Bassist/Composer Billy Mohler returns his Focus to jazz after a successful career in rock, pop and R&B production and songwriting. Mohler’s leader debut Focus is due out this March via Make Records, featuring a stellar chordless quartet with Shane Endsleyand Nate Wood of Kneebody and Chris Speed of a MULTITUDE of ensembles.
When bassist/composer Billy Mohler graduated from Berklee College of Music and joined the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a life in jazz seemed the most obvious prospect before him. But life, as it so often does, had other ideas: A Top 40 hit, production credits with some of pop music’s most famous names, arena touring with rock and R&B legends, and a Grammy nomination all followed.
Mohler never forgot his first love, however. With his long-delayed debut album, Focus, he does just that – focuses his attention on his own distinctive voice, in collaboration with some of modern jazz’s most acclaimed and inventive voices. Due out in late March on Mohler’s own Make Records, Focus features a cutting-edge chordless quartet with trumpeter Shane Endsley and drummer Nate Wood (both of the progressive jazz-rock quintet Kneebody) and saxophonist Chris Speed (a founding member of the influential bands Human Feel and Claudia Quintet).
“I’ve made a lot of records and do a lot of songwriting for other people,” Mohler says. “Now I’m just to strike more of a balance; I want to stretch my own musical abilities and play the music that I want to play, with musicians that I’ve always admired and have long wanted to play with.”
The result is an adventurous set of original compositions, with sharply-honed melodies as memorable as anything Mohler may have written in the pop world but with an edge of tightrope-walking audacity that sparks inspired improvisational flights from the full quartet. Anyone familiar with the innovative work created in recent years by Mohler’s bandmates will realize how thrilling that prospect sounds in light of these artists’ dauntless creativity.
In part that stems from the band’s undeniable chemistry – understandable from Wood and Endsley’s shared history in Kneebody and Speed’s work with both of them, but also from the fact that Wood and Mohler are nearly lifelong friends. The two started out playing music together as middle school students in Southern California, later becoming founding members of the million-selling group The Calling, which had an enormous hit in 2001 with “Wherever You Will Go,” which enjoyed the second-longest run at number one in the history of the Billboard Adult Top 40 chart.