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Ari Joshua’s RAaR Featuring Ari Joshua, Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton

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Russ Lawton,  Ari Joshua, Ben Collette, Ray Paczkowski, L-R (Photo courtesy of Ari Joshua)

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Over the winter of 2020-21 Seattle-based guitarist Ari Joseph made his way to Burlington, VT to record material with Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton (Soule Monde, Trey Anastasio Band). Ben Collette (Phish) engineered the sessions which produced 25 demos that reflect Joseph’s interest in a musical palette that touches on psychedelic, jazz and improvisational rock. Joseph has recorded with a range of artists over the years including Stone Gossard, Robert Glasper, Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, Delvon Lamarr and Skerik.

Today are premiering RAaR, the six song EP that emerged from the Burlington sessions. Joseph,  Paczkowski and Russ Lawton debuted this material during two Phish after-shows on October 30 and 31 in Las Vegas. Joseph’s thoughts on the recordings appear below the album stream.

Ari Joseph on RAaR:

As I climbed into an airplane with my two favorite guitars, and a suitcase full of audio toys, I knew it was gonna be a great adventure to travel to Burlington and track with these guys. I had no way of knowing the level of magic and flow that would unfold. I had been talking to Russ and Ray about an organ trio collaboration. The history of the Organ Trio is deep in the Jazz world, and I’ve had the honor to play with a lot of great players over the years in that format (Marco Benevento, Joe Doria, Delvon Lamarr**). It’s always been a format I loved and adored. I can’t recall many recording sessions ever being as fun or productive as this was.

We had originally planned to do some remote work together. I always have an overflowing fountain of original material waiting to be recorded and played, and composing is something I do a lot. With the pandemic in full swing, I owe a great thank you to Trey Anastasio for opening the doors to a protocol to collaborate during his Beacon Theater run, and for sharing these great players with the world. As we were exchanging musical ideas via videos and texts, the Beacon run was just starting up, so the remote session we were planning went on pause. Serendipitously, Russ invited me to consider the possibility of following the testing and quarantine protocol Trey had set up. I don’t think they expected me to go for it (laugh), but I was like, sure, I mean, I don’t have anything else on the calendar right now. Not only could I fly out, quarantine, and record in person, it would be a real honor and saving grace as at the time there was no end in sight for the shutdown.                                                                     

The eclectic, diverse styles I write in work best with folks that can play or understand the jazz language, but also can serve the music with a knowledge of Rock and African music. Even in the best of times, it’s hard to find the right people to work with in this style.  Ray and Russ were able to interpret my music intuitively from the first or second take. It was a real joy to watch things unfold, I really felt as though I was with really like-minded souls. From the first note I could sense that Ray and Russ were a perfect musical fit, there was a shared respect and love for the music you don’t always find out there. I can really see why they fit so well in TAB and have for more than 20 years.

I have studied a lot of the classic jazz recordings and players, both horn players and stringed players – on a session like this, guys like Pat Martino, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, and Kenny Burrell are in my rear-view mirror – but I am equally influenced by psychedelic rock (Jerry Garcia, Hendrix, Zappa, Jimmy Page, Trey himself). I felt all those influences on this session.  After a day of tracking things where rocking and rolling so well, we extended the session. Ben Collette (Phish’s long time audio engineer) and Rob O’dea made things super relaxed and easy, and Ben helped me to discover a few epiphanies or ‘aha’ moments in talking about various fundamentals in relation to how he would do things in his tenure with Phish and Trey, how to get best out of my Languedoc custom guitar, which is a forever unfolding mystery.

The chemistry was so perfect that we were miraculously able to track takes of about 25 original song ideas, in all kinds of different styles. Half of the material I brought with me, and a half I sketched out just for the session in the apartment I was isolated in. ‘For Ray’, “The Bernie Meme”, and “Star Lord” were all fresh compositions. ‘For Ray’ has a NYC modern jazz element to it that was written to feature Ray’s unique approach to the instrument. His ability to build and sustain creative sonic textures and ideas that may be less conventional but serve the music is so tasty.  ‘Bernie Meme’ was indicative of the timing, having landed in Burlington on the peak of the Meme explosion. It was almost irresistible, it also really highlighted Soule Monde flavor and styles.

Perhaps the most meaningful songs on the session were put into priority mode, to make this first release. ‘Rae of Light’ was written for my Granny Rae’s 90th birthday, just a few months before the session. I hadn’t planned on recording a lot of the material we got to, but again the chemistry was just wonderful, we were able to just keep rolling through stuff. It is a good thing, thankfully. Due to the isolation of Covid 19 she really suffered a decline in health. She was able to hear the song in its finished form few months ago, she loved it and shared it with all the folks in her assisted living complex. It brought her a lot of joy. She sadly passed away this week (yesterday as I am writing). Her caretakers played her the song a few times a day, even as she was transitioning out of this world. I feel incredibly grateful to think the song helped her. The song ‘Gramama’ was actually written for my other grandmother, Granny Queenie, who loved to sing, and had a very spiritual approach to life and to music. 

The songs are ordered in a palindrome, the EP title R.A.a.R (which stands for Ray, Ari, and Russ) is a palindrome. The lion artwork is by Brian Steely, so RAaR is also like a lion’s Roar, my name also means lion, so there are little easter eggs in there. The order is a ‘grandmother palindrome sandwich’, the tribute songs on the ends, next in are two songs with the pure instrumental flavors, just the trio standing on its own, and the middle slots are both mix of the two worlds, some light vocal layers, with the organic instrumental stripped down trio featured throughout. 

Almost all the material was being tweaked up till the moment we recorded. I wrote out charts while in quarantine. It was really a perfect few weeks for me; I will never forget these sessions. I think the feelings are mutual; all three of us flew to Vegas and played two long shows for Halloween. I learned about 15 of their songs to prepare for the sessions initially, so we discovered we had a bag of like 30 songs to pick from. It was something special to really stretch out on the material and revisit them, it was equally special to get in front of those fans and share with them an intimate experience. This is a really sweet project, it is the perfect balance of work and joy, I look forward to sharing this batch of songs, and I am already working on the next batch! 

** ‘Say Watcha Wanna Say’ feat Skerik, Delvon Lamarr, and Grant Schroff is up for Grammy consideration, as well as ‘Father Time’ feat Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton (Soule Monde) and ‘Eye’s Only’ feat Robert Glasper, KJ Sawka, Jason Fraticelli



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