GRAMMY-nominated bassist Billy Mohler has released Ultraviolet via Dayna Stephen’s Contagious Music label. As his most probing release to date, Ultraviolet is Mohler’s third album capturing the evolving vernacular of his formidable quartet with trumpeter Shane Endsley, drummer Nate Wood and reedist Chris Speed.
Mohler creates “jazz music that, despite the seriousness and sincerity of the craft, manages to remain engaging and–yes–fun.” (Downbeat Magazine.) The mixture of Mohler’s pop sensibilities, honed as a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles studio scene, meshed with a forward exploration and musical curiosity shaped by his tenure at the Thelonious Monk Institute under luminaries Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
“Herbie and Wayne exude artistry at its highest level. Their openness to being in the moment is something that’s stuck with me,” Mohler said. “And their willingness to create those moments is also something that had a profound effect on me.”
Whereas Mohler’s previous album, Anatomy, spoke to the feelings and events of the pandemic and global shutdown, Ultraviolet sounds out formative experiences that now shape Mohler as a human and as a musician. Coming of age in the 80s and 90s in Laguna Beach, California, Mohler’s first passions were surfing and, eventually, skateboarding – a sport that remains a present-day source of inspiration. Long before skateparks, Mohler and his friends used their creativity to negotiate obstacles enroute to their destination.
“So many elements in skating relate to improvisation,” Mohler said. “Everyone has a different perspective – a unique way they see a line or a way to approach a trick. Like improvising, decisions are made intuitively based upon the feeling of that moment.”
The album’s title piece, “Ultraviolet,” parallels these ideas as trumpeter Endsley and saxophonist Speed revel in the groove maneuvers of bassist Mohler and drummer Wood.
“I’ve always composed staring with a bass line,” Mohler also said. “I like music to be emotionally driven and to allow melody and harmony to change around a central idea. With the groove of a given piece, I can shape and guide the storyline one note at a time.”
A close listen to Ultraviolet yields another element of Mohler’s early musical discovery. As a young teen, he marveled at the visceral drive along with the forward-leaning sound design and effects emitted by the music of Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Miles Davis. With the absence of piano or guitar in Mohler’s quartet, he and his producer Dan Seeff craft unique post-production techniques to layer shifting sounds in each song.
“Seeff and I like to add subtle elements in post-production, like analog tape echo to the horns, to give a unique texture to Shane and Chris’s performances,” Mohler explains. “We approach the post effects as performances in that we hit record and manipulate the echo to the take. Sometimes the effect can function as harmony or even rhythm. The effect must add value to the song. If it doesn’t, it’s muted.”
Mohler’s sonic discoveries are at the center of “Disorder II” which begins with a doppler-like, syncopated echo fading in and out of the melody statement. As Nate Wood’s drum commentary reaches an apex, the echo boils over and slows to a murmur to end the piece.
Endsley, Wood and Speed are as equally catalyzed by the tone that Mohler emits from his bass as in his choice of notes. In the late 90’s as an electric bass student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mohler began playing upright bass on recommendation from his professor, Whit Brown. However, finding and purchasing the right acoustic instrument was not easy for a college student on a budget. Not long into his search, he found the exact instrument he needed, and, in good faith, Professor Brown vouched for his new student. Mohler was able to take his new bass home and pay for it over time with money earned from his gigs, and it remains in service twenty years later as his preferred instrument.
“I was instantly connected to the instrument,” Mohler said. “I recently acquired a second instrument and, as incredible as it is, my old bass still has my heart.”
Mohler’s tune “Evolution,” is a happy blues with the youthful, danceable energy of a modern pop standard. With stellar commentary by Endsley, Speed, and Wood, Mohler’s presence and drive on bass is the clear cornerstone.
Based in Los Angeles, Billy Mohler is a GRAMMY-winning, 20-year studio and touring veteran having contributed to the music of Macy Gray, Jimmy Chamberlain Complex, Awolnation, Dolly Parton, and as the musical director of skate hero Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huck Jam Tour. After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Mohler studied at the Monk Institute from 1999-2001 receiving direct tutelage from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Ultraviolet follows, Mohler’s quartet albums Anatomy and Focus with the indivisible lineup of trumpeter Shane Endsley, drummer Nate Wood and saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed.
Learn more and see show dates at billymohler.com