Vocalist/Composer KAVITA SHAH Collaborates with Lionel Loueke on Debut Album, VISIONS – Co-Produced by Guitarist Lionel Loueke, Album Combines Jazz Quintet with Indian Tablas and West African Kora.
“A musician’s singer…always taking risks and searching for new levels of understanding. Her music defies categorization.” — Steve Wilson
A vivid self-portrait in mosaic form, Kavita Shah’s Visions (available May 27 on Greg Osby’s Inner Circle Music) heralds the arrival of a strikingly original, globally minded new voice. The gifted vocalist/composer brings together a rich variety of musical, cultural, and personal influences into a formidable debut album that combines a jazz quintet with Indian tablas and the West African kora.
Visions interweaves Shah’s multicultural background (she’s a native New Yorker of Indian descent fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and French) with her wide-ranging musical tastes (reared on 90s hip-hop, Afro-Cuban music, and bossa nova, she studied jazz voice and classical piano) and her fascination with ethnomusicology (which she studied at Harvard). The album was co-produced by the renowned Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, a kindred spirit who shares the singer’s cohesive view of a multi-hued musical experience.
“My experience of diaspora has not exactly been linear, but more like a kaleidoscope. So musically, I wanted to bring together different elements that I love, and combine them in a way that may be surprising to others but makes sense to me,” Shah says. “We have one sound,” adds Loueke. “You listen to the album from the beginning to the end, and even if the textures are different, it has a unity.”
Shah’s own cultural heritage pointed to some unexpected directions. Her paternal grandfather moved from Mumbai to New York in the 1940s, a full generation before immigration from South Asia became common. After witnessing the birth of the United Nations, he returned to India as the first publisher to bring American books to the country, and Shah’s father later retraced his path to New York to attend college. Shah’s mother was one of 13 children, born to a father who insisted on educating his daughters rather than simply marrying them off; music, seen as a distraction, was forbidden. “I didn’t grow up in a traditional household,” Shah recalls. “My parents wanted to expose me to music, an opportunity they didn’t have growing up, but not just to Hindi film songs or Indian classical music. They immigrated to New York in the 1970s, so there was a lot of pop in the house: The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra.” Both sides of that early musical diversity are represented on Visions: Shah sings Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green” and Stevie Wonder’s “Visions,” while one of her first collaborators on the project was tabla player Stephen Cellucci. The two met while working on tabla virtuoso Samir Chatterjee’s project “Rabi Thakur.”
Fourteen musicians from around the world ultimately contributed to breathing life into Shah’s Visions, including keyboardist Stephen Newcomb, guitarist Michael Valeanu, bassist Linda Oh, drummer Guilhem Flouzat, percussionist Rogério Boccato, and a string quartet conducted by Miho Hazama. The album follows an engaging narrative sweep, tracing the cycle of a day or, from a more melancholy angle, stages of grief (Shah’s father died when she was 18). But through Shah’s restless searching, it possesses a geographic as well as emotional sweep, made cohesive by her singular, prodigiously confident vision.
“I haven’t been so excited about a project like this in a long time,” states Loueke. “Kavita is a real, true musician. She’s a great singer, but the way she writes music, she’s not really thinking just about the voice. It sounds like she could be a horn player, a saxophone player.”
Shah spent her childhood with the radio dial parked on HOT 97, New York’s leading hip-hop station, which is echoed in her tabla-driven cover of British rapper M.I.A’s hit “Paper Planes.” Perhaps her most formative musical experience came at the age of 10 when she joined the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, an award-winning youth chorus with whom she regularly performed in more than 15 languages in venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
It was in the YPC where Shah was first exposed to jazz, and it stuck. “We sang everything from standards to opera to pop to folk music to contemporary pieces by major composers like Meredith Monk,” Shah recalls. “For me, that all these types of music could co-exist was quite normal, and in a way, I’ve been trying to replicate that experience ever since.”
Shah majored in Latin American Studies at Harvard, living abroad in Peru and then Brazil, where she conducted research on Afro-Brazilian music in a Bahian favela. That period is reflected in her rhythmically intoxicating duo with Lionel Loueke on Edil Pacheco/P. C. Pinheiro’s “Oju Oba” as well as in her own composition “Moray” (winner of ASCAP’s Young Jazz Composers Award), named for an Incan archeological site and inspired by Pablo Neruda’s epic poem “Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu.” After college, Shah found herself working day jobs at nonprofits like Human Rights Watch until she received advice from an unexpected, brassy guardian angel: legendary vocalist Sheila Jordan. “I was on my way to work when the subway doors opened,” Shah recalls, “and there was Sheila Jordan in front of me. At that time, I didn’t have a mentor in jazz and I was a little lost. In 15 minutes on the train, Sheila basically gave me all of her mantras for life – she took me in and really encouraged me.”
With Jordan’s support, Shah went on to receive her Masters in Jazz Voice from Manhattan School of Music while studying privately with Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge, Steve Wilson, and Jim McNeely. Wilson’s supple reed playing is featured on three tracks on Visions, while McNeely proved instrumental in nurturing Shah’s innovative arrangements. While at MSM, Shah was named by DownBeat as Best Graduate Jazz Vocalist, and she has since become an active member of New York’s thriving jazz community, performing regularly at such venues as Cornelia Street Cafe é, Bar Next Door, 55 Bar, Shapeshifter Lab, Kitano, and Minton’s Playhouse.
