Paradox: a doubtful statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. When a spark ignites between two musicians, the state of flow can be achieved. Usually, a fleeting sensation, but when captured, it is an unstoppable force. The coming together of Jeff Mills and Jean-Phi Dary came from a collaborative project with the late great Tony Allen and created chemistry instantly. Both being cognizant of the skilled innate improvisation that was happening in small jam sessions, they conceived the concept for their collaborative project: The Paradox.
They believed that this uncompromising freedom and the manifestation of new ideas allowed them to reach a higher level of spiritual consciousness within their work. Recorded in real-time; these compositions reflect captured spontaneous actions which concede honesty and truth.
Jean-Phi Dary is an enriched musical soul of Guyanese descent. The French artist has rhythm infused with his being, taking influence from his father‘s taste in Afro Cuban and Kompa music, in which he fused with his desire for jazz, reggae and funk. This melting pot of rhythm manifested in the organ initially, before playing bass in a Caribbean orchestra. The multi-instrument musician had an indubitable flare for keyboard and piano and began to make waves in clubs in the 1980s in the south of France before moving to Paris. Proving to be the catalyst of his musical journey, he has played and collaborated with the likes of Papa Wemba, Peter Gabriel and Tony Allen. With a career spanning decades, it has taken him everywhere playing afrobeat, jazz, soul and a plethora of others, all the while contributing to over twenty albums.
Jeff Mills is known the world over, performing in nearly all four corners of the globe. Cutting his teeth during a legendary precursory period of techno in Detroit, as The Wizard, he became an influential figure with the Underground Resistance. Mills soon took shape as a multifaced artist moulded by his passion for space and science-fiction. He launched the legendary Axis label in 1992, and his reach started to broaden over the occurring decades. A mercurial talent, he has countless collaborations with Emile Parisien, Mikhail Rudy, Mari Samuelsen, Jean-Michel Jarre and Tony Allen, over a myriad of fields: cine-mixes, orchestral concerts, DVD projects and performances in prestige art institutions. Critically recognised by his peers, in 2017 he was bestowed an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by ex-minister of Culture Jack Lang at Institut du Monde Arabe. These distinguished honours were due to his contributions to the Arts and whose work has immensely enriched French culture.
Text – Lee Shields
How the group formed:
“The idea to create this collection of tracks and album is an extension of the collaboration I had with Tony Allen and Tomorrow Comes The Harvest. Jean-Phi Dary wasthe keyboardist in that project. At the sound and line checks before performances, the best way for Jean-Phi and I to check to make sure all equipment is working correctly and that we become mentally in-sync was to have small jam sessions after everything was set-up. During this period, we would just create music and improvise to point of finding a groove that we both felt was special. Then, we’d enhance, modify and situated it to be the first track we played when the show began with the inclusion of Tony Allen. Literally, these tracks would be made in a matter of minutes. We noticed how easy it was that we could create together so freely. This lead to having conversations about going into a studio to record some of these ideas for an album and project.Over the course of about one year, in various recording sessions in and around Paris, we recorded a large amount of music. “Counter Active” album is the first part of two parts”. Jean-Phi is a master musician. This means, a multi-perspective thinker and person that knows the theory and technique so well that it becomes literally, a second nature. Things like key words, colors and shapes are all used in conversations. Sometimes, the conversations we had weren’t about music at all, but subjects would also play a small part in the way we thought when we played together.
“We recorded the music spontaneously and without preparation. Even in some cases, the drums were laid down first so that I could be as unrestricted as possible. No MIDI connection or computers were used in the production. A concept and direction would be imagined and we would both address as best we could with what we had at our disposal. Because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, mixing down the tracks was an obstacle, but we manage to complete the tracks from a long-distant process between the
cities we and the studio engineer lives. Over the course of a few weeks, we were able to complete all the mixes to our satisfaction”.
The album: “Counter Active is designed to show an example of two minds joining together without compromise or without any creative conditions. There were no barriers when recording. The music represents who we are and exactly what we want to say. The title “Counter Active” represents the task of having an initiative. A plan and blueprint. The front cover design was actually made before the music was final. In fact, it was this image that we used to remind ourselves of the boundless freedom we’re dealing
with”. Jeff Mills
BM: Why paradox?
Jeff: Because life would be too mundane without contradictions. It’s a reminder that the way life is organic, not a box with four corners. I think there is a special type of mental nutrition to be had by being posed by questionable actions. In it is a type reaffirmation.
