Keyboardist Scott Kinsey is known for many things — being a close friend and protege of the late Joe Zawinul, an integral member of the iconic fusion band Tribal Tech and pushing subsequent boundaries with his adventurous groups Human Element, the Zawinul Legacy Band and ARC Trio. In a continually evolving career, Scott’s operational motif is embodied by the word “exploratory.”
Enter vocalist, songwriter and electric bassist Mer Sal (Meridith Salimbeni), a Coloradan with a fresh presence on the LA scene who spent years honing her songwriting, vocal and performance craft while fronting bands around the West to rave reviews. Through a series of recent (and fortuitous) introductions to top players and producers, Mer was invited to participate in The Native Dancer Series: A Tribute to Wayne Shorter and Karl Sterling’s Dream: Parkinson's Global Project. Both of these projects saw her performing along with many other top-shelf musicians, including Jimmy Haslip, Peter Erskine, Nir Felder, Gary Novak and Jeff Richman.
Mer and Scott first crossed paths on one of these sessions and there was something of an instant connection between the two. After their initial meeting they kept in touch, exchanging lyrical and musical ideas. Mer continues, “I sent Scott the beginnings of a song, which he arranged and reharmonized. When I returned to LA to live, he played it for me. It blew my mind, it was so incredible — and incredibly thoughtful.” It’s that uncommon connection and synergy that fires the collaborative and creative union between the two, the fruits of which come through on Adjustments.
Part of the mojo transmitted on the album owes to the individual musical path each has taken and the different processes they have developed to achieve their respective musical ends. They also seem equally taken by the other’s abilities. “It’s interesting,” Kinsey says, “because she writes all this poetry — pages upon pages of text. I look at it and say, ‘There’s no song there.’ But when I ask what she has in mind, she starts singing and I can’t believe it, it’s totally there... a melody, a direction, a concept... everything.”
Sal concurs: “I’m a poet, but I’m equally a singer, so the melody comes out hand in hand with the lyrics. I usually hear some sort of harmonic background to the melodies while I’m writing but now that I know what Scott does with them, I try to come up with melodies that lend themselves to Scott’s process. I love hearing him ‘Scottify’ them.”
Kinsey adds, “She has a full song there — melody, lyrics and chords — but I actually don’t want to hear the chords; I don’t want them to influence what I might do. I want to keep my freshness, with the melody and the lyric and that’s it. This gives us individual roles to play. She comes up with the lyrics and the melody, then I can put my thing to it.”
One might think that Kinsey, with a background steeped in instrumental, soloing-oriented music, would have altered his approach for the album’s song-based collaborations. “To me it’s not really that different.” Kinsey explains. “I still say, what is the melody, what is the story — just as I would with a saxophone player or guitarist — and write around that.” But Scott readily admits that having Sal in the mix sparks different inspirations. “It’s because of her voice. I love orchestrating around that and end up writing more harmony. With busier instrumental records, the music is already dense. But with Mer’s voice I can hear all this lush stuff going on around it.”
The fact that Adjustments displays some of Kinsey’s most innovative writing, playing and arranging to date may indeed owe to having Sal as talented muse, but it’s also the singer’s authenticity that effectively grounds Kinsey’s work like never before. Her original songs, such as the opening “Tiny Circles,” display a certain valiant fearlessness for a songwriter whose emotions run so palpably close to the surface. “I recorded that in my studio in Colorado and it was the first one I sent to Scott. I felt that in my life, I was walking in tiny circles instead of the bigger ones where I wanted to be. It’s kind of admitting my shame — so I could get through it.”
But even when the pen presses hard lyrically, it’s not only taken aloft by Sal’s engaging vocals but by Kinsey’s (sometimes counterintuitive) treatments: “I had a general concept that if it’s a very, very dark lyric, I won’t enhance it with more darkness. I don’t want it to sink deeper into that pit but keep it afloat by lightening it up. Just like I might put slightly darker things around a really happy lyric or melody — enhance it by pulling it the other way a bit.”
This symbiosis also carries over into the duo’s wonderfully creative takes on some classic (if not surprising) cover material on the album. Steely Dan, The Beach Boys, even Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” — (Kinsey’s an unapologetic Blondie fan) — all are freshly reimagined by the pair. Perhaps none of these are more emblematic of the Kinsey/Sal union than the wonderful joining of Joni Mitchell’s “Down to You” with Weather Report’s “Jungle Book” — something of a talisman and surely among the album's high points.
The icing on the cake for Adjustments is undoubtedly how the proceedings are further raised by having so many of the sought-after, A-list musicians of Kinsey’s world (e.g., Scott Henderson, Oz Noy, Tim Lefebvre, Hadrien Feraud, Gergö Borlai and others) uncommonly colliding with Sal’s. This propels the music beyond today’s retrograde “jazz vocalist” albums that seek to rekindle nostalgia for the singer-fronted jazz band. Nor is it another in the recent stream of barely distinguishable, vocal-forward, jazz/neo-soul hybrids that proliferate in the modern soundscape.
