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XR7 is an album about the relationship between man and machine. In a time where most music is so computerized and emotion is not easily found, Rico Belled takes a bold approach: to try to truly integrate the computer into the traditionally non-electronic musical style of Jazz. When most musicians ‘fix’ their mistakes during the recording process, Belled instead celebrates the imperfections, seamlessly blending acoustic instruments with virtual ones, never quantizing anything. Featuring 4 songs done entirely without a click-track, even the 6 that did start life on a grid, never sound metronomic, bursting with life from the many layers.
Named after his beloved 1973 Mercury Cougar XR7, a car which Rico has driven around L.A. for almost 15 years, this CD is built to last. Blending elements of the past and the now, more than anything it’s a hint at the future of music, where anything goes. Stylistic walls are crumbling, with everyone exposed to all kinds of music and sounds from all over the world. Fearlessly breaking down the walls so carefully built up by purists, it is Jazz in its truest sense, where improvisation rules, but composition matters and is not just an obstacle on the way to showing off chops. Drawing from a deep well of years as one of L.A.’s top session musicians, Grammy nominated Belled pulls out all the stops.
Rico chooses to use the computer as a kind of ‘multiplication machine’ allowing him not to sterilize his performance, but instead create densely layered music inspired by Phil Spector’s famous “Wall Of Sound” style of production. The possibilities are endless and he explores many: from complex odd-meter jazz, to sexy R&B, from Smooth Jazz to soaring Fusion, XR7 is a musical journey bursting with originality, while never sounding contrived or forced. Featuring 10 original songs, and some of the best musicians in the world, Rico showcases his versatility as a multi-instrumentalist, playing bass on 7, keys on 8, and guitar on 9 of the tunes, in addition to producing, engineering, mixing and mastering the record. In keeping with the spirit, Belled has tried to find exactly how much one man can do with the help of the machine of machines: the computer.
Instead of focusing on expensive equipment, everything recorded at Back Scratch Studios and Mad Meece Audio was done on literally the cheapest equipment money can buy. Running on a $500 computer Rico built, Sonar X1 was used in combination with a $200 Motu 2408 MKII and Behringer Mic Pres, with inexpensive mics, for everything but Karasony’s drums and Buckingham’s and Kashiwa’s solos. The entire rig used costs less than $2000, including the mics. Mixed and mastered in his apartment, Belled has shown that a great sounding record can now be made at bargain prices, IF the human in charge knows what he’s doing!
01. Chester (R.Belled)
Jonathan Dresel – Drums, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Katisse Buckingham – Sax/Flute Solos, Stan Sargeant – Bass, Trumpet – Sean Erick, Rico Belled – Keys, Guitar, Trombone, Tenor Sax
In honor of the XR7, Chester features a 7 bar phrase in the funky A-section, with a hybrid Latin-Funk B section. The basic tracks were recorded live, without a click, at Mad Meece, with Stan Sargeant on bass, Jonathan Dresel on drums, Ronnie Gutierrez on Percussion and Rico on Keys. Katisse Buckingham did the Flute and Sax solos at his place, while Sean Erick from the Regiment Horns, play Trumpet at Back Scratch Studios, where Rico overdubbed Guitar, all the keys and even Trombone and Tenor Sax! The song is named after patron-of-the-arts Ashley Schwartz’ van, which also supplied the sound of the starting and revving car engine.
02. Hooka (R. Belled)
Dave Karasony – Drums, Rodney Lee – Rhodes Solo, Rico Belled – Bass, Keys, Guitar
Built upon a demo, Hooka features no less than 3 electric bass parts at all time, up to 6 drum loops, layered with Dave Karasony’s drums he did at his place. Rodney Lee’s funky Rhodes solo and all other recording was done at Back Scratch, where Rico played the many guitar parts and synths. Evoking memories of the party jazz tunes of the 70ies, this is driving music at its finest!
03. Ode To Mss Fairlane (R.Belled)
Dave Karasony – Drums, Jeff Kashiwa – EWI, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Rico Belled – Bass, Keys, Guitar
As a tribute to his 1968 Ford Fairlane 500 Station Wagon, which is featured on the back of the album, Ode To Miss Fairlane starts off simply and melodically. Obviously inspired by the music of the Rippingtons, Dave Karasony’s drums mesh perfectly with the drum programming and Ronnie Gutierrez’ percussion, for a surprisingly organic feel. After a melodic EWI solo from Jeff Kashiwa, Rico’s synth takes over, propelling the song to the next level as all the instruments start kicking it up, with the all the guitars he played threatening to take over. In the end, the old Ford, which is still full of life by the way, gets serenaded with a simple but elegant orchestral piece.
