The Music Factory Label, February 2023
BY M.V. SMITH
Best known as the founder of Madison Park’s Music Factory music school, guitarist Ari Joshua also operates a label of the same name, steadily releasing choice cuts and album-length statements from his stockpile of genre-spanning studio collaborations with a murderer’s row of musical talent. The watchword is versatility. On his 2021 single, “Say Whatcha Wanna Say,” Joshua conjures Grant Green in a funky organ combo featuring saxophonist Skerik and Delvon Lamarr on B3, while “Contact,” a 2022 track featuring Joshua’s college classmates Robert Glasper and Jason Fraticelli on keyboards and bass respectively, transitions from the rhythmic propulsion of fusion-era Miles to looser Hendrix-influenced rock. Joshua has also developed alliances with luminaries from the jam band scene, partnering with Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski, members of Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s solo band, on a series of recordings that range from Widespread Panic-style blues rock to tongue-in-cheek waltzes and off-kilter funk.
Thirty years ago, the trio of keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood were pioneers of a similarly eclectic inside-out mix, straddling the jazz and jam band worlds like no other group of their era. On Meeting of The Minds, Medeski and Martin join Joshua and his old friend Fraticelli in a sprawling, meditative improvisation whose full-stereo spaciousness (think washes of organ or bowed bass swirling from speaker to speaker) recalls Miles’s “He Loved Him Madly.”
The performances on Meeting of The Minds prioritize in-the-moment interaction, with no one player taking precedence over the others. Near-ambient textural passages coalesce into laid-back soul jazz grooves and oblique evocations of Cuban music, punctuated by the shifting moods of a recurring organ motif from Medeski — initially tentative and atmospheric; a thick, churchy roar towards the climax.
Joshua largely eschews traditional lead lines throughout, emulating the liquid tone and shifting pitches of a pedal steel guitar, or exploring his instrument’s percussive capabilities, manipulating his muted scrapes and strums with a wah pedal in a clever approximation of a güiro. The other players employ a similarly wide dynamic range. Medeski skitters across the piano keys like Cecil Taylor, jabs them like Monk, and delves into extended techniques, scraping the piano strings to create shimmering glissandi. Martin’s drumming is propulsive, elastic, and inventive — keeping up a near-constant pulse without feeling busy; incorporating gentle washes of maracas or the tender swirl of his fingers across the drum heads. Double bassist Fraticelli functions as an anchor, lending weight to the exploratory passages with his earthy tone, or digging into lengthy vamps to heighten the tension of the grooves.
While several of Joshua’s releases capture the energy of close-quarters improvisation, Meeting of The Minds deliberately captures the parts of that process other recordings might leave out — the players noodling to limber up, running questions by the engineer, Joshua unplugging his guitar at the end — to provide multiple perspectives on the same raw materials. The Spotify version, for instance, features the session in its entirety, cut into four parts, and excerpted into two dozen fragments. Throw it into shuffle and the snippets are musical palate cleansers. Or, pair the full-length version and your favorite headphones to luxuriate in the immaculate sonic detail. Twist my arm and I vote for the latter, but choose your own adventure.