interview with Ari Joshua. Exploring the artistic landscape of ‘Elephant Walk’

Ari Joshua, a name that resonates with innovation and musical depth, has recently unveiled his new composition, Elephant Walk, featuring jazz virtuosos John Medeski and Billy Martin.
31 January 2024

Ari Joshua, a name that resonates with innovation and musical depth, has recently unveiled his new composition, Elephant Walk, featuring jazz virtuosos John Medeski and Billy Martin. This debut composition is a testament to Joshua’s artistic journey, blending the soulful rhythms of a classic piano trio with an imaginative twist. The track emerges as a symphony of lush organ melodies by Medeski and the intricate polyrhythmic tapestry woven by Martin’s percussion, all underpinned by Joshua’s resonant guitar tones.

Recorded at Applehead Recording in Woodstock, NY, with a team comprising Chris Bitnner, Ed Brooks, and Ari Raskin, Elephant Walk is a collaborative delight. The piece is a musical narrative of a young elephant’s quest for truth and freedom, as envisioned by Joshua. His description of the composition aligns with the majestic and enduring nature of music and its collaborative creation, akin to the grandeur of nature itself.

Ari Joshua’s musical roots are as diverse as they are profound. With a background in blues, jazz, and Americana, each of his nine albums showcases his versatility and passion for crossing genre boundaries. This latest work with Medeski and Martin adds another layer to his rich musical tapestry, offering listeners a cinematic journey through the realms of love and the intricate dynamics of relationships.

In our exclusive interview, Joshua offers insights into the creation of Elephant Walk and Country Stroll, revealing the organic, impromptu essence of their production and the distinct contributions from his musical partners. He discusses the collaborative harmony in the studio, the enchantment of improvisation, and the deep personal resonance of the music, resulting in compositions that are as emotionally stirring as they are sophisticated.

In a way the joys of life, the magic in the air in the natural world is an ancient art. We are all frequency and energy on some level

Elephant Walk is a playful track with some heavy piano trio vibes and Country Stroll is a marvelous fusion of twang and jazz. Both tracks feature the renowned John Medeski on organ and Billy Martin on drums. Can you walk us through the creative process behind these compositions and how the collaboration with Medeski and Martin came to fruition?

Sure. We met in a studio in Woodstock to make music. I was prepared to go in a number of directions and the session took on a pulse of its own. It’s like you would expect with players on this level, it was a special weekend. It went off better than I could have imagined. I think with the fruition, it was just the right time, and it was sort of meant to be. For Elephant Walk for example, I brought Billy an old shaker I picked up from a museum in Africa while visiting family. I have a few in my collection. They are like old ancient shakers and they have a really cool vibe to them. I couldn’t have planned it better but Billy opted to use it along with some of his incredible percussion options and it was just a fire connection. I listen to alot of music and to be honest I never really heard a combination like what we had on that track. Those guys are really both filled with their own genius sauce. They have come at making art from every angle, and they have a way of extracting their own essences on everything they do. It really sounds like an Elephant Walk. For Country Stroll I had a certain vibe I had written that one for. It captures how I felt up there in the woods of upstate New York. I mentioned to them it was a tribute to Bill Frisell. Bless those guys, I know they want to let loose, but they can play anything. It was tempting to just turn the lights out and make art, we kind of did a bit of that and a bit also of running the music I composed for the session. There were a lot of moments I will never forget, I joke sometimes that I wanna pull a Bill Murray groundhogs that day, I’d love to play some shows or do some more.

John Medeski

John Medeski’s improvisation on the silky organ sounds adds a masterful touch to the canvas you created. Can you share more about the collaborative dynamic during this part of the recording, and how did Medeski’s contribution influence the direction of the composition?

John is a virtuoso. He is really in my opinion the best in the world at what he does. He comes up with sounds on these vintage instruments that you almost can’t believe. He has put in so much time exploring the limits of what he can do with those sounds. I sent him the tunes, and he basically said he liked them and that I should check with Billy. Billy was like I am gonna be there for you to support you on any tune you want. I mean in the room they both were wanting to take me deeper into what they do. It had a jedi vibe for sure. I have had a lot of really talented friends, and teachers. With all the masters there are things you can really only learn or understand by playing with them. He was really great to work with. I felt like we were on the same page, just there to get the job done, he was a delight. He had some ideas for some songs, it was like being on the playground. Chris the engineer has worked with him for over a decade and he was commenting on the sounds John was getting. He said he has seen him work in so many situations, and how much of a treat it was.

