JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to guitarist Todd Mosby about the making of his new album Land of Enchantment.
Anyone who has been to the southwestern United States knows that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. That beauty has served as an inspiration for Todd Mosby’s newest album Land of Enchantment. Todd comes from a varied musical background. Over the years he has played jazz, folk, country, rock as well as East Indian classical music. All of these styles add to the synergism of what Todd Mosby is today. I asked him about his background and the making of his newest album.
JB: Growing up in Missouri near St. Louis, how old were you when you started to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?
TM: I first started playing/studying jazz guitar in my first year at college in Salt Lake City, Utah when I was 18. There was a great music program there which was moving to Grove Music School in Los Angeles the next year. After some thought, I decided to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston for the next three years to continue my studies. It was a great experience to see in Boston so many great jazz musicians perform live. Bill Evans, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, Weather Report, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, and Mike Stern were all people I would go out and see and they all made a profound impact on me.
In my late 20’s I started actively jobbing around St. Louis as a jazz guitarist and subcontractor for many of the local agencies. This was a great opportunity to hire the best local jazz musicians to play with me and began my “on the bandstand” training as a leader, performer, and writer.
JB: It appears that you have Los Angeles connections. Am I correct?
TM: Yes, in 2016 I was in Los Angeles for a music conference and met veteran producer Jeffrey Weber (Emily Remler, David Benoit, Freddie Hubbard, Tom Scott, Chick Corea, Stanley Clark, Kenny Burrell, McCoy Tyner) through a friend. We began initial talks for a possible record at that time. I had just completed my first album Eagle Mountain with Will Ackerman/Tom Eaton producing. After a successful run of three albums (2016-2021), I wanted to move my music and recordings in a new direction. This is when I re-connected with Jeff Weber and in May of 2022, we began weekly conversations on the scope of the project, tune selection, instrumentation, band members, and coordination.
JB: Did you study with any well-known musical personalities, or are you self-taught?
TM: I have been mentored and studied my whole life. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to absorb, apply, research, and discover insights through time spent on your instrument. In that sense everyone is self-taught. Formal studies began at Westminster College in Salt Lake City for one year and then at Berklee College of Music in Boston for three years. Years later I finished with a Master of Music in Composition in St. Louis at Webster University. In addition to my private studies, I had thirteen years of Classical North Indian musical studies with Ustadt Imrat Khan, India’s foremost proponent of the sitar.
JB: To you, what are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why?
TM: 1) Montgomeryland – Wes Montgomery – These were some of the first Wes solos I transcribed. The tunes were familiar to me and the solos were so melodic and made so much musical sense to me on many levels. I was inspired, totally drawn in, and could not wait to play along with this record. It was an album Wes did with his brothers Buddy and Monk. He laid out his single lines, octaves, and chordal concepts in a way I could grasp at the time.
2) Grantstand – Grant Green – Grant is a master of the extended Jazz blues forms. His phrasing and writing especially on this album is incredible. It was the first one he did as a leader for Blue Note. His note choice is the sweetest I have heard on guitar and had a particularly great presence on this set of recordings. Grant does the best interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” I have ever heard. “Blues In Maude’s Flat” is one of the best jazz blues heads ever written in my opinion. The title cut “Grandstand” has all his most cherished phrases in one tune inside one of the hippest sixteen-bar forms. I learned a lot about music listening to this release. Originally from St. Louis (my hometown), I played with drummer Joe Charles who grew up with Grant and he would share stories of their times together with me.
3) Natural Elements – Shakti – John Mclaughlin – Acoustic fusion at its highest level with virtuoso jazz and Indian raga performances. Shakti was the first real-world fusion/music band to hit the scene. It was the perfect blend of East-West music cultures. What results when two cultures unite at the highest levels artistically is a third style emerges which is even higher. This can only happen with skilled, dedicated, and highly trained artists. Shakti is probably the only ensemble I have heard capable of achieving such a fusion and one of the only groups in the world to successfully pull it off. A guiding light as to what is possible when two improvisational forms meet. Not only meet, but the artists have enough dedication and understanding of each other’s music culture to come to the table with each owning their full “quarter of the pie” so to speak.
JB: Talk about Windham Hill Records founder, Will Ackerman, and the effect upon your playing and career.
TM: Will is an inspiration and guiding light. I was very familiar with the excellent quality of his recordings by doing a deep dive critical listening analysis of his catalog. He is the George Martin of acoustic guitar producers. He has great ears and had a very active, collaborative role in the direction the music took on my albums. The experience and confidence gained as a Grammy-level world-class recording artist and composer is incalculable. Will and Tom (Eaton) came to trust my musical insights and we developed a very nice symbiotic relationship with the recording, music creation, and mixing process. They then turned me on to the various promotional aspects of releasing a record.
