The old guard meets the contemporary vanguard with Night Dreamer’s Gary Bartz & Maisha release. The project sees the delectable combination of the London-based spiritual jazz group Maisha teaming up with legendary saxophonist Gary Bartz. Jake Long – drummer and bandleader of Maisha – took the time to talk to Ally about their latest project, touching upon the roots of the project and how the embodiment of spiritual jazz brought Maisha and Gary together.
Creeping to the age of 80, you might think that someone like Gary Bartz might start slowing down – but quite the opposite. Gary has recently reinvigorated his career by teaming up with younger jazz musicians like Maisha.
“He’s so positive and youthful. He’s got this energy to him” Jake wistfully tells me. Gary’s “the most energetic, youthful guy. He laughs all the time. That says something about the music he’s created and what he’s tried to say about his music over the years. That’s a big part of who Gary is”.
Gary Bartz originally forged his path with household names like Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner and, of course, Miles Davis, along with his own projects including the NTU Troop. Gary Bartz is the epitome of spiritual jazz – alongside names like Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Yusef Lateef. Both on a personal level and in terms of his musical legacy, Gary Bartz clearly means a great deal to Jake and Maisha.
“We’re very inspired by the whole scene which Gary Bartz was a part of really. There are so many musicians that he’s worked with in the past that are our biggest influences. Already from the band, there’s a lot of respect towards him and excitement.”
Gary Bartz and Maisha were originally paired together by Gilles Peterson for the inaugural We Out Here festival in 2019, and this encounter led to the blossoming of the pair’s relationship.
Discussing the experience, Jake answers “I’m honoured that he paired us together…Sonically, the match is quite appropriate”.
What’s interesting and evident when talking to Jake is his humility, openness and candidness. This attitude feeds into the group, their relationship with one another but also their approach to their music.
“Maisha is quite a collective sound – it’s not a focus on me or my playing. It’s more about the collective sound and serving the music as sensitively as possible.”
This shared approach and mutual respect produces a group teeming with energy, vibrance and life, being given little in direction but instead concerned with trust and space.
"There’s freedom to interpret the music how you want."
"I’m trying to make a platform where everyone can feel free to interpret and express the music in whatever way they want.”
“For me, the attraction is not pulling out things you know you can do. You’re not trying to regurgitate stuff and you’re trying to improvise and react – trying to be involved in the music. You’re embodied by the music at the time. When you feel like that, you can’t really regurgitate or try to do something you’ve done before, you have to think on your feet. I love improvising and trying to do something which fits in that point in time. I think everyone in the band shares that same feeling…There’s a lot of raw expression in the band”
Although Maisha is among those leading the charge in the contemporary resurgence of spiritual jazz, it is markedly becoming a trend within the musical community and the London scene.
Asked where this is coming from, Jake pauses before pensively replying, “Maybe that’s kind of what people are craving now. This freedom, this expression, this rawness in music.”
“Even if it’s not branded as ‘spiritual jazz’, there’s a lot of emotive music happening in London. I think that’s, almost, the essence of spiritual jazz – this music which goes beyond technique or what even sounds good at that time when it gets free and really wild. It actually makes you feel something instead. I think a lot of people are making music along those lines really. I think there’s an attraction to that, and that kind of feeling.”
“I think London is quite a hard place to live in. So, when you can go out, feel good and dance and be inspired by music, maybe our culture needs that.”
“With the consumerist idea and way which London is, it’s somewhat being stripped of any feeling or emotion - it’s just a business. That’s the general energy which goes around London. So, if people can go out and if I can go out and feel outside of that regimented box, I will. People will.”
Having gelled and played together at We Out Here Festival and a series of other gigs, Jake, Gary and the group were approached to make a Night Dreamer record – a straight-to-disc record which avoids post-production and captures purity in performance. Some may struggle with the pressure of playing under these conditions with their idols, but Jake and the group’s attitude seems to dissipate any anxieties which would arise in these conditions.
“Recording direct to vinyl is daunting in some ways as you can’t edit stuff. When you start recording, it’s quite easy to forget that” he reveals.
With this in mind, the juxtaposition between their standout 2018 ‘There is a Place’ debut LP with Brownswood, and their Night Dreamer project – recorded in Haarlem’s Artone Studio – is apparent.
“The whole thing was quite a different process as to how we recorded There is a Place. When we recorded that, we were quite a new band – we had been playing for a year or something like that. We also had gigged quite a lot of material which we recorded on that album, so we knew that stuff quite well. When we went into the studio then, we were really prepared.”
“It felt quite different going into the studio, and not knowing what we were going to do and coming up with it over a couple of days and recording the final versions. That’s captured a nice part of the music and the record.”
Having spent three days together, Gary and the group recorded three original compositions and two of Gary’s classic songs – ‘Uhuru Sasa’ and ‘Dr Follows Dance’. The pairing’s respect and compatibility has resulted in a pure sound, filled with colour and enthusiasm.
“I want to do the music justice, and the fact there’s a recording of the music we chose already out there, I guess there is a lot of pressure to go and do one which is equally as good or represents the song. It sounds quite naff to say, but Gary has got a lot of love in his heart. He was very up for us doing it, doing our own thing with it and approaching it differently to how his band did it in the past. If it was different, he would embrace those differences.”
Gary Bartz & Maisha’s Night Dreamer record enraptures and absorbs you, reflecting the vitality, dynamism and the relationship which the pairing have struck upon. They inspire and bring extra flair to one another's playing. Yet, this may not be a limited experience.
“I’m excited to develop what we did, into a strong band concept. And then, maybe, hopefully, record another album after then. After gigging with Gary for a year or so.”
Chuckling, Jake claimed “I think Gary said to me, which is funny I’m quoting him, that ‘every great band plays together for three years. Before they become this great-great band’.”
“I’d like to try and do that with Gary and try and develop this strong musical relationship with him.”
Although they may be at the opposite ends of their careers, the pairing of Gary and Maisha is truly something special, united by a passion for inventiveness, respect for each other and deep respect for their art form.
Gary Bartz & Maisha - Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions is out on the 29th of May 2020.
Gary Bartz: Soprano Saxophone & Alto Saxophone
Jake Long: Drums
Shirley Tetteh: Electric Guitar
Al MacSween: Keys
Twm Dylan: Double and Electric Bass
Axel Kaner-Lidstrom: Trumpet
Tim Doyle: Percussion
Keep up-to-date with Maisha here:
Keep up-to-date with Gary Bartz here: