Spring 2008 welcomes the release of Mad Hope by San Francisco based jazz singer, Karen Blixt. Building on her successful 2006 jazz debut, this recording reveals the confidence of an artist in full voice - taking bold strides in odd meters, intricate rhythms and engaging lyrics. Performing for years in jazz clubs in Northern and Southern California, Karen arrived via her debut album "Spin This", acclaimed for it's inventive take on the masters and resoundingly refreshing original compositions, including the surprisingly politically charged anti-Bush title track. Suddenly the former "nice church girl" from upstate New York, who discovered soulful compatriots in the Bay area arts scene, had found her voice a relevant gift to jazz enthusiasts and pop music fans whose appreciation of the form was confined to coffeehouses and art galleries. Two years since her debut, she reflects further on the state of affairs and a deliberate choice to keep faith by returning with Mad Hope, an uplifting collection of 13 tracks, 7 of which are originals and 2 additional instrumentals with new lyrics by Blixt. "On Mad Hope, we wanted to put out some really different material," says Blixt. "Different in the sense of going beyond re-interpreting the great American songbook. That meant writing new material. And beyond that, writing it in a variety of ways, using several odd-meters and different feels, like jazz/funk, latin/world, ballad, and straight ahead jazz. With the dream band we had assembled for the project, we knew the sky was the limit - so we went for it." Working collaboratively once again with Arranger/ Producer Frank Martin (Stevie Wonder, Sting, Patti Austin, Angela Bofill, Al Jarreau, and Dori Caymmi), the pair enlisted the top notch rhythm section of Abraham Laboriel (Bass), Jose Neto (Guitar), Alex Acuña (Percussion), Will Kennedy (Drums), and Patrice Rushen (Piano), along with musicians Randy Brecker (trumpet) Sheldon Brown (Bass Clarinet),Paul Hanson (Bassoon), and Kenny Washington (vocals) the album was recorded over two days in November 2007, at Skywalker Studios in Northern California. To say the team had to make a mad dash to complete the record on schedule is an understatement. "Due to everyone's hectic schedules, we had to be structured to fit in all the work at hand. But I also knew who I was working with and really trusted these musicians-and knew instinctively I was in great hands to pull it off in two days. I was able to focus on the music, rather than all the extraneous stuff." The band of musicians were the chosen ones, the top brass of a wish list Blixt and Martin had drawn up prior to the recording session. With over 100 years of musical experience between them, "great hands" may be the understatement. With Laboriel, the most recorded electric bassist in history driving the rhythm section, and Patrice Rushen, a legendary composer and singer in her own right, Will Kennedy (the Yellowjackets) and Alex Acuna (Weather Report) the Mad Hope session was a dream on fast forward. Approaching the tunes from their own expert angles, the musicians intersected in a magical place, where their individual talents flourished and propelled Karen's vocals in unexpected directions. As with their previous effort, Karen and Frank co-wrote original songs to be recorded alongside a few jazz standards, upping the ante from three original tracks to over half the album at seven. Additionally Blixt wrote lyrics to two existing instrumentals. No longer a novice songwriter, Blixt found the process a great opportunity to explore her own life experiences to create journeys through song. Reflecting upon time spent in Latin America, songs like "Frida" and "Antigua", a homage to the colonial Guatemalan town where her children were born, have a decidedly Latin flare inflected into her distinctive brand of jazz. The other new songs take a playful stance in the old jazz tradition, toying with meter and lyrics as in "Jazz Ants" and "Seventh Heaven", and a bass duet "Faith Baby Faith". To round out the session, Karen and Frank sought to uncover tunes that are not standard vocal fare . Classics like "You Are There" by Dave Frishberg and Johnny Mandel, John McLaughlin's instrumental "Time For Earth (Follow Your Heart)" with Blixt contributing lyrics to the piece, and Joe Zawinul's timeless "Shadow and Light". "With his passing this year, we really liked the idea of paying tribute to Joe Zawinul because of all that he had contributed to music," says Blixt. "The amazing thing is Abe (Laboriel) played on the very first recording of 'Shadow and Light', which we learned on the day of the recording. We were in the studio ready to record Frank's arrangement as Patrice was at the piano noodling over the keys, and I was humming it, and we were all hearing each other over headphones. In that moment, Frank and I came to the same realization from our various corners in the studio - Patrice's intro was so beautiful and different from the arrangement, looser and more sparse. And so in that moment it came together and we changed it up. Later on, Abe said he felt the spirit with which we played it without the arrangement was much more of a tribute to Zawinul." Like all jazz musicians, over the years Karen has performed the quintessential jazz tune "Take Five" many times. Though most audiences associate the 1959 groundbreaking hit in 5/4 with Dave Brubeck, it was saxophonist Paul Desmond who composed it. When Frank played "Take Ten" for Karen, Desmond's little known follow-up composition to his previous hit, Karen seized on the idea of writing lyrics and was granted permission from his estate to record her lyrics to the composer's instrumental, re-titling it "Five & Five". "Recording 'Five & Five' was like unearthing this gem," says Blixt. "I was drawn to the idea of doing a Paul Desmond song and here was one rarely performed. It references 'Take Five', has the same feel. I loved the idea of continuing the story of "Take Five", and making it a vocal duet was a natural outcome." Perhaps the most unexpected surprise on Mad Hope can be found at the very beginning of the record. The musicians start in an open manner - no score, just free form. Everyone playing to their own heartbeat, a beautiful cacophony of sounds -until the drummer enters, when suddenly all the musicians find their common groove and the melody of Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce " takes shape as Karen scats on this up-tempo burner. It serves as a dazzling aural metaphor for an album entitled Mad Hope. "On 'Billie's Bounce' we're all coming from these different places and feeling like how in this world, where so much is going on that seems so bleak at times, how do we carry on with hope rather than despair?" says Blixt. The song first starts out mad and free. All this chaos going on and as each musician comes in, they each represent possibility. As they take their solos, it's their personal commentary on the madness. Here comes the bassoon and wow, that's a way I never looked at life, and then the clarinet, and the piano, and the trumpet. We're all giving that madness it's say in our unique voices. And then somehow everything comes around and we all meet in unison at the same place, and maybe, just maybe, we can lend a sense of hope to the listener. In the end, despair is not an option."
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