On July 20, after a nearly 10 year-long hiatus, Jan Hammer – whose extensive body of work has spanned the musical spectrum from jazz to prog to classical to pop – released Seasons Pt. 1, a compilation of existing musical sketches that Jan developed into full length compositions and selections that were created just for this album. Why the delay? Laughing, Hammer emphatically says, “It’s about time.”
“I’ve actually been thinking about releasing something new for 6 or 7 years,” he continues. “This is what happens – musical ideas had accumulated in my head over time until I suddenly realized that I had more than enough for an album.” In fact, Hammer says that he’s already at work developing what now only exist as sketches for a follow up album, which will be aptly titled Seasons Pt. 2. .
Seasons Pt. 1 features 13 tracks that range in style from the dynamic “April” to the majestic, classically tinged “Suite European.” Hammer cites influences as far ranging as the varied strains of the music he grew up with to what he calls “the elephant in the room” – his four seasons scoring Miami Vice. “I really had these residual feelings of unfinished business,” say the two-time Grammy winner. “I’m proud of the work I did for the show, and there are echoes of that music that continue to resonate for me.”
Obviously, Jan’s music for Miami Vice continues to resonate with a large audience. “Crockett’s Theme” and “Miami Vice Theme” together have over 14 million streams on Spotify. Collectively, videos using his music from Miami Vice have well over 100 million views on YouTube.
Hammer’s work during his five decades-long career alongside such critically acclaimed artists as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Neal Schon, John Abercrombie, Al Di Meola, Tony Williams, Mick Jagger, and Jeff Beck (with whom he recently performed, for the first time in 10 years, at Beck’s 2016 concert at the Hollywood Bowl) seasons the album with flavors of rock and jazz. His background as a classically trained composer is also evident throughout.
While no single style can define the album. Hammer himself describes it as “cinematic,” and as a collection of “pop songs without words.” The opening track, “Miami – Night,” was inspired by Miami Vice director Michael Mann’s technique of spraying the streets with water when taping at night to set the mood for a scene. “When I wrote ‘Miami – Night,’ explains Hammer, it felt like I was creating an opening scene in a screenplay.” Hammer has created scores for film, television shows, commercials and video games both in the US and internationally, and it’s obvious that his ability to paint pictures with sound has served and continues to serve him well.
Hammer is also widely acclaimed as a pioneer in electronic music. He was among the first musicians to play the Minimoog Moog synthesizer in a live setting. He also explored the world of computer animation as the composer and performer of the original score for the triple platinum Miramar Productions video album, BEYOND The Mind's Eye, which critic Leonard Maltin lauded as “a dazzling showcase for computer animation... mesmerizing... BEYOND The Mind's Eye reflects a maturing of the [computer animation] art." Seasons Pt. 1 is evidence that Hammer’s own musical evolution is keeping pace with the evolution of virtual instruments. While he is constantly impressed by the way synthesized music continues to evolve, he also acknowledges tradition. “Of course, I still have Korg, Yamaha and Kurzweil keyboards in my studio and I am always drawn to where it all started, on my grand piano,” he says.
As he enters his 5th decade of creating music that endures the test of time, Hammer is excited about being back on the scene, gratifying his loyal fans and bringing new fans into the fold.
For more information, visit www.janhammer.com
Monique DeBose has never been one to shy away from life’s challenges. The Sovereign One, which drops on September 27, encapsulates a wealth of experience into seven songs in which the LA-based songwriter and vocalist offers up messages that are both personal and universal, messages of acceptance, of empowerment and of pride.
The journey to this time and place – emotionally and stylistically – has been a rather circuitous one. The daughter of a mixed-race couple, Monique realized at a very early age that she was destined to be a performer. Music was her constant companion throughout her early years in LA. At home, she was exposed to artists such as Marvin Gaye and Elvis. “My uncle Chuck would be Elvis at family get-togethers, and my younger sister and I would be his background singers – The DeBose-ettes,” she remembers. Unfortunately, that attraction to performing was dampened by an incredible shyness. While attending Hamilton High School’s Music Academy, Monique took up the violin. A far cry from her desire to be part of the school’s performing crew, playing the violin allowed Monique to remain in the background even as her soul strove to stride to the front of the stage.
It was during her high school years that Monique heard a record that would ultimately change the course of her life. “I sat and listened to Ella Fitzgerald’s Nice Work if You Can Get It for hours, she remembers. “At some point my brain and heart synched up and it made sense.” The teen-aged Monique was fascinated by Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable, intrigued by the orchestration and singing every note.
In life, especially in one’s younger years, the direction that we take is often not up to us. Raised to defer to the desires that our parents have for our future, we bury our own dreams in deference to theirs. And so, Monique entered UC Berkeley to study applied mathematics. While her vision of a career in music took a back seat to her studies, it was at Berkeley that Monique first truly embraced her blackness, resulting in her ongoing bold and frightening mission to initiate conversation and to help heal race relations in America. Although she was deeply involved in her studies, Monique’s desire to perform would not stay buried. She enrolled in an improvisational singing workshop, took to it immediately and continued to perform in that style throughout her years at Cal.
