Kassa Overall

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The 50th episode of the Burning Ambulance podcast features an interview with drummer/beatmaker/producer Kassa Overall.

Overall is a really exciting musician. He’s much more than just a drummer, although he’s a monster behind the kit; he was a member of pianist Geri Allen’s band for several years, he’s played with Vijay Iyer, Theo Croker, and he’s a member of drummer Terri Lynn Carrington’s band Social Science. But his own albums, Go Get Ice Cream And Listen To Jazz and now I Think I’m Good, are a really unique blend of jazz, hip-hop, and electronic music – they’re not so much virtuosic displays of instrumental technique as they are intimate kind of audio diary-keeping, in the way a lot of hip-hop is now.

Last year, he had a six-month residency at the Jazz Gallery in New York; once a month between January and June, he played with a different pianist, with each set recorded. I saw the first show, where his duo partner was Jason Moran, but it turned out to be a trio set, because bassist Evan Flory-Barnes was added to the lineup. They played for almost 90 minutes, including music by Ravel and Geri Allen, and there was also some sound manipulation going on from the board, kind of like a live dub mix. Overall’s style behind the kit is swinging, but it can be kind of blocky, too; at the show I saw, he seemed happier locking into a hip-hop groove with Flory-Barnes than swinging, and his drum solos had real aggression to them.

That’s one of the things we talk about in this conversation – the fact that musicians under 40, who grew up in a world where hip-hop was basically the dominant form of black music and eventually pop music as a whole, have an approach to jazz that’s fundamentally different than people older than them. Even players from previous generations who have a deep interest in and an openness to hip-hop as an element in their music, like Herbie Hancock, always approach it from the outside. A guy like Kassa just lives in it, like a fish lives in water. So that informs our whole conversation, which covers his time with Allen, his new record and particularly the lyrics on it, the actual sound of the music, his singing style, and a lot more. It’s a really interesting interview, and I hope you enjoy it.

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Music heard in this episode:

Kassa Overall, “Darkness in Mind” (I Think I’m Good)

Kassa Overall, “Was She Happy (for Geri Allen)” (I Think I’m Good)