MUSIC BIO SAMPLES
ANDY SUMMERS/CIRCA ZERO
After 20 years amassing an impressive, mostly instrumental solo discography that often dug deep into exploring his jazz roots, Andy Summers hopped off The Police Reunion Tour – a 15 month worldwide jaunt that became the third highest grossing tour of all time – in 2008 with a burning desire to keep rocking.Eager to start some new projects, the guitarist, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer since 2003, went on a writing tear and gathered an ensemble to record material for a rock album in his Venice, California studio. He almost released that album, but ultimately felt it lacked the right magic. A few years later, Summers found the missing link and perfect musical foil he didn’t know he was looking for: veteran Los Angeles based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rob Giles.
Dubbing themselves Circa Zero, the duo’s 429 Records debut Circus Hero is a whirlwind of intense pop/rock energy, a set of 13 freewheeling, infectious tracks combining the kind of soaring vocals and harmonies Giles has brought to his indie band The Rescues since 2008 with Summers’ ability to build powerful melodies off of inventive riffs and then solo with reckless abandon.More than simply the result of what happens when a legend finds the perfect creative chemistry with a younger singer and musician who should be one himself, Circa Zero is, for Summers and Giles, a fresh and exciting new chapter in their respective careers. The album was created in an environment where The Police and The Rescues were rarely, if ever, referenced as the two veterans put aside all potential music industry jadedness, cleaned their slates and for several months were just kids rediscovering why they started making music in the first place.Summers played guitar and Giles (also a guitarist) handled bass, drums and whatever other sounds were necessary - but the driving force of Circa Zero, its innate unexpected chemistry, is not something that can easily be broken down.
“It’s instinctive, and hard to articulate,” Summers says. “From the start, we were on the same team going all the same places together. That kind of feeling is very rare. I had it with Sting but there’s been no one else since then, so it’s very magical when it happens. This is that thing.” The two encounters that led to Summers and Giles joining forces in Summers’ studio, both at local gigs by The Rescues, were humorous enough to later inspire the two to write hilarious, tongue in cheek accounts on Summers’ web page. A few years ago, when Summers was still in the headspace of being tentative about releasing his first post Police tour rock material, he was invited to see the band at The Troubadour by his friend (and the band’s manager) Peter Leak. Giles was in the upstairs backstage space warming up for the show when Andy entered, wearing what Giles thought were PJ’s. They had each other at hello – sort of. Andy, who wrote that he “felt his socks blow off” during the band’s (and particularly Giles’ tour de force performance), returned later to tell Giles “Great show.”
Some months later, Summers, in even more of a creative crisis than ever about whether to release those recordings as an album, went to see The Rescues again at Hollywood’s indie hotspot Hotel Café. Giles, realizing he was too intimidated during their first encounter to say much to the guitarist, wanted to come up with a clever way to re-introduce himself in the alley behind the club after the show. For some reason, he thought Summers was co-owner of the champion thoroughbred racehorse Zenyatta, named after the classic Police album Zenyatta Mondatta; it was actually owned by Jerry Moss, who had signed The Police to his label, A&M Records. He congratulated Summers on Zenyatta’s recent win – but the puzzled guitarist got past all that, Giles survived his faux pas, and the two started talking about music. Giles was thrilled that Summers was a big fan of The Rescues.Shortly after that, the guitarist called Peter Leak and told him he had some new songs and wondered if Giles might want to come and sing them. Summers called Giles and two days later, the singer came to Summers’ studio and, unbeknownst to the two at the time, the origin story of Circa Zero took shape.
“I really didn’t know what Andy was looking for,” Giles says, “but when someone whose music you’ve grown up with and always loved invites you to jam, you don’t argue. He played me a bunch of his tracks, and I thought they were great and sang on them. But then I said, ‘We’re both songwriters, why don’t we try writing some new material?’ Most pros know that once you’ve done something great, you always want to try to top it. I wondered if we could do something better together – and we did. By the second day we worked together, it was pretty obvious something special was going to emerge.”Starting with the electrifying song they created from the hypnotic electric guitar riff that became the foundation for “No Highway” Summers and Giles had a clear vision in mind: making a rock record. After years of doing jazz and instrumental projects, Summers was excited to work in a rock context with a vocalist again.
“It’s not like I was going to come back after the Police tour and do an electronic dance music album,” he laughs. Giles, whose credits include producing and co-writing the Top 30 debut EP for Grey’s Anatomy actress Sara Ramirez and song placements on “Grey’s,” “Private Practice,” “One Tree Hill” and others, loved The Rescues, but felt creatively stuck in the singer/songwriter mode. As a duo, both had the opportunity to challenge themselves to rock in a way they never had before.“Once we realized we had a real band taking shape here,” Summers says, “I knew I wanted a lot of guitar and that I wanted to improvise over a great rock rhythm section. People love it and I like to do it. I wanted to own the record, and not be subdued. The blazing solos are interesting and keep the album somewhat stylistically close to what I’m known for. I’m not eschewing my signature style completely, just going further with new possibilities.
“I’ve worked in L.A. for years and met many musicians but I never met a singer I was this simpatico with, that I could trust this much and could inspire me to keep coming up with so many fresh ideas,” he continues. We’d sometimes have eight song ideas going at once, but we never rushed their development. We’d keep upping the ante over six months to make them better as we found our communal voice. That voice became almost like a third personality or band member who helped us discover who we were. We would agree on a piece of marble and then start chiseling away. I might play a lick or riff and he’d pick up the bass and get behind the Roland V drum kit and we’d record that to start with.
”“Our basic songwriting process was sitting with two acoustic guitars, starting with a lick and adding something, and then building on top of that,” Giles adds. “We started with a cool mélange of ideas, so there was a lot to draw from. Andy’s fascinating in that he can do virtually anything on guitar and do something amazing that few can do, which is riff just using a note or two. He’s got a gift for minimalism, He will choose tensions that no one else will. He plays a sixth chord on ‘Every Breath You Take’ that has now become part of the rock lexicon, but it’s something nobody else does. But he’s also really modest and open to anything. If I wasn’t feeling something, I would tell him and he’d say, ‘Now what about this other idea…’ As the album, and Circa Zero took shape, we never stopped creating. It was kind of like improvisational theatre.”
Circus Hero soars from the start with “Levitation,” which opens with a brooding vibe showcasing Summers’ hypnotic distorted electric lines behind Giles’ vocals, then breaks through to become a propulsive, high octane pop/rocker. The duo then heads “Underground” for another energetic rock blast, with Giles’ singing over Summers’ swirling guitar lines and a deep pocket; on several occasions, the anthem-like track stops for a spoken line that rolls like a mantra: “I can’t stop this lonely world from spinning.” One of those trademark infectious Summers riffs drives the verses of “The Story Ends Here,” building towards a raucous chorus. Circa Zero tips the cap to Summers’ Police days with a slight reggae groove in the verses of “Say Goodnight,” which evolves into another fiery harmonic rocker with ample space for the guitarist to stretch out. The verses on the later track “Underwater” also touch on this laid back vibe before the blazing guitars and soaring vocals take hold. “Gamma Ray” starts out with cool ambience before Giles’ basslines bubble up, Summers’ bouncy guitar line enters and it swings into a funky classic styled rocker. “Night Time Travelers” is one of the album’s primes showcases for Giles’ range (with vocal harmonies after the hook, and a dreamy segment with falsetto) and one of Summers’ wildest distorted guitar improvisations.
After the propulsive “Shoot Out The Stars,” on which Summers electric lines shoot off of the vocal melody, “Summer Lies” brings in a different atmosphere, a slightly brooding ballad-type flow with supple bass and drums. “No Highway” was the first track Summers and Giles worked on, and its rumbling drums and scorching guitar intro perfectly sets the tone not only for the edgy crackling jam to come, but Circus Zero as a whole. The set wraps with the crafty multi-tempo “Light The Fuse And Run,” which darts back and forth between a punkish energy to mid-tempo vibe to in the pocket soaring pop rocker; the uplifting harmonic pop tune “Whenever You Hear The Rain,” about shifting course after getting into a painful situation; and the blistering and percussive, mostly instrumental (with Giles’ falsetto fills) closer “Hot Camel,” whose title is a sly reference to “Behind My Camel,” a track from Zenyatta Mondatta that earned Summers a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
For Summers, the legend who wanted to get rocking again, and Giles, the multi-talented singer and musician who had numerous major record deals fall through before finally succeeding with The Rescues, the concept behind the name Circa Zero is simple: it’s all about liberating themselves from the past and creating something vibrant and fresh that they can carve into their future. “It’s an edgy name that literally means ‘about nothing,” Summers says. “Our music is all about starting with a clean slate and seeing what happens. We think it’s a great record that will surprise people and blow them away. But Circus Hero is more than just a one-time project. It marks the beginning of a special creative partnership for both of us.”
The Memphis Project
Years before Paul Rodgers became “The Voice” driving 45 years of rock history as the founder of legendary bands Free and Bad Company, The Firm with Jimmy Page and his long term stint in the 2000s with Queen, he was a musically ambitious kid growing up in Middlesbrough, a hardscrabble Northeast England steel and ship-building town, obsessed with and inspired by American Blues and Soul.
Two decades after paying homage to his all-time blues hero with the star-studded solo recording Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute To Muddy Waters, the singer—who recently wrapped a 40th Anniversary Tour with Bad Company—celebrates the enduring power of soul music in his life and career with The Memphis Project, an extraordinary ten track set of seminal 60s and early 70s classics from The River City, recorded at the legendary—and still very much active—Royal Studios with the original musicians who played on over 26 gold and platinum hits in a row.
The labor of love project, released by 429 Records, found Rodgers and his producer Perry Margouleff poring through the extensive Stax and Hi Records catalogs for months, sending CDs and suggestions back and forth to pinpoint the perfect material. Aiming for the ideal LP length of ten songs, they over-recorded slightly and wound up with 15 or 16 tracks. After narrowing these down, they embarked on the painstaking but exhilarating process of creating the proper tracking in order to convey a powerful experience of emotional ups and downs. The Memphis Project features a final mix of inspired choices, opening with Sam & Dave’s funky, soaring “I Thank You” and including the expansive Isaac Hayes arrangement of “Walk on By,” Ann Peebles’ hypnotic “I Can’t Stand The Rain” and re-imaginings of two traditional blues classics popularized by Albert King, “Down Don’t Bother Me” and “Born Under A Bad Sign,” the latter co-written by Booker T. Jones and also recorded by Cream. Rodgers recorded each of these tracks in two or three takes, using what Margouleff calls “completely analog discreet transistor technology” and fired up by the Royal Horns, the Royal Singers and a band of Memphis natives that laid the foundation of American soul music.
The storied personnel include the Hodges Brothers, the Rev. Charles (Hammond B3 organ) and Leroy, Jr. (bass); guitarist Michael Tolls; the Wurlitzer of Hubby (aka Archie Turner); and drummers Steve Potts and James Robertson, Sr. To ensure that the kind of musicianship that propels The Memphis Project continues to be encouraged, Rodgers and Margouleff are donating all of their personal proceeds from album sales to the Soulsville Charter School in Memphis, which carries on a rich American musical heritage that is passed down from generation to generation. The Soulsville Charter School, a tuition free public institution serving approximately 600 students in grades 6-12, bills itself as a revolutionary force, rising up against ordinary expectations and the status quo of public education in Memphis.
