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The New Cool: Kassa Overall talks teamwork

Album cover artwork by Jesse Brown
Kassa Overall loves getting together for jazz and desserts.

Drummer, composer and producer Kassa Overall released his debut album, Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz in January to excited reaction. The New York Times called it "one of the few genuine-sounding, full-scope amalgams of contemporary hip-hop and jazz to surface in recent years." The Seattle native, now based in New York City, is especially excited to share his new music with his hometown, and you'll hear a song from the album on The New Cool this Saturday.

As with most every drummer-led album, Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz is defined in large part by Overall's collaborators; although he told me, "I was very intentional about maintaining my voice, literal and otherwise, as the centerpiece of the expression." In his drumming, vocals and meticulous production, he does just that. Still, I wanted to know about these collaborations. Overall was more than happy to give me the scoop.

"Everyone who guested on the album I have some type of personal connection to, and they all have an energy that is special and strong.  When I thought about getting someone on a track, I was thinking 'I would love this person's energy on here,'" says Kassa.

Energy and plenty of talent is what I hear from each of these guests, starting with "The Sky Diver".  Overall says the piece "...features Mike King on everything except the drums and production, I maintained a perspective where as the drums still sound like they are speaking on top of a bed of harmonic energy."

The biggest name on the collection is the late trumpet star Roy Hargrove, a player who always seemed to have some musical magic up his sleeve. "Roy Hargrove's feature was an amazing experience.  It took a lot of back and forth to get him in the studio, but we finally made it happen," Overall recalls.  "His horn parts gave the tune its character, and the trumpet solo at the end served the role of a guest rapper on a song.  It was almost a lesson for a listener on how to interpret a solo.  We did the hook, I did a solo with words, did the hook again, he spit a verse with melodies."

As for working with his brother, the sax player Carlos Overall, Kassa says: "He was the last one to get on the album. We (the Seattle jazz community) lost a brother recently by the name of Mark Sampson. Carlos was also close with him so I thought to get Carlos on the song and make it a tribute. The original version that I made somewhere around 2005 had Mark Sampson on rhodes and Owuor Arunga on trumpet.  So that song makes me think of him."

The album includes fine features for Overall's old friends trumpeter Theo Croker and veteran singer Carmen Lundy. As for exciting young soul/jazz singer Judi Jackson, Overall plays the role of admiring mentor. "Judi Jackson is an amazing vocalist and a very genuine person. She is made of the stuff that the legends from the history of jazz are made of, like the soul, the rawness.  I love her and I hope she just blows all the way up."

I'll be playing the dreamy number "My Friend" on the New Cool Saturday afternoon, featuring the great guitarist and musical explorer Arto Lindsay performing a charming vocal. "Arto is just a hilarious guy and I think he would love to be a rapper," says Overall. "He resonates with artists like Young Thug and wants to leave his mark on the current times as a relevant factor that is connected with what's going on.  Again, his energy on the song just breaks up what I already had perfectly.  The voicemail at the end was just a real voicemail he left me.  It was a lot longer but I decided to cut it down."

Yes, the collaborations are wonderful, but mix with three "solo" pieces and never let you forget that Kassa Overall is running this show. Most impressive to me is the genius production work throughout. At times, the way Overall cuts, contorts, stretches and manipulates the beats and the music seems like an instrument all its own.

Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz is a great listen for a lazy afternoon, overall (sorry). But it also lends itself to multiple repeat listens with the headphones on tight. Overall tells me he's excited to return to Seattle to share more music, stay tuned to the New Cool for more scoops from this ultra-cool talent.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.