Tag: Jazz

Interview: Vocalist Arianna Neikrug discusses her inspiring debut album, ‘Changes’

Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

Following her win at the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition and subsequent performance at Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, singer/songwriter Arianna Neikrug will introduce audiences to her eclectically cool, groove-ridden sound with the release of her debut album, Changes.

Produced by Grammy Award-winning pianist and arranger, Laurence Hobgood, Changes features Neikrug’s inspired interpretation of songs from The Great American Songbook, as well as classic pop and R&B.

Tracks like Al Green’s R&B staple, “Let’s Stay Together” and the fusion of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” and “Be Cool” are instant stand-outs. Each revealing a depth of artistry well beyond Neikrug’s twenty-five years. The new album also contains two original tracks that take listeners on an even deeper dive into the beautiful songstress’ inner soul.

AXS recently spoke with Arianna Neikrug about Changes [which will be released on Concord Records on Friday, Aug. 24] and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: In your opinion, what do you think makes jazz so timeless and special?

Arianna Neikrug: I think it’s the delicate balance between something being complex and letting yourself go. The technical brain has to know so much about musical theory, but then you’ve got your natural voice (or instrument) to use as a vessel to convey it. Jazz to me is a platform for creativity. It’s about innovative thinking and improvisation, but it’s also about singing the most beautiful melodies and timeless lyrics.

AXS: How would you describe the sound of your new album, Changes?

AN: It’s definitely a groove-based album with reimagined style. It’s the fusion of singer/songwriter, pop and jazz moving in a modern, progressive direction.

AXS: How did you determine which songs from other artists to cover and include?

AN: It started by simply brainstorming. My influences are broad, and there are so many singers and instrumentalists I admire. But the thing that actually gave the most insight into what this album would become were the originals. Those songs were already there, so it was just a matter of finding and adapting the standards and other classics to make it a little more cohesive. The arranging part was the solidifier for the entire record. Finding things I love had an impact, but using the arrangement is what glued everything together.

AXS: Let’s discuss a few tracks from Changes. What can you tell me about your version of “Let’s Stay Together”?

AN: That was a Laurence pick. I remember we were working at his place and then decided to take a look at Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Hits of All Time. We took a stab at coming up with some harmonic ideas for some of the songs. Then he saw “Let’s Stay Together” and a lightbulb went off inside his head. It was magic. It’s a song that’s very close to my heart. From that point on, it was an exploration of the vibe.

You can read the rest of my
Interview with Arianna Neikrug by Clicking Here!

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Interview: Saxophonist Michael Lington discusses his new album, ‘Silver Lining’

Saxophonist, Michael Lington is one of the world’s top contemporary jazz artists. He also has an incomparable knack for combining hook-laden melodies with soul-infused grooves. Lington’s tenth solo album, Silver Lining, continues this trend; particularly with the leadoff track, “City Life,” which tastefully captures the seductive charm of big-city living, and features a tasty guitar solo by Dave Stewart (Eurythmics).

Produced by Barry Eastmond, Silver Lining also features Grammy Award-winning artists Ray Parker Jr. on the track, “M-Funk” and soul legend William Bell’s inspired vocal on the Curtis Mayfield classic, “People Get Ready.” Other standouts include the funky, “Break The Ice,” and Dorian Holley lending vocals on the classic Tower of Power hit, “So Very Hard To Go.”

Silver Lining will be released on Friday, June 8, which coincides with Lington performing as the opening act for the legendary, Barry Manilow.

AXS recently spoke with Lington about Silver Lining and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How would you describe Silver Lining in terms of its sound and maybe how it relates to some of your previous work?

Michael Lington: It’s an organic soul-jazz record. We recorded it all live in the studio so we could get the right feel and really vibe with each other. This is the third album I’ve done this way, and it produces a more fun and live feel. Almost as if you were at a concert.

AXS: What’s your songwriting process like?

ML: Every song has its own story. Most of the songs were written as a collaboration with my producer, Barry Eastmond, and myself. Sometimes, we get together and write and other times it starts with him sending me a little idea or groove and I put a melody on it. Then we continue writing until we feel it all makes sense. It’s a very collaborative process.

AXS: As an instrumentalist, how do you determine what title to give for a song?

