Dave Williams is amazing. As a trumpet player, he's in complete command of his instrument, able to move easily from whisper soft to full throated wail and back in an instant. As a composer, his diversity is breathtaking. He seems perfectly happy blending both contrasting and complementary idiomatic references in his tunes, and embraces modern recording and production techniques.
As the front man for MBT, previously MajicBulletTheory, his suave and stylish demeanor never overpowers his playing, and the band is swinging and tight. Also, you're just as likely to see them play on the sidewalk as in an elegant setting like the Breakers' Sky Room, or in a rock venue like diPiazza's, where he's performing this Monday night, June 25th.
I asked him about the musical diversity of his arrangements.
"I grew up on Hip Hop, and I did a lot of channel skipping when I was a kid. I had friends of all cultures. For example, in 82-83, I think, I was listening to 'Planet Rock,' Van Halen, Styx and R & B.
"I started to improvise as a child, riffing on the simple tunes they gave us to study in elementary school: Mary had a Little Lamb; The Saints Go Marchin' In, and such...
"As I got into high school, I started to see the kinship between Hip Hop, and this world of Jazz I was beginning to discover. Hell, man! I just like what I like, and made it work the way I wanted, or at least I tried!
"Hendrix and Coltrane didn't seem so alien, and I loved to practice to hip hop instrumentals. I saw it as modal music, akin to what Miles [Davis] was doing from Kind Of Blue and on. When I discovered Ornette Coleman it really opened my ears up to dissonance and atonality, used in a creative way. [Suddenly, I had] more notes!"
I asked Dave about his earlier bands.
"I played in a lot of reggae bands, sometimes ska. It was the only thing for a trumpet to do around here! So, I developed a love for 'Lovers Rock' and 'Rocksteady' styles of reggae. I've played with bluegrass bands, bucket drummers, and DJs. A lot of stuff I see out here, I tried on a lark, 5 years ago.
"Probably the most well known local band I've played with is Bargain Music, Josh Fishel's old project, and, I used to play with the reggae band ComeUnity, back in the day. After my Navy stint, I came home and did a lot of Hip Hop. I'm also a beat maker.
"My [MBT] crew has about 200 years of collective experience playing most genres of music, and it helps that they have a wide pallatte of colors to paint from, as well.
"We try to pick tunes that resonate with a lot of people, without being worn out. How many times can you play 'Mustang Sally' or 'Soul Rebel?' As jazz musicians, for the most part, we play other people's tunes, 'standards' if you will, but why play the same jive as the next guy? We like to reflect our diversity. [We play] Miles and those guys, but Prince, Bob Marley and The Beatles, too.
"I love turntablism, too! Some of my favorite Hip Hop songs feature a great DJ. S.O.u.L.-O. and Jarvis Walters throw some curve balls in the mix for us, not as gimmicks, but as active members of our band, contributing in-the- moment ideas...rhythm and texture."
I asked Dave about his willingness in recordings to embrace various forms of effects and processing on his horn.
"It's just another 'mute' to me, anther way to change the timbre and texture. Some guys use it to cover up their weak chops, but I really try to paint with different colors, and not use it as a crutch. Plus, I'm not a 'traditionalist' per se.
"I don't like to do it live, though. It's too 'Miles' like, too much his realm, and I don't want to blatantly joke him more that I already do! I have a wah wah pedal in my closet that I never take out. It took me years to attempt a recording of 'My Funny Valentine.' Maybe, someday, I'll have the nerve to hook up the wah wah!"
I asked him about the challenge of playing outside a tidy, clearly defined genre.
"Genres suck, but people need a label, I guess. I always admired the Princes, the Stevies, and the Curtises. They're solidly in a genre, but instantly recognizable as themselves. Prince can do this beautiful R & B ballad, then turn around and rock the spot with Hendrix-esque virtuosity. Stevie can do something folksy like 'Big Brother,' then do a funky jam like 'Do I Do' with a Dizzy Gillespie solo feature!"
I asked Dave if he had specific influences.
"My three main, direct influences are Miles' 'Doo Bop', Buckshot LeFonque's (Branford Marsailles and DJ PRemier) first album, and Greg Ozby's '3D Lifestyles.' Greg ozby's an alto player from the M-Base Collective. I don't know if he's still around, but he brilliantly blended improvisation and beats.
"I'm also a big fan of the concept album, like Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock operas, albums by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and Public Enemy. I love the Bomb Squad, Public Enemy's production team."
MBT can often be found playing on the sidewalk in front of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association's office on many First Fridays. I asked him about that gig.
"We enjoy it! We like to see the kids dance to some music that isn't canned. I love to play on Long Beach streets. when I was coming up, I had no choice. I practiced in city parks. It's nice to be a part of the community in that way! And, to be quite honest, we've probably made more [money] in the street than from playing in a Long Beach club. We're not a reggae band or a punk band. We usually don't have vocals, and I think the word 'jazz' may turn some people off, evoking an image of old, stodgy 'museum music.' They don't even get to see that it's hip! Besides, as long as I've been playing live music around here, I've gotten more love from playing on the streets of Bixby Knolls than I've ever gotten with the Long Beach club scene. Hell, there's a banner of my face at Atlantic and Bixby! That's Love! This diPiazza's thing is us sticking our toe back in the water."
MBT has also played semi-regularly in the Breakers' Sky Room.
"It was great! I loved the acoustics of the room. It's like a band shell built into the ceiling. I could play unamplified and walk around the bandstand as I played. The vantage point that you could see the city from... Everybody should go check that out. Long Beach is pretty, lit up at night. The port looks like a Borg Christmas Tree!!! The place is very expensive, though. We did a happy hour on Wednesdays, which was reasonable, except for the time of the Happy Hour, which is too early for most folks. On Saturday nights I hear that they have excellent $12 martinis. It's great, if you can afford it!"
I asked David about MBT connecting with the growing jazz scene in Long Beach.
"Long Beach is a very cliquish place, in my opinion. I have no problem playing Straight Ahead jazz. I grew up on it. But, as a grown man, I have my own ideas and direction. I'd like to be the Anti-Wynton Marsailles. The music I'm playing isn't dead, and doesn't need to be rescued. It just needs an audience, and I couldn't see trying to actively shut someone out, or define what's 'jazz' and 'not jazz.' Anyway, the further we get out of town, the more they dig us. Long Beach is a trip!"
Check out Dave's music on BandCamp.
Watch MBT on YouTube.
Like MBT on facebook.
Check out the menu and performance calendar for diPiazza's Restaurant & Lounge.