Khari Wynn is a bit of a globetrotter, or at least he was before the coronavirus brought us all back home. So perhaps it's not surprising that he's not a regular presence on the live scene here. By his reckoning, he's been to at least 20 countries in as many years, and has played around 2,000 shows in that time. That's because he's been working as the guitarist, and more recently the musical director, for the group Public Enemy. But that's another story.
Here in Memphis, Wynn, son of erstwhile Commercial Appeal jazz and pop music critic Ron Wynn, creates music that is very different from Public Enemy's. In these solo projects, often featuring some of the city's finest players in supporting roles, Wynn takes a jazzier turn, sometimes with cosmic musings woven into the dense musical compositions. All of them feature Wynn's own virtuoso guitar playing, as well as being his original compositions, which display the keen musical instincts that won him recognition as one of Crosstown Arts' resident musicians earlier this year. I spoke with Wynn recently about this solo work and the diverse influences that have informed his music.
Khari Wynn, aka Misterioso Africano
Memphis Flyer:You have a lot of musical tracks on YouTube under the name Energy Disciples. Tell me a bit about that.
Khari Wynn: Where I got Energy Disciples, the basic concept, was I was very interested in electronic music. I'm still interested in it; I think it's the new frontier of music. But I wanted to combine electronic music with some of the acoustic instrumentation, and conceptual, more 'out' concepts of what somebody like Sun Ra was doing. Sun Ra is so original, because he would have some tunes that were straight big band charts, he would have other tunes that were almost like pop/show tunes, and then he had other stuff that was just absolutely, completely, all the way out. Cacophony/chaos kinda stuff, man. So if you could take that concept and somehow integrate it with electronic music, combined with live instrumentation, I thought that would be an original concept. So that's what I attempted with that group.
I heard it right from the get go. Like Sun Ra without the Fletcher Henderson.
Exactly. Re-imagined with the influences of the 1980s and ’90s vs. the 1930s and ’40s.
Is it an actual band you assembled?
That was more of a studio project. I have another project that I did after that. Energy Disciples was purely a studio thing that never did anything live. I have another group now called the New Saturn Collective. And we did some live gigs. That's the live interpretation of the Energy Disciples. Before Energy Disciples, I had a group called Solstice, and and we played around Midtown in the early 2000s. That was way more of a live, jazz/rock sound. Kinda like that late ’60s, early ’70s mix. Rock, but with extended solos but not all the way jazz either. Kinda like Colosseum. The first John McLaughlin record, Devotion, that type of vibe.
There's even a little Frank Zappa in there.
Definitely. Exactly. The pioneering late ’60s, early ’70s, before fusion got a little corny. It started to get corny in the mid-70s. But it was still real dangerous in the late ’60s early ’70s. Solstice was that kinda thing. But at that time I started going out on the road more with Public Enemy, so I couldn't really play out. It's hard in Memphis, to get gigs with stuff like that. It still is. It's really hard to get gigs like that anywhere, but especially in Memphis. Even on the Midtown scene, it was hard.
So I disbanded that and did Energy Disciples purely as a studio thing. And I would bring in other musicians. And I did about four CDs of that. So then I thought, it may be cool to attempt stuff live again, so that's when I did the New Saturn Collective. Almost as a combination of Solstice and Energy Disciples. Where it had some of the live aspect of Solstice and then some of the spacier concepts of Energy Disciples.
Is New Saturn Collective a set group of people, or a rotating cast?
It's a rotating cast. Now I'm working on this other concept, so I'm starting to rotate the players. On each New Saturn Collective album it was a new cast. I like to bring in different players. I composed all the music. But different players give it a different interpretation, so it always takes you a different place. Each player puts their individual personality onto the thing so it's good to keep it fresh.
I've also got this improv project that's called Misterioso Africano, and it's pure improvisation, nothing worked out. Sometimes we get into the avant-garde noise thing, sometimes we just groove.