The heart of The Memphis Project is Rodgers’ searing renditions of five songs written or popularized by the legendary Otis Redding, a seminal influence on Rodgers from the beginning. Rather than go for the obvious (“Dock of the Bay,”“Try A Little Tenderness”), the singer and producer chose deeper cuts from the Redding catalog that allow Rodgers to pay his “respect” while showcasing a deeper side of his vocal artistry than ever before. These include “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” “Any Ole Way,” “It’s Growing” (a Smokey Robinson tune originally covered by The Temptations) and the heartbreaking closing track “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.” “I ran on the energy of the original Otis tracks when I was in my mid teens, and I’ve been running on it ever since,” says Rodgers, who was 15 when his musical life changed with the release of Redding’s Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (featuring “Respect” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”) in 1965.
“I had been playing in group since I was 13 or 14 and suddenly, Otis’ band became my ideal band. They played from a deeper place. The one thing I loved about blues and soul was the way they taught the world how to express such deep feelings. I was brought up in a fairly emotionally repressed kind of society in Northeast England where one didn’t express emotions and was expected to keep a stiff upper lip. But I felt that the part of me that was born to be a singer needed to share these kinds of emotions, and through Otis, I found a much yearned for outlet for this.” Rodgers remembers hearing Redding classics like “Mr. Pitiful” and “Down In The Valley” when they were played by the DJ between bands at a popular club in his home region called The Purple Onion.
“I saw some great bands and artists there, from the fledgling Cream to The Who and Steve Winwood,” he says. “Later when I went to London to have a go at a career in music, there was this ‘blues boom’ going on and everyone from Peter Green and Eric Clapton to John Mayall were on the scene. When I formed Free with (guitarist) Paul Kossoff, we considered it a blues band and we started writing songs out of the blues. I never lost the soul thing, though, and have always considered blues and soul tied together like two arms of the same thing. Blues is more free form, while soul is perhaps a more organized blues, with tighter arrangements that have a beginning, middle and end. I’ve always had this yearning for soul, which is the music that charged me in the first place. It wound me up and set everything in motion.”
Aside from the dynamic historical implications of having one of the world’s most acclaimed rock singers mine the literal and figurative soul of American culture and share its glory with a whole new generation, The Memphis Project is also an extension of the unique collaboration between Rodgers and Margouleff, an independent songwriter and producer whom the singer first wrote songs with in the 90s. Margouleff brings a powerful family history of soul music to the mix; his father, Robert Margouleff, is renowned for his electronic music synthesizer programming for Stevie Wonder during the Motown legend’s 70s heyday, and won a Grammy for co-engineering Innervisions in 1974. When the younger Margouleff began writing songs again after an extended layoff producing projects for other artists, he shared some of his new material with Rodgers—who immediately wanted to record “With Our Love,” which reached #4 on the US Rock Radio request charts and as #37 in the Top 100 requested new songs for 2012. Rodgers and Margouleff donated 100% of proceeds to animal sanctuaries and continue to donate all proceeds from future sales.
Rodgers and Margouleff were working on original material for an eventual Rodgers solo project when a unique set of serendipitous circumstances set them on a more immediate soulful adventure. Margouleff was visiting Memphis to celebrate famed Elvis guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Scotty Moore’s 80th birthday in late 2011. He happened by the Stax Museum one day but found it closed for a funeral. Knowing he only had this one day to tour it, he convinced the staff to let him in, and after the tour (which includes a brief historical film that has references to Royal Studios and its legendary owner and soul music producer Willie Mitchell), the museum director Lisa Allen asked Margouleff how he enjoyed it.
“I was honest with her,” he says, “and told her that as a musician, engineer and producer, seeing a console behind glass doesn’t do that much for me. I said I’d rather record in these places rather than just look at them, and lamented the fact that I wasn’t around back in the day when all those great tracks were recorded at Stax and Royal. I was astounded when she told me that Royal Studios is still in business and that Willie Mitchell’s son, Boo Mitchell, is running it. Suddenly, Boo walks up and I told him I wanted five minutes at Royal just to see where history was made. After he paid his respects to the deceased, we walked down Lauderdale Street together. Checking out Royal Studios was like looking at a time capsule. Nothing has changed in the years since Willie was recording hits for Al Green and Ann Peebles. When I saw the original drum kit Al Jackson used on those recordings with Al Green, I couldn’t believe it.”
Margouleff immediately got on the phone to Rodgers with an inspired idea. “Even though Paul and I had been working together for a long time, we never really talked much about the soul music that he loved during his teen years,” he says. “Now was the time. I told him the studio was intact and all those musicians who made his favorite music back in the day were still alive and still working. He got excited and reminded me that it was those old Otis 45s that pointed him in the right direction. I suggested we schedule some time here to record an album of classics, without any pretension, expectation or even a label--just to do something incredibly fresh and fun.” After months spent going back and forth on material, the sessions were completed in two stretches, scheduled around Rodgers’ solo tours; they recorded seven songs in May 2012 and returned the following January to do nine more.
