Pop icon Seiko Matsuda’s first jazz project goes into high gear

With over 40 music awards, a record of 24 consecutive No. 1 single hits on Japan’s Oricon charts and several hits on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart, Seiko Matsuda has been active internationally since 1980. Now, after six years of planning, Matsuda finally unveils her first jazz album Seiko Jazz (available via Verve).
Known as the “Eternal Idol” in Japan due to her long standing career as a pop culture icon, Matsuda has historically collaborated with jazz greats in the past while leaving a visible footprint within its scene. In 2011, famed producer Quincy Jones invited her to take part in his iconic, career spanning “Quincy Jones and the Global Gumbo All-Stars” concert at Los Angeles’ legendary Hollywood Bowl. The following year, Matsuda was a featured artist on the contemporary jazz supergroup Fourplay’s album Esprit de Four. Upon celebrating the 35th anniversary of her debut in 2015, she won the Japanese equivalent of a Grammy Award when she received Best Vocal Performance at the Japan Record Awards.
Seiko Jazz marks the critically acclaimed singer’s debut jazz album, produced by Shigeyuki Kawashima (the first Japanese jazz producer to receive a Grammy® Award) and arranged by Grammy Award-winning bandleader David Matthews. Matsuda is joined by Matthews’ Manhattan Jazz Orchestra to present standards such as “Smile” and “The Way We Were,” as well as the Bossa Nova staple “The Girl From Ipanema” in a way that showcases the cornerstones in the history of jazz.
“I am not only overjoyed to be able to release my album with Verve, but I also feel I have turned over a new leaf after 37 years,” Matsuda says via news release. “Holding this special appreciation to all of the people who have supported me throughout the my career, I only hope to become a better version of myself by constantly learning and taking on new challenges.”

Drummer Nate Smith chronicles personal experiences on debut album

smithNate Smith‘s visceral, instinctive, and deep-rooted style of drumming has already established him as a key piece in reinvigorating the international jazz scene, and now his rising career reaches a new benchmark with the release of his bandleader debut, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere (Feb. 3, 2017 via Ropeadope Records). Much like his diverse and ample resume (which includes esteemed leading lights such as Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Ravi Coltrane, José James, Somi, and Patricia Barber, among others), this album sees Smith fusing his original modern jazz compositions with R&B, pop, and hip-hop.
This leader debut shows Smith at the helm of a core ensemble consisting of pianist and keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist Jeremy Most, alto and soprano saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, electric bassist Fima Ephron, and singer/lyricist Amma Whatt, with Michael Mayo on backing vocals. The lineup expands on several cuts with the inclusion of several illustrious guests: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Dave Holland, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Adam Rogers, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.
KINFOLK is about the musical family that I’ve put together,” Smith said in a recent news release. “All core members of the band have very unique and specific points of view.”
He reinforces the idea of family by composing tunes that touch upon his childhood: such is the case with the jovial “Morning and Allison,” whose title partly invokes Allison Drive, the street on which Smith grew up. The song stars Whatt serenading idyllic recollections of a child enjoying a bright, fun-filled Sunday morning.
Smith recorded his parents – Lettie and Theodore Smith – talking about their respective parents on the mesmerizing interludes “Mom” and “Dad.” On the former, Smith’s mother tells how her father migrated from Virginia to Detroit and was drafted into U.S. Army, then later returned to Virginia where he bought the family a house. The latter provides a vehicle for Theodore to recall how his own father tirelessly worked at Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia during the Jim Crow era without getting proper financial compensation or promotion until decades later.
“I think of these stories as snapshots that ultimately gave shape to the Black American experience into which I was born, which ultimately informs this music,” Smith said. He stressed the significance of having his father on the disc: Theodore Smith passed away in March 2015.
“He never got a chance to hear the music or the band,” Smith said.
Because Smith didn’t come strictly from the formal matriculation of music studies as so many of his jazz contemporaries did, he lovingly describes his approach to drumming as “unrefined,” which in turns helps him distinguish his voice. He did, however, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1997 in media arts and design from James Madison University. While he was still in college, the legendary singer Betty Carter recruited him for her world-acclaimed Jazz Ahead program.
Smith said that the visual arts discipline he studied in college definitely seeps into his compositions.
“I love great movies and images. I’ve always had a deep interest in composing for film,” he said. “For this project, there is something very cinematic about the way that I conceived this record. That’s why it was so important for me to cast the right characters in terms of musicians. They bring to life the themes of family, nostalgia and identity that define this music.”
Ultimately, Smith likens the songs on KINFOLK to film vignettes sequenced together to tell a greater story about the unfolding journey of a working artist. This music represents snapshots from that voyage – these songs are the postcards from everywhere along the winding road.

