15.05.2019

Ghost-Note are the funk futurists set to enliven Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Words by Augustus Welby

We chat to the genre-bending connoisseurs before their drop Down Under.

Swagism. It’s a bold name for a bold record; the second from Texan funk-futurists, Ghost-Note. Released in April 2018, Swagism followed the project’s 2015 debut, Fortified. In the meantime, Ghost-Note had transformed from a percussion-centric collaboration between drummer Robert “Sput” Searight and percussionist Nate Werth into an eight-piece ensemble featuring three horn players, two bassists and a keyboard player.

“The growth of the band’s personnel happened out of necessity when it came time to tour Fortified”, says Sput.

“We had to consider starting a band, hiring guys to be in a band to help us share this music live. That kept evolving. There were so many configurations of that within itself. It just kept going until it got to where it is now,” he says.

“We started to try to tour more and if someone couldn’t make a tour we’d have a replacement or a sub,” says Werth. “The majority of the time, that sub had such a unique voice or a powerful voice on their instrument that inspired us that we wanted them to be part of the band.”

Sput and Werth put the expanded lineup to work on Swagism, incorporating elements of hip hop, Afrobeat, psychedelia and other global music forms. The band’s stylistic audacity grew as more players came into the fold.

“It started out with just Sylvester Onyejiaka and he was playing tenor and baritone [saxophone]. Then to sub for him, the guy that we chose was primarily an alto player,” Werth says.

“So now that makes sense to have both of them. The third guy is another guy from the Dallas scene and he plays tenor primarily. So now we have the three sax section: alto, tenor and bari, where the bari player doubles as tenor, and that is such a great sound.

“One of the songs on the record is called ‘Smack ’em’. The beginning of it has this bass intro. If you listen closely you hear that it’s MonoNeon and AJ Brown communicating to each other and playing as one.”

A long list of guest musicians and vocalists join Ghost-Note on Swagism. The 18-track record gains depth thanks to contributions from the likes of saxophonist Kamasi Washington, keyboardist Bobby Sparks, trumpeter Justin Stanton and djembe player Weedie Braimah.

“Weedie is somebody that when you meet Weedie, he makes an immediate impact on your life,” says Sput. “And when you hear him play, he does even something different than that to you. Everything about him is inspiring. The way he talks, the way he moves, the way he plays, the way he thinks.”

“Weedie and I were internet friends for a year and a half before we met,” says Werth. “When we finally met it was a year before that Swagism session, but we were like brothers before we even saw each other face to face.”

It was Sput who brought Washington, Sparks and flutist Karl Denson to the party. He and Washington have an especially long history together.

“He played with Kamasi in the Snoopadelics,” says Werth. “Sput musical directed Snoop Dogg for about ten years. Everyone that you look at as far as the guest artists has some sort of relationship with one of us.”

Washington features on ‘No More Silence’ along with spoken word artist, Prudence the Auset Sneed. Prudence’s provocative, race-themed spoken word segment distinguishes the track from the rest of the album. Her name is probably unfamiliar to most – she’s a poet and actor based in Texas.

“We went to junior high school together and she’s always had a way with words,” Sput says. “So every project that I’ve worked on personally, I’ve always included her on. We were going through a very rough time in our country and we didn’t want to just be silent about it. We wanted to make it a part of our mission to unite people. Our first record is called Fortified. It means united, it means together. We’ve always had the message of being one, of being together, and walking in the same direction.”

Ghost-Note will make their Australian debut at 170 Russell next month as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. The album’s special guests will be absent, but the sizzling energy heard on Fortified and Swagism will be in full effect.

“We like to have fun,” says Sput. “We like to really engage the audience. The audience are not just going to listen to us. They’re actually going to be engaged to dance and to speak and sing and yell and clap and bop their heads and move their feet. They’re going to be encouraged to do that, so it’s definitely an active performance with the audience as well.”

“The majority of our performance will be from Swagism, but there are songs from Fortified that we are still playing live,” says Werth. “We like to filter those in from night to night to keep the sets unique and different. We also like to play the hits when we arrive in a first time market. Our first time arriving in Melbourne, we’re going to try to play as much of our music as possible.”

Ghost-Note come to 170 Russell on Wednesday June 5 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, going down from Friday May 31 to Sunday June 9. Head to the festival website for more info and tickets.