With a loose agenda, Rodgers would often decide which song he wanted to start with when he got up in the morning. He and Margouleff hadn’t originally chosen to record “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” but Rodgers decided to when he saw it on a box of 24 track recordings and revisited it. Another key to maintaining a relaxed atmosphere that would keep the sessions fresh and spontaneous was Margouleff’s decision not to tell the musicians who Rodgers was. “Paul could have been a dentist recording for the first time for all they knew,” he says. “He said he wanted to start one day with ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is,’ and one of the guys says, ‘Wow, this little white guy is gonna take on Otis.’ Then he would sing and their jaws would hit the floor. Later in the sessions, Leroy says to Paul, ‘You’re good, you should consider a career as a singer.’” That tune, ‘That’s How Strong Love Is,’ above all others is the one that made Rodgers shiver when singing it, almost as if Redding’s spirit was present and looking on.
“I did get chills, because it was so dependent on the mood of the moment,” he says. “I liked the fact that we only had a few takes to get it right. Before I approached that one, I really felt I had to get deeper inside myself than I ever had in my life. The end result is that recording these songs left me recharged as a singer and also as a songwriter. My favorite part was the love we could feel in the room throughout all the sessions. We all spoke the same language. The musicians didn’t’ always know which songs they would be doing the next day, but they are versatile guys and were always up for whatever came their way. The Memphis Project is a true group effort. And as a songwriter myself, I hope that the songwriters of these masterpieces would give me a firm nod of approval from wherever they are.”
In an expansive career marked as much by extraordinary musical achievement as passionate advocacy and philanthropy for her homeland of Africa, Angelique Kidjo has found many ways to celebrate the rich, enlightening truth about the continent’s women beyond the media spotlight. On Eve, her highly anticipated Savoy Records debut named for her own mother as well as the mythical “mother of all living,” the Beninise born, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter builds on this ever-evolving legacy with a 13-track, three interlude set of melodically rich, rhythmically powerful expressions of female empowerment.
These songs become all the more intimate and emotionally urgent with Kidjo’s dynamic collaborations with traditional women’s choirs from Kenya and various cities and villages in Benin. The singer and her newfound native lady friends sing in a wide array of native Beninse languages, including Fon (Kidjo’s first language), Yoruba, Goun, and Mina. “Eve is an album of remembrance of African women I grew up with and a testament to the pride and strength that hide behind the smile that masks everyday troubles,” says Kidjo, whose accolades include a 20 year discography, thousands of concerts around the world and being named “Africa’s premier diva” (Time Magazine) and “the undisputed Queen of African Music” (Daily Telegraph).
“They exuded a positivity and grace in a time of hardship. These songs bring me back to the women I shared my life with, including my mother, grandmother and cousins. “I’ve spoken for many years about the beauty of African women, and I don’t need to talk anymore about it because on this recording I am letting the voices of the women show their beauty to the world,” she adds. “My goal is to offer a different perspective on Africa that is different from the miserable one so many people seem to accept as fact. My home continent has become a magnet for many negative perceptions about women, and Eve is all about showcasing the positivity they bring to their villages, cities, culture and the world.”
As a Goodwill Ambassador with UNICEF since 2002, Kidjo—named one of the Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World by The Guardian--has traveled to many countries in Africa, including Benin, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Two trips in particular played a role in inspiring the Eve project. The first was a 2007 jaunt to visit women from Darfur in a refugee camp in Chad as part of an eight women delegation from UK based Oxfam, an international confederation of 17 organizations working to find solutions to poverty and injustice around the world.
“The purpose was for us to go talk to these women who are invisible in the face of the media,” Kidjo says. “Those women taught me humility and forgiveness and embodied the strength to overcome hardship. They were in horrifying circumstances, but they were not dwelling on the negative or crying. They had lost husbands and their children had lost fathers, but they maintained their dignity.”
In August 2012, Kidjo traveled to to Kenya with UNICEF and CNN in to film a documentary on stunting, which is the acute malnutrition from 0 to 2 years that irreversibly affects the future mental and physical development of many children in the world, especially in Africa. It prevents them from studying correctly and working, which in turn affects the country’s economy. The singer visited the Samburu region in the North of Kenya. When she entered the small village of Merti, she met with a group of women part of a community center advocating for a better nutrition. They welcomed her with a beautiful chant that she captured on her Iphone. Kidjo was so inspired by the passion and strength of their voices that she created “M’Baamba” (which became the opening track on Eve) around the magical iPhone sample of their voices.
“At the time, I was starting to write songs for a new album about the empowerment of women, but that experience nailed the importance of it for me,” says Kidjo, who had recently released her live album Sprit Rising, the soundtrack to her recent PBS Special Performance concert. “The sense of bonding I experienced with these women gave me the desire to expand the idea and work with other choirs of African women to create Eve. Through my many trips to Africa, I have seen that women are the backbone of the continent and that empowering them would be the key to a lasting change.”
Kidjo, whose star-studded 2008 recording Djin Djin won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album and whose last studio recording Oyo was nominated in the same category, has enjoyed a long history of crossover collaborations with greats from the jazz and pop worlds—including Carlos Santana, Josh Groban, Peter Gabriel, Branford Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove and Alicia Keys. Helping the singer fulfill her vision on Eve are a host of exciting prominent newcomers to her musical circle, including guitarist and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend (who appears on “Bomba” and “Hello”); legendary pianist Dr. John, who adds his New Orleans magic to “Kulumbu”; The Kronos Quartet, bringing their Euro-classical flair to the simple choir and percussion arrangement of “Ebile”; and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, heightening the dramatic impact of the folk influenced “Awalole,” a piece about the young generation of women who will one day become the future leaders of the continent—facing the responsibility of mankind while respecting human rights.