ML: Song titles are hard for me and are usually the last part of the process. What I normally do is sit down, usually with a glass of wine, and listen to each song and really discover what it makes me feel like and somehow, a title appears.

AXS: Let’s discuss a few tracks from Silver Lining. What can you tell me about “City Life”?

AXS:City Life” was one of the first songs written for Silver Lining and sets the tone for the overall feel of the album. I remember we had just finished mixing the song twice, but still felt that there was something missing. That’s when I came up with the idea of asking Dave Stewart to do his guitar magic on it. We also added a grand piano. As soon as I heard these elements, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Michael Lington by Clicking Here.

Chameleon: Fourplay Drummer Harvey Mason Discusses His New Album

HMChameleonChameleon is the Concord Records debut album from legendary session drummer Harvey Mason and draws upon the rich jazz-funk heritage of the 1970s.

Co-produced by Chris Dunn, Chameleon (Releasing April 29th) showcases some of the most talented young musicians in jazz today: trumpeter Christian Scott, bassist Ben Williams, pianist/keyboardist Kris Bowers and guitarist Matthew Stevens.

Bringing even more firepower are trombonist/vocalist Corey “CK” King, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, vocalist Chris Turner, and keyboardist Mark de Clive-Lowe.

Chameleon features seven of the era’s most enduring classics infused with modern day shine, including an imaginative new arrangement of Mason’s signature song and title track. For this new version of ‘Chameleon,’ Mason invited Bill Summers to reprise his famous hinedewho intro to ‘Watermelon Man,’ a song from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters LP which Mason played on and arranged.”

Fans concerned about Chameleon sounding retro will take comfort in knowing that Mason has delivered an album that interjects fresh new elements on each subsequent listen.

In addition to being one of the most in-demand studio musicians of all-time, Mason still regularly records and performs as a member of the super-group Fourplay along with Bob James, Nathan East and Chuck Loeb. I spoke to him about Chameleon, his time working with Herbie Hancock and more.

How did the idea for Chameleon begin?

I first came up with the idea of creating Chameleon while I was playing solo in Japan with different configurations. Most of the people there have seen me never play with Herbie [Hancock] during that era and would often tell me that I needed to record the band and this music. My thought was that if I did it, I wanted to change the music and not play the same thing that I played back then. Chris Dunn was the one who suggested we re-record many of the songs, but use younger guys. So we chose a bunch of people, gave them songs to arrange, went into the studio and this is what we came out with. I’m very happy with it!

Harvey Mason (Photo: Devin DeHaven)
Harvey Mason (Photo: Devin DeHaven)

How is a project like this different from one done with Fourplay?

With Fourplay, the four of us have known each other for a very long time. We all write for the project and bring our own songs in and each guy produces his own song. It’s a democratic band and we all play live in the studio. With this project, I had never played with many of the guys before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But it was a magical moment. You’re just experimenting to see what happens and reacting to it.


Let’s discuss a few tracks from the album: If I Ever Lose This Heaven

Originally I didn’t plan on having any vocals, but Chris suggested the song. We asked Chris Turner to come in and sing it and I asked my son to produce the vocals. They came out with a song that I feel is worthy of being played on almost any radio station and Chris sang it incredibly well.

Chameleon

We gave the song to Ben Wendell (Kneebody) who came up with a great blueprint for it. Then I added Bill Summers and his patented whistles. The arrangement really sounds fresh and goes through a lot of different colors and changes.

What was it like working with Herbie Hancock on the original version?

I’ve loved Herbie from the time I was a kid when he was working with Miles (Davis). To get to be in the studio with him during that era to create and write was amazing. Whenever we play together its magical. We have a special chemistry together.

Was there a meaning behind the track Studio Life (Hold It One Second)?

I had played a drum solo that didn’t make it on a song. It was just a little snippet, but Chris thought that we could put something else with it. So we pieced it all together. It really gives people an interesting view of the recording process and what goes on in the studio.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?

It was innate. Growing up, I always had this thing where I wanted to be a drummer. Even from the time I was crawling around, I was always banging on the floor with spoons and hitting pots and pans. Then in school, I had an opportunity to play drums in the orchestra. I remember my teacher there was also a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra and he really pushed me to be the best I could be.

What led you to become a studio musician?

