Marc Decho is taking hip-hop back to its roots in jazz – and then reinterpreting it as jazz.
Tonight, his new group, 2React, will combine samples from recordings by jazz greats like Bucky Pizzarelli, Stan Getz, and Joe Pass, with live guitar, bass, and drums. And then it will use those sounds to reinterpret the hip-hop pieces that were originally based on jazz samples.
Decho is better known locally for his strong bass presence in many Latin and mainstream jazz groups. But 10-15 years ago, his main instrument was a sampler, and he was building songs using samples from many different recordings.
Eventually, he got into sampling “lots of really cool bass stuff” including upright bass and jazz records, and decided to try playing double bass. He got obsessed with that, it took him to completely different musical areas, and he didn't touch a sampler for years.
But recently, “I dusted this thing back off and I arranged a bunch of tunes and so now I'm doing both. It's something I've always wanted to do: to present it in a live context and play in real time – not just hitting play and having stuff that's already pre-programmed go. I guess I've always wanted to do something with it again and more in a jazz context.”
It's a set-up he has never seen done elsewhere: “someone sitting with a sampler and a bass and a trio in that format playing these tunes. It's interesting and I want to explore it.”
The source material is coming from the late 80s to the mid-90s, when pivotal musicians like Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest moved outside of hip-hop's initial heavy funk influences – and looked to jazz for both samples and their vocal delivery style.
“Q-Tip went back to his father's jazz collection. He was an avid vinyl collector, and he was sampling Ahmad Jamal, and Barney Kessel and all this different super-rare stuff and dozens of lesser-known people. So they really made hip-hop really sophisticated, and, for him, he saw a direct link between hip-hop and bebop. Because what they were doing in their rhyming was not melodic, but it's rhythmic, and they're improvising words constantly.”
Just like a jazz saxophonist might improvise on the bandstand, Decho said, the hip-hop artist would be “looking for ideas and spitting stuff out. It avoided melody but it's really rhythmic. So [Q-Tip] ran with that whole concept, and the whole world took notice. It wasn't just the samples and the way that he used them, but it was the lyrical content, it was the flow, the everything. It definitely has a jazz sensibility.”
Decho has picked songs by groups like A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, and Gang Starr, and searched out the original samples on which the songs were based. “I've sampled the original stuff. I'm not looping drumbeats so I'm having Mike Essoudry, who's going to be a live drummer playing the beats under this, and then I've got [guitarist] Alex Moxon doing more of the hooks, so a lot of the material I chose has a guitar hook already in it.”
He's including loops from Bucky Pizzarelli, Stan Getz (from one of the albums he did in Brazil), Joe Pass, and Barney Kessel: primarily jazz guitarists. “So Alex will take that main riff and he'll play that. And we'll just groove on that, embellish things here and there.”
He emphasized the group would be concise, with each piece not much more than five minutes long: “it's not a full-blown thing where people are going to solo for ten minutes. There's very little soloing; it's always quoting that main theme. If anyone at any point in time were to walk into our set, they'd say 'Oh, it's that song.' We're not going too far off.”
“Things can go longer, but it's still going to maintain that groove. It's not going to spazz out and go into that free jazz territory. There's something that happens when you have something that's constantly driving like an African rhythm, and jazz too. It's a constant thing it gets hypnotizing and it's very spiritual and it's fun to dance to.”
We're taking things and exploring them more. Alex won't just play several bars of whatever that riff is; he will embellish it, he'll use a little bit of effects, and do some other cool stuff. And so it's like a live remix of what these guys did.
– Marc Decho
Which brings it back to hip-hop, which has a constant groove “that you can move to. But it's fun because we're taking things and exploring them more. Alex won't just play several bars of whatever that riff is; he will embellish it, he'll use a little bit of effects, and do some other cool stuff. And so it's like a live remix of what these guys did.”
Decho will be switching constantly between sampler and bass. The bass will have the vintage sound often found in hip-hop samples, he said: a Fender Precision bass with flat-wound strings, “a really heavy, thick, thick sound”.
In order to get the hip-hop sound, Essoudry said he will play a drum-kit very different from a usual jazz set-up: a bass drum, four hi-hats, and three or four snare drums, and no toms or ride cymbal.
In these pieces, he said, the drum sounds are different song to song, requiring differently-tuned snare drums and hi-hats. He'll have one hi-hat he will open and close with his foot, and the other three will be closed to different levels to get different sounds and pitches. The snares will be pitched very high, in the middle, and low. And he will also be changing his style of playing, the standard motions he uses on the kit.
2React's first outing was earlier this month at an ice-cream shop in Ottawa South – a location that required them to tone down their show and drop much of their louder material, although Decho said they still did get some good reactions.
He considered tonight's show at Mugshots their real debut: “it will be louder, it will be wilder. There will be lots more happening for sure.”
– Alayne McGregor