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The California native John Carroll Kirby is classically trained on the piano, stands for jazz, a sought-after studio musician and producer who has worked with a wide range of contemporary artists over the past few years, including Bat for Lashes, Jonathan Wilson, Alex Cameron, Eddie Chacon and, most notably, Frank Ocean, Harry Styles and Solange, on whose last two albums Kirby was the main co-producer.

“Septet” marks Kirby’s return to ensemble playing. For the “Septet” sessions, Kirby invited Deantoni Parks (drums), Tracy Wannomae (woodwinds), JP Maramba (bass), Nick Mancini (mallets), Logan Horne (woodwinds) and David Leach (percussion) to 64 Sound Studios in Los Angeles and recorded the material live in a few days. The result sounds natural and spontaneous. The skill of Kirby, who has been active as a session musician since the 80s, lies not least in the fact that he manages to provide all the musicians involved with a setting that allows their individual musicality to develop to the full.

Kirby, who grew up in L.A., was inspired by the nature of the city and how it intersects with the urban environment. According to the official press release, he imagines the wildlife and history of the city on “Septet”. The song ‘P64 By My Side’, named after the Los Angeles native cougar known to traverse LA’s motorways, came about when Kirby imagined walking around the city with this large cat as a pet. The rhythmic cadence of ‘Rainmaker’, one of the best tracks on the album, is said to be reminiscent of a rotating sprinkler.

But the music works even without the backstories. “Septet” is a great jazz album, deeply rooted in 70s soul jazz and jazz-funk.

Kirby, who turned to spirituality after the loss of his father who later converted to Satanism, balances introspection and spirituality with a playful touch in his music. Much like Herbie Hancock returned to a firmer funkier sound on “Head Hunters” after several albums of celestial music, the states Kirby explored on his New Age approach on “My Garden” take on a more earthly dimension on “Septet”.

Photo: Angela Suarez