Originally, I had thought about becoming a lawyer. While it was fun to play music, I wanted something that might be a little more stable. I had given thought about going to law school but then read an article about Larry Bunker and studio musicians and said “That’s what I want to do!” Right at that point I decided to switch gear. I applied to a couple of music schools, got accepted and the rest is history! I eventually went to LA and started making my way in the studio. I just kept playing without any intention of going out on the road. That’s why my discography is so large.

Harvey Mason (Photo: Devin DeHaven)
Harvey Mason (Photo: Devin DeHaven)

What’s the origin of Fourplay?

Bob James and I were friends for many years. He was coming to LA to record and asked me to help him put together a couple of bands for the project. So I put together two bands for him and one of them had Nathan (East) and Lee (Rittenour). It was the band that Bob decided to use for the entire CD. I remember it sounded so good while we were in the studio that Bob asked us if we would consider being in a band and each one of us said yes. At the time, Bob was working at Warner Brothers and went to Mo Ostin (president) to ask him if he’d support us. He immediately said yes and the next thing you know we’re in the studio and are off and running!

In your view, what makes jazz such a great form of music?

The fact that you’re able to create and play what’s in your heart and soul. You’re able to interact with other players and have the freedom of being able to spontaneously create with no preconceived ideas. It’s pure creativity and improvisation. The only thing you’re restricted by is your own mind.

For more on Harvey Mason check out his Official Website by Clicking Here!

Another Long Night Out: Brian Culbertson Goes Back To His Roots For New Album

AnotherLongNightOutIt’s hard to believe that’s its been twenty years since multi-instrumentalist hitmaker Brian Culbertson released his debut album, “Long Night Out”. An album he created on a shoe-string budget while a student at DePaul University.

In the years since, Culbertson has become one of the most recognized artists in jazz, but always kept thinking about those early days recording in his Chicago apartment. Patiently waiting for the right time to explore the material again.

On “Another Long Night Out” Culbertson returns to his roots by revisiting the album that jump started his career. For this fresh update, Culbertson re-imagines his debut by enlisting the help from some of the greatest artists in contemporary jazz. Retaining the essence of each song while bringing the production quality to 21st century standards.

On its own, “Another Long Night Out” stands out as a time capsule of sonic goodness. Proving that a project twenty years in the making was certainly worth the wait.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Culbertson about “Another Long Night Out” and what he believes makes jazz so special.

Looking back at that first album twenty years later, what thoughts come to mind?

It’s hard to believe that its been twenty years. It seems like the older you get the faster it goes. But as the years go by, you start to find out who you are and I finally feel like I’ve hit a good stride with what life is all about for me. I’m in a good place balancing life with music.

What made you decide to revisit “Long Night Out”?

On the first album I was really limited with equipment, funds and the people I knew. Although I always liked how the songs stood on their own, I always wished the sonic palette and sound of the album could be what it is now. My goal was to redo the production of the album and bring it to life.

You have a lot of guest guitarists on the new album including Lee Rittenour, Chuck Loeb and Steve Lukather. Was there a reason you chose them?

When you get into that top echelon of guitar god, everyone does what they do best. I knew in essence what each one would bring to the song and that’s why I called them about those particular pieces. In the case of Lukather [Beautiful Liar], I knew he would just destroy it [laughs]! He came over and we literally played the song three or four times and every time it just kept getting better and better!

Saxophonist Candy Dulfer also appears on the album. What’s it like working with her?

She has such an amazing attitude and was so excited to be a part of the project. She really wants to get things perfect and I love her for that because I’m the same way. Those sessions were a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

Were there any special moments that stood out during the recording process?

I had Will Kennedy from the Yellow Jackets come in and play drums on one of the first sessions that we did. Will was a huge influence on my drum programming on the first album. To have him playing the grooves I was trying to emulate twenty years ago was a trip.

What’s the origin of the original “Long Night Out” album?

I started songwriting in junior high school and was one of the first generation of kids to grow up with the early four-track recorders and the beginnings of the Macintosh. I always knew that I wanted to get into music production and songwriting but never set out to be an artist per se. But once I moved to Chicago and started listening to the jazz station there I started thinking that it might be something I could do. So I put together a three song demo and sent it to the one person I knew who lived in LA. My friend played it for the president of his record label and a few weeks later called me up and offered me a record contract. It was crazy!

