Kassa Overall: “Make My Way Back Home” (KUTX Live at Scholz Garten)

Shoutout to everyone who caught our Scholz Garten live series last week for SXSW, either in person or over the airwaves! But if you didn’t turn out or tune in, don’t fret; we’re taking the next few days to recap some key performances.

Starting off today with Brooklyn’s Kassa Overall. This Grammy nominee is about as expert as it gets when it comes to drumming, yet by stepping behind the mic or into the producer’s chair, Kassa’s not just sequestered to the rhythm section. After landing a real KO on last May’s ANIMALS LP, Kassa Overall came in hot last Thursday at Scholz with his sonic supercollider of jazz and hip-hop.

Starting off at 11AM, the set’s energy was a real pre-noon pick-me-up. Auxiliary percussion, keys, and pair of saxes rounded out these retro arrangements for some truly magical moments, like the band’s rendition of “Make My Way Back Home”. Let’s just hope that Kassa Overall makes their way back to Austin sooner rather than later.

Wrongbird: “Sons of the Desert”

Once you get locked into a flock, life without group benefits sounds like a nightmare. And if you want to break away to steer your own migrations, you might just sacrifice a chunk of your following in the process. Not only that, there’s always the risk of ending up far from where you wanted.

Yet it sure seems like singer-songwriter Eric Baker (formerly of Tomar & the FCs and currently behind keys for Shinyribs) has found the right fit with Wrongbird, which he founded as a solo project more than half a decade back. Since Baker’s early 2018 debut Epitome of the Opposite, Wrongbird’s wings have spread into a core duo with producer-guitarist Michael Blake and eventually the quartet we know today. Wrongbird’s made all the right choices when it comes to what they weave into the nest: strings, horns, backup singers, and anything worth foraging from the ’60s-’70s golden age of art pop. But following their late 2018 EP Who Is Wrongbird?, the band went awfully quiet…up until their big return in 2023 with April’s “Mr. April” and November’s “Western Hero”, the latter of which has already become their most streamed single on Spotify.

Clearly Wrongbird’s not interested in letting their still-limited discography dry up, and as such, they’re leading us to an oasis of a new record at some point in 2024. And while there’s no official release date for that sophomore album as of yet, Wrongbird does have a single release show 6:30PM next Wednesday at Vinyl Beauty Bar with Allisen & Wy plus Lady Chops & the Goddamn Jam. And that latest lead single from LP feels like finally reaching a distant mirage, that instead of evaporating upon arrival, gleefully transforms into a full-blown Bourbon Street affair. Because by barreling together Three Stooges dialogue samples, speakeasy-approved horns, tipsy stride piano, trippy guitar, tumbling drums, and swaggering vocals, “Sons of the Desert” effortlessly encapsulates a prohibition-era sense of mischievousness. Just don’t get yourselves into too much trouble with this one, boys…

Ghost Funk Orchestra: “To The Moon!”

Last Fall when we shared our KUTX staff picks for Levitation Fest, I got a chance to gush about one of all-time favorite contemporary projects, Ghost Funk Orchestra. That slick, spectral sound clearly continues to haunt me, because I’ve got yet another chance to gawk at Ghost Funk Orchestra today.

For those who haven’t already been possessed, Ghost Funk Orchestra is the brainchild of NYC multi-instrumentalist/composer/arranger Seth Applebaum. Alongside Applebaum’s outstanding studio crew, Ghost Funk Orchestra raises a whole array of retro sounds back from their original decades-old resting places – exotica, psychedelia, jazz, surf rock – you name it. Well, just like the Apollo program, not long after the last LP, GFO’s already gearing up for their next mission – their fifth full-length, A Trip to the Moon, out February 23rd.

