While the '90s might have been categorized by the rebirth of gnashing guitars, the natal fostering of drum machines, and the dawn of electronic loops, the next century has already reared its fledgling bastard -- turntables. Sure, turntablists have been popular before, but mostly as a mere sideshow to the main attraction, providing an occasional barrage of scratches to complement the focal points of the band. Now the DJ is leader. That's the case for DJ Logic, a.k.a. Jason Kibler. A musical pioneer known as the unofficial fourth member and DJ of the jazz band Medeski, Martin & Wood, Kibler has just released his first solo DJ record, Project Logic -- an album that isn't composed of tired loops of hip-hop beats and samples, but a collection of live instruments, including alto sax, drums, organ, flute, and guitar that mingles with Kibler and his Technics 1200 turntables, standing front and center as conductor and catalyst.
"I'm using the band like they're a third turntable, like different selections of records," Kibler says. "Everybody is into the act, and we get a nice sound going on. We get these sounds, and you'll see colors coming from a lot of different people, and you'll be like 'Who's doing what?' -- like that type of vibe. We go up there and paint a picture."
Kibler and his cohorts broke new ground with Project Logic, a concoction of improv and live tracks that featured stellar players such as Melvin Gibbs, John Medeski, Teo Macero, Chris Wood, and Vernon Reid. Kibler set down beats, samples, and scratches for a host of industry all-stars that were paraded in and out of the studio for improvisational jam sessions that lasted only a week and a half. The result is an assortment of hip-hop and jazz fusion that recalls Miles Davis's Bitches' Brew.
"Just getting everybody together with their busy schedules was difficult, because there's a lot of all-star characters on [the disc]," Kibler explains. "I would decide who I wanted to match together. I wanted people who had a cool vibe with each other. I told them the things that I was hearing, the sounds, and they would start playing and grooving. Then we did some takes and recordings of all that, and then pasted it all together."
When Kibler was 16, he helped found the alternative rock band Eye and I, part of ex-Living Colour member Reid's Black Rock Coalition. "That was the first band to, you know, have a DJ," he says. "It was an alternative rock band with a DJ, before all these rock bands now that have DJs. I was doing that back in the '80s."
Stints with Living Colour led Kibler to Reid's rock band Masque and eventually his side gig with Medeski, Martin & Wood. One night, MM&W drummer Billy Martin asked Kibler and Reid to open up for the group at one of its infamous Shack Parties held at New York City's Knitting Factory.
"Billy Martin was, you know, checking me out, seeing how I was into acting with the drummer," Kibler recalls. "And he was like, hey, we should get together and work on some creative stuff. So we got together, and it just happened. They asked me to just sit in with them. I didn't know what types of records to bring, so I just brought a variety. I brought jazz, hip-hop -- you know, funk records. I also brought my show records; records that had a good, cool sound that would blend with any instrument. They had me off to the side, and when they came on, they said, 'Just come in when you feel it.' And it just blended."
But it didn't take long for Kibler to slide from the sidelines to center stage. By New Year's Day 1999, Kibler, with bassist Gibbs (Rollins Band) and drummer Warner (Arrested Development), had formed a unique trio that soon grew to a quintet, then an 11-piece orchestra with longstanding residencies at the Knitting Factory and Wetlands. Sax, ewi, vibes, cornet, drums, organ, bass, and a bevy of other musical contraptions backed up Kibler and his turntables.
Eight months after its inception, the band, dubbed Project Logic, moved into the recording studio with Ropeadope records and soon began warming up MM&W concertgoers with material from its first album.
"I had played with so many musicians and bands," Kibler says. "Being in the back, I learned to blend my stuff, coloring the soundscapes to the rest of the main picture. But now I'm down in the front, taking the whole leader role and giving direction. Now people are following me with the grooves and segues."
Project Logic, currently on its first headlining tour, has five main players: Casey Benjamin on sax, ewi, flute, and organ; Stephen Roberson on drums; Matt Rubano on acoustic and electric bass; Matt Wietman on keys; and Kibler/Logic on the ones and twos. "I have some young cats with me. I'm the oldest," muses Kibler, who's 27.
The concerts, like the record, are a series of jam sessions. Project Logic pushes the envelope by incorporating the feel of improv, but slyly keeps the band on target with layered preparation, Kibler says. Featured guest musicians are always popping in to stir things up.
"It's like a jam workshop, but everybody is paying attention, too. In concert, everybody's head is connected, playing-wise," he says. "Everybody is just learning from each other and what each instrument is doing, what type of soundscape each instrument is bringing out."
And for those still doubtful that the turntables are a bona fide instrument, Kibler has only one answer.
"The only way I can convince 'em is by creating the music," he says. "Creating the music and letting them see for themselves, and letting them hear for themselves just how the turntables are blending with the instruments. You listen to a Project Logic record and you'll see. You'll see."
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