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Michael Tate: What’s on Your Playlist?

Jazzed Magazine • January 2018What's on Your Playlist? • January 15, 2018

Michael Tate co-founded 3D Rhythm of Life in 1999 with guitarist Chris Amelar and in the ensuing years the band’s lively, spirited blend of jazz, soul, Latin, and island rhythms have made the group a favorite with concert-goers, record-buyers, and critics alike.

As Tate’s “Playlist” rundown below demonstrates, he’s as well versed in classic jazz as he is Cuban music; as comfortable embracing fusion as he is at home with reggae.

3D Rhythm of Life’s latest release, Fantasy, charges out of the gates with a soul/tropical cover of the Earth Wind and Fire classic that gives the album it’s title. The single was released just a few days prior to the passing of EWF founder, Maurice White, and serves as a fitting tribute to that pioneering musician’s enduring legacy.

1. Luther VandrossForever, For Always, For Love

A voice like Luther’s is only heard every 100 years. My drum mentor and friend Yogi Horton was a big part of his sound. I love singers, melody, arrangement and production – it is all there. If you listen, each part of the arrangement, every note, means something. Tight and grooving. As a drummer, when you want to skip the groove, just say, “BAD BOY!” I had the honor of knowing Luther and saw him record, a memory for a lifetime.

2. Steely DanGaucho

Perfection on all levels. They hired the best and paid attention to the details on everything they did. I used to practice to this record. It has perfect time and groove from some of the best drummers, Bernard Purdie, Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, et cetera. You can hear every instrument as clear as bell. The songwriting is stellar. You can learn from any of the folks who played on these and recorded these albums.

3. Elvin JonesLive at the Lighthouse

Anything and everything from Elvin is great. His drumming is still so modern and exceptional. I used to watch him at the Village Vanguard as a kid. He had such big hands and the biggest smile. Love the lineup on the Lighthouse record: two saxes and bass. Many times the melodic instruments like to hear the changes (normal), Elvin’s guys just knew the changes. David Liebman and Steve Grossman – nice!

4. Earth Wind and FireGreatest Hits

The MASTERS. Maurice White had a complete vision and he surely did it all. Any serious musician has been influenced by EWF. There are so many musical elements to their sound and so many hits. I find that Maurice, also being a drummer, had great instincts and new how to put it all together – music, staging, dancing – thus creating the magic of EWF. “Fantasy” was just calling for a remake, everything was in the recipe already. Never a note out of place with EWF – a study in every aspect of music. I got to meet the group, which was a dream come true. Maurice passed before we released our new record, Fantasy.

5. Bob MarleyExodus

Message, music, and groove. I have enjoyed this recording since high school. Drummer Carlton Barrett is a reggae master class! This record, for me, is like Coltrane’s Giant Steps – a masterpiece on every level. Play your part and let the music speak the words of truth. We are still asking and singing about some of the same issues almost 40 years later.

6. Stan Getz and Bill Evans

This is a record that has some of my favorite musicians: Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, and Grady Tate. I love “Night and Day”! When I played parties as a young man, I though everyone would play like the version on this record and – surprise: they did not. Bill Evans is just a master of harmony and melody. I have more piano recordings in my collection than probably many drummers, [because] that’s where a lot of great drummers reside. Stan Getz, what a sound, a favorite. Grady Tate showed me some really cool brush strokes as a young man, love Grady Tate. No relation.

7. Polo MontañezGuajiro Natural

I love everything about Polo Montañez. His compositions are so melodic and his arrangements are great for all group sizes. He is about melody and lyric. A good friend brought me a three-record set as a gift from Cuba, and I was hooked. He arranges each tune with many interesting flavors from pop harmonies, to traditional Trés. It can be folkloric, a cojunto, or with a Charanga sound. This is a Cuban composer who is one of my favorites. Gone way to soon.

8. Wes MontgomerySmokin’ at the Half Note

I’ve always loved this quartet. Wes has influenced so many guitar players, and it’s an exceptional rhythm section and swinging from the first beat. You could sing a Wes solo, and those octaves! Great example of how a piano and guitar can work well in a rhythm section – a hard thing to do. Wynton Kelly is superb. Jimmy Cobb always on it with everyone from Miles to Coltrane to Wes and more.

9. Rufus and Chaka KhanLive at the Savoy

Chaka is another voice that only comes around once in a lifetime. The band is so tight live and in the studio [and] she is just as exceptional. I learned so much from this record and how to transcribe rhythm figures. “Don’t Go Home to Strangers” is one of my favorite tunes. I wish more singers knew it – a beautiful song. Excellent drumming as always by John Robinson, the horns are the BEST!

10. Gloria Estefan Mi Tierra

This is a great record with exceptional musicians, arrangements, and top-notch production. This album is a fusion of tradition and the future. All of Emilio’s albums are of the highest standard. Mi Tierra was the record that introduced some members of my group to Latin music. The boleros and ballads are so beautiful.

We still play “Mi Tierra” on certain shows, instrumental. I love the tune. Check out legendary bassist Cachao. Hoping to meet Gloria and Emilo some time very soon.

3D Rhythm of Life’s most recent album, Fantasy, was released on October 1, 2016.

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