In a sense, although they’ve been in existence for more than a decade, The Motet has only recently begun to realize their full potential as a band. Throughout most of their career,...Expand
In a sense, although they’ve been in existence for more than a decade, The Motet has only recently begun to realize their full potential as a band. Throughout most of their career, the Colorado-based progressive funk outfit has operated with a loosely based revolving cast of players, its liquid membership largely serving to flesh out the vision of the band’s founder,drummer Dave Watts. That all changed with The Motet, the group’s seventh album, released in February 2014. This time, a concerted effort was made to involve each of the seven current members—Watts, vocalist Jans Ingber, guitarist Ryan Jalbert, bassist Garrett Sayers, keyboardist Joey Porter and horn men Matt Pitts (saxophone) and Gabe Mervine (trumpet)—in the creative process equally.
“This album was 100 percent created by the band, with each member writing his own parts and having input on the mix and arrangement,” says Watts. The result of this new democratization of the musicmaking has been a palpable expansion of The Motet’s range. “We are definitely able to go deeper,” says Watts. “The material is stronger because we all had a hand in writing it. Because we have spent so much time playing together, our improvisation is more natural and intuitive and our groove is more effortless.”
Adds Ingber, “We went into this album with the idea that we were going to make a fully collaborative record. We put aside four or five days for songwriting, each of us bringing in unfinished ideas that we could explore and complete as a group. The idea behind that was that the band as a whole would be so much greater creatively.”
The method paid off. The Motet, self-produced by the band and cut on analog recording equipment to capture the instruments’ rich, natural sound, debuted at #2 on the Relix Magazine radio chart and garnered the septet some of its most effusive reviews to date. Colorado’s Boulder Weekly raved about the album’s “utterly flawless production…not a throwaway in the bunch… ambitious, airtight and built to travel,” while Upstate Live said that The Motet’s “55 glorious
minutes showcase their growth as individuals and as an unstoppable funk machine.”
From its start in 1998, The Motet has aimed to corral the soulful grooves that permeate the work of such legends as Parliament-Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, James Brown and the Nigerian legend Fela Kuti and to redefine their brand of dancefloor grooving for contemporary audiences. “Funk spanning the late ’60s to early ’80s is the perfect music for guys who have been brought up on jazz but love to play dance music,” Watts says. “There is the potential in that style for the perfect blend of improvisation and song. People love to see musicians onstage playing real instruments and creating music in the moment, and at the same time keeping a powerful dance groove.”
In 1999, The Motet released their debut album, Breathe. The followup albums—Play (2001), Live (2002), Music for Life (2004), Instrumental Dissent (2006) and Dig Deep (2009)— each showcased a band continually refining its approach and seeking its definitive voice, seamlessly welding its funk roots with elements from disco, jazz, soul, Afrobeat, Latin, reggae and electronic music.
But for all of the solid danceability found on The Motet’s recordings, their live gigs have always brought out the best they have to offer, giving the band ample opportunities to expand their musical boundaries. “We enjoy the challenge of learning different styles and we like to mix those styles up,” says Watts. “It’s all dance music that has
space for improvisation, and making audiences dance has always been the goal.” Honing their skills on countless stages, at first exclusively in local Colorado venues and in more recent years all across the United States—including sellout shows at Portland’s Wonderland Ballroom, New York’s Brooklyn Bowl, Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium, Atlanta’s Terminal West, Boston’s Brighton Music Hall and huge festivals such as Wakarusa, Summer Camp, Oregon County Fair and Arise Music Festival, among others—The Motet has built a reputation as one of the most reliable dance party bands around.
And no party anywhere, at any time, can even come close to The Motet’s annual Halloween shows along Colorado’s Front Range, wherein the band performs the music of one of its favorite funk influences. To date, Halloween shows have focused on the canons of such iconic artists as Stevie Wonder, P-Funk, Jamiroquai, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Prince, Tower of Power and others. The gigs are joyous, full of surprises and legendarily raucous, and have served not only to pay back the band’s fans for their loyalty but also to enhance The Motet’s understanding of who they are. Says Watts, “We feel that it’s crucial to know the roots of any style of music so that you can speak the language.”
For each Halloween show, The Motet has studied the intricacies of the chosen band they planned to cover and worked out every minute detail, often bringing in additional musicians and vocalists so that they could fully embody the subject’s music. But now, says Ingber, “More energy is being put toward writing original music. That’s the difference between The Motet four years ago and The Motet now. What we really want is to bring some of the energy of the live band to record—for us the energy part is really important. That’s why a lot of the tunes sound so big! And we want to highlight the musicianship of these players who have put in years and years studying their craft.”
“The fact that we were able to create an album with such a collaborative effort is a testament to that,” says Watts in
conclusion. “Making this record was a fresh start for us and represents the sound and style that we want to focus on for the next chapter in The Motet’s history.”