Michael Kaeshammer's loyal legions of fans around the globe have come to expect the unexpected from the BC-based pianist/singer/songwriter/producer. Unconstrained by genre barriers and any music industry pressures, he follows his own muse, creating work designed to stimulate and satisfy himself, first and foremost. Thankfully, the results of that journey is material that is richly melodic and warmly accessible. That is vividly reaffirmed on Something New, Kaeshammer's 12th album, scheduled for international release via True North Records on April 20. "Something New" is the name of a tune Michael regularly begins his shows (though it is not included here), but he explains that the choice of album title also reflects a new aesthetic approach that was in play. "I saw this album as being about producing other people as much as about being the artist," he says. To give his original songs extra musical resonance, Kaeshammer assembled two A-list casts of guest musicians and vocalists, one American and one Canadian. The bulk of the recording took place at Esplanade Studios in New Orleans, with extra sessions at Revolution Recording in Toronto and in Vancouver. The American all-star grouping includes guest singers Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers (on "Heaven And Earth) and Curtis Salgado (on "Do You Believe?"), plus New Orleans legends George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on electric bass and Johnny Vidacovich (Professor Longhair, Al Hirt, Johnny Adams) on drums, with Chuck Leavell (The Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton) contributing keyboards to "She's Gone." Canadian guests includes Michael's True North labelmates Randy Bachman and Colin James, who both play guitar on the horn-fuelled New Orleans-inflected romp "Who Are You?," with Colin swapping vocals with Michael on the infectious cut. Amos Garrett (guitar) and Jim Byrnes (vocals) are featured on the bluesy lament "She's Gone," rising jazz star Bria Skonberg plays trumpet on "Forbidden Love," David Piltch (k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, Holly Cole) contributes acoustic bass throughout, Justin Abedin (Jacksoul, Serena Ryder) is on guitars and mandolin, and Kaeshammer's regular horn section of William Sperandei, Chris Gale, and William Carn strut their stuff prominently on Something New. New Orleans is crucial to the sound of Something New. The Big Easy has been a crucial component of Michael Kaeshammer's musical DNA since he began his career in his teens as a boogie-woogie pianist in his native Germany. "I grew up with the music of New Orleans, from listening to my dad's records," he recalls. "That is where the music I love comes from, so what can be better than to go and record with some of the guys that were part of that." Longtime comrade Johnny Vidacovich was a key figure in the genesis of the new record, as Michael explains. "I went to New Orleans to do a record with him in 1998 [No Strings Attached] and I really wanted to do another with him on drums. Instead of bringing him up to Victoria for a week, I thought I could just go there and tap into the vibe of the city as well. Plus I love New Orleans and the food [Kaeshammer is also a gourmet chef]." David Piltch flew in, and the New Orleans sessions began at Esplanade. "It is a beautiful studio in Treme in what used to be an old church," notes Michael. "Artists like Dr. John and Trombone Shorty use it, and I liked the sound of records made there and wanted to use their engineer, Misha Kachkachvili." Recording unfolded in laidback and spontaneous fashion. "The whole relaxed part came from the fact that I demoed all the tunes myself and sent them down the week before. I showed up and we just played them," Kaeshammer recalls. "Things snowballed from there. Initially I wasn't thinking of Cyril Neville or the other guests, but you sit in the control room and go, 'you know who would be great for this tune?,' and you call someone up and they come over." The famed rhythmic and feel-good vibe of New Orleans is etched into the grooves of Something New, starting with the creation of these new compositions. They came together on an extensive tour of China in 2016, as Michael explains. "I've been going there every October for the last seven years. I knew there was a long train ride or flight every day for a month, so I needed some kind of project." "I decided to write a record there. Usually I write at the piano or work on the lyrics first, but this time I asked Johnny to record a bunch of drum stuff. I took that with me, looped, cut and edited it. So I started with the rhythms and grooves, then wrote on top of that while I was touring." The experience of travelling in a country far-removed from his tranquil home base on Vancouver Island proved stimulating to the songwriter, and the lyrics flowed freely. For instance, "Forbidden Love" came from a visit to a North Korean restaurant that Michael found to be "a wildly interesting situation. I went right back to the hotel room and wrote out the lyrics." The result is a mellow and jazzy gem. "All these songs were written in those four weeks, based on my experiences and impressions," Kaeshammer notes. "They are on different subjects, but are all from my thoughts then. When you are traveling and tired, you really do reflect on life." There are plenty of words of wisdom sprinkled through these songs. The opening number, "Scenic Route," evokes Michael's enjoyment of "things that take time, whether that is cooking, driving, even having a career. Take your time and enjoy the process." "'She's Gone' is about the fact you can have business or personal relationships with someone who is part of your life every day, until suddenly they are not.That can feel crazy." "Dixie Has The Blues" is a lighthearted romp that reaffirms Michael's love of the music of the South, while there is a New Orleans meets Southern soul feel to "Do You Believe," an upbeat and uplifting tune delivered with gusto by Curtis Salgado, and featuring neat musical twists and turns. The only non-original on Something New is the classic "Sweet Georgia," given a rollicking and swinging makeover here that showcases Kaeshammer's virtuosic piano playing. The album is then closed out in gently reflective fashion with a solo piano instrumental, "Weimar." It is named after a region in Germany with a rich musical heritage, and Michael explains that "I've spent a lot of time there and I love playing music from composers like Liszt and Bach that lived there. All I play on my piano at home is classical." Michael Kaeshammer's recording career now spans 22 years and 12 albums. His last record, 2016's critically acclaimed No Filter, is nominated for a 2018 Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, his eighth nomination (he has won twice). He has also earned multiple Western Canadian Music Award nominations, winning as both Musician of the Year and Entertainer of the Year and, in 2017, for Jazz Artist of the Year or No Filter. Slowing down is not an option for this cool cat. "I want to do this until I die," he insists. "I'm already thinking about the next album. I'm in a position now where I can really just do what I want, and I'm always really conscious of that." As Something New illustrates in compelling and entertaining fashion, Michael Kaeshammer is an artist in complete control of his sound and vision. Following this creative journey continues to be a richly rewarding experience.
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