Jean-Phi: The idea came from the way scientists recognized researching black holes: it ‘ s the sound . The sound that they can calculate from a movement made by the energy of the black hole. So to me it was funny that, to discover a black hole somewhere in the space, you must see, I mean, you must listen if there are sounds created by the movement of a black hole. It ‘s called “The Black Hole Paradox”
BM: During the Tony Allen sessions, who posed the initial idea of taking this partnership into the studio and to produce a body of work.
Jeff: It came from both of us. As musicians, we’re both are constantly in recordings studios for one reason or another, so it was quite normal to react to do that.
BM: Although you’ve already stated that the sessions were recorded spontaneously, Did you have initial ideas that you brought to the studio or did you always start with a completely blank canvas.
Jeff: There wasn’t anything prepared. It was basically, like: “OK, I’m all set-up now, what should we do….?”. I’d play a drum pattern. Jean-Phi would start playing something. Once we both heard something interesting, we’d look at each other and agree. Then, the direction is set.
Jean-Phi: We just played spontaneously. Sometimes there was a short discussion. After that we went back to the instruments and played again.
BM: Having such a free flowing production method with this work, was it a difficult process of deciding when a track was complete or was that more in the editing process.
Jean-Phi: Just before the editing process we had some listening sessions to be sure we like what we are listening to.
Jeff: We’d play until we both thought/signaled “That’s enough – let’s stop soon”. It’s really a partnership and being able to “do your thing”, while along with someone else takes a special sense to know. It’s important to know how to listen.
BM: Were there any difficult choices of which tracks that would to be taken from the sessions for the first of this two part release.
Jean-Phi: Oh, not really. We have some new tracks already recorded but not selected for the first release.
Jeff: No, not at all. After listening to the rough studio recordings, I found myself listening to certain tracks more than others. “Super Solid” and “X-Factors” were the most listened to. The “X-Factor” is the one I thought represented to the concept the most. So, all throughout the mix-down process, I’m still listening to everything to re-confirm the right decisions had been made and even now, it still feels right.
BM: The idea of using key words, colors and shapes from your conversations together to form part of your musical process is fascinating, is there a certain track that stands out which came from this method.
Jeff: “Twilight” is one track the comes to mind. There are seemingly two different things working at the same time. 1 – an energetic dance track and 2 – the keyboard solo and textures of a melodrama situation. Then, there are the sound effects that acts as shooting stars in the night sky. Jean-Phi arrived to the studio later that day to the studio. So, I recorded the drums, SFX and synths first, as a solo. Then, Jean-Phi arrive and played the solo and string parts. While recording the solo, I was imagining an A symmetrical type of track that was balanced on all sides – the beginning would sound the same as the end. I think the way Jean-Phi played was reflective to what he was feeling at that moment.
Jean-Phi: After some discussions some words, souvenirs and ideas came out in note, chords and sounds.
BM: Do you have a favorite track from this two part release.
Jeff: All are nice. It really depends on what I need to hear at the time.
Jean-Phi: Difficult question. Each track has his own story. X Factor is a big trip and Super Solid is a real groovy track to dance.
BM: Tell us a bit more about the cover image you used to remind yourselves of the boundless freedom you had in the sessions.
Jean-Phi: I love this cover. It sends me back to the 70’s with Carlos Santana’s or Miles Davis’ artworks. Jeff knows the story of the cover better than me.
Jeff: The model in the front cover image was from another type of project that I was working on at the time. It was taken from a photo shoot I made in Paris to make a series of photo images of three models that were to be 100 years from now. We luckily secured costumes and clothing from the Pierre Cardin atelier across Paris. Rented a studio for day and just created these special situations to capture them. The idea to use one set of images for this project came after listening to the music and realizing the depth and colors that we found. The cover image had to be as free-flowing as what we felt while making the music.
BM: Will there be plans to take the project live in the future (after the current situation returns to some normality)
Jeff: Yes, the plan is for that – to perform these tracks live. This was even imagined while we created the music by not using so many instruments – more than what we can handle in real-time. Once “normal” returns, we’re ready!
Jean-Phi: Of course. This project was made in a “live ‘s way of thinking and recording”. So it´s place is on stage. And we are two live performers. Addicted, so….
BM: If you could only use two words to describe the Album ‘Counter Active’ what would they be.
Jeff: Forward Push
Jean-Phi: Deep and Conscious
Huge thanks to both Jean-Phil and Jeff for gifting us their time to discus ‘Counter Active’.
Verdict: Beautiful jazz infused electronica that swirls and shimmers like Fireflies dancing in the night sky. Two artists coming together to create music that is truly inspired. Words do it no true justice. Bliss.
1. Super Solid
2. The X Factor
6. Residence (Alternative Mix)
Youtube Music https://music.youtube.com/channel/UCAqtkf4Mve42yViECKcBkeA
Axis Youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/AxisRecords1