The traditional Congolese song “Bana” features the soulful, weathered vocals of a Kidjo’s mother Yvonne (known by the family by her middle name “Eve”), the mother of ten children who put the singer on stage for the first time at age six. Kidjo laid the musical foundation of the album in New York with an ensemble of top session musicians--guitarist (and fellow Benin native) Lionel Loueke, drummer Steve Jordan, bass great Christian McBride and Senegalese percussionist Mgatte Sow—under the guidance of producer Patrick Dillett, a longtime collaborator of David Byrne whose credits include They Might Be Giants and Fatboy Slim. The singer had also recorded percussionists from the Beninise Gangbe Brass Band, who had previously contributed their intricate grooves and large collection of traditional drums to Djin Djin, at French director Luc Besson’s studio in Normandy. Kidjo then travelled to Benin, traveling long days from North to South and back, armed with a Roland B26 six track field recorder, to record the sweet rhythmic harmonies and chants of the traditional women choirs.
She sojourned everywhere from Cotonou (Kidjo’s hometown) and Ouidah (her father's village) to Porto Novo, Godomey (her mom's village) and Manigri, a village from the North with amazing polyphonies where she had recorded some of the elements of her 1996 album Fifa; she met the same women there. She came back to New York to work with Dillet on assembling all the musical elements of Eve.
“I knew where I wanted to go and that we had a limited amount of time in each place,” Kidjo says. “We’d wrap around 11 or noon so they could go back to their work. They all dressed up very nice, in a dress or their work uniforms, and came outside to participate. Often, we would gather under a tree. I brought the songs and played them for each group so they could learn them and understand what I wanted them to do. Their first reactions were laughter, like ‘How in the world do you expect us to sing this?’ You are something else. I told them, ‘I know I am crazy but you’re going to sing it. They would laugh every time they couldn’t get it right, and their laughter was infectious and helped us eventually get everything down perfectly.”
Each track on Eve touches on different aspects of the experience of womanhood in Africa, as seen through the artistic eyes of Kidjo. With its Kenyan voices and hypnotic Congolese guitar, she sings words on “M’Baamba” that translate to “Hands in hands, we’re able to create a chain of sisterhood.” The high energy, blues/funk driven “Shango Wa” is about Shango, the Yoruba God of thunder that is both a man and a woman; he dresses like a woman during ceremonies showing that a man has a feminine part and a woman a manly part. The idea is that we are not so different. The moody and seductive “Eva,” featuring vocals by Nigerian singer ASA, is a song about the friendship between women.
After the breathless chant interlude “Agbade,” the high spirited “Bomba” (whose title references the African dress, the “boubou”) is about the fact that African women, even the poorest ones, have a special elegance and pride. The track features the intertwining riffs of guitarists Rostam Batmaglij and Dominic James, plus a bluesy organ solo. Inspired by a Hausa melody, the soaring, highly danceable “Hello” features Angelique’s Yoruba lyrics translating to a wedding of love that is not forced (like those so frequent in traditional societies)—a beautiful thing that brings joy and laughter to many. The sparsely arranged, vocal and guitar driven “Blewu” is a song composed by the late Togolese singer Bella Bellow, who was Kidjo’s role model when she grew up; in essence, in the Ewe language of Ghana and Togo, it is a “thank you” to people for joining us in gathering and give our best wishes for the future. “Kamoushou” is a reggae tinged groove performed with the chattering and chanting women of (Kidjo’s mother) Yvonne’s village. It calls upon Oro, the careful God of the wind, who will help resolve the conflicts and blow away troubles. Dr. John adds his New Orleans twist to a traditional Beninese rhythm on “Kulumbu,” the name of the dove and peace. As Kidjo says, “Let’s learn to worship love and friendship. Let’s fall in love with love again!”
After the hypnotic interlude “Kletedjan,” “Ebile,” about the woman being the anchor of humanity even though we bear the names of our fathers, soars with the Kronos Quartet enhancing the guttural voices of the choir. After the orchestra-enhanced “Awalole” and the traditional Congolese song “Bana” (which Kidjo’s mother would sing to her when she was a child) comes “Orisha,” the exotic, brass fired funk/soul tribute to the pantheon of traditional Yoruba gods. These deities should never be used to praise hate and violence but tolerance and understanding. A final interlude, “Wayi,” precedes Eve’s grand finale, a mystical and spiritual rumination of “Cauri,” which addresses the idea of forced marriages. As Kidjo says, “Why would we crush the dreams of young girls by marrying them to older men they don’t know? Money and family alliances are not good reason enough to force anyone to marry. The song is their declaration of independence.”
Kidjo brings to the meticulous and exciting process of creating Eve a deep, colorful history of advocacy on behalf of African women. Along with Mary Louise Cohen and John R. Phillips, Kidjo founded The Batonga Foundation, which gives girls a secondary school and higher education so that they can take the lead in changing Africa. The foundation is doing this by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrollment, improving teaching standards, providing school supplies, supporting mentor programs, exploring alternative education models and advocating for community awareness of the value of education for girls.
Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for Africa for women's rights, a campaign launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). In 2010, she contributed the song “Leila” to the Enough Project and Downtown Records' Raise Hope for Congo compilation—proceeds from which funded efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo’s women a priority. Two years later, she was featured in a campaign called “30 Songs / 30 Days” to support Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book. She has also been a fierce proponent of the protection of artist’s rights—and in 2013 was elected vice president of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), an international non-profit organization that promotes the rights of creators worldwide by advocating for strong legal protection of copyright and author’s rights.
The singer is releasing Eve in conjunction with the release of Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music, an autobiography written with Rachel Wenrick and published by Harper Design, an imprint of Harper Collins. With a foreward by Bishop Desmond Tutu, the book chronicles Kidjo’s rise from a childhood where her voice was censored by the Communist regime to a visionary artist and activist who made her dreams a reality—and how she is inspiring others all around the world to do the same. The telling of Kidjo’s dramatic rise ties in perfectly with the female empowerment themes that make Eve an epic achievement in her career.
