For over 35 years Jeff Richman has composed, studied music, and played guitar. This experience comes to a head with his new release Hot Wire. Richman briefly talks about his new album, and his views on music.
ABSTRACT LOGIX: For the past three years you’ve put out an album a year with Big Wheel, The Distance, and now Hotwire. How do you stay inspired to keep working at this rate?
JEFF RICHMAN: The Distance is a mostly an acoustic guitar duo recording with the fantastic guitarist Wayne Johnson. This album was recorded and released about 10 years ago, it got re packaged and released last year by ITI Records. So that doesn’t count.
As far as why I’ve been making frequent recordings, is because I continue to keep writing music. It just organically pops into my head.
I feel the need to document these compositions by getting great musicians to play on them as we'll as to feature my guitar playing.
ABLX: Jimmy Haslip returned to not only play bass on the album, but returned to the producer chair. You two have been friends for several years, what characteristics make him such a great producer to work with?
JR: Jimmy and I met back in 1978, we were auditioning for a tour with Flora Purim & Airto! We both got the gig and ended up touring together with them for about four months (along with Ricky Lawson). After that, Jimmy, co founded the Yellowjackets and acquired a wealth of experience in this field, not to mention his unique, funky genius bass playing. On top of that, Jimmy is truly one the genuinely nicest people I have ever met. There is a certain quality that he possesses which makes me feel comfortable and at ease. I can really be myself with him. Having his support took a lot of pressure off me and I was allowed to be the “artist”. Jimmy also has tons of great ideas all the time. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with him like this a for second time.
ABLX: Fourteen musicians join you on Hot Wire. With Jimmy Haslip coming on again to play and produce the record, how did the rest of the line up come about?
JR: I knew that I absolutely wanted Vinnie Colaiuta on a fair amount of the album because he is just truly outrageously incredible. We were fortunate to get him and he was amazing beyond belief. Mike Stern was in town playing in LA, since he’s an old friend, I managed to get him in the studio along with the infamous Anthony Jackson and drum phoneme Gary Novak. Jimmy suggested we use Scott Kinsey’s creative genius on a couple tunes which worked out really well. He convinced us to try Hungarian drummer Gergo Borlai on a tune. He ended up just killing it on Solar City which Scott also arranged (track 8). For this album I made demo’s of 7 of the songs at home, we were lucky enough to get the brilliant George Whitty to spice up the songs and add his arrangement ideas. On the song “Seven Up” is his super funky horn arraignment (track 2). We were able to include keyboardists Jeff Lorber, Mitch Forman and Gary Fukashima. Each of these guys contributed something that is uniquely special unto themselves. The exact same thing goes the two horn players, Jeff Beal on Trumpet and Brandon Fields on Sax. Jimmy’s bass playing is like no other, he grooves on everything, and proves once again his mastery, I got one of my all time favorite musician / bassist Dean Taba to play upright on “One Last Kiss” (track 6). All these great players contributed to the music in an organic, natural way, everything seemed to just work in an effortlessly.
ABLX: One of my favorite attributes to your music is that you always put the song first. As a result, Hot Wire sounds huge. With so many amazing musicians sitting in, how much of the music was arranged and how much was left to the freedom of the musicians?
JR: Thats it! The music always comes first. As far as what is written, I have charts that are pretty organized and worked out. The form, melodies and harmony is all there. The freedom is on the solos, the guitar and keyboard accompaniment and the basic groove is flexible. There’s freedom for the bass although a fair amount of the bass lines are written. Finally, there’s plenty of room for interpretation for a drummer, although the music is full of twists, turns, accents, time signatures and unusual amounts of bars in a phrase. Whoever is in the drum chair has a lot to contend with because there’s a lot going on.
ABLX: You write charts for all your pieces, but allow the musicians a lot of freedom when recording to inject their own creative voice into the music. Your music is complex and well orchestrated, did you have to turn down a lot of music ideas and input from musicians to avoid the music becoming cluttered, or did it work out to be a uniform collaboration and understanding?
JR: Everyone who was asked to contribute to the album was “like minded”. Either I’ve played with them or know about them. I had never played with Anthony Jackson, but who wouldn’t want to have a legend like him play on this music? The other musician I never worked with was drummer Gergo Borlai. We took a chance on him and it turned out incredibly well. The selection of the musician is thought out and planned carefully, but along with the idea to be open for something unexpected and unplanned to occur, this is what keeps things fresh.
ABLX: Hot Wire consists of ten tracks, all originals except for Jan Hammer’s “Oh Yea?”. What is it about the Jan Hammer Group, or the song itself that lent it to be the only covered tune on the album?
JR: It just sort of happened naturally. I started playing that song at my live gigs recently. We also needed one more tune to finish to album. I thought of covering a Buffalo Springfield song, or perhaps to just do an impromptu jam. Jimmy suggested for us to play this song live with Vinnie, I thought it was a great idea, and it really worked out well!
ABLX: You have a musical history in rock, jazz, and fusion, but have also work on music for TV and with film composers like Mark Isham. The arrangements on Hot Wire, like the enliven acoustic guitar appearing on the opening track Hit Spot, use of brass for added energy in Seven Up, or the unique instrumentation of flugelhorn all give the songs their own identify and emotion. Do you find yourself What advantages do you think working in that side of the music industry have offered your music and arrangements?
JR: Most movie scores are written with one specific theme. The composer has to come up with a melody which compliments the concept of the movie or TV show, and this theme heard throughout the film. It is orchestrated differently, re-harmonized, altered, played at different tempos, etc…..In my compositions I try to employ a similar concept. Sticking to, or limiting myself with what I’ve got, and scrambling it.. My music appears to have lots of information, but I tend to stick to the theme and develop it while being cautious to not over write. I do not want to leave the listener with too much information.
ABLX: With over 35 years of experience with your instrument and 16 albums, are there any new musicians or groups who have made you perk your ears and acted as a new source of inspiration?
JR: Yes, It happens all the time, thats what I look for. I actively seek it out as much as I can. I try to go out and listen to lots of concerts as well as buy music online or as in the old days - in a record store. I am constantly looking to get inspiration! I’m not one of those people who complain that there’s nothing new or exciting out there. I am fairly open minded. There’s so much to mention here, from new bands to old bands, all styles of music. I like individual musicians and groups of people playing together. All the way from “free” avant-garde to modern sophisticated pop music. Its kind of like a hunger for mr keep growing, evolving and staying in the loop.