On the surface, it seems like a long way from Leeds to Nashville. But for the British jazz-groove band The New Mastersounds, what Americans call Music City turned out to be an ideal recording stop.
Following a fall and winter tour at the end of last year, drummer Simon Allen, guitarist Eddie Roberts, bassist Pete Shand and keyboardist Joe Tatton gathered in Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studio, performed two live sets before a small audience, recorded and mixed the results and cut them directly to vinyl lacquer for a vinyl-only release titled, aptly enough, The Nashville Session.
“It sounds exactly like I hoped, but (I) wasn’t 100 percent sure that it would,” said drummer Allen. “There have been quite a few live recordings that people make at shows. That seems to be something of a cultural phenomenon in this country in the scene that we’re in. But those recordings never really worked for me in terms of conveying the right balance of frequencies and the general mix of what our music needs. So I’ve always wanted there to be a recording of pretty much exactly what we do live but recorded through the right kind of medium. This is it, finally, after 17 years.”
More, perhaps, than its ultra old-school means of production, The Nashville Session offers an up-to-date performance snapshot of the very American sound this very British band has absorbed. Specially, The New Mastersounds embrace the groove-centric offshoots of bebop popularized on by labels like Blue Note and Prestige and by artists like Jimmy Smth, Lonnie Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Lou Donaldson in the 1960s.
“When I was growing up there wasn’t very much music at all for me,” Allen admitted. “But as soon as I became a teenager, I started to discover rock music. So I was influenced by Zeppelin and Hendrix. I guess Pink Floyd, as well. But it was only when I was 16 that I discovered a cover version of the Starsky & Hutch theme by Tom Scott, the American saxophone player. There is a UK band called The James Taylor Quartet, no relation to the James Taylor of American popular music, that recorded a version the tune in 1988. That became their go-to song that everyone wanted to hear when they went to a gig. That was kind of my introduction to funk, really.
“From there, I delved further back to what influenced them and found all this original ’70s music that I missed because I was born in 1972. When I met our guitar player, Eddie Roberts, he and I were discovering music courtesy of some DJ friends we had. They used to do DJ vinyl-only sets in clubs in Leeds, where we got together. They would make these compilation cassettes. Some of it was by The Meters, which we had never heard before at that point. There were no notes, no idea really what the songs were called or anything. It was just on a cassette tape — that, along with Lonnie Smith’s Live at Club Mozambique and Grant Green’s Live at the Lighthouse, came into our awareness. As we were forming, it just seemed natural to play in that style. You can still hear that in our playing now. You can hear those influences quite clearly.”
The logical assumption out of all this would the band’s modern fascination with vintage jazz led to its name. But in the beginnings, The New Mastersounds preferred not being new at all.
“We were just The Mastersounds at first,” Allen said. “But we didn’t know that was already the name of band. We didn’t know it at the time because the internet hadn’t been invented and we’re lazy researchers. Turns out Wes Montgomery’s brother had a band called The Mastersounds and they had a record. We just thought The Mastersounds was the name of the album. So our first incarnation was with two other players — Eddie and I plus a conga player and a bass player. We called that The Mastersounds and it was only when we realized there was already a band by that name that went through a little change. So we added the word ‘new’ and thought, ‘We can definitely get away with this.’”
If You Go
The New Mastersounds
When: 9 p.m. May 4
Where: Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave.
Tickets: $16, $20