Inspired by the space age arrangements of Quincy Jones and Eddie Palmieri, this fifteen-stage instrumental, interstellar exploration may just rival George Méliès’ groundbreaking 1902 short of the same name in terms of outlandish style. The record’s lead single and title track of sorts, “To The Moon!” almost puts Tower of Power to shame with stereo-spanning, brilliantly-mixed brass that orbits Applebaum’s mission controlling, garage-style guitar. In other words, it doesn’t sound quite like Ghost Funk Orchestra’s completely ditched their dusty sheets for spiffy new spacesuits – and we love to hear it. Between its opening mosaic of authentic NASA transmissions and its descending reverse guitar solo that cues re-entry to our normal lives, we’re expecting A Trip to the Moon to hail in a new generation of “lost cosmonauts” with a one-of-a-kind astral listening experience.

Bonus Episode: HT Jazz Collective

In this bonus episode, Lisa and Rich catch-up with the Huston-Tillotson Jazz Collective after their performance at ACL. They share how Huston-Tillotson has cultivated a space that makes them feel at home, what playing jazz means to them, and what inspires them. 

Alabaster DePlume: “Naked Like Water” (feat. Donna Thompson)

Depending on who you talk to, friends of composers, performers, and producers often present them as “prolific”. Which makes sense. No one wants to admit to sedentary songwriting, right? But when you come across someone with a truly bountiful output, more often than not, they’re not bragging; they’re just dedicated craftspeople who love to create. People like Manchester-born multi-instrumentalist Guy Fairbairn. For the past eleven years he’s been blasting out albums under the handle Alabaster DePlume. Sound-wise this experimental jazz project features Fairbairn on tenor sax, guitar, synth, and vocals and lyrically serves as Fairbairn’s artistic avenue for publishing poetry. When combined, Alabaster DePlume’s discography tenders a sprawling saga of unconventional sounds across six studio albums, plus a remix record and a collection of instrumentals. So with no no depletion of drive in sight for this Londoner, Alabaster DePlume unsurprisingly has yet another new LP coming out soon. That dozen-song endeavor Come With Fierce Grace drops September 8th, and based on the name alone we’re expecting an upper echelon of experimental jazz-folk. This morning, ahead of a maiden month-long U.S. tour, DePlume deployed Come With Fierce Grace‘s final lead single, oen that’s amplified by touring drummer Donna Thompson‘s towering pipes. On “Naked Like Water”, Thompson takes on the role of Lady of the Lake, whose vocals extend Saxcalibur to King Alabaster from a misty, aural Avalon. Rippling with liquid minimalism and leaving little to hide, “Naked Like Water” really lets the reverb and sense of space do a lot of the heavy lifting. In doing so these cleansing waves bare all and drip with ambient avant-garde vulnerability.

Sami Stevens: “Tonight”

When a songwriter relocates to a metropolitan music hub, they often do so with the hope that that their new surroundings will inspire a higher level of artistry, that the scene will spark something not yet uncovered. But the reality is that, with some rare exceptions, the passion, perspective, and potential that separate the best from the rest all arrived long before relocation. So sure, keyboardist-singer Sami Stevens resides in Brooklyn, but her adolescent exposure to bucolic depression in rural Maine and subsequent attempt to understand that morbid underbelly within an otherwise majestic landscape arguably outweighs anything else in terms of personal outlook. Those nuanced viewpoints complement a love of complex jazz, soul, and folk characters like Carole King, Sarah Vaughan, Minnie Riperton, Donny Hathaway, Joni Mitchell for a bittersweet blend of ’60s/’70s sounds. And on top of those foundations, Stevens has an incredible set of pipes, which’ve made her stand out even in BK’s bustling performance culture. And yet outside of some turn-of-the-’20s collaborations with saxophonist Kazemde George, Sami hasn’t really shared any solo material offstage…until now. Sami Stevens’ solo studio career dawns next Friday with her debut full-length Morning an eleven-piece portrait of life as Stevens sees it. Conceptually informed by a degree in Psychology and sonically enhanced by its counterpart in Jazz Performance, the once-sparse arrangements on Morning crest over the horizon anew with vibrant orchestral flourishes that match Stevens’ idiosyncratic reflections. On the LP’s latest offering “Tonight”, Sami seats you right in the swing set and nudges you through a three-and-a-half minute cycle of delicate instrumentation, perfectly-subtle percussion, progressive chord structures and Stevens’ one-of-a-kind featherweight falsetto.