“Eve is dedicated to the women of Africa, to their resilience and their beauty,” says Kidjo. “Without women, there is no human family, so how can we ever say that women have less rights because of their gender? How can they not have the right to wear certain clothes? How can a man not respect his partner and mother of his children? What I discovered along this journey is that these women find joy in being mothers and wives and also in being financially independent, running businesses in markets and finding ways to feed their kids. So let us celebrate the beauty and humanity of women, respect them fully and find no comfort in humiliating them or making them feel inferior. What I enjoyed most about creating Eve was the women giving me the authority and strength to continue speaking about justice, love, empathy and compassion. These women have so little materially yet when they smile, it’s as though they have jumped to the moon and are swinging from it. As an artist, this is all about me inspiring myself and others to find the strength to love and find solutions to our problems. As long as we are strong, we will move forward with dignity.”
THE 5 BROWNS
A revolutionary force in contemporary classical music and an ongoing global phenomenon since the release of self titled 2005 debut, The 5 Browns will realize a lifelong collective dream this year by bringing their powerful five piano dynamic to Carnegie Hall for the first time on October 18, 2013.
Among other contemporary classical works, including the New York live premiere of composer John Novacek’s “Reflections on Shenandoah” (which the group recorded on their 2007 collection Browns in Blue), the Julliard educated siblings—Desirae (born 1979), Deondra (1980), Gregory (1982), Melody (1984) and Ryan (1986)—will perform a 40 minute version of Stravinsky’s seminal and provocative masterwork “The Rite of Spring.” The piece is arranged and transcribed for the five pianos by Jeffrey Shumway, who worked with the Browns on their pop oriented 2010 recording The 5 Browns in Hollywood.
“As classical musicians, it’s a dream for us to finally play at Carnegie Hall,” says Desirae, who along with her siblings has performed in famed venues throughout the world, including the Grand National Theatre in China, Suntory Hall in Japan, The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Symphony Hall in Chicago and previously in NYC at Alice Tully Hall. “As kids growing up playing the piano, you don’t always know a lot about music but you know about this iconic venue.” Their fall schedule includes dates at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL (September 5) and others in Quincy, IL (September 7), Brookings, SD (September 9), Scottsbluff, NE (September 12) and Draper, UT (September 14). “The Rite of Spring” is also the centerpiece of their upcoming album, recorded live at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY on May 29, 2013--100 years to the day of the premiere of the work at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.
Composed for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, it was a controversial work which sparked a riot in the packed theatre the night of its original premiere. While the performance includes junctures where two of the Browns may briefly tackle a specific line, most of Shumway’s arrangement was created for all five pianos to be humming simultaneously. Produced by Adam Abeshouse, Grammy winner (and two time nominee) for Classical Producer of the Year in 1999, the live recording also features five piano renditions of Gustav Halt’s seven movement orchestral suite “The Planets” (composed between 1914-16) and “Danse Macabre,” a tone poem originally written for orchestra in 1874 by French composer Saint-Saens.
Recorded before an audience of approximately 1,000 people, the album reflects the intimacy of the concert and the incredible acoustics of the venue. One of the challenges of preparing and rehearsing “The Rite of Spring” for the recorded concert—which will certainly be echoed in the weeks before they take it to the stage at Carnegie Hall—is the fact that The Browns and their families live in different parts of the U.S. Desirae and Ryan are based in Manhattan; Deandra, her husband and daughter, and Melody live in Salt Lake City, where the Browns (originally from Houston) were raised; and during the school year Greg lives in Chicago. Each of The 5 Browns has a unique take on why this new live recording is particularly special to them.
Ryan says, “This is a dream project for us because ‘The Rite of Spring’ is a super epic, intense crazy piece that the five of us have wanted to play since we started working together over ten years ago. All the cards fell right into place to make this project come to life.” Desirae adds, “This is an epic piece in the classical repertoire, which changed the face of music after it premiered. We have loved this a long time and we felt we were finally ready to tackle it. What better time than our tenth anniversary as a group and the 100th anniversary of its premiere? It really lends itself to the five pianos because it’s percussive, exciting and savage—and so much fun to play. The live recording aspect is so important because while we enjoy doing studio recordings, sometimes the energy of a performance can be lost in that confined environment. Because the music is so epic, brutal and visceral, the audience is right there with us, caught up in our craziness and gasping at the screaming silence after certain parts cut off. When I’m performing, I take myself back as if I am literally part of the pagan ritualistic sacrificing of people to the gods of spring. It makes the experience so raw when we put ourselves in that element.”
Her sister Melody says, “Jeffrey did a really good job of transcribing for all of us to play at the same time. On our other albums, we might have three, four or five pieces featuring all five of us at once, complemented by some solo or two piano pieces. When the work premiered 100 years ago, the press predicted it would be a violent piece, but people were not prepared for just how violent it was going to be. When the curtain came up, these dancers came out in completely savage primitive costumes, dancing, stomping and jumping in primitive ring circles that were not ballet. All of this was amplified by the dissonance of Stravinsky’s music, which is just as jarring and shocking now as it was then.” His brother Ryan says, “Probably the hardest and ultimately most fulfilling aspect of doing ‘The Rite of Spring’ is that we always try to memorize our music before we perform it, and we really dedicated ourselves to playing the 40 minute piece in its entirety by heart. We listened to the way each of us was playing, engrossed ourselves in the music and ultimately enjoyed the process and overcoming the obstacles such a daunting piece inspired.”