The message of transcending your own stories is a theme that runs throughout Monique’s songs on The Sovereign One. This is an album about charting your own course, following your dream and reclaiming the parts or yourself that you’ve given away. Through the sultry opening track, “Damaged Goods,” to the powerful, rallying call of the appropriately titled “Rally,” to the lush romantic ballad “Let You Love Me” – Monique uses the prism of her own life to convey messages that are both pointed and poignant. She claims her own rightful place as a strong, powerful woman, using the power of music to empower all women to do the same, to revel in their desire with no apology (on "New Wine, Old Skin") and to allow themselves to simultaneously experience freedom and belonging (“Valentine.")
Back in LA, Monique deepened her commitment to developing her talents as a singer. She honed her craft at Billy Higgin’s famous World Stage jazz club in Leimert Park, as well as in various jazz bands. In 2005 and 2007, she quietly released two albums – Choose the Experience (which featured Kamasi Washington) and Choose the Experience 2 – and performed internationally, in India, China, London, and Amsterdam. After taking a bit of time off to raise her family, Monique returned to performing in 2017 with her edgy, raw and funny one-woman show, Mulatto Math: Summing Up the Race Equation in America, which won the Producers’ Encore Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and which Monique is taking to New York City in September as part of the United Solo Theater Festival, immediately prior to the September 27 release of The Sovereign One.
Joining Monique on The Sovereign One are Isaac and Thorald Koren of The Kin (who have also performed with Coldplay, Rod Stewart, and Pink), Dylan Meek on piano and organ, Edwin Livingston on upright bass, Shakerleg on drums and Fatima Williams on vocals.
A singer, a poet, a messenger – Monique DeBose is all this and more. Stepping into the spotlight with The Sovereign One, she radiates love and acceptance, pride and bravery, in each of her songs.
For more information, visit https://www.moniquedebosemusic.com
New Album Fuses Middle-Eastern Music with Avant Jazz and Features Mark Helias on Bass, Hank Roberts on Cello, Hamin Honari on Tombak, Daf, and Frame Drum
and Grdina on Oud
“Grdina continues to passionately explore the depths of jazz improvisation, cross-cultural fusions and the fun that comes with cutting loose. Lately, he’s been tearing it up in a new combo from New York City.” – Stuart Derdeyn, Vancouver Sun
This wild, eclectic project combines intricate counterpoint with the ebb and flow of dynamic yet focused improvisation. Grdina takes inspiration from the complexity of Bartok, the freedom of Ornette Coleman, the energy and logical construction of ideas in Soundgarden, and the delicacy of Webern.
Grdina’s debut recording, Think Like the Waves (Songlines, 2006) was a trio with his mentor Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, and there is something of that group’s deep improvised jazz roots at work here, along with the compositional, classical music bent of his East Van Strings project (The Breathing of Statues, Songlines, 2009). It’s also a reaction to his rock playing in recent years in Dan Mangan’s band and his own instrumental duo Peregrine Falls. Says Grdina, “I felt a strong inner urge to write music that was more unexpected, that didn’t repeat itself so much and was more challenging than what I had been playing. Forms can sometimes feel like you’re being strangled and talked down to. I wanted the music to continually move, feeling free but clearly directed.
“Compositionally this also came out of the work I’d done with Gary Peacock but in a very different way. We worked a lot on composition being a distilled idea that is the germ that sparks improvisation. I wanted to see what would happen if I composed the development of the ideas, keeping the same focused writing style, asking the same questions…The process of writing was similar to what I went through with East Van Strings, which was informed by listening to a lot of Webern and the second Viennese school. Ornette always being present is a given but Soundgarden came up while on the road with Dan Mangan. When I was young I was a fan but didn’t really dig into it, as I was too interested in jazz at the time. I started listening to them again and was really excited and inspired by the energy and careful construction of ideas, intricate yet logical. I was also listening to a lot of Tim Berne and started to feel a connection between the two. So there was something between that intricacy and energy that I was really inspired by.”
“The musicians came together over a two-year process of getting more involved in the NY scene. Oscar [a member of Berne’s Snakeoil], Russ and Satoshi are all amazing, incredibly well rounded, multi-faceted musicians with unique voices. They are also master improvisers, but the chemistry of the band wasn’t apparent at the start. We had a lot of short rehearsals, a gig and then not seeing each other for two months. We did that for about a year. We then went on the road for a string of dates and everything changed. The band just solidified, everyone’s unique voice began to shine and the compositions started to click. It’s not easy music to grasp fully while you’re playing it, as it is very contrapuntal. Each instrument is focused on their own part and it takes a while before you hear it click with the other lines and the logic becomes apparent.”
“Over the course of the last few years I've started to connect some disparate directions musically. The oud and the guitar are starting to become interchangeable in a way…How I'm approaching each instrument is becoming more and more similar. I'm moving further away from the original Arabic sound of the oud and starting to push my own voice through its history. “Fragments” is a departure for me and is a path I would like to further develop with this band. Oud and piano in particular work so well together but are fundamentally opposed instruments. It really is like the meeting of two completely different worlds. The clash of ideologies is exciting to me.”