Sidney Scott: “Maybe You Were Right”

Historically, a native Austinite status set you on an accessible, auspicious trajectory towards making music. But of course, as tech culture eclipses the “weird” Live Music Capital character that Austin’s clung on to since the ’70s, it just doesn’t happen as much any more. So while simply being born within the city limits isn’t enough to guarantee the songwriter’s lifestyle, having musical parents sure as heck helps. See: Sidney Scott. Raised by a professional singer and a professional woodwind player, Sidney’s childhood in the Scott household was always chock full of good tunes. So when Sidney started discovering her own pipes, her folks weren’t necessarily looking to maintain a family legacy in music…but they certainly weren’t hypocrites either; they encouraged Sidney to follow her own passion, and we’re awfully glad they did. In 2021 Sidney Scott shared a pair of standalone studio singles, showing off her proclivity for soul, jazz, folk, and blues, not to mention an incredible grasp on vocal performance. Today, as part of her patient plans to drop her debut EP tentatively in 2024, Sidney Scott gives us a sneak peek at her unique hybridizing process. What began as an iPhone voice memo attempting to capture the best of both Brandi Carlile and Lake Street Dive was fully fleshed out by seasoned Austin producer Ray Prim and a form-fitting four-piece backing band. This latest original is a sensuous piece of gospel-soul that from its first organ-vocal unison through its sparkling firecracker choruses, billowed arrangement nuances, and Shirley Bassey-meets-Amy Winehouse final falsetto vibrato, years from now, when looking back at those of us who recognized Scott’s promising potential, might just make you say “Maybe You Were Right”

Passiflora: “SOMS”

Next week is South By South West, which means it’s been three whole years since SXSW 2020’s abrupt cancellation marked the beginning of our ongoing COVID climate. Of course, we now recognize several silver linings, mainly the sudden abundance of free time to follow through with unrealized creative projects, some of which haven’t been heard until now.

Take for example Austin trio Passiflora. Passiflora’s first root came from a cross-pollination of genre interests between guitarist Rudy Durham, singer Lauren Harris, and drummer Raul Luevano sometime under the veil of the pandemic. What sprouted as an experiment in hybridizing indie, R&B, and jazz has since bloomed into a collective one-of-a-kind passion project. Their style reminds us of turn-of-the-millennium neo-soul innovators like Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, albeit with an extra jazzy sense of adventure, manifested as time signature changes, enthralling chord progressions, and killer polyrhythms.

For their appropriately-named debut EP eponymous, Passiflora brought The Point bassist Jack Montesinos into the mix, and dang does he fit right in the pocket. eponymous is out this Friday, Passiflora performs at Continental Club Saturday, March 25th, and today they pass along the album’s final lead single. Acronymized as “SOMS”, “Sun on my Skin” begs to be enjoyed under brighter skies by basking in dreamy keys, breezy drum brushes, and, of course, Harris’ siren singing that heralds the start of spring and’ll subconsciously make you want to put this “f***ing record on repeat”.

Jill Barber: “Hell No”