Addressing the album’s other segments, Greg adds, “We had played ‘The Planets’ and ‘Danse Macabre’ before and they were two of our favorite works. Doing a recording in a studio is kind of like creating a painting, where you can do multiple takes to get it perfect, but the live energy makes things a lot more fun. As the five of us bring the piece to life, our aim is not simply to entertain the audience but to connect them to the shocking experience of when it first premiered and people rioted.” The Brown siblings first encountered “The Rite of Spring” while they were students at different levels at New York’s famed Julliard School, where they became the first family of five siblings ever accepted simultaneously when they ranged in age from 11 (Ryan) to 18 (Deondra).
Working in a world where critics might be inclined to see classical piano playing siblings as something of a novelty, they enjoyed their first wave of critical attention in early 2002 when People magazine dubbed them the “Fab Five” around the same time they were featured on “Oprah” and “60 Minutes.” The New York Post opened the gateway to their subsequent global acclaim when they declared: “One family, five pianos and 50 fingers add up to the biggest classical music sensation in years…When these kids do Rachmaninoff, they’ll make you forget about Marshall amps.”
True multi-media sensations starting with their self-titled debut, they have hit #1 on the Billboard Classical Albums chart three times and have been featured on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Good Morning America,” “Today,” “The View,” “The Martha Stewart Show” and “Public Radio’s Performance Today.” They have also been featured in print everywhere from the New York Times and Parade Magazine to the Los Angeles Times, the Sunday London Telegraph and Entertainment Weekly, who called them “…five young Mormons who all play scorching piano. Thundering down on five Steinways together, they’re button down cute and somewhat otherworldly.”
Individually and collaboratively, the exclusive Steinway artists have soloed with orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre de chambre de Paris. A highlight for the quintet was a commissioned five-piano concerto written by famed composer Nico Muhly. Under the direction of Maestro James Conlon, the concerto premiered in 2011 at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In addition to touring, The 5 Browns are published writers. Their book, Life Between the Keys, a lighthearted collection of personal stories, was published by Phoenix Books in March 2009. The group was also featured in a PBS TV special, “The 5 Browns In Concert,” which aired on PBS stations throughout the country. In conjunction with their upcoming appearance at Carnegie Hall, The 5 Browns will also be featured this fall on season two of the popular series “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.
“Beyond the fact that we love working together and have grown in our personal and professional relationships,” Melody says, “I think we have made excellent choices in performing works that appeal to the mainstream public, by popular, enduring composers like Chopin, Stravinsky and Gershwin. The material we challenge ourselves with is powerful, exciting and includes a lot of Russian music, which not only draws a big audience but is fun and exciting to play.” Desirae adds, “A lot of people think what The 5 Browns are doing is something new, but actually we are bringing back a unique 19th Century tradition known as the Monster Concert. In those days, guys like Chopin and Liszt would get together and jam on the greatest hits of their time with multiple pianos. A few centuries later, making this kind of music is still exciting and inspiring. The joy lies simply in passionate people making music together. When you see the five of us up on stage, we are having a blast and hoping that our audience feels the same energy and excitement that we do. We’re thrilled by the fact that we can look out during any given concert and see three generations from a single family, people of all different ages, connecting with us and these wonderful works we are blessed to have the opportunity to play.”
THE RIDES Featuring Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Barry Goldberg
Can’t Get Enough
Separated in age by a musical generation but bonded by a mutual love of classic cars and the blues, two time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills and five-time Grammy nominated singer, guitarist and songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd draw fire from their extraordinary collective histories--and join forces with famed Chicago rock/blues keyboardist Barry Goldberg--to blaze a fresh trail for the historical American art form in the 21st Century.
Launching an exciting new chapter in each of their storied careers, the trio’s new band The Rides—which Stills dubs “the blues band of my dreams,” built to last beyond the concept of a one time all-star gathering—is further powered by the explosive rhythm section of bassist Kevin McCormick and Shepherd’s longtime drummer Chris Layton (also a veteran of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble). Their 429 Records debut Can’t Get Enough, helmed by longtime Shepherd producer Jerry Harrison, is a fascinating historical sweep, featuring a hard hitting mix of Stills-Goldberg-Shepherd penned blues/rock originals, classic blues tunes by Muddy Waters (“Honey Bee”) and Elmore James (“Talk To Me Baby”) and blistering twists on Stills’ favorite Neil Young anthem “Rockin’ In The Free World” and the Iggy Pop & The Stooges’ early 70s classic “Search and Destroy.”
For each principal, the inexplicable, free flowing chemistry and collective energy they shared during that high octane week of mostly first and second takes recorded at EastWest Studios on Sunset Blvd. took their creative A-games to transcendent places. “Barry and I got rid of everything we have learned over the past 40 years about how to screw up a record,” says Stills, who launched his career with Buffalo Springfield in the mid 60s, penning the generation defining “For What It’s Worth” before cementing his legend with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and among many classic hits, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Dark Star,” “Southern Cross” and “Love The One You’re With”) over the ensuing decades. “In the spirit of that simple, raw authentic 40s and 50s blues music the three of us love, we got in there and boom! A few takes and we were done. The songs have muscle, they don’t sound dated or contrived, they’re very natural and organic. It’s been the most magical experience of my life and I can’t wait to tour with these guys and start recording again!”
“The Rides are a perfect mix of generations, where three musicians who love and play the blues collide and create music together that go beyond all our other life experiences and career achievements,” says the 35 year old Shepherd, whose accolades in the rock and blues realms since signing his first record deal with Giant Records at 16 include two Billboard Music Awards, two Orville H. Gibson Awards, the Blues Foundation’s Keeping The Blues Alive Awards, two Blues Music Awards and six #1 blues albums. “This is a whole new kind of ensemble for me. I built my own band, which includes Chris Layton, from the ground up, and at the end of the day I’m calling all the shots. But working with Stephen and Barry in The Rides is the first time I’ve been a member of a band where everyone contributes equally to the songwriting and creative and business decisions. It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time.”
