As much as anyone, Maurice "Mo E" Egeston had an active role in creating the music culture of Washington Avenue in the mid to late 1990s and early aughts. At the time, the club scene there was a rich mix — not perfect, of course, but possessing both live music and DJ cultures, with a clientele that crossed a lot of demographic lines. For a handful of years, on a handful of blocks, something special was happening on Wash Ave, with Egeston often onstage, working behind the scenes or simply part of the audience.
These days, it's a different musical community downtown, but Egeston's still in the mix, though his view is largely that of a resident, not a performer. Living on the top floor of a converted warehouse, Egeston says that as he walks around the corner for his daily coffee, he thinks, "Oh, that club used to be there. And that other club was here." The flipside of nostalgia? "Moments when you can't remember what was where."
At different points in time, Egeston was active in Urban Jazz Naturals, Vargas Swing, its offshoot Vargas, Invincible Groov ("with no 'e,' because the '90s"), Soul Alliance, Coco & Mo, Brothers Lazaroff and his long-running partnership with horn player Dawn Weber — "Mo & Dawn, a working duo that played lounges and restaurants and continued with what we were doing with Vargas and Urban Jazz Naturals."
He recalls that time fondly.
"That era is what really sucked me into electronic music, in general," he says. "This was before you saw VIP lines and valets on Washington Avenue. There was kind of a crew, like what's on Cherokee now, just playing a different kind of music. It felt like a community for sure, and definitely felt like the coolest thing in town. At least we thought so.
"It was a DJ-driven thing, but at the same time, you had bands like Zhivegas, Son of Starchild, Sky Bop Fly... these six- to eight-piece bands that were making money and able to stay together and tour by playing live music. DJ culture was big, but support for live music was there. Besides the raw fun of it, it was just a community of kinda kooky people, many of whom have remained my friends. Crazy to think that was more than twenty years ago, maybe more."
- PHOTO BY PETER Z JONES
- "This is a nice blueprint of what we can do," Egeston says of the CD.
Throughout the years, Egeston's been able to incorporate gigs played for cash with others that have a bit more of his heart and soul invested; he also maintains an active teaching schedule, with exactly 41 students at last count, including both kids and adults.
These days, Egeston's finding his creative outlet as an instrumentalist and bandleader, offering up a new CD by his group the Mo E All-Stars, which features the eponymous leader on keys and composition, Duane "Jingo" Williams on percussion, Eric "Snoopy" Tyler on bass and the ever-in-demand Grover Stewart Jr. behind the kit. Along with the contributions of producer/recording engineer Jason McEntire, the band is releasing Groove Suites Vol. 1, an eight-song, all-instrumental album that Egeston suggests was a long time coming.
"So I've been writing since Urban Jazz Naturals," he says. "Writing, rearranging, taking other people's ideas and remixing. I was somewhat burned out, because I came from a time when we were still making physical products and moved into a time when the industry was transitioning away from physical products. A lot of writing came when I was playing at the Delmar; I just never got over that hump of putting my own stuff out, but knew I had to get an album out at some point. When Snoopy arrived, it really balanced things out and I started thinking seriously about getting things ready to record. And it felt really good to get it down."
Egeston has a hard time defining the album without "lots of words." He says, "It's basically soulful, jazz-influenced. Some funk and Latin in there. The underlying thing is the different dance grooves, with jazz, funk and soul mixed in with old-school house, drum and bass, down-tempo beats."
After initially laying down a marathon live session on November 16, Egeston returned to Sawhorse Studios on an as-needed basis, while also laying down tracks at his loft. In time, McEntire signed on to mix and master as well as record, a process that Egeston says was perfect: "Our dynamics are best captured live, but a live recording at a show fell apart, so we wanted to capture something as close as possible to that. We burned through all the tracks in one day. After that, I played Rhodes and top-board synths and overdubbed a lot of my stuff. I always made demos work for various things, created beats. Doing work in the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. range has traditionally been my strength, so I'd record bits late at night and send them his way. It was nice, having the flexibility to do both."
The process made him think that the next album could come a lot sooner, featuring much of the same personnel.
"I do, I do," he says, when asked if thinks there's another album on the horizon. "This is a nice blueprint of we can do; it really showcases the players. Yeah, it's been a process, but I'm definitely pleased and it's put me back into a place of wanting to keep writing."
On (almost) every Saturday, Egeston hosts "Late Night Grooves" at Grand Center's Dark Room, a place that allows him to workshop material constantly. He's also wants to incorporate some new, young voices into his projects going forward, as well as working with his generational compadres.
"Paige Alyssa will be on the release gig," he says. "Charlie Cerpa will be playing with us in a couple of weeks. I want to keep those sorts of things in mind. It's not just about wanting to work with twentysomethings. But when we work on something original or even with songs that we're covering or reinterpreting, they'll pull on things from my own youth that I've put aside; it makes me remember that that music was actually really good.
"With the next project, we'll have some vocalists as guests, and I want to interact with some young folks, for sure; I don't pretend like I'm young any more. I definitely appreciate what's going on today and want some nice creativity to go on with the younger set."