Songstress Kenia reunites with former bandmates on new project

Photo Credit: Layne Anderson

Photo Credit: Layne Anderson

For many jazz fans in the 1980s and ’90s, Kenia’s singing was the gateway to contemporary Brazilian jazz and pop. She stood out from her compatriots because of her intimate, smooth vocals-subtle yet soulful-and her finesse with both American standards and Brazilian material. On We Go (to be released in August) will entice a new generation of listeners, as it showcases Kenia at the top of her form with a seductive, polished vocal phrasing. The intriguing repertoire includes songs co-written by Kenia and the Brazilian songwriting legends Ivan Lins and Antonio Adolfo.

The singer, born Kenia Acioly, grew up in Rio de Janeiro and moved to the U.S. in 1980. She made her recording debut as the featured vocalist on trumpeter Claudio Roditi’s Red on Red, produced by the legendary Creed Taylor, the producer of “Desafinado” and “The Girl from Ipanema.” Kenia established herself as one of the most popular Brazilian vocalists in the U.S. with her MCA solo debut Initial Thrill (1987) and Distant Horizon (1988), both of which gained substantial radio airplay, and were followed by well-received albums with Denon. On these releases, Kenia sang in English and Portuguese and freely mixed composers like Harold Arlen and Stevie Wonder, Djavan and Toninho Horta.

On We Go boasts standards by big names (Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney), works by lesser known contemporary composers (Romero Lubambo, Luis Simas and others) and songs written for Kenia by Adolfo and Lins.

Paul Socolow plays bass and Mark Soskin handles keyboards on the new album, with Sandro Albert on guitar, Lucas Ashby on percussion and Adriano Santos on drums. Guitarist Romero Lubambo and harmonicist Hendrik Meurkens make notable guest appearances.

The album came about, recalls Kenia in a recent news release, when she “reconnected with Socolow and Soskin, who were the original members of my very first band, Pau-Brazil, and played on her first two albums. When we met again after nearly two decades, it just felt so right that I couldn’t resist the urge to do another project with them.”

For more information on Kenia, go to KeniaLive.com.

 

Pop singer-songwriter Jared Salvatore announces sophomore album release in 2013

Jared Salvatore

Bringing a pop sensibility to the singer-songwriter world, and a lyric-driven introspectiveness to the pop world, Jared Salvatore is ready to unleash his second album, Compass Out on January 15, 2013. The follow up to his 2009 solo debut of Mischief and Mayhem, Salvatore has spent many years as a co-writer on numerous independent releases, fine tuning his skills to deliver an album showcasing his soulful vocals, his gift as a vocalist, guitar player, and pianist.

“Helplessly Wasted,” the first single from the album has essences of Jason Mraz and Robin Thicke, a combination of pop/rock, fueled by Salvatore’s expressive vocals and driven with a tight groove beneath layered background vocals. Stand-out track “Learned My Lesson” is reminiscent of the funkier side of John Mayer or Gavin Degraw and was included on the recent compilation Grooving Forward: Volume 1. All proceeds from the compilation will be donated to The SAMFund for Young Adult survivors of Cancer and The Andrea Coller Memorial Award.

Like many natural troubadours, Salvatore doesn’t remember a time without music. By the age of 18, he realized it was his calling and began studying guitar and voice, in addition to piano which he’d played since the age of 5. Within two years, he found himself attending Berklee College of Music and playing in various Boston-based bands, as varied as progressive rock band The Zero Four, funk/jazz ensemble Flatbush Park Leisure Group, and hard rock band Lansdowne.

