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Jazz band trioKAIT presents electro-acoustic sound on debut project

trioKAITEagerly defying genre boundaries with a fresh, inventive electro-acoustic sound, trioKAIT is a piano trio for a random-access generation. On their self-titled debut, the funky and eclectic Los Angeles-based trio — pianist Kait Dunton, electric bassist Cooper Appelt, and drummer Jake Reed — shuffles wide-ranging influences and Dunton’s unconventional compositions into a refreshingly modern take on instrumental music that is as uncategorizable as it is infectious.

On their first recording together, trioKAIT shows off a cohesive group sound and an electrifying camaraderie that takes most bands years to develop. A former member of the extended clan of Brooklyn-based fusionistas Snarky Puppy, Dunton refers to trioKAIT as a “family band,” a spirit that shines through in their playful and spontaneous interactions. Knowing her bandmates as well as she does — Appelt was a classmate of the pianist in the renowned jazz program at the University of North Texas; Reed was a classmate at USC — Dunton composes music that takes full advantage of their individual strengths and collective identity to forge an utterly singular sound.

Though Dunton’s fingers never stray from the keyboard of her acoustic piano, there are echoes of electronic music throughout her writing for trioKAIT. EDM, classic R&B, various transmutations of electronica, and modern rock music all intermingle with jazz and classical influences on the album, reflective of Dunton’s out-of-the-box tastes and interests. Her compositional focus is on storytelling rather than soloing, the emotional rather than the cerebral.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Dunton was obsessed with the piano, she says, “from the time I was old enough to reach the keys.” But with no models for a career in music, she thought of her passion as a hobby until she was encouraged to pursue it further by teachers at the University of Virginia, where she was majoring in Spanish. They helped her to put together a last-minute tape to apply to the University of North Texas.

Immediately upon arriving in the Lone Star state, Dunton made two life-changing encounters. Among the first musicians she played with were Ross Pederson, now an in-demand drummer with a stunning variety of artists, and Michael League, founder of Snarky Puppy. “I’d never played with people like that,” Dunton says in a news release. “It completely blew my mind. I learned a lot really fast.”

In 2009, Dunton released her debut album, Real & Imagined, which featured Pederson on drums and Daniel Foose on bass. She returned home to earn her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where she studied under pianist Alan Pasqua and composer Vince Mendoza. While there, she recorded her second release, Mountain Suite, with heavy-hitters from the USC faculty, including Peter Erskine on drums, Bob Mintzer on tenor sax, John Daversa on trumpet and Darek Oles on bass.

In Appelt and Reed, Dunton has found collaborators who are as open-eared and adventurous as she is. Both instrumentalists are active in a variety of scenes in L.A., playing big band jazz, rock, R&B, and funk music. As trioKAIT, they’ve made three tours of Germany and presented a preview of the new album at the USC Women’s Conference last March. The trio’s growing success is proving writer Don Heckman’s assessment of Dunton as “an extraordinary talent on the rise” as well as her recognition by Jazz.com as one of “10 Future Female Jazz Stars.”

 

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New release reflects diverse jazz styles of Mack Avenue SuperBand

superbandUp tempo grooves meet listeners from Mack Avenue SuperBand’s “Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival – 2014″ release. The project documents the third incarnation of the Mack Avenue SuperBand, an all-star ensemble of bandleaders from the superb roster of the Motor City jazz label. Once again, this powerhouse congregation joined forces under the leadership of bassist Rodney Whitaker to dazzle a hometown crowd in picturesque Hart Plaza, with the results captured for another knockout live recording.

Joining Whitaker as three-time veterans are his longtime rhythm section partner, drummer Carl Allen; pianist Aaron Diehl; and guitarist Evan Perri of Hot Club Of Detroit. Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller returns from the SuperBand’s debut outing after taking the second year off, while vibraphonist Warren Wolf and tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum make it two in a row after joining the band for the first time in 2013.

The SuperBand comprises a distinctive blend of generations and styles, which Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell says captures the diversity of the label itself.

“The SuperBand has always been and will always be a mix of veteran players and top younger talent, which really represents the Mack Avenue roster,” Stiwell says in a recent news release. “When you look at this particular line-up, there are a wide range of styles represented: from the Django-influenced guitar approach of Evan Perri to the soulful/gospel leanings of tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and when you consider the other players, you can find just about everything in between. And each of them are bringing performing and writing chops that are top shelf.”

The final – and perhaps most important – member of the ensemble is the enthusiastic Labor Day weekend crowd. “The Detroit Jazz Festival is one of the best live festivals on Earth to play,” Whitaker says. “That audience is pushing you to play and encouraging you. Then you’re on the bandstand with a lot of cats that really admire each other, so the combination of having a good time and an excited and lively audience makes for a great recording.”

Or, as Diehl adds succinctly, “Quite simply: Detroit knows jazz. They’ll let you know when you’re on the right track, and certainly when you’re not.”

