess. Developing as a sort of singer’s singer, he’s developing the art of vocal improvisation in service to his original compositions, evidenced by his latest release One Step Away. Walter displays a bold sense of programming, augmenting his five originals (including collaborations with Revis and Waits) with reimaginings of Paul Simon, Todd Rundgren, and Michel Legrand
JD Walter

Evans, Waits and Revis came together in 2006 to form the co-op trio known as Tarbaby. I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes for that assembly’s new 2013 release Ballad of Sam Langford, for staunch DC-area jazz supporter Tony Haywood’s HipNOTIC label. That release, which also includes special guests trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, alto saxophone wiz Oliver Lake, and a cameo from Orrin’s son Matthew Evans on finger piano, displays the kind of broad-based, original composition-driven approach that is an apt summation of where all three of these men are coming from.

Recently Evans, Revis, Waits and Walter have come together to develop the very promising musician’s collective they call Likemind – a name which pretty much sums up why they’ve forged this bond. But I wanted to know more, and I’m sure you do too, so clearly a few questions posed to all four were in order:

How did the Likemind collective germinate and what’s the mission?

Walter: The easiest way to answer this is that it was the right time, the right place, the right people, and the right frame of mind. The likemind Collective has a core of people that were brought together under various circumstances, and there are still other folks who are branches of this train of thought and have similar sentiments and proclivities with whom we have collectively or individually worked. Oliver Lake, Andrew Cyrille, Marc Ducret, Ben Wolfe, Donald Edwards etc. It came together quite naturally. People were not selected. Like minded circles of folks playing together is not an uncommon occurrence, but we would like to believe that there is something special about this collection of like minds. The collective exists whether a name is attached to it or not. We chose to market ourselves under this guise, but by no means is it a gimmick, this shit is for real.

We believe our mission should be the universal goal for all musicians as it pertains to this great African American art form. We are not saying that this is a new concept or mission, or that we are original in this thought process, but we as a collective, stand on the shoulders of the greats who came before us, who have led and still lead the way. We strive for “The end of fear” in the creation of this music, which by chance is the name of Tarbaby’s sophomore CD . Fear is the death knell for this music as we see it. Everything else, played or recorded with fear serves to placate or give the public and critics that certainty, validity, and comfort in identifying what art is, what is good, and to be able to put their finger on what the future of this music holds. If per chance we create music that does these things…great…but being accessible cannot and is not our supreme goal.
Tarbaby’s latest release: Ballad of Sam Langford (HipNOTIC)

Why these particular musicians ?

Walter: My whole life’s goal as a musician has been to grow (to state the obvious). It just so happens that after having played this music in a traditional way for many years, I started to seek out people who were searching for where this music was going, while at the same time being true to its basic tenants. The search is a beautiful unending process, but for the journey to take place, I needed to associate with, play with, listen to, and communicate philosophically with people who had similar goals, ideas and an insatiable drive in their love of this music. There have been numerous musicians in my life who filled these roles. I had personally played with Orrin for years, Nasheet on occasion, and had been an admirer of Eric’s, especially because of his association with Betty [Carter], who I revere as another Like mind. We are not just playing this music, we are living it. The conversations off the bandstand are talks that I often wish we had recorded, but more importantly, the passion in these conversations, the sharing of ideas transcend the music, and are indicative of our lives. To have the opportunity to work with this fully formed trio, only bolsters my resolve and hope for this vantage to be “heard”. The “understood” part of the equation, is not for any of us to determine.

Regarding his latest record (“…It was Beauty” on Criss Cross) Orrin says about the personnel (Revis and drummer Donald Edwards) “we don’t always agree on everything, but we do speak the same language, which is built on respect for where we all came from?” Does that sum up the Likemind philosophy?
Orrin Evans1

Evans: That exactly sums up the Likemind philosophy. The conversations we have off the bandstand are just as intriguing as the musical conversations we have on the bandstand. The “likemind” isn’t because we all think the same but it is because we all respect each others opinion and agree on the foundation of this music.

How do you balance the creative musician’s inherent need for individualism with the collective approach of Likemind?

Revis: Those two notions are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our strength as a collective stems from, and is fed by, the individuality of it’s members. We are very much inspired by great collectives, from the Surrealist movement through the AACM through Wu-Tang each of which was characterized by very distinct personalities. It is also worth noting that there is a tremendous amount of selflessness (both on and off the bandstand) within Likemind.

Talk about your plans for Likemind going forward.

Evans: At this point artistically we are looking forward to learning and growing together. On JD’s “One Step Away” Eric introduced us to the musical works of an artist by the name of Scotty Walker. In TARBABY having a guest artist like Oliver Lake is the equivalent of going to school every time we play. Mr. Lake brings such a mature approach to the music and the “hang”. When you listen to “It Was Beauty” you’ll hear compositions by all of our Likemind friends including bassist Ben Wolfe. Finally on City Of Asylum I will always remember being in the booth “advising” while watching Andrew Cyrille effortlessly play some of the most beautiful music. With experiences like these and looking forward to the future as long as Likemind keeps an “Openmind” to everyones’ approach the artistic plan of continued growth will remain intact.

In these times of independent record labels and self produced projects joining forces and sharing information is essential to a successful career. Looking forward it would be great to one day soon have a Likemind record label or production umbrella that includes artist that are have a similar mission and recognise the importance of controlling as much of your career as you can.
Eric Revis1
Eric Revis’ latest release is City of Asylum, with Cyrille on drums and pianist Kris Davis.

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