Miles Mosley Is an Assassin on the Upright Bass
Miles Mosley, about to go in for the kill
Aaron Woolf Haxton
Miles Mosley has a theory: You can learn everything about a musician by the character he chooses in Street Fighter. The virtuosic upright bass player and vocalist for the West Coast Get Down conceived this idea during epic video game battles with his bandmate, saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
“As a bass player, you have to hold the music down and make sure it doesn’t go off the rails. No matter how many ideas happen, you need to get through them without leaving anybody in the dust,” Mosley says, wearing a black beanie and jacket, sipping tea at a Hollywood cafe not far from the Piano Bar, where the Get Down held a now-legendary residency for most of this decade.
“That’s the secret to playing with Sagat,” Mosley continues, naming his preferred fighter. “You’ve got to be calculated and hold your ground, know when to jump in and attack. Same with me on the bass — I hold it down, but when I see a weakness, I get on the distortion pedals and go for the kill.”
If Washington is the soul of the Get Down, Mosley is the heart, oxygenating the outfit’s celestial grooves. But when the situation calls for it, he’ll blast wah-wah pedal detonations and psychedelic funk-rock licks that disabuse you of any erroneous notion that you’re just watching a traditional jazz outfit.
You can also understand this from watching Mosley sing “Abraham,” the first single from this month’s Uprising album, released on World Galaxy/Alpha Pup. With its biblical themes and supernal squall, it’s the closest thing that you’ll find to a new jazz standard being written in 2017. It sounds both ancient and futuristic, a rebuke of omnipresent mediocrity and a testament that the best might be still to come.
The album was recorded during the same marathon, 30-day jam sessions in 2012 that yielded Washington’s The Epic. Mosley estimates that each member of the Get Down got roughly three albums apiece out of that feverish burst. Indeed, records from pianist Cameron Graves, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. (brother of Thundercat) and keyboardist Brandon Coleman also will see release in the imminent future.
It’s a combination of talent and volume that probably hasn’t been seen since the first round of Wu-Tang solo projects. While I’ll spare you from matching the members of Wu-Tang to the West Coast Get Down, it’s not unreasonable to think that the group can continue to have a similarly seismic impact on jazz.
“Kamasi was like the grenade that went off and everything went boom,” says Mosley, who first met the saxophonist at Hamilton High School’s music magnet. The pair both later attended UCLA’s school of ethnomusicology. (And in case you were wondering, Washington plays Street Fighter as Blanka.)
“When the spotlight hit with Kamasi and The Epic, we really made a commitment to him as a brother and to push our sound up the mountain as far as it would go,” Mosley adds. “Now I’m like the sniper coming in to follow up.”
Even before the Get Down blew up, Mosley had carved a reputation as a brilliant session man and composer, backing Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Fergie and Herbie Hancock. He wrote music for the trailers of The Muppets and The Dark Knight Rises. But with Uprising, Mosley gets a much-deserved star turn.
“I wanted an album with heart-wrenching songs of loss and disappointment, but also [for it] to be a cup of coffee in the morning,” Mosley says. “I want it to be a soundtrack for this crazy time that people can lean on. Some songs will inspire bravery, some hope, but if anything, I just want to help inspire fulfillment — so that you don’t feel empty.”
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