The Juju Exchange is Changing the Sound of Jazz [Interview]

On September 19th, the newest Jazz band to hit the scene, The Juju Exhchange, made their first live debut in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge.

With the instrumental prowess of Nico Segal (f.k.a Donnie Trumpet from the Social Experiment) as the lead trumpeter accompanied by jazz pianist Julian Reid along with his brother, Everett Reid at the drums, as well as former Kids These Days bassist Lane Beckstrom.

Bringing with them a little Chicago funk, The Juju Exchange dazzled the audience as each note fell perfectly in sync with the one before. The distinct and uninhibited sound of the band was at times effervescent, and other times evoked a deep sense of reflection and self-examination. As one instrument melded into the sound of next, there was an underlying sense of give-and-take amongst every artist, creating such a unified and complex tone. Each note evoked such a fluid harmony that was uniquely different than other jazz artists of our time.

To hear four singular instruments, creating one singular sound was entrancing to the ears and soul. The notes were almost palpable as they danced around the audience.

With a small interlude between pieces, Julian Reid explained the story of the “boy in orange” as the inspiration for the album and album cover work, as the band animated each word with the soft, intense soul of their music. Inspired by the depth and heart of young men within some of the largest prison systems in Atlanta, Reid, a chaplain based in these prisons, channeled their stories through instrumental expression. As the audience swayed in perfect harmony, every note painted a pure, and yet still melancholy narrative for the faceless voices imbibed through their music. Each melodic story rang with hope and inspiration for tomorrow.

“Exchange”

The question still remains, for three wildly different mediums, how did such a new and prolific band come to be?

We sat down with the band’s pianist, Julian Reid, to discuss the conception of the band that has put a new-age twist on jazz:

Tell us a little more about how The Juju Exchange came to be.

Nico and I went to high school together. And Lane was also in high school at the same time. All of us grew up in Chicago together. Nico and I would go around the city playing jazz shows. We would have late night sessions at his crib, and we would work out jazz and get it under our fingers. We would come up with music on the fly at night, or at some of the sessions. Yet, we never did anything with it. We just thought it was a cool way to expand and explore the improv that we were doing. Afterwards, we all went our separate ways, and Nico started “Kids These Days”. Later down the road we reconnected at my wedding, which he played for. Afterwards we were talking about high school and reminiscing, when I posed the question about doing something with those pieces that we had done back in high school. And he said that he was down. That’s when we decided we needed a drummer and bassist. We needed Lane and Everett’s technical ear as producers. Then got in the studio and Nico Segal was intent on doing the improv in a way that was accessible. We wanted to do something that retained people’s interest. And that’s how The Juju Exchange came to be.

What was the inspiration for the album?

One way we had come to think of creating our music was to think of it as taking our musical influences that we have today and embodying them. In our music you will hear a little Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, and Woody Shaw. You hear the jazz cats from back in the day, but you also hear Thundercats and Flying Lotus. There are also elements of Robert Glasper and modern day jazz artists like Tory Henry. We bring with us all the embodied experiences that we have had prior to making music. One in particular for me was working as a prison Chaplain as a part of my seminary training. I was able to work with these youth, teaching them the piano and sitting with them, talking to them about what they wanted to be. And I would take those experiences into the studio because I couldn’t separate from their stories. Out of this came this rich time in the studio where I was able to really focus on what God had for me to say through our music. That music would bring forth the story of the boy in orange, (depicted on the album’s cover art) and thats how that ended up being the key inspiration for us. We always knew that we wanted our music to be pretty meaningful. If there was one word that I would want to define us it would be thoughtful. I want everyone to know that we think deeply about what we are going to say with our instruments (AND BOY DID THEY!!!), with our words, and any conversation. This isn’t just some haphazard attempt at making music. We really mean what we say and we say what we mean.

And one thing that also defines us is our friendship. We all grew up together and got to know each other. A lot of our music now is coming out of sessions that I would have at Nico’s crib when we would sleep over. Our music emerges from these tight knit connections. We then have the ability to make music that resonated with our audience. It’s not just about the the boy in orange, as well as it is our desire to love each other.

You all have such a vivd and vibrant sound. With such different instruments, how do you all find such a collective sound?

All of us play multiple instruments. In fact, the record has multiple people playing multiple different instruments. The main pop piano pieces on “Glide” were Nico playing. And the synth line was Lane playing, even though he’s primarily a bass player. They played what they thought the song needed at that moment. And they knew the keys well enough to be able to do that. So some of the exchange is just coming from us sharing. Sharing instruments, and therefore sharing sounds. 

At your performance, you showed the audience a little bit of the famous “Chi-town Step”. Can you tell us what about Chicago influenced your music?

Some of it, I can’t really put my finger on. Chicago has a history of being the little brother of New York and Los Angeles. It’s not as sexy and doesn’t have the kind of intellectual, and high paced vibe of New York. And it doesn’t have the high paced media life of Hollywood. But it does have the story of the Great Migration of different backgrounds from the Italians, Irish, Polish, and Black folk that moved to Chicago early on. It has led to this really strong internal proud, such that a lot of people from  the city rep the city hard. And the music reflects that. The Juju Exchange is all from Chicago. A lot of it is the vibe that the city produces. Because of that strong internal vibe of the city, folks really like to keep the music in the family. I am so thankful for all the people of Chicago who support and come out to shows to bump to the music. Our music is rooted to where we began in that same high school. So, we have become fixtures of this city. The general vibes of the city is what effects our sound.

The Juju Exchange is modernizing the voice of jazz, and bringing a little taste of Chicago along with them.

 

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