Darius Jones is a saxophonist and composer who defies genres and labels. His music incorporates jazz, soul, classical, avant-garde, and several other categories in a seamless fashion. His new album, The Oversoul Manual came out last week, and features The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit performing a purely a capella work. Recently, he answered a few questions from AMN.
Five years ago, your name wasn’t popping up very often. Now, you’re all over the map. To what do you attribute your rise in notoriety?
I’d like to know what map you’re referring to. From my perspective, I’m just doing what I’ve always done, which is to work hard, be honest, and not compromise my artistic integrity. Notoriety is not my objective, but I appreciate that people are listening to the music and can only hope that continues.
Your latest album, The Oversoul Manual, is a departure from your jazz trio and quartet work. As an a cappella recording, on the surface it seems like a giant leap. How did the album come about, and why the emphasis of vocals?
I grew up in the church, and I was surrounded by vocalists from a very early age. I was a choir director and a vocal coach at one point in my life. So, for me, this is not a departure or a leap or anything. Vocal music and vocalizing has been a component of all of my music from the beginning. The Oversoul Manual came about through wanting to focus on the voice and ideas that I had for the instrument itself. I feel that the voice is one of the most fascinating instruments that we have. So in many ways The Oversoul Manual is my way of drawing attention to this thing I love. Plus give four vocalists, Amirtha Kidambi, Sarah Martin, Jean Carla Rodea, and Kristin Slipp an opportunity to develop their craft in a focused and open environment. This is the reason I originally created the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit 13 years ago.
How does The Oversoul Manual fit into your other recordings in the Man’ish Boy series?
The Oversoul Manual is the start of a new chapter in the Man’ish Boy series. From the mythological perspective of the series, it is the origin story of the character Man’ish Boy. The first three albums reflected more on the beginning of my life leading up until now. This new chapter is a reflection of my life in the present. The voice is something I am presently very focused on in my instrumental and compositional work. Also it was at the core of my ideas in the first three albums. The voice is where I was born.
The album was the focus of your Carnegie Hall debut on October 3rd. How did that show go? Did it meet your expectations?
The Carnegie Hall performance was other-worldly. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit gave a performance that was powerful and humbling. They left everything on the stage. I feel so grateful to all those who were there to see it and hear it and witness my composition brought to life. I’m not sure my expectations could have been met in any greater fashion. All that I truly hope for is that this was just the beginning, and The Oversoul Manual has the opportunity to be performed again and again.
Isn’t there a mythology behind your music? Is it something of a Sun Ra thing?
I wouldn’t say what I’m doing is completely like a “Sun Ra thing.” I would say it is very much an African American thing. Sun Ra is a major influence on me. I connect with his idea of being disconnected from this world and this time. I feel that when we talk about the mythology of outer space and alienation, it speaks to the African American experience because what has happened and is happening can make you feel that you do not belong here. What inspired me to want to create a mythology of my own is the idea that there is power in a story, and we all have a story. My mythology straddles the line between reality and myth in that there are elements to the Man’ish Boy epic that are connected to my own life experience. Man’ish Boy is me.
Your saxophone phrasing is rather unique. Who are your influences and how did your personal style evolve?
My saxophone playing is very much influenced by my desire to vocalize through the instrument. Over the years I have worked to strip away the saxophonistic elements of my sound to get closer and closer to a pure vocal quality. When I think about the control, virtuosity, and power of a vocalist like Leontyne Price, or the timbral, imaginative phrasing and soulfulness of Betty Carter, I am awakened to the reality that saxophonistic linguistics is not enough to truly express all that I desire in a musical moment.
You music just cannot be pigeonholed…jazz, classical, soul…are you intentionally eclectic or did it evolve naturally?
I love good music and I want to create good music. For me, there is no style. There is no genre. There is no One Way. This is just a love thing, and the more organic the process, the better. It doesn’t matter what you want to call it, I just want to feel it in my soul.
What do you have coming up in the way of releases and performances?
In addition to The Oversoul Manual, I also have a record out right now on Aum Fidelity with Matthew Shipp entitled The Darkseid Recital. We are playing at UMass, Amherst on October 23rd. I just finished recording an album with my quartet and French vocalist, Emilie Lesbros, which will come out next year. We’ll be performing in France this November. Later this month, I’ll be heading to the West Coast with Eric Revis Quartet, and at the end of November I’ll be back in France with Nasheet Waits Quartet.