“I hear so many connections to so many genres in this music and from these musicians that I feel it has an extremely broad appeal…I’ve gotten compliments from folk, jazz and classical music fans both young and old, as well as fans of Soundgarden…What it demands though is deep listening. There are moments where it is energetic and in your face, bringing the music to you, but it always goes back in, requiring the listener to come closer and bring their own experience to it.”
The Album, Which Also Features an Impressive Array of Jazz Greats and Notable Singer Songwriters, Will Finally See the Light of Day Ten Years After It Was Recorded
There are some musicians who defy genre limitations, whose work spans a such wide spectrum that it simply does not allow them to be labelled or categorized. Multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer JC Hopkins is just such an artist. He’s produced albums for Victoria Williams, Ben Fields and John Lithgow (whose Sunny Side of the Street earned a Grammy as Best Children’s album,) has earned two Grammy nominations for his work with Norah Jones and Willie Nelson, and co-wrote “Painter Song,” which was featured on Jones’ multi-Grammy winning debut album. He’s performed in various, clubs around New York City with vocalists such as Jones, Elvis Costello, Madeline Peyroux, and Martha Wainright. That was where he found himself just as the events of 9/11, which so affected him that he was inspired to write the title track of the new album.
With the July 12 release of It’s a Sad and Beautiful World, Hopkins returns to the early 2000s when he recoded an album featuring an incredible array of musicians performing on its eight tracks. Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band join Hopkins on two songs (“Upside Down” and “Walking Cane”), with Hudson staying on board for another five, playing accordion, Hammond organ, drums, piano, mellotron and melodica. Other notable folk and rock musicians who joined Hopkins in the studio near Woodstock for the session are Teddy Thompson (son of folk icons Richard and Linda Thompson) and Martha Wainwright, the singer/songwriter who is the daughter of Loudon Wainright and Kate McGarrigle and whose expansive resume includes work with Snow Patrol and Hole.
“I had Teddy Thompson, Catherine Popper and Garth Hudson lined up to record songs I had written in the aftermath of the events of September 2001,” remembers Hopkins. ‘All we need is a drummer,’” I said to Catherine. ‘How about Levon?’ she replied.” Hopkins goes on with his story. “Levon had a gig coming up at the Bottom Line. The sessions were over a month away, so I figured we had plenty of time. Backstage I asked him. He told me that it sounded like fun and for me to call him tomorrow. So, I called him the next day and he said the same thing, sounded like fun and for me to call him tomorrow. Well, I did this every day for three weeks until I found myself at beautiful Allaire Studios, on top of a mountain above Woodstock. ‘What are we going to do without a drummer?’ Catherine asked. I called Levon’s house, and his wife Sandra told me that he wasn’t there. ‘Ah, okay,” I said, trying not to sound as crestfallen as I felt. ‘I think he is on the way to the studio,’ she finished.”
“Garth Hudson turned up at around midnight that same day. Martha had given me his number but told me that Garth’s midnight is our noon. And he came every midnight that whole week, adding melodicas and mellotrons and other things with keys,” finishes Hopkins.
Hopkins had originally come to New York to pursue his Biggish Band dream. That jazz group has gone on to record two highly successful albums, Underneath a Brooklyn Moon and Meet Me at Mintons. Explaining the integration of jazz with his singer/songwriter chops on It’s a Sad and Beautiful World, Hopkins says, “I come to jazz and all of my musical endeavors as a songwriter. I study the various forms; in the case of jazz it was the Great American Songbook and the music of such artists as Thelonious Monk. For folk, I studied the music of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and for rock, it was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the like. There is a great deal of interaction in all of this music.”
Prior to heading north to record It’s a Sad and Beautiful World, Hopkins recruited some of the remarkable jazz musicians with who he had been working – Vincent Chancey, Victor Lewis, Seamus Blake, Sunny Jain, Warren Smith and James Zollar - to lay down some tracks. “Hearing Victor Lewis playing a rock beat, you know that he is not just a jazz musician, he’s a great musician period,” says Hopkins. “There was a time when the singer-songwriter types and the jazz musicians were all always working together, and having jazz clubs, rock clubs, folk clubs and even burlesque clubs in close proximity on New York’s lower east side reinforced a sense of community.”
Once the recording was finished, Hopkins returned to New York City, where his career took a turn toward producing and working with his Biggish Band. The tracks remained in the vault. “This spring, I bumped into Matthew Cullen, who had engineered the project. He enthusiastically agreed to master the songs so there was no sense to keep them locked away any longer,” explained Hopkins. “I like the way they sound. They sound like New York City and they sound like Woodstock. The songs are earnest, and the musicians play with conviction. It was a sad time for this country, similar in many ways to this moment. But it was beautiful, making music with talented friends. I am glad it was captured and that I can now release it.”