Octave Records is proud to present a brilliant new artist for the label: jazz/funk/post-fusion guitarist Enmanuel Alexander, who is showcased with his quartet on Octave’s latest release, Off the Cuff – Live at Meadowlark. The album features the band blazing through a selection of standards and originals, recorded live-as-it-happened in stunning audiophile-quality Pure DSD sound.
Enmanuel Alexander brings a fresh and inventive electric guitar sound to listeners, combining the influence of past jazz and fusion masters with his open, expansive playing and use of chorus, delay, echo and overdrive to create an expressive new approach. Alexander is accompanied on Off the Cuff – Live at Meadowlark by Parris Fleming on trumpet, Solomon Chapman on piano and synthesizers, Will Gains on electric bass, and drummer Khalil Brown.
Recorded live at the Meadowlark Bar in Denver, Colorado, Enmanuel Alexander and the band live up to the album’s title with flights of spontaneous musical explorations. As Alexander noted, “We all know the head (melody) of the tune. After that, we’ll take it and maybe decide to play it completely differently. I trust the band to make good musical decisions as to where the music should go.”
Off the Cuff – Live at Meadowlark was recorded and mixed using the Pyramix DSD 256 system. The presence and realism of the recording are truly outstanding. The guitar and keyboards are richly textured, the drums have a you-are-there presence (the “jump factor” of the snare drum alone is captured with startling clarity), the bass is articulate and deep, and the trumpet has a lively and tangible quality. The mix captures every nuance of the performers, and when they get cooking, look out!
The album was recorded and mixed by Paul McGowan, and mastered by Gus Skinas. Off the Cuff – Live at Meadowlark features Octave’s premium gold disc formulation, and the disc is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It also has a high-resolution DSD layer that is accessible by using any SACD player or a PS Audio SACD transport. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download, including DSD 256, DSD 128, DSD 64, and DSDDirect Mastered 352.8 kHz/24-bit, 176.2 kHz/24-bit, 88.2 kHz/24-bit, and 44.1 kHz/24-bit PCM. (SRP: $19 – $39, depending on format.)
The opening suite, “In a Silent Way/It’s About Time” takes listeners on a deep journey through the Miles Davis tunes, giving the players the opportunity to stretch out with their creative virtuosity. The band puts their own twist on another Miles classic, “Nardis,” as well as songs by Ronnie Foster (“Mystic Brew,”) Herbie Hancock (“Butterfly,”) and two Enmanuel Alexander originals, “Eleven” and the elegant, meditative album closer, “Venice.”
I had an off the cuff conversation (no, really) with Enmanuel about the new album.
Frank Doris: How did the mix of music on Off the Cuff – Live at Meadowlark come about?
Enmanuel Alexander: I got my bachelor's degree in 2020 in jazz and American music, and was studying jazz for about six years. A lot of the tunes [on the album] were ones that I was introduced to during that time, like “In a Silent Way/It's About that Time.” I just fell in love with that song and how it was produced [on the original Miles Davis In a Silent Way album].
I call the band I’m in Off the Cuff, and it's generally just kind of like, we'll take a tune and [decide to] play it completely differently. Maybe with a Latin feel, maybe a different time signature.
FD: Is it your regular band?
EA: I try to play with them as much as I can, 'cause they're the ones that bring the most creative and explorative energy. I trust them to make good musical decisions on where the music should go. Paris Fleming on trumpet is a good friend of mine, and he just played live on tour with Harry Styles, so he's a cool addition to [the band]. But I really try to create with the musicians that I really feel like I can trust, and who just listen and just know.
FD: And there's a telepathy that evolves. Are the arrangements written or did you just write the heads and take it from there?
EA: The arrangements are improvised. We all know the head of the tune. And then from that point on, that's it. All we know is the head (laughs) and the [rest of the band] doesn't know how I'm gonna start it. Maybe I create an intro or maybe I don't, maybe I just come in.
FD: I thought for sure you were going to say you had some charts written out. What made you take up the guitar?
EA: It was around 2014. I was always dabbling in guitar, but in high school my main instrument was percussion and drums.
Eventually I wanted to go to school for drums and percussion, but I was too intimidated and didn't really believe in myself at the time. And I took a year off and I started producing music and kind of playing my guitar more and adding guitar into my productions. Then I felt like I was at a crossroads where I needed to get better at the guitar. I took private lessons for a couple of years. Then I auditioned to get into the Jazz and American Improvised Music Performance degree [program] at Metro [Metropolitan State University of Denver].
