Josef Liemberg is the musicians’ musician an artist who revels and favours bonafide instrumentation rather than an over reliance on clever programmes to produce the next ‘hit’.
Prolific as a percussionist, pianists, dj, producer and trombonists, Josef has trodden a path that has seen him work with names from Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu and of course Kendrick Lamar where Liemberg’s productive jazz infused self helped make Lamar’s album, To Pimp A Butterfly a stand out project for 2015. It is his musicality built on a foundation of a family who loved music and then his individual pursuits studying at the California Institute Of Music where he states he could encompass ‘a wider outlook on world music’ that his creativity was built-indeed it’s this cultured schooling that has formed the foundation to music brimming with class.
So, after years behind the scenes the self-confessed ‘perfectionist’ has finally reached a point where he has a product which fulfils all his high expectations.
Astral Progressions is that project and while the wait was long, the product is (cliché alert) worth the wait. Featuring names like, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Bilal and Kamasi Washington on the immense single Interstellar Universe, this debut is: jazz finesse, progressive blustering, homage paying 70s nuances, shimmers of psychedelia which meander with an intense purpose while detailing with aplomb the ability of Liemberg to compose, to play to produce-it’s a stunning 10 track debut.
#itchysilk of course had to get some time with the man himself to talk music.
So, first off must ask about your musical journey-obviously, that is a huge task so if you can just reduce it to key moments in your music journey?
Key moments in my musical journey, have been studying the trumpet from the age of 5 and Djing-these were some of my early explorations in music. My parents were lovers of music and exposed me to jazz, from a very early age. I always attended schools, that had some type of music program, to keep me engaged. Throughout the years of playing music and spinning music, this eventually transcended to me making music and producing music.
I know you studied at the California Institute Of Music-explain that chapter in your life.
Studying music at CALARTS, helped me further my studies in musical theory and also a wider outlook, on world music. I studied, African, Indian, Classical and the mentors and teachers opened me up to different methods and approaches towards music. Leo Smith, being my most memorable mentor.
If you were to explain/describe jazz to someone who had never heard it before what piece of music would you use to help them understand ?
I would describe Jazz, as a form of freedom and expression. If I had to play them a piece of music, it would probably be John Coltrane, Love Supreme (1965), because there was something that I heard in that piece when I was at High School that just really connected with me and made me love Jazz.
In a time of music production where one does not necessarily need to have gone to music school to compose, produce a beat-do you think that music quality will evidently decline?
I believe that there will be a decline, in some areas but I think that good music will always prevail. Once the consumer is tired of being fed the same thing over and over again, things become over saturated and redundant. The natural urge for people to feel something real, will emerge.
You are one of those names who appeared to resist coming out with your own work. Before getting onto your reasons to come out must ask about the Kendrick collabo-how did you end up working with him?
For one, I am a perfectionist and don’t like to release, in my eyes unfinished material. I don’t live within a time-frame of when, my music should come out. Working with Kendrick Lamar on TPAB, was a testimony and confirmation, that I was on the right track with making the kind of music that I was into. One of my good brothers, Terrace Martin pulled me in on the project, because he knew I made dope beats and could bring other instrumentation as well to the table.
Why was this the right time after such a long time behind the scenes so to speak to drop your own album?
After many years of producing, music for rappers and singers, and catering towards the energy of chasing a hit record, I decided to switch gears and start believing in my own music. Thanks to some of my peers, like Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Kendrick Lamar, it helped me step out on faith and find my own sound.
The album is huge absolutely loving it-just give some background on the album (as in who features on it), themes, creative processes.
I worked on this album for approximately 5 years, in that time, my mother passed away in 2012, so it was important for me to include her in the artwork, and as a feature, paying homage to her legacy, as an artist as she gave her testimony on life. I also, got a chance to collaborate with some of my favorite musicians and artists; like Kamasi Washington, Georgia Ann Muldrow, Bilal, and Miguel Atwood Ferguson. Throughout the creative process, I wanted to keep a spiritual theme and concept to relay the message, that music can heal, uplift and inspire people, to reach a higher level of consciousness.
Obviously it was important then to feature your mother.
It was very important to feature my mother because she is no longer with us but because my sister recorded her while she was transitioning, it was only right to incorporate that recording. I’ll always have her with me through the album, when the album is played.
Lead single was Interstellar Universe with Kamasi Washington-great track it seems a match made in heaven but give some general info on the collaborators and what they each brought to your album?
Thank you, the collaboration with Kamasi Washington, is my favorite tune on the album, because it encompasses, the past, the future and the present, meaning its paying tribute to the transcendence of not only jazz, but fusion and hip-hop.
What’s coming next from you in terms of singles-any collaborative work coming up?
I have been concentrating on rehearsing with my band, to do a live interpretation, of Astral Progressions, and get out there and play some music.
The last time you had a profound conversation with someone-what was it about and how (if it did) affect your musical process?
I had a conversation with a drummer by the name of JMD, and he simply said, “Keep your horn, in your mouth”