Let’s be honest, at one point or another most of us have pretended to be into Jazz music. Maybe it was in High School when the band director asked you to join the Jazz band and you checked out Kind Of Blue from the library and totally dug it for a few minutes before putting Reign In Blood back on your walkman. Or maybe you moved to Chicago and thought it’d be culturally appropriate for you to go to the Green Mill with some friends one time and have totally been meaning to go back. Or maybe you’re so hooked on the stuff that you practically live at the Chicago Jazz Record Mart… Whatever your level of interest, there’s something to appreciate in Mosaik’s latest album, Integral Decomposition. It’s got gorgeous melodies for the romantics, burning chops for the technically obsessed and frenetic time changes for the mathematically inclined. To help piece through some of the albums complexities and quirks, Indie Monday presents the following companion piece to the album:
We call it,
A Few Things About Kevin Brown (Mosaik’s Guitarist/Composer) That Explain Some Of The Metric, Chordal and Technical Insanity of His Latest Record.
Kevin has a punk rock heart and a jazz/funk soul.
Over the course of our interview Kevin has name-dropped Nirvana, Metallica and Pantera next to Coltraine and Ellington. No Use For A Name, Propoghandi and Canadian punk band, Choke along side Weather Report and Joe Pass. This back-and-forth influence is part of what makes Mosaik’s sound so unique. Moments of punk rock intensity and Speed Metal chops live alongside attention-to-every-little-detail, fret-burning jazz and smooth latin balladry. “I wrote a lot in a punk band I played in 9th and 10th grade” says Kevin of his musical roots, “late junior high was a lot of NOFX, Satanic Surfers, The Misfits. Weather Report, that was my transition into jazz. Weather Report, Joe Pass, Duke Ellington. John Coltraine’s A Love Supreme was one of the first jazz albums that really made me…that one. OH!” I watch a grin sneak across Kevin’s face in an unintended confirmation that THIS was the record that really got a hold of him. Countless hours of practice, an undergraduate degree in guitar performance, a year of sheddin’ in a suburban bedroom and two years of graduate Jazz studies at DePaul later, and he’s dropping an album that in an odd way sums up his last 17-years pretty nicely.
Kevin likes weird instruments.
Mosaik features some pretty left-of-center instrumentation – even for a modern jazz group. Besides six-string bass and a MalletKAT MIDI percussion mallet controller (think, electronic vibraphone), Kevin exclusively plays a warbly, shimmery, smooth-as-butter-melting-on-flapjacks fretless guitar made by Barkley (we don’t know who that is either). “I got it from my Mom’s cousin. A hand me down. It’s like a Les Paul copy.” He re-discovered it in his basement, had it fretless’d, modded, tuned up and bam – completely unique instrument. “I didn’t really see anyone who had a really full chordal approach, a full jazz, fretless guitar thing, so I was inspired to go for it.” and go for it he has. Every track features the Barclay fretless which proves to be more than just a gimmick. The unique tone and playing style elevate tunes that are interesting in their own right into another realm entirely.
Kevin has a tendency to understate.
“In standard jazz format, you play the melody and then you improvise and then you play the melody again. That’s pretty much what we do.” He’s right, sort’ve. Take, for example, today’s featured track Laansma. Mathematically, the piece seems simple enough - it’s basically melody, improvisation, melody… except that it’s wildly complicated. Laansma is a great song on it’s own, but its interest is only enhanced by understanding just how deeply Kevin has thought about its meaning. Laansma is an ode to Kevin’s old Greek professor and is essentially a musicalized essay.
If Laansma were to have a thesis statement, says Kevin, it would be, “Greek Exegesis of the Book of Hebrews with Professor Laansma was really intense and we read a lot. And we translated a whole lot of greek. And he was pretty heavy. In a good way.” Indeed. The piece features three main themes (each representing a paragraph of the meta-essay), an introduction and conclusion all of which are peppered with the groups technical yet tasteful soloing. We know the track is long BUT, if you’re game, do yourself a favor and turn off the TV (or the Facebook, or step outside of the Pokemon convention), hit play and really dig into the music. Think of it like an essay. An essay that, you know, could catch fire at any second due to the face melting solos and mind-warping meter changes…
Greek Exegesis of the Book of Hebrews with Professor Laansma was really intense and we read a lot. And we translated a whole lot of greek. And he was pretty heavy. – An Essay.
Introduction (:01 – 1:30) The Main Theme
States thesis, introduces main theme.
Note: Intensely complex yet intensely catchy. How does that even work?
Briefly states each main argument
1. 7/4 uptempo swing
2. Irregular meter back-beat funk
3. Laid back halftime straight 8ths
Supporting Evidence (1:30 – 12:23): The argument? Mad soloing.
Guitar Solo (1:30 – 3:45)
1st Paragraph (1:30 – 2:26) - 7/4 uptempo swing
2nd Paragraph (2:27 – 3:29) - Irregular meter back-beat funk
Conclusion (12:23 – 13:33): Repeats thesis statement, rewards listener for their hard work by bringing back that super-tasty theme from the opening.
Bottom line, Mosaik makes good music. Music that’s melodic yet frenetic, abrasive yet pretty. It’s the kind of music that demands deep listening and rewards commitment. It’s the kind of music that just isn’t all that popular anymore but, at least in our opinion, definitely should be.