With Living Colour currently off the road, guitarist Vernon Reid has assembled a jazz-rock/fusion supergroup called Spectrum Road; the group will release a self-titled LP on June 5th through Palmetto Records. In addition to Reid, the band includes former Cream bassist-singer Jack Bruce, Medeski Martin and Wood keyboardist John Medeski and ex-Lenny Kravitz drummer (and Carlos Santana’s wife) Cindy Blackman Santana.
“The germ of the idea started a really long time ago,” Reid tells Rolling Stone. “It started when I was touring with Jack Bruce in Europe – this is in the shadow of 9/11. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, we were having a really good time . . . And I remember asking Jack about his life, about what Cream was like to Hendrix and about [jazz drummer] Tony Williams.
“The combination of rock and jazz…it was really Tony Williams who started this almost psychedelic kind of thing, with even more of a rock edge than what Miles Davis was doing at the time,” Reid continues. “Jack joined him with the record Turn It Over, and they had a really hard time. The critics were not always kind to Tony. They would slag him as a vocalist. Looking back, the guy was a prophet. You hear the roots of a lot of alternative rock in what he was doing. The style of the singing – you hear the roots of Thom Yorke in some of his stuff. That just started the idea. I thought of Cindy Blackman, because I’ve done stuff with her, and I thought of John Medeski, because John is the man. And eight years later, we wound up doing it.”
Spectrum Road’s music reflects a vintage kind of fusion, but it also contains a few unexpected elements. “[It’s] definitely a jazz-rock thing but it has a rock edge, because one of the architects of modern rock is in the band and he’s singing these tunes,” Reid says. “It’s kind of an odd combination of jazz-rock as we know it. John Medeski is such an odd keyboardist and so quirky, and one of the beautiful things is his use of the Mellotron on the record, because the Mellotron is not associated with jazz-rock and fusion to a large degree. It’s more associated with King Crimson, Yes and the Moody Blues. It gives the thing a different feel and sonic signature.”
Reid also lists a few of the album’s standout tracks. “‘An t-Eilean Muileach’ [which Bruce sings in Scottish Gaelic] would be one,” he says. “Certainly ‘There Comes a Time,’ which is probably the best-known song off the record Ego [Williams’ 1971 release]. I would say the song ‘Where,’ which features Cindy Blackman singing, and ‘Blues for Tillmon’ is a group-written composition and it’s just this lovely straight-ahead blues.”
The guitarist also gives an update regarding Living Colour. “Living Colour just got together a few weeks ago – preparing to do a bunch of writing in preparation to make a record for 2013,” he says. “We want to be out and touring in 2013.” That said, Reid plans on making Spectrum Road an ongoing project. “Everyone is insanely busy, but it feels so good when we’re together and connecting that I really look forward to making the next record.”
Spectrum Road are set to play Bonnaroo on June 9th, with additional appearances at the Playboy Jazz Festival and North Sea Jazz Festival to follow.