What happened from there?

The label wanted to put the album out in February, and by that time it was already August. They wanted it completed by November, so the next three months were pretty intense. I remember that right before I came to LA for the mastering we were still pulling all nighters mixing it. It was crazy. That’s why I decided to call it “Long Night Out”.

Do you have plans for another new album?

In terms of writing, the plan is to start working on some new material this summer. And I will let this out of the bag slightly. I’m going to be working in Minneapolis. It’s going to be funky [laughs].

Brian Culbertson
Brian Culbertson

What’s your songwriting process like?

I write in a few different ways. Sometimes I’ll just sit down at the piano or keyboard and start improvising. I’ll record the melodies and then go back and listen to see if anything really stands out. “City Lights” was one of those songs where I just literally sat down and started playing that melody. Other times though, I’ll get a groove going with a drum beat and then start layering parts on top of the beat. On those songs, the last thing I do is write the melody. I love fitting the melody into the track and making it groove as much as the beat and the bass.

How do you come up with a song title?

It’s actually pretty difficult to name instrumental music. Usually, it’s based on how the song makes you feel. On that first record, I remember half of the songs were still untitled when we were mastering it. I even had the art department calling and telling me to hurry because they had to go to print [laughs]. So I started brainstorming with a few friends about what to name them. In the case of “Beautiful Liar”, that was a song I had already written my senior year of high school. I was taking private composition lessons and had to write a pop song based on lyrics my instructor had given me called ‘Beautiful Liar’. I originally wrote it as a vocal tune based on those lyrics. When the time came to record the album, I just played it on the piano and kept the title. So there are words to the song that no one has ever heard [laughs].

What makes jazz so great?

The fact that there are no rules and you can do whatever you want. There’s so much freedom that it allows you to keep moving forward to morph and change. The live aspect of it is great too. Typical pop shows are so structured that they’re exactly the same every night. With jazz, it can be completely different from night to night. That’s what I love about it.

For more on Brian Culbertson check out his official website by Clicking Here!

Dave Koz and Friends Deliver The Heat on ‘Summer Horns’

Summer Horns
Summer Horns

There’s an old addage that says there’s strength in numbers, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to bringing four of the greatest saxophone players together for the very first time.

Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot & Gerald Albright each have had successful albums and tours in their own right, but for the Summer Horns project, Koz and friends join forces to create a truly one of a kind, all star section, and an album that tips it hat to an era when classic, big horn, feel good songs ruled the airwaves.

Among the songs included on Summer Horns are slick renditions of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” as well as the Lennon/McCartney classic “Got To Get Get You Into My Life” (the latter of which borrowing a bit from the Earth, Wind and Fire arrangement). There’s also a tribute to Dave Brubek with a version of “Take Five”, one of the greatest sax melodies of all time.

Trombonist Brian Culbertson makes a guest appearance on a cover of the 1969 Sly & the Family Stone hit, “Hot Fun in the Summertime”. Jeffrey Osbourne delivers a powerful version of the Blood Sweat Tears inspired “God Bless The Child”. And Michael McDonald contributes a version of Tower of Power’s “So Very Hard to Go” that is quite possibly one of his all time best vocal performances. To coincide with the release of “Summer Horns”, the group will be taking their unique sectional sound on tour across the country.

Summer Horns not only offers the listener material that covers the real breadth of the instrument, but it also features songs with a little more “meat on the bone”. Sure, it’s a tribute to summer and good times, but more importantly, Summer Horns is an album about the real power of friendship.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Koz about Summer Horns as well as his thoughts on the importance of music programs in the public school system.

Koz and Friends (l to r): Richard Elliot, Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright
Koz and Friends (l to r): Richard Elliot, Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright        (Photo: Greg Allen)

What made you decide to do this type of album?

It was an opportunity for us to do something special and different for all of our fans and also a labor of love. The interesting thing was that even though we were always big fans of each others work, we had never all been in the studio together before. The four of us have such a great love and appreciation for this era of music. We all come from the same perspective of having been reared on horn section songs and horn bands.

How did you determine which songs to include?