04. Flexibility (R.Belled, E.Sanabria)
Chris Coleman – Drums, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Rico Belled – Bass, Keys, Guitar
Flexibility started life as an improvisation with one of the programs of Rico’s Yamaha MO8 keyboard. A brilliantly simple chord progression and groove, inspired Eddie Sanabria to write those funny lyrics and a song was born! Basically a tune about Yoga, the amazing Chris Coleman did one take on the drums, without ever hearing it and it was good, with Ronnie Gutierrez simultaneously adding that extra little flavor on the Percussion. After moving the song from Ableton Live to Sonar Producer X1, Rico went to town, adding many layers of Guitars and Keys, and recording the lyrics with his favorite Vocoder.
05. Five Of Eight (R.Belled)
Dave Karasony – Drums, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Scheila Gonzalez – Sax, Bill Heller – Piano/Synth Solos, Jonathan Dresel – Left Snare, Sergio Gonzalez – Gourd, Rico Belled – Bass, Guitar, Keys
Arguably the most complicated song on the album, Five Of Eight started with the part in 4/4, which was the usual end of Rico’s bass-solo with the Rippingtons. Adding sections in 5/8 and then 5/4, but with simple melodies, the point was to make a mathematically complex song that one can still dance to! Solos from Scheila Gonzalez of the Zappa Plays Zappa band on sax, and Bill Heller of the Rippingtons on piano and synth solos, on top of unstoppable grooves from Dave Karasony on Drums, Jonathan Dresel from the Jimmy Kimmel Live band on Snare drum, and session aces Sergio Gonzalez and Ronnie Gutierrez on percussion, with Rico playing the complex slapped bass lines, funky guitars and many layers of synths, result in a truly one-of-a-kind tune.
06. A Thousand Leaves (R.Belled)
Jonathan Dresel – Drums, Randy Landas – Bass, Brad Rabuchin – Guitar, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Rico Belled – Keys, Melodica
One of the first songs Belled ever wrote, A Thousand Leaves was recorded live at Mad Meece, with Randy Landas on upright bass, Brad Rabuchin on Guitar, Ronnie Gutierrez on Percussion and Rico on keys. Everything else was overdubbed later at Back Scratch with Jonathan Dresel playing Drums, and Rico taking doing the orchestration and even playing his beloved Melodica.
07. Song For Buster (R.Belled)
Chris Coleman – Drums, Jeff Kashiwa – Soprano Sax, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Rico Belled – Bass, Guitars, Keys
Originally written for Ronnie Gutierrez album’ “Like Father, Like Son”, Buster being his awesome dog which died, Song For Buster’s basic tracks were done at Mad Meece live, without a click, with Chris Coleman on Drums, Ronnie on Percussion and Rico on Bass. Jeff Kashiwa’s melodic Soprano Sax playing soars on a bed of many guitars and keys that Belled overdubbed at Back Scratch.
08. Blue Son Herb (R.Belled)
Chris Coleman – Drums, Andy Langham – Piano, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Rico Belled – Bass, Guitar, Synths
Clearly inspired by Weather Report, the Chris Coleman’s Drums, Ronnie Gutierrez’ Percussion, Andy Langham’s piano including the brilliant solo, and Rico Belled’s bass are untouched from a live session at Mad Meece! Blue Son Herb, a tune built on a twisting progression of the exact same voicing inspired by Herbie Hancock for every chord in the song, really shows off what a killer band can do. Never having heard the song before, these guys hit the nail on the head on the third take, sight-reading! Rico then overdubbed some guitar and synths at Back Scratch resulting in a track that truly flies.
09. The Robot Song (R.Belled, M.Burton)
Vocals – Michael Burton, Rico Belled – Programming, Bass, Guitar
XR7 is an album inspired by the relationship between man and machine, and The Robot Song drives the story home. Featuring a bizarre interruption by the ‘humans’ in almost Zappa-esque fashion, almost all instruments were played by Rico Belled. Built on top of a repetitive drumloop, representing the steady ascent of the machine, flanked by never repeating, actually played electronic drums, even increasing in intensity, Jon Greathouse’s Moog slowly gets more and more crazy, and layer after layer of synths and guitars start going crazy. Michael Burton wrote the words for this one and did the brilliant vocal.
10. Party Jazz (R.Belled)
Jonathan Dresel – Drums, Stan Sargeant – Bass, Ronnie Gutierrez – Percussion, Rico Belled – Keys, Guitar
Starting life as a typical Ableton Live freakout, Party Jazz is built around an extended synth solo by Rico recorded one late night at Back Scratch. Recorded directly into that program, Jonathan Dresel on Drums, Ronnie Gutierrez on Percussion and Stan Sargeant on Bass added that much needed development and feel, after which Belled did his thing, layering guitars and keys, resulting in another very original song, perfectly setting up the vibe for his next album!