Logan Richardson Taking Off Interview by Thomas Rees

Taking Off: Logan Richardson

The rising star saxophonist on his Blue Note debut, working with Pat Metheny and drawing inspiration from Pygmy rituals

Talking to Logan Richardson is fascinating, but keeping up is a challenge. When we meet, the 36-year-old altoist has come straight off a heavily-delayed Eurostar from Paris, where he lives, into an afternoon of interviews. He’s wired – sleep-deprived but radiating a nebulous energy – and for the first twenty minutes of our conversation he hardly draws breath, save to lean out of the window of his hotel room and take quick drags from a roll-up (“you don’t mind if I stand do you?”)

I sit, as we slalom through topics ranging from the importance of self-belief to the molecular construction of a saxophone, pygmy fire-lighting techniques, the wisdom of “crazy people who live in the woods” and The Matrix.

Shift, Richardson’s Blue Note debut, has a similarly restless feel to it, accentuated by blazing solos from an all-star band that features Pat Metheny, Jason Moran, Nasheet Waits and Harish Raghavan. Yet it’s anchored by strong melodies and more accessible than his previous albums, Cerebral Flow (2007) and Ethos (2008). I tell him the unison refrains remind me of singing and he lights up.

“I love vocalists! That’s great that it comes off. I like ‘singing’, but with polyrhythmic shifting things happening underneath. With that combination everyone can find something they want. Someone who knows nothing about jazz is probably gonna like it because of that melody and then they’re into everything else that maybe they don’t [understand].”

Richardson’s obsession with vocalists goes way beyond jazz. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri listening to his parents’ collection of funk, soul and gospel records, and Shift even includes a cover of Bruno Mars’ ‘Locked Out of Heaven’. “I’ve always listened to everything,” he says. “Prince, Olivia Newton-John, R.E.M., The Fugees…I was just speaking with Soweto Kinch. I’ve been hip to his music ever since ‘99 or 2000.”

The music for Shift was composed between about 2009 and 2015. “I compose a lot from piano,” Richardson explains. “I’ll come up with a chord and try ideas. I prefer to do what feels good and figure out what it is after the fact. That way I always keep ahead of myself.

I want to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says. “That was the best thing about school: you had teachers who pushed you.” Top of his list of inspiring mentors is saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen, a legendary figure in Kansas City, who died in 2010. “He was my Morpheus,” Richardson says, dropping another Matrix reference. “At 17 he really set me free.”

From there Richardson went on to Berklee and the New School, where he took lessons with Nasheet Waits. “I’ve always had a thing with drummers,” he says. “I like playing duo. That’s what hooked up my independence, my time and my harmonic strength. I love the way Coltrane and Bird didn’t need anyone. Everything’s clear, with no crutch – no bass, no harmony. I got that with Nasheet, constantly having my butt handed to me in lessons.”

Not long afterwards he joined Waits’ band Equality and then Jason Moran’s Big Bandwagon, playing the music of Thelonious Monk’s 1959 Town Hall concert – which is how he met Metheny.

“We did a commemorative concert at Town Hall in New York in 2009,” he recalls, “I don’t want to make it seem like a movie script, but it was kind of crazy. I woke up the next day and I had this email saying: ‘Hi Logan, this is Pat. I was at the concert last night and I had a great time. I’ve got your first two albums. I love your music. My brother’s been telling me about you since you were 16 in Kansas City…’ He’d been watching me for 20 years!”

Eventually they fixed a date to record. “That was the first time everyone had got together, but there were never really any mistakes,” Richardson says with a grin. “Pat had built, like, seven different sounds… He’s the first person in the studio and the last to leave. It’s impeccable, man. Everything he does, whether people love it or they hate it, they can not deny it. Undeniability is something that I strive for.”

Richardson is just as enthusiastic about the touring band for Shift, which includes guitarist Nir Felder and pianist John Escreet. “I’ve been working the name Shift since 2005/2006,” he explains. “I always loved the idea of the Jazz Messengers: one name, one band, yet they brought through so many bad MFs. I have three different bands that I can bring, but this band is really, really crushing. It’s been like fire from the first time.”

Alongside that, he’s touring with Christian Scott’s Stretch Music, covers super-group the NEXT Collective and pianist Gerald Clayton, whilst developing further ambitious plans of his own. “I want an electric bass, drums and saxophone trio, but with a string quartet comping, “ he says. “Imagine the pianist split into four people, on top of this crunchy, cinematic…yeah.”

He’s also considering a foray into world music, which is where the pygmies come in. “My lady is half Congolese and we went to the village where her father is from,” he explains. “She’s from the Bantu tribe, but in this village there’s also a community of pygmy people. They put on celebrations all night, the Bantu doing their thing around a drum and dancing in a circle for hours and the pygmy sitting around a fire clapping and singing. I was running between the two. It was one of the deepest experiences I’ve ever had… I want to take the band there and record!”

— Thomas Rees

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Jazzwise Magazine

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