Headcount Records and the Mr Bongo crew go back a long way. The label has a habit of uncovering gems from artists that go on to become big favourites here at Bongo HQ. With this sort of pedigree we always look forward to hearing what they come through with next. Their latest discovery, Foshe & Bentley, was once again a well-received find. A live house/jazz hybrid from Sydney, their album 'Parlour Cucina' floats from jazz-funk outings to Theo Parrish-esque leftfield, dancefloor business - all merging seamlessly. That's always going to tick our boxes, and its seen support from Gilles Peterson too, so you know it's a safe bet.
We were offered the opportunity to host an interview with the guys and we jumped at the chance. The interview was conducted by Chris Leigh in July 2021, and the introduction are also Chris' words...
In late 2019, just before the pandemic temporarily re-shaped the live music scene around the world, two musical entities from Sydney, Australia were starting a month-long residency at the famous Parlour Cucina venue in the heart of the city. The first of these was a trio of musicians known as Foshe. Gigging heavily since 2018 and supporting the likes of Lonnie Liston, 30/70 Collective, Horatio Luna & GODTET, the group are renowned for their fully improvised sets of polyrhythmic, afro and Latin infused jazz/house explorations. The second entity I speak of is an incredible drummer called Mike Bentley. Inspired by the likes of Kamaal Williams & Vijay Lyer, Mike produces modern jazz/house experimentations combined with odd time signatures. He was a key driving force behind the set of live recordings from the month-long residency at Parlour Cucina. Those recordings were mastered into the album ‘Foshe & Bentley – Parlour Cucina’, released on limited edition vinyl on Headcount Records in June of this year. I recently sat down with Bentley to discuss the album and the process behind its creation.
First up, congratulations on the release of Parlour Cucina. It's such a dope LP. You've explained previously that the music was mainly improvised during a month-long residency. Can you tell us how much of it was completely made up during that run of shows? Were there parts of the record already in place which you then built on, or was it all born during that run?
Hey man, thanks. It was a good time making it. Yeah, well the shows were every Friday, August through to December 2019. Two sets each night. 100% made up on the spot with nothing pre- conceived or thought out. What made it even more fun was bringing in players that we’d never played with and getting to know them on the night. The first four tracks of the album are from one night with Daniel Pliner on keys and Tomas Ford on bass - this was maybe the second time playing and meeting with Dan. The last two tracks were with Nick Henderson on bass and Zigi Blau on keys. Second time meeting and playing with Nick as well. We just outline the vibe that we’re going for - lots of space, patience and focus on groove over anything else - and run with it. When you are completely comfortable with your instrument, improvising comes naturally - It’s a bit like speaking. You learn the language over years, to get to the point where you can converse with anyone.
Amazing! I've seen some pictures from the gigs, and it looked really intimate and fun. Did the venue 'Parlour Cucina' or the crowd that turned up alter how you approached each evening, or did you just go with a blank canvas regardless?
Yeah it was super cosy. The crowd and venue definitely altered how we approached the sets. If it was really packed out and loud, people getting a bit loose, moving around dancing, we’d naturally pick it up a notch, play with more energy, less ‘kooky experimental’ more ‘keep them moving, keep the vibes good’. The last thing you want is to set up to a bumping crowd and have them all leave because your vibe isn’t right.
And seeing as it's all improvised how likely is it that fans will hear some of the tracks from the LP again? It seems a shame that bangers like 'Tech Yes' might never get rolled out live again - although I can see a certain charm in tracks and musical pieces existing only once in public.
Haha yeah never say never I guess! To us playing ‘songs’ isn’t as enjoyable, which is why we don’t do it. But if we were to do an album event, or certain events linked to the album itself, it’s something we could incorporate for sure. Foshe’s debut EP ‘Foshe’ was played front to back in its entirety only once - at the EP launch. It made the night really special because we played the album as we knew it - without rehearsals or anything - and we’ll probably never play it again.
You've picked up support from Gilles Peterson, Mr Bongo and many others. A lot of people seem to find it hard to categorise the music. It most definitely is a hybrid between House and Jazz and never strays too far from either. It veers comfortably from one sound to the next and plays around with what sound like some fun experimentation and time-signatures. Is this an approach that both Foshe & Bentley are recognised for?
Yeah spot on. We play around with odd time signatures but make it groovy through putting a consistent kick down on every beat ala’ house. The rhythms keep it interesting for me as a drummer and allow us to stay engaged on one idea for a while without feeling the need to change. We love house and we love jazz. This is our contribution to both!
Well congratulations again on what is a joyous LP. I can't wait to get the chance to see you all play live again. Before we sign off please let us know what you're all working on and what projects we can look forward to in the future?
Thank you! We’ve got about 6 new records in the oven just marinating. Bentley plus Horatio Luna is coming up next, released in a few months. Collaborations with keyboardists and synthesists Daniel Pliner, Matthew Thomson and Omri Aruch. Bassists Nick Henderson, George Sheridan and Arn Utiger. And some more from the original Foshe trio of myself, Zigi and Tom. Oh, and a dreamy ambient house experiment with Indira Elias is on the way. Loads!
Big thanks to Foshe & Bentley for taking the time to answer the questions, and big ups to Chris for conducting the interview. 'Parlour Cucina' is out now on limited edition vinyl and available HERE at Mr Bongo.