Luke Sardello and Skin Wade have formed an acid jazz band that will melt your skin
What the hell could Josey Records, The Ben and Skin Show and a young jazz musician living in Los Angeles maybe have something in common? To make things even more obscure, lock everyone in a DeLorean time machine and head to the early 70s acid jazz scene, then call them “Wasafiri”.
The project is not a misplaced screenplay by David Lynch, but a new band from Dallas. Wasafiri and the group’s debut album clear clear will take you to the moon and back, without the need for illicit or recreational substances.
Wasafiri is the brainchild of two well-known jazz and hip-hop heads, Luke Sardello (Managing Partner of Josey Records) and Skin Wade of The Ben and Skin Show. Sardello and Wade date back more than 20 years, their friendship having been forged in the fires of an obsessive crate digging in the 90s. The duo sought out the best acid jazz and hip-hop records on which they could get their hands on, coming out of one rabbit hole just to find another.
At the time, Sardello was working at Bill’s Records, which made it easy for him to get high with his own supply. Long before the two considered starting their own label – Eastwood Music Group, which is currently home to Bastards of Soul – they had a vision. They wanted to put together a band and make a record based on a simple feeling.
“When Luke and I started the label, we basically wanted… we wanted to release records that we used to buy and still want to buy,” Wade explains. “And so Wasafiri was specifically created to make 70s jazz funk fusion records that when we started buying records in our late teens and early twenties, those were the records we were looking for. “
Two decades later, the duo had the chance to create their dream band after meeting young composer and jazz bassist Max Gerl, a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and alumnus of Berklee College of Music. Gerl contributed a track to Eastwood Music Group’s Truth to Power project, a collaborative effort focused on social awareness.
With financial assistance from the Dallas Mavericks and Universal Music Group, artists such as Leon Bridges, Keite Young and the Grammy-nominated Black Pumas — among other hip-hop, soul, psych and jazz artists with a shared commitment to music ‘Racial Equity — have collaborated on an album. Gerl’s contribution, a song called “Restoration”, went so well that Gerl asked if he could use it on his solo record, which led to a record deal with Eastwood Music and sparked a potential collaboration.
“Skin and Luke had the idea to make this record and wanted to see if I could donate a track,” Gerl says. “I said I would, and through different conversations we had, we agreed that I would do my own record for Eastwood Music Group.”
It was this outing that established Gerl in the Eastwood Music family; soon after he was approached by Sardello and Wade to compose the music that would become Wasafiri. Sardello, Wade and Gerl also discovered that they shared a particular love for acid jazz between 1972 and 1976 and in particular several albums by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Weather Report. Together they had a great idea.
“Luke and Skin already had the concept and I composed the music, put the band together and really saw the project as a tribute to a particular era,” says Gerl.
“We wanted to make a great jazz record with great improvisation, great sounds, and moments that would drive a rhythm seeker crazy,” Wade said in a press release.
On September 16, Eastwood Music Group released the group’s debut album, titled clear clear, which Gerl invented. It’s named after the Dallas studio that provided era-authentic material that the band wanted to channel. Wade and Sardello are not in the band but they played a big role in its production.
The album is one hour and nine minutes of jazz and hip-hop fusion. It is also imaginative, contemplative and even sometimes showy. clear clear has the potential to be sampled for many years to come, which is exactly what Sardello and Wade were looking for when creating the album.
“We wanted to bring together a group of musicians who understood…they were younger guys, young lions, but they understood this old sound and these old compositions and you know, they kind of wanted to emulate that period,” Wade said. . “So it wasn’t just the compositions and the players, we actually recorded on an old Wally Heider mixing board. Wally Heider, you know, his mixing boards were what Herbie [Hancock] used in the Bay Area in the 70s, so we went to great lengths to really capture the spirit of that era and that sound and modernize it.”
The musicians on the record are some of the best in town, including Matthew Babineaux, drummer Marcus Jones, keyboardist Kwinton Gray, guitarist Ethan Ditthardt and drummer Nick Rothouse. Jazz great Shelley Carroll also performed on the record.
With Gerl at the helm, musicians can break free from recording studio claustrophobia to experiment, intertwine and create an exciting and exhilarating ride for the listener to experience. Standout tracks include the opener, “G’s Bounce” and “The Traveler”.
Wasafiri was specifically created to make 70s jazz funk fusion record genres that when we started buying records in our late teens and early 20s, these were the records we were looking for.” – Skin Wade
For such an accomplished jazz musician and composer, Gerl interestingly cites metal and hardcore bands as some of his early influences. Before listening to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock, he blasted Between the Buried and Me and Protest the Hero, noting the bassists’ elaborate grooves. Some of Gerl’s earliest musical performances were at Deep Ellum rock clubs when he was a young teenager, and he never forgets where he started.
“My musical interests are very diverse and I’ve made different types of music over the years,” he says. “Deep Ellum is close to my heart as I played my first gig at the Curtain Club when I was 13.”
Since his time at the Curtain Club, Gerl has been making waves on the vibrant Los Angeles jazz scene. One of his mentors, famed jazz fusion bassist Stanley Clarke of Return to Forever, gave him particular insights to ensure Klearlight turned out “period correct”, given that it was to ring 50 years old. Clarke also gave the project her blessing by contributing the liner notes, for which Gerl is also grateful.
“It drives me crazy that he’s a mentor to me,” Gerl says of Clarke. “When I was 15, I learned everything I could from him. He really gave me insight into the project, like being careful not to mix it like a jazz record. We made a record jazz and mixed it like a rock band.
The project went well for the three people involved in its design. Although Sardello and Wade were digging boxes around the same time Gerl was born, the three reunited over time and really created a throwback listening experience with the creation of Wasafiri.
Their shared love for albums they heard 20 years apart and premiered almost 50 years ago speaks to the timelessness of the original works that inspire the band.
“A big part of this project was about a feeling; it’s niche music,” says Gerl.