In their own way, what Scott Kinsey and Mer Sal exhibit on Adjustments speaks to an intersection as uniquely compelling as when Jaco met Joni. A modern entity, to be heard on its own terms. Says Mer, “We want to change what’s considered the norm a little.” And in light of the music that she and Scott have brought forth here, listeners will happily make their own “adjustments.”
Biography written by Mike Jacobs
“Essência is a joyful romp through the musical landscape of the Americas guided by master pianist Otmaro Ruiz and exciting new guitar virtuoso, Bruno Mangueira. Their musical partnership is informed by their Venezuelan and Brazilian heritages fused with their deep love and understanding of American jazz and the European classical tradition.
Otmaro and Bruno flawlessly navigate this landscape with a program of eight original compositions and two standards. Each song feels like a suite, taking us through a wide range of dynamics and emotional territory. Impressively, their original compositions sound like they could be standards. They evoke the timeless feeling of classic songs by Tom Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal, and other Brazilian masters while maintaining the vibrancy of the present. There are hints of Bach, Chopin, and lush harmonic passages that will send music theory students racing for their notepads.
I love the program’s intelligent balance of composition and improvisation. In the Brazilian tradition, one might expect the balance to be weighted toward composition and jazz, toward improvisation. Essência has managed to marry the two in a cohesive and natural way. The song construction is airtight while the performances and improvisations take us for a wild and exciting ride. Neither Otmaro nor Bruno shy away from taking chances. The gorgeous yet sometimes unexpected harmonies are constantly shifting and it takes a skilled improviser to make their way through this treacherous terrain and arrive safely on the other side. Otmaro and Bruno are our able guides.
Duo playing demands an extraordinary level of musicianship. Every note, every gesture is exposed. The musicians must breathe together and have an almost telepathic connection. Each player must fully grasp the entirety of each piece, as their constantly shifting roles require them to alternately supply melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic support for one another. It’s a daring high wire partnership calling for empathy and a deep commitment to the music and to one another. Otmaro and Bruno embody these qualities throughout. Essência celebrates the joy of two master musicians as they explore the essence of their beloved musical traditions in this intimate setting and guide us to new landscapes and possibilities.”
- Russell Ferrante (YellowJackets), August 2019
Dynamic organist David Ellington teams up with powerhouse drummer Chris Burroughs to form Duo Elevation with the release of their debut album, "Omar's Lament". Although a Duo, Duo Elevation is far from sparse; using multi-layered tracking to give listeners a look inside the brilliant arranging and production capabilities of these two masters. The result is a high energy journey of funky exploration into the powerful psychedelia of the early 1970's.
David Ellington studied the traditional classical fare that kids typically learn. But as adolescence hit he became attracted to the many burgeoning styles available to him on the FM airways. Garage bands to church musicals gave way to study at Berklee College of Music and eventually the musical gumbo in the city of New Orleans. Mr. Ellington has taken full advantage of the diverse musical culture and studied with jazz statesman Ellis Marsalis all while playing in stylistically varied bands including leader of Chevere who played the NOLA Jazz Fest each year up until the Katrina Hurricane brought David to Atlanta in 2005. Shortly after arriving in Atlanta, David connected with drummer/percussionist/educator and Duo counterpart Chris Burroughs. Mr. Burroughs has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia with artists as varied as jam-guru Col. Bruce Hampton, blues champion Chris Duarte and Broadway singer and actress Jennifer Holiday. Collectively their musical experiences and special artistic chemistry make for an exciting elevated musical duo, known as Duo Elevation.
The Duo's debut, "Omar's Lament", comes out shootin'. Opener "Slingin'" is a full-tilt, non-stop funk, jazz fusion effort that strikes right between the eyes. This song channels classic Yes songs from the early 1970's...capitalizing on straight-ahead jazz chops and drawing from the funk rock of their youth. The manic romp of Mr. Ellington's organ falls perfectly on the powerful, driving flow of Mr. Burroughs pulse. The explosion takes the listener from hectic to tight and together from second to second until the anthem crescendos, retards into Omar's Lament Pt.1, and gently fades away...where is this dynamic Duo taking us?
Duo Elevation takes the listener to an unexpected station next. The pair pay homage to pop great Prince with a cover of The Beautiful Ones from the game changing album Purple Rain. In an era where Prince covers are not uncommon, this version is a remarkable head-turner. Take a floating trip down a lazy river with an organ melody behind the beat and a back beat right in the center to create a pocket you could drive a truck through. The concluding standard results in a hummable tribute that offers fresh insight into an unforgettable artist from an era of often relatively forgettable peers.
Don't miss Duo Elevation's use of space to offer contemporary vision into funky fusion with elements of jazz, rock, soul and R&B. Featuring six originals and two covers, this psychedelia hard-hitting album keeps the spirit of the 1970’s alive, fused with a modern-day funky edgy twist. Heads are turning...