Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Jeff Denson - Outside My Window (RIDGEWAY RECORDS 2018)

The exceptional bassist is an expressive vocalist in both his own compositions and interpretations of Jeff Buckley, Peter Gabriel, Abbey Lincoln and Chris Cornell

At first glance, bassist Jeff Denson seems to be reinventing himself with each of his albums, and his twelfth album Outside My Window also represents a departure in a new direction. With his powerful tone and lyrical-compositional vision, this versatile musician has come to life Over the past 15 years, he has earned recognition as one of the key bassists of his generation. This album recalibrates the range of its creative expressive possibilities by attaching equal importance to his singing voice. Working with an outstanding international quartet, Denson provides an emotional and exciting program, interweaving surprising interpretations of iconic songs and deeply felt original compositions.

That Denson turns out in the middle of his career as a sensitive and enthusiastic singer is not so surprising. The 2012 released "Secret World", the first under his own name, featured two original compositions featuring Denson's vocals, establishing a pattern that continues on most of his solo albums. Last year, Sgt. Pepper's memory album "May I Introduce to You," in collaboration with the San Francisco String Trio, featured his vocal interpretation of "Fixing a Hole" as one of the highlights. Denson's music covers a wide stylistic range, "but my voice is the thread running through everything, whether I sing or not," he says. "I was a singer before I became a bassist. With my entry into the jazz world, I had to put my voice down for a long time. But that I use the voice more from year to year is a logical step for me. This is the first time I sing on an entire album and the songs are a direct continuation of the music I compose and arrange. "

Denson's arrangements of the four pieces by other artists are not so much a reinvention of the works but a new view through the filter of his rich sonic palette. The first is a version of "Grace," a piece inspired by the Negative Press Project album "Eternal Life: Jeff Buckley Songs and Sounds," which Denson produced for Ridgeway Records last year. This is followed by a simple yet touching version of Abbey Lincoln's "Bird Alone", a reharmonized version of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" in 6/8 time scale and an arrangement of "Fell On Black Days" by Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell; a tribute to one of the bands that provided the soundtrack to Denson's schooldays.

"In my opinion he is the best singer of the rock / grunge generation," says Denson. "I wanted to pay tribute to him and his art. And Abbey is one of my favorite singers. I've always liked how she sings, how she pulls the beat; like Billie Holiday. She has such a full, intense sound and in particular this title has always touched me. I wanted to see what I can do with it. "

Denson's four original compositions need not hide from the cover pieces, neither "For a Brand New Day" with Beatle-like optimism nor the "We Have Really Gone This Far" clanking with a prepared piano to "Through the Mist", a melancholy piece The Denson has been fundamentally reworked with Minsarah since its original version in 2006, and sounds as if it had just been beamed across from Miles Davis' Next Universe in "In a Silent Way." The vocalist contributes a wordless vocal solo. The final piece, titled Outside My Window, is a wistful invitation to the rich musical world of Jeff Denson.

The album is based on deep musical friendships. Dayna Stephens and Denson met at Boston's Berkelee School of Music and have since played together in different constellations. Israeli-born drummer Ronen Itzig is also a Berkelee pupil, and they have built a close connection through their interplay in the rhythm section of Joe Lovano's 21st Century Ensemble. Both have their degrees at the Florida State University, where they worked together daily, recording three albums with pianist Bill Peterson and one with singer Inga Swearingen over the course of two years. The highly esteemed Finnish pianist Kari Ikonen is a relative newcomer to Denson's musical world and quickly became indispensable. Denson hired icons for a tour with legendary alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and "noted with pleasure that this was my trio with Itzig. Everything fit together and was inspiring. The next few tours with Lee Konitz were always with them. "

Konitz played a key role in rediscovering Denson's vocal voice through his encouragement after hearing Denson sing on "Secret World." During a joint performance at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, the saxophonist made the surprising announcement "Jeff is going to sing," recalls Denson. "They did not even have a microphone on stage, but I sang the tune. Then I booked a West Coast tour with him and we sang spontaneously together every night. It felt great to play the jazz standard repertoire and then sing with him on stage. On the other hand, I also knew that I wanted to make my own music and sing like I was singing; without restrictions."

