What were the motivating factors behind your decision to form Spectrum Road?
I was touring in Europe with my band the Cuicoland Express a few years back with Vernon. I always try to get him in my bands whenever I can because he’s my favorite guitar player. We got to talking and that led to the Tony Williams Lifetime Tribute band and a series of gigs in Japan. Eventually it morphed into Spectrum Road, which is a band inspired by the music and spirit of Tony Williams. In my mind John Medeski is a modern day version of [original Lifetime keyboardist] Larry Young, and Cindy is a direct link to Tony Williams because she studied with him when she was little.
What is it about Vernon’s playing that you find so inspiring?
I think Vernon is playing music that most of us mere mortals—even other musicians—aren’t able to fully appreciate. It’s like if you were to record a blackbird or a song thrush singing you’d have to slow it down to make out distinct melodic patterns because its vocal muscles are working much faster than the human ear can comprehend. I think Vernon’s playing is like that. It’s so good and so deep and the rest of us might actually be able to catch up to it someday.
Have you ever tried to analyze what he does?
No. You can analyze it technically all you want but you need to just hear it. It’s the emotional content that counts.
How did working with Tony Williams influence you?
Tony and I were both composers and we used to sit down and talk about our approach to composition, which was often very different. His biggest influence was not so much in my playing or writing, per se, but more so in my attitude towards myself and in the music I was trying—and am still trying—to make. Tony helped me to realize that you have to be true to yourself and believe that what you have is valid. That as a human, your experience and your voice is just as valid as anyone else’s voice. That said, Tony had an amazing ability to direct the band from the drum kit by changing tempo, introducing a phrase, setting the groove, or what have you. I mean, it wasn’t called Tony Williams’ Lifetime for nothing! Not so much with Spectrum Road, but with my own bands, I generally lead with my bass playing and become the director without actually getting out front and conducting.
Did you use your custom Warwick to track Spectrum Road?
I was using my Warwick Rio Rosewood Thumb NT, which is a one-off. For amplification I used two 350-watt Hartke 7000 heads and Hartke 4X12 and 1X15 cabinets.
“An t-Eilan Muileach” isn’t a Tony Williams song, but rather an arrangement of an old Gaelic folk song. Why did you choose to include that on the CD?
That wasn’t planned. It grew from a freeform studio improvisation and I just started singing the melody on top of it. We kept it in because it really fit with the spirit of the record and of Tony’s music. Music’s gotten very formulated and we haven’t really been allowed to do something like that for years, have we? Back then, bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience brought a kind of freedom to rock music that spilled over into jazz. Without being too presumptuous, I’d like to think we’re helping to bring back a little bit of that idealism.
Did you discuss any of the more freeform improvisational sections on Spectrum Road in advance?
No, and the fact that we didn’t need to has been quite remarkable really. Our first gig we were supposed to play 70 minutes and we wound up going for over two hours. We write out set lists but we will diverge in another direction if the music takes us there. Sometimes what’s happening onstage is a musical continuation of the conversation we were just having backstage.