I really wanted to dive deep into one instrument, and the guitar was there, and I was like, well, here we go! (laughs) And almost 10 years later, I'm here now…
FD: It worked!
What kind of gear do you use? A lot of jazz guitarists don't use effects. People like John Scofield and Pat Metheny, use chorus, but you use overdrive, wah-wah and other effects.
EA: I was heavily inspired by my mentor, Dave Devine. He is the one who got me into pedals and exploring my tone. My main go-to amp is a Roland Jazz Chorus. I really love that tone.
I was at a point where I was [thinking], my guitar's in mono, and I wanted it to be wider. How do I make my guitar wider? And then I discovered chorus, and delay pedals are really my jam. Recently I've been exploring a lot of echo effects.
My guitar is a D’Angelico Deluxe Brighton solid body. That's been my main guitar for about four years now. They’re beautiful guitars. I really love them a lot. I'm getting more into exploring outside the ranges of jazz. Just seeing how I can fit different genres together.
FD: You already mentioned Dave Devine, but who are some of your other influences and who do you like today?
EA: I'm really inspired by Isaiah Sharkey, a guitar player for D’Angelo.
Wes Montgomery and Grant Green are two ones I really love, my earliest inspirations. Santana as well. In middle school I watched this live concert video of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and it was like, “oh my gosh, what is he doing?” I'm not really a classic rock dude, but I played a lot of Guitar Hero III, and that inspired my classic rock [side].
I don't know, it's really hard to pinpoint my influences, but it's a lot of everything. I listened to Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson, and they're good musicians too. I used to play a lot of bossa nova, and Antonio Carlos Jobim was my favorite. I learned the chords and I was like, I don’t even know what to name this chord. I need to go to school! (laughs). I listen to Radiohead a lot, actually. Um, they are a band that I listen to a lot. I just love the space and openness of their albums.
FD: I can hear that in your playing. You definitely have that reaching out kind of quality.
Can you tell us about the originals on Off the Cuff? Why did you name them “Eleven” and “Venice/”
EA: I named “Eleven” because of the sharp 11 voicing that I use. And at the time of writing that song, I was watching a lot of Stranger Things. [Eleven is one of the main characters in the series – Ed.] I'm a numbers guy too, and I like the number 11.
For “Venice,” it just reminded me of the beach (Venice Beach).
FD: Not Italy?
EA: It could be Italy too.
Enmanuel Alexander (left) and band.
FD: Did you do a lot of takes of the songs on the album, or did you just play the song and say, “that's it?”
EA: Oh, it was actually a live recording.
FD: Right! I forgot about the applause at the end of the songs. Okay. Yeah, that was a brain freeze.
EA: No, it's OK. It sounds like it's like in the studio 'cause you can't really hear the audience until the end.
FD: The recording quality is so good it sounds like it was done in the studio. It must have been quite a rush to hear the playback.
EA: Yeah. The first time I heard it I was like, “yo, what?” (laughs)
FD: Probably the biggest compliment I can give you is that it sounds like you, it sounds like you guys, it doesn't sound like it's Stevie Ray Wannabee or some guy trying to sound like George Benson and not quite getting there. It makes a statement.
EA: Thank you. Something that I took from music school: in my first year there was a performance class, and I noticed that a lot of people were just trying to play like [artists] they were learning from. So when I started playing in the performance class, I was like, you know what, I'm just gonna play what I hear. I'm gonna throw all of this theory, knowledge, all of that out of the way and just trust my ear and go with that. And I think I've just developed my unique sound. I keep hearing from a lot of different people: keep doing what you like, keep doing your sound. Transcribing is great and learning other people's sounds is awesome, but you have to only take whatever [from it] and then turn it into your own, you know?
FD: Les Paul would agree with you. I interviewed him in 1991 and one of the things he told me was something to the effect of, you will never sound like Carlos Santana no matter how hard you try. It's good to learn from him and try to copy his licks, but if your goal is to sound like Carlos Santana, it will never happen. So don't bother! (laughs) On the other hand, he said, no one will ever sound like you. So, concentrate on sounding like you. That might've been the single best piece of advice that any musician ever gave me.
EA: Mm-hmm! Nice meeting you and talking with you.
FD: Same here!
EA: All right, peace.