When we watch characters like Marge Simpson or Mad Men‘s Betty Draper, their “homemaker” status is typically the butt of a joke. However after plenty of post-lockdown reflections, the status quo has clearly shifted back to domestic preferences. And although she’s worked damn hard for her planet-spanning, twenty-plus-year success, Canada’s Jill Barber is ready to put aside almost all of it in favor of motherhood and marriage. Almost. Barber boasts a discography dating back to 2002, an impressive list of international festival appearances, three JUNO nominations, countless awards, song placement in programs like Orange is the New Black, ambassadorship with Save the Children, bilingual fluency, and oh yeah, authorship of two children’s books. With a decade of marriage under her belt and a couple kids tied to her hip, this highly-decorated debonair has entered her forties with the maternal wisdom that you simply can’t rush greatness, nor should you ascribe to outdated norms. Sure, Jill still mixes a potpourri of infectious folk arrangements and seductive jazz vocals within perspicacious pop formulas. But she’s also eager to reclaim and re-appropriate the term “homemaker” on her eleventh full-length of the same name, out next Friday. Homemaker is a jubilant piece of musical matriarchy and cooperation, plain and simple, one that recognizes that nobody succeeds alone, that twice the work for half the pay is a raw deal. Barber’s latest cut comes straight from her creative nerve center in Vancouver, British Columbia and serves as her first as co-producer, yet another testament to the power of nurturing together. So if you want to stave off these statewide winter shivers, harness the warmth of emotional energy within Homemaker and say heck yeah to “Hell No”.

Christina Galisatus: “Candlelight”

Without a cursory glance at the classical glossary, the term “chamber” might be a bit off-putting. No, it’s not music to be tortured to, nor the ambiance you’d hear in a musty dungeon. Instead, when we talk about “chamber music“, we’re really referring to palatial arrangements and efficient approaches that rely more on cooperation between players relative to their performance space, basically allowing a room’s acoustics to take on a character of its own. As a genre modifier, jazz and folk are perhaps the most analogous modern styles you could revolve into the chamber, thanks to their emphases on solo ability and roots in large hall venues. So in an era where we can digitally replicate reverb across thousands of different room designs with the click of a button, it’s heartwarming to hear artists continue to employ this centuries-old technique.

Among those with technical respect for their sonic surroundings? Los Angeles pianist-composer Christina Galisatus. Galisatus spent her adolescence internationally touring with a symphony orchestra playing French horn, but by the time she started college, she’d fully returned to her childhood love of the ivories. Stanford degree now on the mantle, Christina Galisatus is eager to share her own variety of evocative, jazz-folk vibrations.

This Friday Christina Galisatus gifts us her debut full-length Without Night, an amazing encapsulation of chamber-adjacent live concert magic. At sixteen tunes (a baker’s dozen of originals plus two interludes and a reprise), each harmonic reflection is a remarkable moment of nuance, only made possible through an interaction between Galisatus, her backing sextet, and their acoustic environment. Without Night also marks Galisatus’ first foray into formally writing lyrics, an experience that lends itself to the LP’s sense of rumination and resonance. But before Without Night hits wax this weekend, Christina’s lit a wick that illuminates the album’s dulcet discipline and dynamic range. The ensemble’s synchronicity both with each other and their shared space glows throughout “Candlelight”, like a torch-in-sconce that taper off the walls, floor, and ceiling into an almost amorphous luminescence.

Samara Joy: “Warm in December”

Well…it’s the very last Song of the Day for 2022. As mentioned before, we’ll be off for a couple weeks and returning with an exciting batch of premieres on Monday, January 2nd. But with Christmas just over a week away now, we’d be remiss if we didn’t save the very best 2022 yuletide tune for last. If you don’t know Bronx-born vocalist Samara Joy, hop aboard the hype train (whose existing passengers include LaKeith Stanfield and Regina King) now. At just 23, Joy’s already begun to lead a new generation of jazz royalty, thanks to a pair of incredible post-lockdown LPs. Joy’s latest, Linger Awhile, picks up where her 2021 eponymous debut left off, and marks an indoctrination into the ranks of fellow Verve virtuosos – Anita O’Day, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Both albums make great evergreen gifts for the vocal jazz fanatic in your family, but Samara’s not shy about her love of Christmas either. In fact she was just here in Austin last Wednesday for Big Band Holidays w/J@LC Orchestra. Joy just dropped an intimate, gospel collaboration “O Holy Night” with The McLendon Family, but considering the all-too-real risks of blackouts this coming Winter, we’re tossing “Warm in December” straight into your stocking. By nixing the clichéd cheese of sleigh bell percussion and leaving plenty of space for improv piano and sensitive dynamic shifts, “Warm in December” transcends your run-of-the-mill Christmas playlist as a contemporary jazz instant classic.

