contemporary jazz band, The Katalyst, debuts with “Nine Lives” – Los Angeles Sentinel | Los Angeles Sentry
2020 has been a pivotal year for the Katalyst. The Inglewood-based jazz band debut with “Nine Lives,” a free-spirited jazz album that truly takes the pulse of LA. We spoke via Zoom for about an hour, and I was struck by the musical knowledge of the group. With road inspirations from John Coltrane, Maceo Parker, Wu-Tang Clan, D’Angelo, Earth Wind & Fire and Charles Mingus; it is no coincidence that Katalyst’s exploration of jazz shows contempt for genre boundaries.
The Katalyst is a collective of talented musicians, songwriters and producers that was formed in 2014. We talked about topics such as how they became a nine-member band, cooking during a global pandemic, and their thoughts on the way they arranged the music. for the album.
The nine members are professional pianist Brandon Cordoba, professional pianist Brian Hargrove, saxophonist David Otis, multi-instrumentalist Corbin Jones, Grammy-winning composer Jonah Levine, Grammy-nominated trumpeter Emile Martinez, professional percussionist Ahmad DuBose- Dawson, professional bassist Marlon Spears, and professional percussionist and band founder Greg Paul.
Los Angeles Sentry (LAS): Where did Katalyst start, did you all grow up together?
Greg Paul (Katalyst): No, we didn’t grow up together, I’m from Buffalo, New York. I moved here in 2011 to go to USC for jazz studies. That’s when I met Brandon, he was the only black kat in the jazz studies program. He had a band at the time called Ultrasound, which included Marlon and Otis. I remember they had a gig where the drummer couldn’t do it. So I sat down and immediately thought, ‘okay, these guys speak my musical language’.
Marlon Spears (Katalyst): I met Otis when we went to school together in Fullerton. We were both music majors and played the same music in class. In one of the classes, we had to start a group. So, I met Brandon earlier that year… We played like a gig, a church gig, so I decided to call him up. From there, it was kind of the groundwork for Ultrasound to become the band we are today.
David Otis (Katalyst): At that time I was leaving Fullerton to go to Cal State Northridge. I had a few friends who were still playing and they would invite me to these jam sessions in Long Beach. The mate introduced me to Emile and Jonah, and from there I introduced Emile and Jonah to Greg and Corbin. Then we became this great group of musicians.
THE ACE: Let’s talk about the first concert, how was it?
Greg Paul (K): I knew a guy named Jason who also went to USC. He started these events called The Renaissance. He was always hitting me to get a band together to be the house band for the night. So I would always call these guys. Then at one of the shows in 2014 I said we should formalize that and create our own track outside of just playing with other artists.
THE ACE: How did you all handle the lockdown? Is everyone confined?
David Otis (K): Yeah, I mean the gigs stopped. But I actually recorded a lot more at home, more than I’ve ever done before. If you didn’t have the time to train before, now is the time to take advantage. It’s a bit like that for me …
Greg Paul (K): We also worked on a quarantine project, and we just experimented as a group. Corbin has set up this cool little system where everyone uploads an idea, and if it fits somewhere a kat will add to that idea every week. So after 9 weeks, in theory, we’ll have a rough lead that everyone has contributed to.
THE ACE: How did you find the title “Nine Lives?” Could this be a play on words considering that there are nine members in the group?
David Otis (K): For a very long time we have been trying to figure out what to call the album. We had like 3 different ideas in progress …
Greg Paul (K): “Take out the bag! It was the working title, we hated it, but nothing else stuck.
David Otis (K): At one point we called it “Kat Days”. But one night we were doing a show with Lonnie Liston Smith, and I remember Brandon saying “Nine Lives” as a joke. And everyone kind of stopped and it felt like that had to be the name. So that’s how we came up with the title, it was all from a joke.
Greg Paul (K): It’s an obvious choice, but we didn’t get that name until much later. Literally like two weeks before we really solidified and submitted the album.
THE ACE: Who designed the artwork and what inspired it?
Greg Paul (K): So Marlon and I toured with a British artist named Kamaal Williams, and this kat named Orden designed a lot of his work. So, it’s kind of the same situation looking for a name. We were just fishing, trying to find a look that really captivates us as a band. So yeah, I just reached out to her and gave her some of the old ideas that we had, gave her the title of the new album, and what we thought about oneness being the core of our existence. He gave me a drafts or two, and in between those two – I was like, I think you’re on to something. So I sent the artwork to these guys and they loved it.
THE ACE: Your music has been publicly described as “contemporary instrumentals”, does that mean the music is mostly improvisation?
Brandon Cordoba (K): I think we all feel like we’re not limited to the jazz genre itself. We can go in so many different directions. So, it’s like what do we call our music? It is instrumental of course, and the contemporary part draws on all kinds of past and future influences. So it kind of gives us the ability to go in the direction we want without being held to a certain genre. I would say that we would also compose songs there. We would do that often at The Speak Easy. Like every week; you know, just try to invent songs on the spot and still make it look like they’ve been rehearsed.
Greg Paul (K): Yes, The Speak Easy, it’s a place we played every Saturday before the virus came out. It was like a feeding ground for us man. This place has helped us tremendously and really cultivated our grooves as a band. This is where we would improve and develop musical understanding.
THE ACE: Basically, how was the album composed?
Greg Paul (K): For “Nine Lives” we planned a month where every Sunday we would get together and have writing sessions. From those writing sessions, we kept all the good things we loved. And then take those ideas to a studio and spend a whole day arranging and organizing those ideas into actual songs. That’s actually what “Nine Lives” is, it’s these jams from these writing sessions, all engraved and released into the album.
Marlon Spears (K): Yeah, we were thinking the album is unique to us because it almost sounds like a different band than what we sound like when we play live. If you see us at a concert, we probably play our old music, which was written, but we still improvise on it. We never play it the same way it was written. Whereas the album was what we felt as we made it. It’s like two completely different aspects, but I think it’s a testament to the capacity of the band. We can write but we can also improvise on the spot.
THE ACE: What do you think about when you quarrel?
Brandon Cordoba (K): We’ve been playing together for so long that it’s really comfortable playing with these guys. Most of the time I just think about having fun, also trying to create something really spontaneous and really feed off the energy of the audience.
Marlon Spears (K): I think everyone’s role in Katalyst is a bit different. Above all, according to the sections. So for me as a bassist in the rhythm section, I have a lot of responsibilities in terms of maintaining the ensemble. I wanna be locked up with the drums, you know what I’m saying? It should create that pocket, that groove, but also a kind of embellishment point for where the pianos play. Do they play these interesting chords? So maybe I should put a bass substitution here, little things that can change the feeling of a chord.
THE ACE: For those who haven’t heard of The Katalyst, why should they choose “Nine Lives?”
Greg Paul (K): Because it’s new! Haha … Nah, it’s cool, you know what I mean? I think it offers a new perspective on ‘gender’, and it’s a perfect blend of each of those nine lives. I think you’ll hear each individual voice throughout the album.
Marlon Spears (K): Yes, there’s a lot going on in the LA music scene right now, and we’re a part of it. So if you want to get a feel for what’s going on right now, I think it’s a great way to introduce yourself there.