In this series, Gilles Peterson, one of the world’s most influential DJs, hosts live sessions with innovative musicians you’ve (probably) never heard of. In this episode, it’s New York-based jazz group, Onyx Collective.
The collective was created by saxophonist Isaiah Barr in 2014. Its freewheeling style has won over an army of fans well beyond the New York clubs where it made its name, although the spirit of the city still suffuses everything they do, both as a collective and in collaboration with jazz stars like Kamasi Washington.
Gilles: Onyx Collective - wonderful to see you here in the Basement!
Onyx: We always watch the videos from the Basement and it’s so insane to be here, thank you for having us. We love it. This is our vibe, we love to play here.
Gilles: So you did a gig yesterday with Kamasi Washington at the Roundhouse. How was it playing with him? Have you done stuff with Kamasi before?
Onyx: No we haven’t, but it was an amazing experience and we’re looking forward to continuing. We were really honoured to join him.
Gilles: It’s funny because in a way I see you falling somewhere in between the nuttiness of British jazz - I’m talking about Evan Parker, Shabaka Hutchings etc - and Kamasi Washington and that more spiritual and straightforward jazz. Where do you guys consider your music to be in the jazz field?
Onyx: Always changing. Developing and changing. Also, with improvisation it’s always a refreshing thing. It’s like going on a plane – you have a bit of anxiety sometimes because you haven’t been to this new place, but you get on there and you just explore and go to new places. It’s like that, when we play and we go to things that maybe we aren’t familiar with. There might be turbulence. It might sound ugly, but it’s cool.
Gilles: If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive who would it be?
Onyx: I always think about this and who I would love to play with in heaven, when I get there. So it would be Jimi Hendrix, me, Eric Dolphy, Ornette (Coleman) and on bass Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.
Gilles: How do you discover music today?
Onyx: Radio. A lot of radio. And going to a lot of record shops when we travel…
Gilles: What’s it like for you to play in countries where people don’t know your music?
Onyx: It’s so much fun. The whole thing is fun. We approach it by what it is when we get there, and every time we get outside of New York it’s a crazy experience. We have a kind of portal and bring that with us. But we’re also willing to adjust and feel the energy where we are. But definitely the portal vibe is what we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of years, and which we bring to every space. That’s really what Onyx Collective is based upon.