Build an Ark at Knobworld
“Give me swirly!” Joshua Spiegelman calls out from behind his flute. Three musicians hold handmade strands of bells out in front of them, tracing fancy configurations in the air like delicate kites. “Robust, curvaceous!” Spiegelman exclaims, offering up a poetic biology of their sound. Los Angeles based band Build an Ark is camped out at Knobworld, Jim Lang's charming Echo Park studio, recording their third album, Love. The band itself is an impressive collective of musicians and vocalists, including Carlos Nino, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Mark Maxwell, and when the band gets together it's a cheerful reunion of old friends.
“Build an Ark is so great, because we can just invite our friends to come play,” Nino explains as singer Mia Doi Todd slips gracefully into the studio behind him. The music is “creative soul music,” in the words of Nino. “A cross between the funky Laurel Canyon sound and the spiritual sound of Impulse Records. Psychedelic and classic at once.” The new, two-part album boasts an Alice Coltrane arrangement and tracks written by almost every musician in the band, including a piece called “This Prayer,” based on Spiegelman's adoptive grandmother, Phyllis Big Left Hand, a traditional Cheyenne medicine woman.
Speigelman stretches out his arms straight out in a streamline position. He's trying to remember a swimming style: “It's not…what's that stroke where you go like this?”
After the first take, someone shuts off the lights and they try again in the dark. The room is void of sheet music and music stands. Build an Ark is founded on freedom, a genuine soul music that tests the bounds of jazz and funk. Many of the musicians are also vocalists and composers; everyone leads and no one is in charge — a sort of polyphonic democracy. Atwood-Ferguson, who typically plays viola in the band, is doubling up on piano today to fill in for one of the older band members who is in the hospital. In February, Atwood-Ferguson will conduct a tribute to J Dilla at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex with a 39 piece orchestra. (ed note: we're finding more about this J Dilla tribute right now, and will get back to you with specifics.)
In between sessions, band members sit around in the late afternoon sunlight, eating Ninos' famous salad out of porcelain bowls and reminiscing on the old days when Leimert Park was the place all great local jazz musicians met to jam on Saturday nights. “There are a lot of places in L.A. now that are known for their dinner. They don't want you to play too loud,” drummer Tony Austin explains, nostalgic for the days he would play at World Stage until 4a.m. “At the best places, food is secondary.” (Erica Zora Wrightson)
CORRECTION: The piece “This Prayer” is based on Joshua Spiegelman's adoptive grandmother. We have changed the text to reflect this.