We initially saw this as a total party record, but the more we got into it the more we realized that we had four saxophone players (each with our own unique individual sound) coming together to create this completely new horn section sound. So we decided to dig a little bit deeper and find some real melodic gems. The songs themselves are familiar, but they’re songs you may not have heard in a while. They’re classics, but they sound new and fresh.

What was it like recording the album?

We didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so we enlisted the talents of some amazing arrangers. We brought in Greg Adams (the principal arranger for Tower of Power) and Tom Scott (who’s worked with Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney among others). We really didn’t know what to expect, but I remember the first day we were recording. We all got on our mikes and were side by side and heard the sound that the four of us made to generate the section for the first time, and it was a moment of complete excitement and elation. That was the sound that we mined for this record.

What do you think makes jazz such a great genre of music?

By nature, it’s ever-changing. The target is always moving and there’s never a set standard show that you do day in and day out. It’s that element of chance and being in the moment that makes it so exciting and inspiring. It’s a surprise every night, at every show. 

Dave Koz (photo: Greg Allen)
Dave Koz (photo: Greg Allen)

What are your thoughts on how music programs in schools are disappearing?

I’m a 100% product of the public school system and first picked up the sax in 7th grade. There was a saxophone class and a band and a teacher all there. That option was open for me at 13 years old. At the time, I had no idea that this would be my life’s work. but at least the opportunity was there for me to experience it. The thought that might not be the case for kids now weighs heavy on my heart, because where will the next generation of musicians come from?

It’s not just instrumental music, but also choir, drama and all of the other arts as well. Art is what keeps this country alive and moving forward. It’s also a great socialization tool. The sax is what brought me out of my shell. I was so awkward as a kid, and it really became my trusted ally. I’d love to see more kids be able to find their own “saxophone” or expression to help them become a more full human being. 

Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns will be released on June 11th, 2013
For more on Dave Koz, visit his official website by Clicking Here.

Human Nature: BWB Guitarist Norman Brown Discusses Album Paying Homage to Michael Jackson

BWB (Norman Brown,  Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun)
BWB left to right: Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun

With an incredible catalog of songs accumulated over the course of his life, Michael Jackson’s music was something that transcended many different styles and influenced a generation of listeners. Growing up, I remember not only being glued to the television watching the Jackson 5 cartoon show, but also being on the front lines for the “Thriller” and “Bad” album phenomenons (the former still ranks as the biggest selling album of all time).

People just couldn’t get enough of his music; and many a child of the 80′s will tell you (albeit, secretly) that they regularly paid homage to Jackson by imitating his moonwalk or wearing the same jacket and glove style he made famous.

Like me, Grammy winning jazz guitarist Norman Brown never had the opportunity to meet the King of Pop, but his work on the new BWB album “Human Nature” channels the connection Jackson had between himself and his music in a cool and powerful way.

Fans have lamented that more than a decade has passed since Brown and BWB (with fellow jazz greats Kirk Whalum on sax and Rick Braun on trumpet) released their last album, “Groovin”. With “Human Nature”, not only has the supergroup reunited, but the reunion also allowed them the opportunity of putting their own unique spin on eleven Michael Jackson classics; including tasty renditions of “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Man in The Mirror”.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Brown and discussing “Human Nature” and more in this exclusive Guitar World interview.

Human Nature will be released on June 18th, 2013

For more on Norman Brown and BWB, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/normanbrownfans

Right Now: Jazz Guitarist Fabrizio Sotti’s New Album Pays Homage To Classic Hits

FabrizioWhether it’s writing, producing or recording straight ahead jazz records for himself or for other artists, Fabrizzio Sotti has done it all. But when it comes to his latest album, “Right Now”, Sotti does something completely different from anything he’s ever done before. Included among six brand new, original tracks are songs that have inspired the jazz guitarist from his youth. Classic songs that have been re-worked into mesmerizing jazz-pop gems, including Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” Bob Marley’s “Waitin’ In Vain and ” U2’s “One”.

Among many guest artists, Sotti is joined on “Right Now” by R&B powerhouse Melanie Fiona, reggae superstar Shaggy and hip-hop icons Ice T and M-1 of Dead Prez. The album’s cohesive sound stems from the band, which is made up of Sotti on electric, acoustic and classical guitar, Tony Grey on bass and Mino Cinélu on drums and percussion.

I spoke with Sotti about the new album and more in an exclusive Guitar World Interview!