- Crowded house: DJ Logic (center) interweaves beat science with jazz, rock, and just about every other genre he can cram onto an LP.
Jason Kibler, better known to jamland as top mixmaster DJ Logic, is chilling on a muggy Big Apple afternoon, discussing the thrills he's gotten out of introducing some legendary instrumentalists to the art of DJing and its improvisational elements.
"I get deep with the older cats, talking to them and playing with them," he says excitedly. "Their vibe, their energy onstage, everybody communicating -- it's just awesome. Jamming with Phil Upchurch [house guitarist for Chess Records in the early '60s] or Clyde Stubblefield [James Brown's drummer throughout the mid-'60s] is special for me. And for them, too, because it's their first time messing with a DJ. Older cats are hard to impress. Usually, they look at this generation and go, 'That's not music,' and this and that. And to learn stuff from them, vibe with them, and get their respect is special."
Until relatively recently, respect for those rocking the ones and twos was all but nonexistent, except in beat junkie circles. But over the past decade, the art of the DJ has come a long way. In the early '90s, the idea of DJs flashing their skills in rock bands and grooving with other musicians was a dream for rock kids who loved hip-hop. The progressive notions of turntablism were a minor side note, the lessons of DST's moves on Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" clear to only a few. But turn on rock radio or MTV nowadays, and you can't help but feel the scratch. It's an omnipresent nightmare, filled with aggro nods for metalheads and fashionable wicky-wicky for pop poseurs. C'mon, just what the hell is that DJ in Sugar Ray there for?
That is where 30-year-old Logic stands out. A hip-hop head who grew up in the Bronx and just happened to get involved with some leading members of New York's experimental jazz and rock fringe, Logic has become the first DJ to develop a rep by jamming with some mighty players (everyone from master guitarist Marc Ribot to bluegrass legend Del McCoury). In the jambands.com universe, where house beats and hip-hop breaks have previously been more admired than craved, Logic has been one of the bridge builders between the improvised blowing sessions that heads have long seen as dance parties and the beats-oriented club music that DJs specialize in. In his world, they're equally crucial.
Don't underestimate the importance of being in the moment. Where many skilled DJs currently interacting with live musicians stick to their scripted parts -- be it Kid Koala fucking around with Bullfrog or the X-ecutioners guesting with Linkin Park -- Logic lives for the feel. "My style's all improv. I never mark [my] records -- I go by ear. I already know what's on the record, and when I drop the needle and cue it up, I'm already there."
It's a style he developed as a teenager, through a back-and-forth with some of the finest improvisers on the downtown scene. In his initial musical foray as a DJ for Eye and I -- a late-'80s New York funk-rock quintet that also featured future Prince collaborator D.K. Dyson on vocals and bassist supremo Melvin Gibbs (Defunkt, Rollins Band) -- Logic learned the secrets of interacting with live musicians. "I had to find my groove around what everybody was doing, play my role. At the time, I wasn't looking at it like that -- I was looking at the musicians as a third turntable. That's how I was able to blend in to what they were doing. Not too much scratching, but throwing in sounds behind the groove or in the bridge or in the chorus part, basically learning my musical technique and letting it stretch."
The demise of Eye and I led Logic to hang at the original Knitting Factory, the downtown N.Y.C. club that, in the early '90s, served as a musical hothouse for fusion-minded experimentalists.
"Melvin used to gig over there, doing all improvised [stuff]. He was like 'Why don't you come on in and jam with us?' It was something new, seeing what I can do around jazz musicians. [When] I walked up in there with turntables, everybody was like 'Wow.' It was the first time that they'd seen a DJ improvising. It was a whole other experience, but it was also fun. Melvin and the others were already looking at me as a musician, but I was so young, I didn't really know that. I would make my groove around each instrument, from the sax to the drums to the percussionists, just trying to find the right colors to blend with what they were doing. Basically, learning to communicate within that whole improvised scene."
Participation in the Knitting Factory jams was like admission to an exclusive club, featuring a posse that appealed equally to jazz purists and jam freaks. Not only have these decade-long relationships led Logic to seemingly lifelong collaborations -- '99's Project Logic and last year's The Anomaly are both packed with Knitting Factory alumni -- they also introduced Logic to Medeski, Martin & Wood. And it was this relationship that helped Logic showcase his skills to a world of post-Phish jam kids.
So how does someone weaned on Kool DJ Herc and apprenticed under the long, didactic arms of Vernon Reid and Don Byron fit in with the hippie likes of former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, and String Cheese Incident?
"You've got to have a different type of head [for every experience]," he concedes, "'cause you never know what to expect. Expect the unexpected, you know? Having an open ear musically, listening to different styles of music, playing with a lot of musicians -- I expect to be doing something different or coming up with something different every time."