Barry Goldberg’s decades of contributions to the blues and rock realms are formidable. As a teenager in his native Chicago, he sat in with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf. He played keyboards for Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, formed The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield and later helmed the Barry Goldberg Reunion. Goldberg’s songs (some co-written with Gerry Goffin) have been recorded by everyone from Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight and Joe Cocker to Steve Miller, Percy Sledge, Gram Parsons and B.J. Thomas. He has also received a Grammy nomination for producing and playing on Percy Sledge's Blue Night. More recently, he has been touring with the Chicago Blues Reunion Band and produced “Born in Chicago,” a documentary about the city’s younger musicians creating a blues/rock explosion from what they learned from the bluesmen who migrated there from the Delta. The film recently premiered at the 2013 South By Southwest Conference.
“Just hanging out and working with masters like Stephen and Kenny was one of the most soulful times I can ever remember having in the studio,” says Goldberg. “Working as a film and TV composer for many years, I had taken way too long a hiatus from my first love, the blues, until a few years ago. What they brought back to me is immeasurable, just reconnecting with the reason I started playing in the first place. I liked working for other people, but I had missed this kind of collaboration and the spontaneity that comes from this kind of immediate interaction and live playing. It’s really a full circle thing for me, and I’m enjoying playing as much as I did when I started in the 60s. As proud as we are of Can’t Get Enough, fans are going to see something even more exciting from us when we start getting out there and playing these songs live.”
Decades before Stills and Goldberg’s mutual manager Elliot Roberts—who has worked with Stills since his Buffalo Springfield days—planted the seeds for Can’t Get Enough with his suggestion that they hook up and start writing together, the two veteran musicians appeared on separate sides of the 1968 seminal jam album Super Session, conceived by Blood, Sweat & Tears founder Al Kooper. (Side 1 featured Mike Bloomfield on guitar, with Goldberg on two cuts, while Side 2 featured Stills). Stills says, “I’m not sure how or why I didn’t meet Barry when we both contributed to that recording, but despite being raised in different regions, him from Chicago and me the Southern white kid, we got together and discovered a mutual love for Little Walter, Elmore James, Ray Charles and all the great blues players of the 40s and 50s. That’s also the common thread Barry and I share with Kenny Wayne, despite being from different generations.”
Goldberg adds, “When I first went over to Stephen’s house to start writing, it was like finding a long lost soul brother. We connected on so many things and started jamming and soon had written our first song for the project, from which we got the album title.” Roberts’ idea to reach out to Shepherd about bringing him into the project was ironic because of a unique musical connection that Stills and Shepherd had - a night jamming at a private party before the 2007 Super Bowl, hosted by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. As Shepherd recalls the night, he took the stage with Mike Mills from REM, John Mellencamp and drummer Kenny Aranoff and halfway through the second song, Stills jumped up and started jamming with them for the next few hours.
Looking back, Stills finds it hilarious that the combination of his hearing loss and Aranoff’s drumming power overwhelmed his ability to hear Shepherd’s guitar. Though he and Shepherd hung out and interacted casually at other Colts games over the years, when Roberts suggested Shepherd for the project, Stills at first didn’t realize this was the guy he had shared the stage with that night. This unique background story brought irony and humor into their dynamic and spontaneous musical mix, which Stills compares to the otherworldly excitement he experienced jamming with Jimi Hendrix at their respective studios in the wake of the legendary Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967.
“Long story short, Kenny Wayne got together with me and Barry, we started working on some songs and everything happened very quickly, like Kenny Wayne and I were cousins or something,” Stills says. “I love him, he’s a great guitar player and one of the nicest people I know. All the great blues musicians I wanted to play with over the years had their own bands and because I was always busy with my harmony group, I never had time to find the right combination of people. As good as I think The Rides are now, I can’t wait till we get some live gigs under our belt.”
When Shepherd entered the picture, Stills and Goldberg had three songs that were close to being finished, which the guitarist later contributed to; they then began writing more songs and later chose a unique array of cover tunes. Their original collaborations include the heartfelt ballad “Only Teardrops Fall,” the searing and emotional “Can’t Get Enough,” the brooding, image rich “RoadHouse” and the reflective plea “Don’t Want Lies.” “Word Game” is a socially conscious song about the hypocrisy of the world which Stills wrote several decades ago but never recorded. The lead vocals are almost evenly split with Stills taking six and Shepherd taking four of the cover songs, “That’s A Pretty Good Love,” “Talk To Me Baby,” “Search and Destroy” and “Honey Bee.” “From our initial songwriting session to our sessions at East West, everything happened effortlessly, and the creative process was invigorating,” says Shepherd. “We wrote the songs in a week and did the recording in a week.
Can’t Get Enough has honest performances recorded the way old albums were made, using analog 2 inch tape with everyone playing in the same room together. When established musicians get together the way we did, everyone’s bringing different experience and musical contributions to the table, and you never know what it’s going to be like. But despite the so called ‘star power,’ we really didn’t have big expectations. We just wanted to have fun and play music together, with nothing contrived. The first day we started writing together, we became aware that this was a special chemistry and what began as a cool concept for the three of us to work together evolved naturally into a real working band that is creating and developing its own sound.” Echoing his partner, Stills adds, “I’m absolutely dedicated to this group, including the rhythm section combination of Kevin McCormick and Chris Layton, who keeps a pocket on the drums that no one else can. We’re joined at the hip and nothing’s going to change that. These are the guys I’ve been waiting for to play the blues with.”