Motherhood generates Elizabeth Shepherd’s release “Rewind”

“Rewind” is available September 25 on Linus Entertainment.

Montreal-based soul-jazz innovator Elizabeth Shepherd has been praised around the world for her song-writing chops, but on her fourth studio album, Rewind, the pianist and vocalist showcases her skills as an arranger and interpreter, breathing new life – and soul – into songs both familiar and forgotten.

A two-time JUNO nominee (Canada’s Grammy Award equivalent) and critical darling, Elizabeth Shepherd’s genre-bending, soulful jazz has helped her find her place as a mainstay on the international circuit, playing legendary venues like Tokyo’s Cotton Club, London’s Jazz Café and the Hollywood Bowl. Her debut album, Start to Move, continues to receive critical acclaim, and was voted the Top 3 Jazz Albums of the Year by the listeners of the Gilles Peterson Show on BBC Radio 1 in 2006.

As her first full-length album of standards, Rewind charts new and welcome territory for Shepherd, who pushes the boundaries of what is considered conventional jazz, all the while creating a sound completely her own.

Raised by ministers of the Salvation Army, an early exposure to the brass band sounds mixed with her love for classical and house music, funk and hip hop, lay the foundations for one soulful musician. Trained extensively in conservatories in Canada and France, Shepherd completed a degree in jazz piano from McGill University, Montreal. Initially entering the music program to pursue a career in music therapy she quickly discovered her extensive talent in songwriting and performing. She moved to Toronto in 2004 and worked as a server at a piano bar. Her serving job proved an asset to her musical career – once management realized Shepherd’s talent, she quickly became the restaurant’s key entertainer. Organically and innocently enough, the Elizabeth Shepherd Trio was formed with Scott Kemp on bass and Colin Kingsmore on drums. Within a year of trading her waitress uniform for a piano bench in 2006, Shepherd was appearing live on BBC Radio 1, playing sold-out shows at London’s Jazz Café and doing a weeklong residency at the venerable Cotton Club in Tokyo.

On her 2008 follow-up, Parkdale, which garnered another JUNO nomination, Shepherd continued to carve out her own niche within the jazz idiom, drawing praise from peers and critics. The ensuing tours saw her sharing the stage with greats like Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride and Victor Wooten. Shepherd’s 2010 release, Heavy Falls the Night, marked her debut as a producer and the record was hailed by jazz and pop critics alike as her best to date. Long-listed for Canada’s most prestigious music award, The Polaris Prize, the album builds a bridge between jazz and sophisticated pop music. Shepherd spent the better part of 14 months touring the record internationally, selling out legendary jazz clubs while climbing high on pop charts.

The vocalist didn’t consider recording an album of standards until she became pregnant with her daughter Sanna while on the last leg of her 14-month tour supporting Heavy Falls The Night. Faced with the realization that she would not be able to finish writing enough original new songs for an album before Sanna’s birth, Shepherd was compelled to get into the studio and record an album of songs that she had learned, loved and grown with over the years. She wanted desperately to connect with something that was always a constant in her life while she was in the midst of what is arguably the most significant life change a woman will ever have — motherhood. After the album was finished and Sanna entered her life, Shepherd realized that Rewind too, ironically, marked a great shift for her musically.

“Now that the album is done, I realize that while pregnancy is a time of unprecedented, extreme change, and motherhood an even deeper process of adaptation, the illusion of holding onto something fixed is just that – illusion – because we are never really standing still, and so this album is not that link that I was hoping for when initially faced with so much change – rather it is one more face of change, an act of discovering and embracing yet another aspect of my self, this time of my musical self,” said Shepherd in a news release.

So while Rewind was a record initially inspired by Shepherd’s desire to connect to something true and constant while undergoing and preparing for her life’s biggest upheaval yet, the album in fact was a transition too; a remarkable, inspired and ambitiously creative transition. Rewind is clearly an Elizabeth Shepherd release, not a release of standards sung by Elizabeth Shepherd.

As far as being a “jazz musician”, Shepherd does not count herself as one to be defined by a particular genre; her music comes straight from the soul, and is more than just what she does, but what she loves and who she is.