Stop Making Sense

DJ Logic experiments with hiphop, rock and all that jazz

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."

The idea that he could actually pull off a full-length recording of this type has been a pleasant surprise for the DJ. Logic credits people like Reid and Gibbs for providing the inspiration and impetus for him to take on the project. "Hanging around them, getting advice from them, I was never thinking about making no record. I was just used to contributing my skills here and there with the different artists that I played with. But it just came, it just happened," he says.

When Logic first started out in the mid-'80s, the idea that a DJ could lead a band and release a record was practically unheard of. He picked up his first turntable when he was "12 or 13 -- I got that for Christmas." After that, it didn't take him long to master the wheels of steel. It probably helped that he grew up in the heart of hip-hop culture, in the boogie-down Bronx, where he could learn firsthand the art of DJing from listening and watching legends like Bambaataa, DJ Red Alert and Marley Marl. "Back in those days, I was listening to the radio, seeing other DJs on TV and going to parties and seeing how the DJs had control of the crowd," recalls Logic of his middle-school years. After studying how DJs performed and which records worked and which didn't, Logic began rocking house parties in all the boroughs.

But he got his first real experience as a musician in a style that placed hip-hop culture in a different context. Rather than breaking as a DJ, he joined a rock band in 1987 at the age of 16. "A drummer friend of mine [Richie Harrison] asked me if I wanted to try something different. Sit in with his band. I was like, 'What the heck?' You know, take a chance with something. A bell just rang in my ear," recalls Logic. The band, it turned out, was the alternative rock act Eye and I, which, along with Living Colour, would eventually become one of the cornerstones of the Black Rock Coalition, an organization Reid started as a support network for black rock acts. The alliance between the two bands began a long, productive creative relationship between Logic, Reid and Gibbs. In 1990, Eye and I released a promising album on Sony 550 and toured as an opener for Living Colour, the Psychedelic Furs, and Ice T's Body Count. Unfortunately, the public still hadn't warmed completely to the idea of a black rock band, and the group called it quits roughly a year after the record's release.

Logic never stopped evolving and developing his skill as a turntablist, and around the time of Eye and I's breakup, he began venturing to the Knitting Factory for seeds of inspiration. Only 19 at the time, his biggest problem was getting through the door. When he did get in, Logic was exposed to older musicians, often at the suggestion of Gibbs, who was a mainstay performer at the Factory and other clubs associated with the downtown jazz scene. "Melvin Gibbs, he just had me under his wing. He had me come down and play with these different musicians," says Logic. As a result, he eventually wound up on a tour of Europe with a coterie of players under the Knitting Factory banner. The tour, he says, "was a good learning experience. I look back at those days, just hanging around with the older musicians and learning about what this instrument does and how I can make it sound better."

In the early '90s, Logic recorded and toured with Reid under the moniker Masque, a pairing that culminated in the mixed-media presentation My Science Project. But by 1996, Logic had begun to move in a more jazz-oriented direction, which saw him recording and touring with Graham Haynes in support of his Transition record on the Verve label. He also collaborated with the eclectic Blue Note clarinetist Don Byron and, in so doing, had a hand in introducing DJing to audiences not accustomed to seeing a turntable used as a musical instrument. "They were giving me props, but they weren't thinking of the turntable as an instrument. But I was just doing it for the love of it," he says.

Logic's devotion to promoting the turntable as instrument extended to a weekly open jam session that he began to host at CBGB's Gallery in 1997. One such gathering, which found Logic again paired with Reid, drew the attention of Medeski Martin & Wood's Billy Martin. "We just exchanged numbers and talked about hooking up and getting together. When they released their Shack-Manalbum, they had a release party, and they wanted some DJs to come sit in and spin between sets. I was one of the DJs. I had never heard their music -- I just went through an assortment of records that catered to their audience, to see what their vibe was. When they came onstage, I just started spinning and scratching, and the crowd loved it," says Logic.

Apparently, the cats in Medeski Martin & Wood loved it, too, because they asked Logic to do some remixes that ended up on the group's 1996 Bubblehouse record. Logic became known as the unofficial fourth member of the group when he appeared on 1998's Combustication and toured in support of the release. Working with the jazz trio introduced Logic to a whole new audience ranging from jazzophiles to twirling Deadheads. It was an experience that Logic characterizes as "phenomenal. It's more free. It's more like textures going on. I think they're the best band I've ever been out with."

Logic's respect for the approach of Medeski Martin & Wood made his decision to sign with ropeadope records -- a new label founded and operated by John Medeski, Liz Penta (manager of Medeski Martin & Wood and Marc Ribot) and Andy Hurwitz (former general manager of the Knitting Factory) -- an easy one. The threesome asked Logic to be the label's first artist in 1999 and released Project Logic shortly afterward. "It's a great deal. It's like a 50-50 split. Basically, we're independent. We're selling records on the Web, in certain small stores. We're just doing the whole new thing for 2000 that every other musician is getting up on in."

DJ Logic Presents Project Logic can be purchased at www.djlogic.com

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