Dezron Douglas: “Atalaya”

Jazz has pretty much always been my favorite genre. But along the way, I’ve discovered that the biggest barrier of getting into newer stuff (for myself, personally) is a general lack of connection to any sort of jazz royalty. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Dezron Douglas.

Once apprentice to the late legend Jackie McLean, this Hartford-born educator-bandleader-bassist-producer-composer has also lent his talents to the likes of Ravi Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, just to name a few. Even in America’s most-competitive jazz hubs, Dezron’s dexterity, discipline, and deep understanding of theory have propelled him towards the top. In the realm of studio releases, Dezron Douglas only rode the momentum of his 2020 Brandee Younger collab Force Majeure for just a bit before recruiting the dream quartet for his solo debut.

Entitled ATALAYA, this LP is a ten-track trek across all kinds of avant-garde jazz. Bop, free jazz, and even effects-drenched solo fusion (see the penultimate tune, “Octopus”) whisk together better than ever before. And if you’re after a multi-sensory listening experience, consider copping a bag of Douglas’ very own coffee blend! A piping hot cup curated by the aficionado himself, plus ATALAYA (and its eponymous album opener) on vinyl? Sounds like an all-around rich cross-cultural roast for the winter.

Sammy Rae & The Friends: “If It All Goes South”

It’s that rare sliver of the year where the weather is great the whole day through. And for me personally, that’s all the motivation I need to get out and enjoy live music, indoors or out. Even if the venue’s little more than a concrete box, as long as there’s airflow, I’m out there dancing. With that in mind, we’ve got an official recommendation for this weekend.

In just a couple days, some of slickest genres seep together across a seven-piece, courtesy of Sammy Rae & The Friends. Since their 2018 debut EP The Good Life, this septet’s soared under the direction of their eponymous frontwoman, whose daring pipes are impressive as hell to say the least. Sammy Rae & The Friends bring their brand of jazzy-funk-soul to Empire Control Room 10PM this Saturday alongside NC indie pop outfit The Collection as part of a month-and-a-half-long national junket. It’s only the fourth of twenty-plus tour dates, so be sure to show Sammy Rae & The Friends some of that trademark Texas hospitality. Who knows? You may even flip the script on the meridional connotations of The Friends’ latest single (and music video) “If It All Goes South”. One thing’s for sure, you won’t have any trouble memorizing the acapella-and-horn-heavy chorus.

Takuro Okada: “Sand”

John Lennon. Kate Bush. Nels Cline. They’ve all dabbled in what mainstream listeners consider to be “dark arts” (the avant-garde genre)…but only after becoming pop stars. And well after his mid-2010s tenure with Tokyo indie-folk-rock sensation Mori Wa Ikiteiru, guitarist-songwriter Takuro Okada has begun ascending into their ranks. Ever since he went solo, Okada, (ever equipped with his fully-loaded pedal board and vintage amplifier), has reconsidered what defines “pop” music other than commercial radio and stream numbers. Hell, he even took it a step further and dove down a discourse of what “music” is.

In that “post-modern pop” spirit, Takuro Okada shared his sophomore full-length Betsu No Jikan this past week. A far cry from his indie-rock roots, Betsu No Jikan guides you on a reflective six-song journey through first-rate improv jazz, mind-melting ambient soundscapes, exotic instrumentation, and an exciting touch of experimentalism. With the exception of the album opener (which covers Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme”) the record effortlessly lays landmark motifs based around natural landscapes, such as the sifting, cinematic late-A-Side opus,”Sand”.

