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By Lauren Wise
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By Amanda Savage
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If Miles Davis were still alive and in need of a turntablist, it would make sense for him to hire New York native Jason Kibler, a.k.a. DJ Logic. Logic is a DJ who, like the legendary trumpeter, consistently stretches the boundaries of the musical landscape with his instrument of choice. And like his idol, Logic doesn't feel constrained by conventions of genre.
"I'm a hip-hop DJ, I'm a jazz DJ, I'm a funk DJ, I'm a rock DJ. I'm a musician -- that is how I see myself," he says.
Actually, the Logic/Davis connection isn't so far-fetched. When Logic began to assemble the prominent cast of musicians for his debut as a bandleader, one person who gravitated toward the project was the legendary producer for Miles Davis, Teo Macero, who worked in-house for Columbia Records from 1959 to 1989. Macero worked on such classics as Davis' Bitches Brew, which hovers as an influence on Logic's work. Macero not only lent his expertise on production and his talents on saxophone to Logic's record, but he also relayed some invaluable advice on the music business and insight on Davis. "We just were kicking it, talking about Miles," Logic recalls. "He was talking to me about interesting news, and how Miles was so free, doing his own thing. He just helped mold jazz."
Logic, in his own way, is helping to shape how the turntable can be utilized as an instrument in a jazz-oriented context. On his new disc, DJ Logic Presents Project Logic, he enlists a virtual who's who of musicians and past associates, many of whom made their name in the downtown New York jazz scene in clubs like the off-kilter Knitting Factory. Alongside Logic's core band of longtime cohorts bassist Melvin Gibbs (ex-Henry Rollins Band) and Skoota Warner (Arrested Development) on drums, some of the noted players include ex-Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid; guitarist Marc Ribot of Tom Waits and Lounge Lizards fame; trumpeter Steve Bernstein, also of the Lizards and Sex Mob; and John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood, better known as the avant-garde trio Medeski Martin & Wood. All in all, a cast of 24 artists came down to Bill Laswell's Orange Bear Studio in East Orange, New Jersey, at various times over a stretch of four days to lay down tracks for the album, the first release on the Web-centric indie label ropeadope.
Logic approached the recording of Project Logic in true jazz fashion -- by placing the emphasis on improvisation. He came to the sessions with blueprints for compositions, some of which he had already completed pre-production work on -- and from there the players added their own ideas. They came in and cut everything live as the tape kept rolling. "It was tunes that I had and mentioned to the musicians, and everybody came up with the right sound for it, and we took it from there," explains Logic. Another element that adds to the fresh, loose vibe of the record is the mix-and-match approach that the DJ took when pairing up players. "I was just matching people, experimenting, trying to see how Vernon Reid would sound with John Medeski," says Logic. The result is an assortment of styles "of music that I grew up on." And for Logic, that can run anywhere from MC Afrika Bambaataa to Sun Ra to Davis to any number of world-music styles.
In Logic's world, the turntable works on the record as both the rhythm section and as a provider of other sonic effects. When recording live with the other musicians, he seeks to "find a nice blend, a nice texture to go with the other instruments, just finding any space in between, either using it as a texture or using it as a percussive instrument." This skillful, syncopated interplay between the players is evident on "Shea's Groove," the first full-length track on Project Logic. Like an in-his-prime Muhammad Ali gracefully bobbing and weaving, Logic darts around the spaces created by the funky beats of percussionist E.J. Rodriguez and the piccolo bass playing of Gibbs. The song also finds the group adding some Jon Hassell-like Fourth World shadings that fade in and out as Medeski lays down a bouncing Jimmy Smith-style Hammond B-3 organ groove on top. "Abyss," the sole track to feature Macero on horns, sounds like an intergalactic take on Bitches Brew -- as if rewired and recorded deep in the subway tunnels of New York City.
Logic's prowess is clear on "Eyes Open (But Dead)," where a call-and-response chorus serves as an eerie backdrop for the subterranean rhymes of Beans and Priest of the Anti-Pop Consortium. But it's on the Latin-tinged "Una Cosa Buena" that Logic shows his pre-eminence as a DJ and proves to all the naysayers that the turntable can indeed be a viable musical instrument. He deftly carves up slices of sound created by Ribot and vibe player Bill Ware and juggles the beats of Warner and famed percussionist Felix Sanabria -- all in one polyrhythmic groove. Overall, the record provides as much sustenance for the brain as it does for the body. Call it intellectual rump-shaking music. Or, as Logic more subtly describes it, "a collage of different textures of music."