After spending more than ten years honing his craft as a sideman, Rogers decided to take the plunge as bandleader and co-producer. "Late last year I said it’s time," says Rogers.
As he describes his "labor of love," Rogers laughingly confesses that he was concerned about the "jazz police" coming after him. "I was hesitant at first to include some of my Caribbean stuff," he says.
Rogers reaches back to his time growing up on the islands and includes reggae and calypso phrases in his instrumentals. He says those elements included in his improvisational jazz tunes, "are a part of me that I couldn’t leave out." Adam Cruz’s steel drum work provides the intro to "Wala Wala," an original composition of Rogers. Kahlil Kwame Belle’s percussion work is splendid and Nicholas Payton’s trumpet work is outstanding as they bring to life Blue Mitchell’s upbeat "Fungi Mama".
He says for the most part, "People have been telling me they enjoy my introducing them to different rhythms. The calypso and reggae pieces are stripped down to their bare bones." It appears that different rhythms will continue to be a staple of Rogers’ music as he is now immersing himself in Brazilian and Indian music.
Rogers the composer proves equally adept at providing a gauzy lounge track with "Anorev" a song dedicated to his mother. The voice of Rogers’ bass provides a full-bodied experience that envelops the listener.
To capture the intimacy that Rogers is so fond of, the album was recorded with most of the music being unrehearsed. "The rhythm section (consisting of) myself, Mark Whitfield (guitar), David Gilmore (guitar), Greg Hutchinson (drums) and Aaron Goldberg (piano and Fender Rhodes) got together maybe one time to rehearse a song before doing a take," he says.
"It is the freshness and spontaneity that makes this music magical to me. I was ecstatic going home," he says. Rogers and co-producer Ron Blake selected the first or second takes for the songs that appear on the CD. It helped preserve the energy that infuses songs such as "Ting For Ray". Hutchinson’s snare work combine with overtones of crash cymbals to propel the song.
In preparing for recording the tunes, Rogers says he told the musicians, "Let’s just go in there and play from our hearts." The net result is a very "live" sound not often captured in the studio. In fact, I have heard some "live recordings" that sound much more programmed than anything you will hear on Rogers’ album.
As a bandleader, Rogers extends the same attitude he adopted as a sideman. "I spent ten years refining my skills as a bassist. I tried to engulf the musicians and give them a security blanket from the bass chair. My desire is to make everyone sound as good as I possibly can. It (the bass) is the foundation of everything that is going on. For some bassists, this attitude is not carried through in their music," he says. Rogers maintains that no matter how often a piece is played, the musicians must always strive to invest more of themselves in their playing so an element of originality is created each night.
The chemistry of the musicians and the fact that several of them have played together in various ensembles, and for many years, shines through on the CD. "I worked with Josh Redman’s band for three years and I am in the band again doing some trio things. In the next year or so we will be touring again. I have been playing with Greg Hutchinson for the last eight or nine years. We have become a duo that people hire a lot of the time," says Rogers.
At the time of our conversation, Rogers was speaking to me from Sparks, Nevada, where he and Hutchison were accompanying jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves for the American leg of their tour. They had just returned from touring Belgium, Germany, Norway and France. "In my experience, European and Japanese audiences are two of the top audiences in terms of appreciating jazz music. I don’t know why. Maybe it is because their ears are more open to the variety of music that is around them," he says.
It was interesting that Rogers made some similar observations as blues artist John Lee Hooker Jr. who I spoke to about a month ago. At the time, Hooker enthused about the warm reception he received in Europe and the exuberance the fans demonstrated. Both Rogers and Hooker appeared to conclude that the popularity of jazz and blues in Europe might be due to the fact that it hasn’t experienced as long a life cycle as it has in America.
"It is still mind boggling when we play some of the European festivals in small towns that everybody comes out to hear us. Two or three thousand people will come out to the town square and listen to your every note. They hang on every note," says Rogers.
The other observation about European fans that Rogers shared with me is, "They will step out on a limb with you. (They will say) I am not really familiar with what you are doing, but I am there with you. I will go on this journey with you and see where we come out."
Rogers has a packed itinerary this fall with an appearance at the Monterrey Jazz Festival, a stop in London England, a get acquainted tour with the Aussies, and more of the same in Japan and back to Europe. While some artists might stop to catch their breath, Rogers will have none of that and will fill the gaps in his schedule with American gigs.
Rogers’ comment concerning his debut solo CD perhaps provides more of a commentary of his career. "I have a strong groove, strong melody, strong harmony. That is the basis of what I do. I (try) to make a statement that the song is all about this."