Denson, born December 20, 1976 in Arlington, Virginia, grew up around Washington DC. He played alto saxophone from the third grade, but he gave up in the middle school, but the music had him back soon after as school friends committed him as a singer for rock bands. When one of these groups also needed a bassist, he also took over this role and it was not long before he discovered the divine world of electric bass players in jazz and funk. "Bassists like Jaco, Bootsy Collins, and Stanley Clarke were my entry," recalls Denson. "The virtuoso electric bass in the fusion opened the door to jazz for me." The music of Miles Davis then led him to the double bass, but it was Mingus who inspired him to hang up the Fender. "On 'Haitian Fight Song', he plays this incredible introduction. That was the key moment, "says Denson. "It was clear to me that I could never produce such sounds on the electric bass."

During his studies at Northern Virginia Community College, he earned his living as a freelance musician by playing jazz, orchestral music, rock covers, and being head of his own funk combo as bassist and singer in Greater DC. Shortly after receiving a scholarship to Berklee College of Music he made acquaintance with the German pianist Florian Weber and the Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz, two fellow students with whom founded the Minsarah. The collective trio released their debut album on Hubermusic in 2003, and in 2006 they released an eponymous, critically acclaimed album on Enja Records. In addition to international concert tours with this group, Denson managed to pursue a rigorous academic career.

Hired by Florida State University, he earned a Master of Music title in Jazz and discovered his penchant for teaching. After graduating from Magna Cum Laude in 2005 and preparing to move to New York City, he happened to meet bass guru Mark Dresser. He had just accepted a professorship at the University of California in San Diego and convinced Denson to relocate to Southern California. There he got, again with full scholarship, the doctorate in Contemporary Music Performance with a focus on composition. During his stay in San Diego Denson also toured extensively with Minsarah. Lee Konitz heard the band in 2006 on a concert series in Germany. "The beginning of a great adventure," says Denson.

With Minsarah in the role of his band, the critically acclaimed 2007 Lee Konitz New Quartet released his first album, Deep Lee. This was followed in 2009 by the album Live at the Village Vanguard, which won the 2010 Album of the Year award from French Jazzman Magazine, and 2014 standards Live: At the Village Vanguard (all on Enja). In 2012, Denson debuted as a bandleader with his album Secret World and demonstrated his versatility with the simultaneous release of two duo albums: I'll Fly Away, inventing American hymns and spirituals from scratch with San Diego-based pianist Joshua White The Swiss clarinet virtuoso Claudio Puntin freely improvised dialogues on the album Two.

In 2011, Denson moved to San Francisco and accepted the appointment to full professorship at the California Jazz Conservatory. In the following years, he worked closely with some of the best musicians in San Francisco Bay, including bassoon virtuoso Paul Hanson, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist Mimi Fox, and violinist Mads Tolling (his fellow San Francisco String Quartet) , Denson is also a prolific composer and arranger whose work includes a whole range of different jazz formats, as well as string ensembles, solo bass, and a chamber opera.

With the unveiling of Ridgeway Arts, a nonprofit organization, he has united his diverse fields of activity under one roof. Ridgway Arts aims to expand and strengthen the San Francisco metropolitan area and make a significant contribution to the American jazz landscape and art in general through a focus on four approaches: expression, education, presentation and documentation. He introduced the initiative with The Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz and subsequently Arctic from Alan Hall's critically acclaimed Ensemble Ratatet. Meanwhile, the label has developed into an important channel of connection to a roster of international musicians and serves as a portal to Denson's multifaceted musical imagination.

"Artists are always fantasizing about new projects," he says. "My clear goal has always been to create my own musical world."

In Your Eyes
For a Brand New Day
Have We Really Gone This Far?
Through the Mist
Bird Alone
Fell On Black Days
Outside My Window

Dayna Stephens - tenor, soprano & bari saxophones & EWI
Kari Ikonen - piano, Fender Rhodes & Moog Synthesizer
Ronen Itzik - drum set & percussion


May 24 – The Sound Room, Oakland, CA
May 25 & 26 – Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats, Truckee, CA
May 27 – 30 – Black Cat, San Francisco, CA
May 31 – SoHo Restaurant & Music Club, Santa Barbara, CA
• June 1 – Dizzy’s, San Diego, CA
June 2 – Alvas Showroom, Los Angeles/San Pedro, CA
June 3 – D’Anbino Vineyards & Cellars, Paso Robles, CA
August 11 San Jose Jazz Festival, San Jose, CA
September 7 & 8 – The Velvet Note, Atlanta, GA
October 12 – Atlas Performing Arts Center, Washington, DC
October 13 – An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
October 26 – California Jazz Conservatory, Berkeley, CA
October 27 – North Coast Brewery, Fort Bragg, CA