Will believes in strong melodies, streamlined forms, and developed ideas. Every single note counts and he prefers a unique, melodic statement over fast phrases. I think they liked working with me because I was flexible and brought in projects that could be multi-layered instrumentally. The last project we did Aerial Views had me booking the studio and scheduling the artists for the session which was invaluable as well.
Through my Music Agency, we got Will touring with a show called The Four Guitars. It consisted of Will Ackerman, Vin Downes, Trevor Gordon Hall, and myself, hand-selected by Will to play duo, trio, and quartet re-imagined versions of his solo pieces as well as showcasing some of our own works. The concerts were presented in the classic Windham Hill Records style. It was very beautiful to be a part of that and help make it happen. We had several sell-outs and concerts nationally in some of the nicest performing arts centers from Florida to California.
JB: Tell us about your goals in making your new album Land of Enchantment with Tom Scott on saxophone, pianist Dapo Torimiro, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and other fine musicians.
TM: The goals for this new album are multi-faceted. The first goal was to break me into a new market, from New Age to Contemporary Jazz so I would get noticed. Although I have had much success in the New Age/ Contemporary Instrumental genre, we needed to make an impact out of the gates into a more Contemporary Jazz sort of genre. Jeff selected tunes from my catalog dating back to 2013 to current and had me write a new one for the recording. He wanted to showcase my writing and performance abilities across a wide musical spectrum. He felt players like Tom Scott, Vinnie Coliauta, Rhonda Smith, Dapo Totimiro, and others would elevate my credibility to a new level and give credence to those not familiar with my previous work.
I also love albums that are concept-oriented and autobiographical in nature. Land of Enchantment is the first in a series of three dealing with the various regions of the U.S., the American Southwest being the current focus. In particular, New Mexico and the inspiration artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams gained from their visits to this region.
TM: I feel it is a good crossover tune to introduce my north Indian music side because so many people do love this tune. It was also the first tune to introduce the sound of sitar to popular culture. I built out the arrangement considerably from a soloist standpoint and put in a really swinging solo section so the Imrat guitar could shine. The tune serves as a platform to introduce various aspects of chords, melody, and pulling. My producer Jeff Weber really pushed for this tune. I sent him a live performance of this song I did with tabla and Imrat guitar when searching for music for the album. He really loved it and wanted it on the album.
JB: One of the most beautiful places in the world is the Southwestern United States with the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce and Zion National Parks. What influence does the Southwest and the Indian music of this region have on your compositions?
TM: All the working and finished titles of the tunes are in reference to the culture, spirit, and personal experiences of New Mexico and its history. Place in the Sun is named after Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting “A White Place in the Sun.” She painted the Plaza Blanca area many times throughout her career. The sunlight in certain areas of New Mexico is like nothing else I have ever experienced. Moonrise Samba is named in reference to Ansel Adams’s photo “Moonrise Over Hernandez.” This piece was completed under a moonlight New Mexico sky while staying in an airstream RV. Emerald Springs is a reference to Ojo Caliente and the beautiful trails and land surrounding the area.
The Indian music is actually referenced to classical North Indian. The luthier of my Imrat guitars, Kim Schwartz lives in New Mexico and used some of the wood from within the region to build with. The rosette and inlays are in southwest style and reflect a deep connection to the land and its history.
JB: Tell us about the guitar and amp that you use.
TM: As a guitarist, I have to include some pedal board gear as well. For concerts and recordings, I pack three to four guitars depending on what the music requires. I also bring one or two amps, an acoustic guitar, a pedal board, and an electric guitar pedal board. The primary Guitar used on this album is a black Gibson ES 275. I used the Gibson ES Les Paul with Bixby to get a more rock sound. I used the electric Imrat Guitar (an 18-stringed hybrid sitar guitar I had made) for the Indian sounds. I use my Gibson Dove, a great acoustic recording axe and I use an acoustic Imrat guitar with jawari and an acoustic Imrat guitar without jawari.
I use either a Quilter Labs Tone Block 202 with a Mesa 12″ cabinet or a Lone Star 100-watt separate head and cabinet when I gig or record.
JB: We all love the great John Lennon song “Norwegian Wood.” What drew you to this song for this album?
JB: Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is about someone driving east to Phoenix and then on to Route 66 away from a former girlfriend. Is it the Southwestern scenery one would see doing this or something more with your choice of this song for this album?
TM: I have traveled this route many times going from St. Louis to LA to St. Louis and yes, this is the route that takes you through the southern states. It is an amazing drive and one that allows for much reflection time. This was one of my favorite tunes growing up. The melody and chord progression is absolutely beautiful. I wanted to arrange it with a similar acoustic folk-rock vibe found on some early James Taylor albums. One of my favorite instrumentations to write for is acoustic guitar, vocals, violin, cello, bass, and percussion. I placed the tune in a semi-cha-cha style of rhythm for the melody to float on while creating nice instrumental beds for the soloist.
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