Your electric guitar has so much depth to it. The tone is both natural and also unique and vulnerable. How did you approach your sounds in this session, and what aspects of the natural world or simple joys of life were you aiming to express through your musical expression?

Thanks that means a lot, I used to spend weeks at a time playing hours and hours a day just focused on how to match the sounds in my head. The sounds that expressed the feelings I had. In a way the joys of life, the magic in the air in the natural world is an ancient art. We are all frequency and energy on some level. The same way an acoustic guitar amplifies the resonance the string creates, our bodies can also resonate the frequencies of the emotions we have. I really am guided by that. The feeling is the number one element to the sound. There are moments I have had where there was peak profound emotional micro moments where I was playing music. I carried the memories of those moments with me in my body, and I try to tune in when I can to get back to that. You do it enough and there is like a default mode that sort of is close enough to get the thing to fly. On a technical level I switched between my Languedoc and my old Fender jazz box. As well there was this twangy gnarly old Hagstrom surf guitar that just ruled for a certain sound. After the session was over Chris had the idea to mic the room and have me do some doubling of the melody on Country Stroll. Just the mic’d Languedoc acoustic and the room and laid it over. For a lot of the session it was a blur, I got to the studio before the session started and set up a mix of all the old effects they had. On Elephant Walk I used an octave divider effect and it’s super cool. SInce there is no bass the low octave really does something special. The sound is the feeling though, that is what I would say. I know it is a grand debate with a lot of players. John and I both had some really sweet old amps and mics, I know that didn’t hurt.

Billy Martin’s percussion on Elephant Walk, and his drum solo is noted for its lyricism and ingenious rhythmic contortions. What was the collaborative process like in shaping this segment, and how did Martin’s drumming style enhance the overall sonic landscape of the track?

Billy Martin earned a place in my heart in this session. He is a really special player and a special person. He reminded me of some of my friends growing up. He was as deep as the ocean. Both he and John allowed me to be myself and to deeping into that space. Billy is so present. He is really there with you. The osmosis of being with players that have gone into the deep together so many times is really something special. Everything clicked and I think a lot of it is the way those guys are, and having an idea going into it. A lot is chemistry. Billy’s style allows for the direction to shift in any moment, he’s tuned into so many layers at a time, I love that cause I like to be the same way. I would follow him down any musical path. He makes great decisions.

Ari Joshua and Billy Martin

The recording process involved Chris Bittner, Ed Brooks, and Ari Raskin, each contributing their expertise. How did their roles impact the final production of Country Stroll and Elephant Walk?

Chris is the host with the most. He has such a familiar charm, presence. He just got incredible sounds, and he knows that room so well. You know a lot of MMW stuff was recorded there including the Scofield stuff. Michael Birnbaum too, he built that place, they are still building it. Raskin has a resume from earth to the moon. He has been in the city for so long he has really worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Kentrick Lamar to Justin Beiber. For this type of thing he is one of my favorite mixing engineers. Ed has mastered a lot of big records, I trust him with any of my music.

How much time would you say you spend in your studio per week?

I try to spend about 20 hours minimum per song. It usually adds up to a lot more then that. We have been finishing up about 3 songs a month on average. If I am not touring the studio is my next favorite place to be.

Which DAW do you use and why?

If it’s a studio session it’s almost always Pro Tools, but for myself it’s Ableton all the way. My trio ASD AriSawkaDoria, with my dear friend KJ Sawka on the drums opened me up to the magic of Ableton. Kevin is incredible, he performs with Ableton all over the world. He really opened up my mind to the software. It’s really limitless. I haven’t done it in a while but I used to have people over and we would just geek out with the program for like 10 hours at a time comparing notes and jamming.

Favorite piece of gear?

My Languedoc guitar. That and my Fender D’aquisto.

Do you have a dream piece of gear on your wishlist?

Yes I want a bigger custom built instrument collection. There are a few builders I really want to represent. I used to invest a lot in gear. These last few years I really invested into my music school, prioritizing studio time, and time with loved ones.