Phoning from Philadelphia, Jennifer Hartswick is between dates of her duo tour with collaborator and Nth Power guitarist Nick Cassarino. The pair have been playing venues and jazz clubs throughout the country, and Hartswick has surprised fans with her new batch of songs on Nexus, her first solo release since 2011’s Ocean Floor. It’s smoother and more soulful fare than her “in-your-face” work with Trey Anastasio Band. Still wielding her trumpet and her powerful voice, Hartswick shows her vulnerable side when she plays centerstage. “I’m comfortable, but at the same time if you hear something go wrong, it’s my fault,” she laughs.
She tapped jazz legend Christian McBride to contribute to Nexus and invited Cassarino to join her on the road, surrounding herself with a veritable who’s-who of the jam-jazz world and producing the record herself.
In particular, she counts Cassarino as one of her closest collaborators.
“We’ve been friends for so long and have evolved as musicians together,” Hartswick says. “We trust each other so implicitly and since we know each other so well, I just follow him, and by the same token, if I want to do something crazy, he’s right there behind me.”
Below, Hartswick discusses Nexus, the ups and downs of life on the road and why she’ll always help Umphrey’s McGee fulfill their “garage-band dreams.”
What were your creative goals for Nexus as compared to your prior LP?
It’s been seven years since Ocean Floor, and a lot has happened in those seven years. Career-wise, and life-wise, I was feeling like everything that I was a part of was loud and in-your-face—which I love—but I wanted to make something that was sort of intimate, and would make people sit down and realize what’s going on with the arrangements and songwriting.
What was the songwriting process like. Did you have these songs in the chamber for some time?
I’m always writing. Nick and I write together all the time. We had “You Can’t Take It Back” and “Numb” and “Drowning” and “Silent Waves” ready to roll and then we had some ideas on how to flush those out, but we’re always writing and seeing what sticks.
You also enlisted Christian McBride, who has his own jazz pedigree.
I’ve been a fan of Christian since I was a kid; he was one of my biggest influences when I was a teenager. I just think he’s absolutely brilliant as a performer and as a writer. We got the chance to work together four or five years ago and we totally hit it off and we remained friends. I had this idea for a record and he offered to be a part of it before I even asked him, actually, which is really nice when that happens.
Tell me about the recording process…
Most of the things you hear is the first take, and Christian had never even heard these tunes before. We had just written them and we had never performed them live so making this record was sort of a workshop more than anything. It was really special to hear the songs come to life and for us to try to figure it out together with that really good initial energy.
Are you happy with how the songs are evolving in a live setting?
Yeah, it’s been really, really fun and rewarding to spend some time with these songs and play them live to see how people react to them. I think that’s the most fun part. Once you set the groundwork, then you get to have fun with it. Certain songs sound a little different or their tempo is different. When we first started in the beginning of the year we were kind of tip-toeing around and figuring it out, but now the songs feel grounded in our being, and it’s always fun to get to that point.