Whitaker sees the gospel roots of most of Mack Avenue’s artists as the common thread that binds them together and allows a once-a-year gathering like the SuperBand to be so successful. Even guitarist Perri, who would seem to be an outlier with his gypsy jazz influences, is a Detroit native in whom the bassist recognizes the influences of Motown, funk, and soul. The SuperBand helps to lend a distinctive identity to a label whose artists spans multiple generations, styles, and hometowns.

“These days, not everyone who plays jazz necessarily lives in New York,” Whitaker points out. The Detroit Jazz Festival is the culminating place where we all get together every year and talk about music and career development – and form a mutual admiration society. It makes the label more of a family. The hang is part of the music, and the hang happens every Labor Day weekend.”

For Whitaker as music director, the hang begins several months earlier, as he reaches out to each musician to solicit their contributions to the year’s repertoire. Of the half-dozen tunes on this year’s release, all but one were written by members of the SuperBand. The exception is Herbie Hancock’s “Riot,” which kicks off the album in combustible fashion with fiery solos from Wolf, Perri, Diehl, Whitaker, and Allen.

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Orrin Evan’s project “The Evolution of Oneself” comes in September

orrinevansPianist Orrin Evans takes stock of the pivotal moments that shape the trajectory of a life on The Evolution of Oneself, his new release on Smoke Sessions Records available on Sept. 11. The album is itself a landmark in Evans’ musical evolution, introducing a remarkable new piano trio with two longtime associates but first-time collaborators: bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins. The result is a raw and thrilling excursion incorporating a startlingly wide range of influences, from jazz and neo-soul to country and hip-hop.
As suggested by the title, The Evolution of Oneself explores deeply personal terrain, with Evans reflecting on the road he’s traveled to become the man and musician he is today. “This album is about personal evolution,” he explains in a news release. “For me, there have been different moments or people in my life that have made me evolve. You can call it change, but ultimately you’re still the same person from the day you came out of your mother’s womb. But you evolve, and that process is what this record is about.”
Through 25 albums as a leader and co-leader, including his neo-soul/acid jazz ensemble Luv Park and the bracing collective trio Tarbaby, Evans has always followed a vigorously individual path. The Evolution of Oneself is no exception, with Evans setting a pace that brings out fiery, gut-churning playing from both McBride and Riggins — two of modern jazz’s most renowned and distinctive voices in their own rights.
While The Evolution of Oneself takes the concept more literally than usual, an Orrin Evans recording session is always a family affair, with a party atmosphere and guests stopping by whether they end up contributing or not. “Being in the studio and doing what I do is no different than a cookout on a Saturday night,” Evans says, and that openness is reflected in the raucous verve of this album.
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Pianist Yelena Eckemoff ‘s “Everblue” coming August 21

everblueWhen pianist Yelena Eckemoff released Cold Sun (L & H Production, 2010) — a trio date with drumming legend Peter Erskine and Danish bass whiz Mads Vinding — the jazz world was introduced to a startlingly fresh voice destined for great things.  Over the course of the six albums that followed, Eckemoff lived up to that promise, delivering organically crafted music reflective of her classical background, fascination with the natural world, poetic soul, communicative spirit, and overall open-mindedness.  Now, Eckemoff is poised to make even more waves with the spellbinding Everblue, her third in-studio encounter with Norwegian bass icon Arild Andersen and her first musical meeting with two other Norwegians — drummer Jon Christensen and saxophonist Tore Brunborg.

The musical affinity that exists between Eckemoff and Andersen is already abundantly clear, having been demonstrated on two beautifully rendered trio outings — Glass Song (L & H Production, 2013), with Peter Erskine on drums, and Lions (L & H Production, 2015), with Billy Hart on drums. On Everblue, their rapport is deepened and broadened, as both players seem to resonate sympathetically throughout.  While Eckemoff has worked with a number of fine bassists in the past, including Vinding and George Mraz, her relationship with Andersen helps to take her work to another level; it’s a relationship that, she notes, plays out like “an interactive conversation.”

With Everblue, Eckemoff doesn’t simply present a set of tunes: she presents an overarching musical concept that guides this voyage.  “Part of our human consciousness constantly searches and yearns for the divine, unspeakably beautiful, eternal,” she says in a recent news release.  “In my world, I call this place Everblue.”  It’s a concept and a world that’s plainly laid out in her poetry and music, as everything is drawn around beaches and oceans.   And it’s a concept within that concept-the search for beauty-that informs this journey of faith and discovery.

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Trumpeter John Raymond re-examines jazz standards on second project

On his sophomore CD, Brooklyn-based trumpeter/composer John Raymond ventures into Foreign Territory, taking a refreshing and exciting look at the jazz tradition with a set of original music that retains the music’s classic aspects while feeling entirely contemporary.

