The spiritual jazz singer reflects on his relationship with Kamasi Washington, working with J Dilla, and how Horace Tapscott shaped his career.
Speaking from his home base in Los Angeles, Dwight Trible describes the vibe of his new album, Mothership, as a collection of “songs I’ve performed over the years, especially the title song, which I sang since the late-‘80s with Horace Tapscott’s group the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra.” The tracks on the project are an emotive summation of Trible’s style, as over deeply soulful grooves he conveys lyrical messages of love, harmony and unity, while backed by an ensemble that includes Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on viola, Mark de Clive-Lowe playing piano, and Kamasi Washington guesting on sax.
Why did you chose to base the new album around the song “Mothership”?
I always liked the song and was hoping I’d get a chance to put it down in the form I wanted it to be in. I’d played it live, but never got a chance to put it on a record and I thought it meant there was something undone about my recording history. It’s the same as “Brother Where Are You?” [also on the album] by Oscar Brown Jr., who was a great friend of mine and I looked on him as a mentor — so I wanted to place “Brother Where Are You?” on this record. I hope to put more of his music on other records because I feel like he’s one of the greats geniuses of our time that people have forgotten about.
How important was Horace Tapscott to your career?
I would definitely say Horace was more important than anybody. When I moved to Los Angeles from Cincinnati back in 1967, I thought I knew what music was all about and I had my concept of what I was doing — then I happened to run up on Horace Tapscott and when I heard this many sit behind the piano and play, it was just something out of this world. It made me uncomfortable but it also made me feel I was hearing something new and different — it made me feel all the stuff I was already doing that I thought was in such a neat place musically, now it was being threatened. By the time he finished playing and I walked out of the concert hall, I couldn’t speak ‘cause I was so turned around in my thoughts. Once you’ve seen the light, if you’re about honesty and truth, you cannot turn back. That was the start of whatever I have come to be.
I read on Leon Thomas’s anthology record how when he was in Los Angeles, before he joined up with Pharoah Sanders, he was working with Horace and, according to him, he also felt that was the turning point in his musical journey. It’s interesting that me and Leon would have the same thing happen to both of us and, of course, Leon went on to work with Pharaoh Sanders and so did I.
What did you learn from working with Pharoah Sanders?
I learned from working with him rather than just listening to his records how soulful he was. Pharoah is not only one of the great forward-thinking sax players, but he’s a very soulful man. I enjoyed playing most with him when we didn’t have a plan: We never had a rehearsal, a soundcheck, we just went on stage and half the songs we were playing I didn’t know what they were! I said if he doesn’t like what I’m playing he can fire me tonight — so I just went on stage, closed my eyes and just started! That’s the way it went.
Outside of the jazz world, you also worked with the hip-hop producer J Dilla, right?
Yeah, the one thing [drummer] Billy Higgins used to say was, “If I’m a musician and the next person is a musician, I should be able to put my music with anybody’s music and we should be able to find some common ground where we can make music together.” Working with the younger hip-hop-oriented artists has let me grow; if I can keep my consciousness open and work with various types of musicians, hopefully when the next generation of music shows up, I’ll be able to recognize it.
Speaking of younger generations of musicians, how did you come to work with Kamasi Washington?
You know, I’ve been knowing Kamasi since he was a teenager; we all came through that Leimert Park scene [in Los Angeles]. Back when Kamasi and his guys were coming up and learning to play the music, they’d come around and see me and some of the other guys doing what we’re doing and they had great respect for us. He asked me to sing on his records, which was beautiful, so when I was doing “Mothership,” I thought it would be great if Kamasi could play on this ‘cause it kinda needs his energy.
© Michelle Shiers
Dwight Trible, Mothership (Gearbox Records)