The final piece of the Visions puzzle fell into place from passion rather than experience. Shah’s love for the music of master Malian musicians like Ali Farka Toure é and Toumani Diabate é inspired her to call kora player Yacouba Sissoko, who eagerly responded to the challenge of her musical me élange.
“It is so against who I am to pick just one style of music,” Shah says. “Being a global citizen in the 21st century means having a somewhat disjointed life – scattered memories, connections, and experiences that can be enriching but also isolating. Visions is my small universe of all the parts that make me whole.”
Shah had never met Lionel Loueke when she called on him to co-produce the album, but she recognized a fellow traveler in his own globetrotting sonic collage. “Lionel went above and beyond as a co-producer. He and I share the same vision for how we approach music, so I think there was an automatic trust, respect, and appreciation there. He has a really beautiful spirit and we formed a special relationship; he’s been incredibly generous and supportive of my music.”
“I see myself as a cultural interlocutor. A singer can play an almost mystical role, connecting these different elements on stage with an audience through the human voice, through words. With the Visions project, it’s amazing to see the Joni Mitchell fan who has never before seen a kora standing next to the hardcore jazz fan who would not expect to hear tablas on a Wayne Shorter tune. I hope that people find something familiar in the music that draws them in, but then discover something new that might change, even for a second, how they see the world.”
*Source: DL Media Music | *Photo by Julien Charpentier
Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band to release new recording: “Vox Humana”
Celebrating 25 years! The multi-Grammy nominated Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is set to release their new recording: “Vox Humana” featuring vocalists Janis Siegel, Antoinette Montague, Jennifer Jade Ledesna.
Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Cola in NYC
Release Date: Spring 2023
Record Label: Jazzheads
New York – January 18th – On the heels of their Grammy nominated and 2019 Jazz Journalists Association Album of the Year Award winning critically acclaimed masterwork, West Side Story Reimagined, and in celebration of their 25th anniversary – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band return with their most ambitious work to date, VOX HUMANA.
Bobby states, “Over the course of our many Grammy nominated albums we’ve occasionally featured tracks with vocals. But I’ve always envisioned doing an entire vocal album framed by the Multiverse Big Band. Now with three of today’s greatest contemporary singing talents – multi-Grammy award winner Janis Siegel from the Manhattan Transfer, blues and jazz Queen Antoinette Montague, and the multilingual powerhouse, Jennifer Jade Ledesna, today that vision has finally become a reality.
The individually distinct voices that Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer possess make them each unique. But the X factor they all have is they are all masterful improvisors in the best sense of the jazz tradition. Added to the mix is our great conguero, Oreste Abrantes, who also sings lead on two tracks. Having that multi- dimensional vocal talent framed by the power, nuance, and tonal variety that only a big band can provide, combined with the repertoire I’ve chosen to showcase them and the band and the incredible variety of Afro- Latin, straight ahead swing, funk, R&B, and rock rhythmic vocabulary that we are masters of and readily have at our disposal in the Multiverse, I believe VOX HUMANA will prove to be our greatest achievement.
That repertoire has a personal meaning to me as I see VOX HUMANA as a biographical work. I’m a product of my environment. I’m a Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent growing up in New York City. In my case the South Bronx during a time period when pop, jazz, R&B, rock, funk, and Latin music of all kinds all co-existed as equals. It was the last era when the big bands of masters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Don Ellis, and more were in the public eye, and they became my heroes. Vocalists who could deliver a message with subtlety, nuance, and when needed, power, were called upon to deliver poetry crafted by genius song writers. You’ll hear all that and more through the soaring vocals and improv talents of Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer, along with Oreste, as well as the incredible jazz-oriented arrangements and exciting Pan Afro-Latin rhythms played by a big band that literally takes no prisoners when it hits the stage.”
The repertoire Bobby speaks of includes 1 original and 12 unique re-workings of pop hits like Spooky, Christine Aguilera’s Genie In a Bottle, and Steely Dan’s Do It Again; NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri’s, Mi Congo and Puerto Rico along with the island’s greatest composer, Rafael Hernandez’s, Capullito De Aleli; the classic Joe Cuba R&B bolero, To Be With You; Brazilian standards Partido Alto and Amazonas; and from the world of Broadway theater, I Love You Porgy, and the iconic jump blues, Let The Good Times Roll. The CD also includes an original message bearing piece, Who Taught You That, as well as what may possibly be the most exciting interpretation of the Ellington associated classic, Caravan, and that has ever been recorded.
Adding to the excitement of the performance, VOX HUMANA was recorded in front of a live audience. Bobby states, “As with our previous work, we recorded VOX HUMANA live at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club Coca – Cola. My musicians represent NYC’s finest. That means they’re the greatest in the world. The added level of excitement created by the audience inspired us in the MULTIVERSE Big Band to a heightened new level of performance virtuosity that listeners will hear explode out of the speakers just as the audience at Dizzy’s experienced in person.”
The history of the Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is indeed one based on his rich multi-cultural heritage as a Nuyorican growing up in New York City’s South Bronx. His concept of having a big band that has no genre boundaries with limitless possibilities was forged 25 years ago back in 1998. It has yielded a series of groundbreaking, critically acclaimed albums that have all been Grammy-nominated with the band thrilling audiences worldwide at venues like the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Ravinia Festival, Verona Jazz Festival in Europe, and more.
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