To realize his modern reimagining of traditional elements, Raymond assembled a stellar quartet that is uniquely qualified to seamlessly merge past and present. He called on two gifted peers – pianist Dan Tepfer, who has gone to further time-spanning extremes with his adaptation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and bassist Joe Martin, who has worked with innovators like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, and Chris Potter – and a legend who helped to define the very tradition that Raymond is reexamining, drummerBilly Hart. Overseeing the session was the great horn player John McNeil, whom Raymond refers to as a mentor and “undercover jazz trumpet guru.”

Labeled “a prepossessing young trumpet player” by the New York Times, Raymond has worked with musicians such as John Abercrombie, Chris Potter, Ben Williams,Orrin Evans, Gilad Hekselman, Linda Oh and Otis Brown III, and been featured at the FONT Festival, Winter Jazz Festival and Center City Jazz Festival. He has also distinguished himself as an elite horn arranger working with top gospel and R&B artists across the country, most clearly evidenced by the three GRAMMY-nominated songs for which he has arranged and recorded horns.

Foreign Territory is a vast departure from Raymond’s 2012 debut release, Strength & Song, which featured a more self-consciously “contemporary” sound with traces of rock and gospel influences. The Minneapolis-born trumpeter began his follow-up in the same vein, but the new music didn’t seem to fit with his vision. Around the same time, he connected with McNeil and the two began to convene regularly at the elder trumpeter’s house, where they’d discuss music and play standards together.

“That sparked a lot of revelations for me,” Raymond says in a recent news release. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on young musicians to be ‘innovative.’ But I noticed that I felt most relaxed and authentic and honest with myself when I was playing over standards or embracing the traditional aspects of the music. So I realized that I had to break free of the pressure that I was putting on myself to do something ‘new’ and instead decided to take familiar ideas and turn them on their heads to find something new inside each of them.”

Raymond’s incredible quartet was key to navigating that uncharted terrain, he says. “I think one of the biggest reasons I chose these guys for this music was because I knew that they were going to truly improvise. I knew they were going to take it to a place musically that was unknown and undiscovered. This was my vision from the start – to find a group of musicians that would bring such a high level of spontaneity to the music that it would create both a sense of mystery and a sense of joy in exploring the unknown.

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Vocalist Allan Harris releases new project “Black Bar Jukebox”

allanharrisThe Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist/guitarist/bandleader/composer Allan Harris has reigned supreme as one of the most accomplished and exceptional singers of his generation. Aptly described by the Miami Herald as an artist blessed with, “the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythmic sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat ‘King’ Cole.”
Evidence of Harris’ multifaceted talent can be heard on his 10 recordings as a leader; his far-flung and critically-acclaimed concerts around the world, from Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center, to the 2012 London Olympics, and a number of prestigious bookings in Europe, The Middle East and Asia, and his numerous awards, which include the New York Nightlife Award for “Outstanding Jazz Vocalist” – which he won three times – the Backstage Bistro Award for “Ongoing Achievement in Jazz,” and the Harlem Speaks “Jazz Museum of Harlem Award.”
Harris’ new album, Black Bar Jukebox, produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Brian Bacchus (Norah Jones, Gregory Porter), is his most compelling and comprehensive recording to date.
“Believe me, what Brian brought to the table was wonderful,” Harris says in a news release, “not only because of his music, but also because of the vision, and the way he hears things. I’m enamored with the sound I got.” Inspired by the jazz, R&B, soul, country and Latin sounds that emanated from jukeboxes in African-American barbershops, clubs, bars, and restaurants, from the mid to late twentieth century, the album — which features Harris’ accomplished band of three years: drummer Jake Goldbas, bassist Leon Boykins, and pianist/keyboardist Pascal Le Boeuf; with special guests, percussionist Samuel Torres and guitarist Yotam Silberstein — also marks his moving and momentous return to his jazz-centered, Harlem roots, where he heard all those aforementioned styles, genres and grooves in the Golden Age of the seventies.
“Growing up, I heard the sound of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Nat King Cole,” Harris says, “I was always cognizant of jazz.”
In this soulful setting, Harris would meet many jazz and R&B stars who worked at the Apollo and came by the restaurant to eat and hang out. Another aunt, Theodosia Ingram, won the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night Competition and performed at a number of Manhattan clubs, including The Lenox Lounge under her stage name, “Phoebe.” It was through her, that Harris would meet and be mentored by a seminal jazz figure, Clarence Williams. “We used to go to his record store, and he’d come into our house on Lincoln Avenue,” explains Harris. “At the time I was a child … I just thought that was just a part of my life. And later, I understood the gravity of the depth of his history. Yes: Clarence Williams opened up a lot of doors for me, to really get me into this genre calledjazz.” It was Williams who brought Louis Armstrong to the Harris home, and babysat the future crooner, who was frightened by Satchmo’s gravelly, “frog like voice.”
Black Bar Jukebox, a diverse and dynamic disc, showcases Allan Harris at the zenith of his all-encompassing artistry. “I’m a storyteller through the genre of jazz,” concludes Harris.