It would hard to find four more accomplished and seasoned musicians than the members of ModeReko. John Molo has drummed with The Other Ones, Phil Lesh & Friends, Bruce Hornsby, Mike Watt and Albert Lee. Trumpeter John D'earth earned his stripes working with the likes of Hornsby, Dave Matthews Band, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, and Miles Davis and Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991.
Saxophonist and woodwind maestro Bobby Read has shared the stage with Jones & Leva and John McCutcheon and currently tours and records with Hornsby. The final piece of this kaleidoscopic puzzle is guitarist and bassist Tim Kobza, who has graced works byJon B., Kenny Blake, and Joe McBride. Together they shine on ModeReko, their self-titled debut on Blue Thumb Records.
Molo, D'earth, and Read met while playing with Bruce Hornsby, where the rough idea for ModeReko came together. As D'earth recalls, "John Molo and I used to hang out on the bus and jam. Bobby would join us, and we'd all just play together." He continues, "Molo talked about wanting to have a band that would be groove oriented, and you'd just write up from the drum part?all inclusive music that's both improvised and composed and draws no barriers as to what kind of sources it can draw from."
With this in mind, Molo laid down some tracks with Kobza, a longtime friend, at the end of ?97 on the West coast. "We started getting together to jam and write grooves," remembers Kobza, who subsequently shipped the unfinished product out to D'earth and Read in Charlottesville, Virginia. "The germ of what [Molo and Kobza] wrote was so open-ended it would be hard to even call them songs in a way," admits D'earth. "There was plenty of room to add songs or to put stuff on top; that's what was so cool about what they did." After several sessions at Read's in-house studio, the tunes were complete and mixing was finished.
The ten-track instrumental disc skates from influence to influence, encompassing a variety of styles in its chimerical amalgam. "Our genre has no stylistic limits," states Kobza. The self-produced eponymous debut opens with the eminently funky "Sahara Sod," a tune that embraces the cosmic muse and touches on jazz, soul, blues, the proverbial kitchen sink, and the aforementioned funk. Though barely two minutes in length, "Some of That" serves as a platform to display the band's ability and originality without overstaying its welcome. In fact, despite the individual players' propensity to jam in the live setting, not one song on the album comes in at over four-and-a-half minutes long. Read prefers this method for ModeReko: "We like this miniatures approach. They're tight little structures, little tunes, and we didn't need to expand them that much. When we play them live, we will definitely be expanding them and jamming in between songs." After all, as Read professes, "This is a band full of people who have a wide range of playing experience and are used to winging it a lot."
The easy-going groove of "Glitterati" recalls Lalo Schifrin's glory days with a New Orleans jazz twist. On the slower end of the sonic spectrum, "Old Creed" slinks along lazily with each player adding his personal stamp to the mix. "It wasn't like we wanted to just go into the studio and show off," laughs D'earth. "We wanted to each add something without overwhelming the whole." ModeReko is a study in harmony, as each player's contributions merge seamlessly. Read has always been impressed with the foursome's ability to coordinate the ebb and flow of the music: "We just come together in a very natural and organic way," he says. "Our styles complement each other, whether we're composing or just jamming."
With a rolling bass line and harmonious cacophony of horns, "Nitrous" slips between time signatures and tempos with an easy grace that makes for beautiful listening. ModeReko closes out with "Heart of Seoul," an ambitious mini-epic filled with street sound samples, drum loops, otherworldly guitar noodling, and a fresh-faced enthusiasm for the art of making music. Looking back, the song naming process was the most difficult part of the whole project. "It's really hard to give titles to instrumental music," Read says. "Our music is pretty colorful and imagistic. To find titles you have to think ?Do I want something meaningful? Something evocative? Something that's just a throw-off?' We have a sense of humor with wordplay and things that are off-kilter." A perfect example of this is "Sahara Sod," which is a play on Scheherazade, the fairytale princess from Arabian Nights. D'earth has a very laid back attitude about the titles as well, "We're not taking it all that seriously as far as the titles go right now. I'm sure we'll get very pompous with our titles at some point, I hope," he jokes.
For all four, it was the most effortless and flexible project they'd embarked on, as D'earth recalls. "It's actually one of the easiest things I've ever done in my life in the studio. It was just so improvisatory with two microphones for the horn and everybody sitting there saying, ?why don't we try this?'" It was a surprisingly organic and natural process remembers Read: "We just started going about it and it just turned into a record and turned into a group." The band naming ritual was just as simple, the foursome just borrowed the first two letters from each member's last name and the ModeReko moniker was born. ModeReko is a lifelong dream come true for its four players. "It's really great and it's really scary, because there's so much to do," Read professes. "We're all going a million miles a minute working on things to get this all going and keep our other gigs going. Everyone in the music business spends their whole life dreaming of something like this happening. We worked towards it, we hoped we'd come up with something we could put out and feel really good about, so we're psyched."