The Watters: “Life As A Dream”

We’ve all experienced impostor syndrome in one way or another. For musicians, it typically comes in the form of filling a bill considered “out of their league” or trying their hand at a style that’s not as rehearsed as the rest of their repertoire. But you’ll never know unless you try, right? Because that’s exactly what happened with Austin Americana-blues-soul-rock outfit The Watters. Daniel and Jenna Watters live within walking distance of The Far Out Lounge, whose doors opened at the top of the pandemic. When Far Out put out an open call for a “Sunday Jazz Brunch”, it stirred something in The Watters; as unapologetic lovers of New Orleans Dixieland and stride jazz standards like “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, they certainly seemed in touch with those sought-after sensibilities. And since having a horn section is half the battle for most jazz bands, why the hell not? Needless to say, those Sunday Jazz Brunches went off without a hitch. As such, the Watters’ tides have turned towards the incorporation of jazz, a shift that heavily influenced their latest EP Mellow. With their idiosyncratic blues-soul still front and center, jazz masterfully interjects itself within these four rousing originals. But you’ll also hear flourishes from the swingin’ ’60s sound on Mellow‘s sophomore offering “Life As A Dream”. Either way, as is usual with The Watters, it’s best experienced live. So catch The Watters 10:30pm tomorrow night at The Continental Club along with Wrongbird for the Mellow EP release show and get lucid with the sensuous psychedelia of “Life As A Dream”.

Takuya Kuroda: “Midnight Crisp”

It’s been almost a full decade since I graduated college, and I’d like to think that those I haven’t kept up with remember me for my two biggest creative endeavors at the time: playing trumpet and producing jazz-sampled hip-hop beats. I only say that because it seems like a pretty cool combo that I’ve sadly shied away from in the past few years. However if you are on the hunt for that unique pairing, look no further than Kobe Japan’s Takuya Kuroda. It took little time for Kuroda to cement himself in Brooklyn’s bustling jazz scene, where he eventually linked up with legends like José James and DJ Premier (who later recruited Takuya as a centerpiece for The Badder Band).

Takuya Kuroda just wrapped up Newport Jazz Fest and embarks on a month-long European tour in October. The occasion? Kuroda’s seventh studio album, Midnight Crisp. Like a soundtrack that switches between scenes of strutting, sensuality, and solitude, this sensational six-song collection comes out October 21st. So with a couple months to spare, feel free to step into the self-titled pseudo-’70s album opener, which just landed yesterday alongside the record announcement.

José James: “Christmas in New York”

Born in Minneapolis and now based out of New York, guitarist-vocalist José James continues to inspire joy at the intersection of jazz and hip-hop. His discovery in London about a decade back led to legendary jazz label Blue Note Records signing James and releasing five of his albums between 2012 and 2018. Since then José James has been operating through his own independent label, Rainbow Blonde Records, who shared No Beginning No End 2 last year, the live album José James: New York 2020 earlier this year, and Merry Christmas from José James just a month ago. With Merry Christmas James recaptures the glee of his younger yuletide experiences with some familiar jazz favorites and two originals – all of which feel more multi-faceted and nuanced than their surface-levels may suggest – particularly the melancholy “Christmas in New York”.

Jeremy Lister: “Christmas in Rio”

Like so many others before him, blue-eyed, Mississippi-born vocalist Jeremy Lister first fell in love with singing in his childhood church. Fast forward to 2003 when Lister relocated to Nasvhille and released his debut EP Shooting Star and jump ahead again to 2010, when he joined acclaimed a cappella outfit Street Corner Symphony, who landed second place on NBC’s The Sing Off and earned the group a touring spot alongside Ben Folds.

In the decade that’s passed since then, Lister’s chops as a crooner have only improved, scoring the jazz singer a duet with Allison Krauss, a family record alongside The Lister Brothers, and several high-level commercial and television spots. The latest from Lister is Happy Holidays, Everyone (though we would’ve also accepted Meremy Listmas), a big-band full-length featuring ten outstanding originals. But if brassy mid-century swing isn’t your cup of hot chocolate, bask instead in the sunny Southern-Hemispheric swagger of “Christmas in Rio”!

Akina Adderley: “Home Before Dark”

The term “songstress” is a relatively outdated one, but if there’s anyone here in Austin that fits the description, it’s absolutely Akina Adderley. In addition to her work providing vocals for the world-jazz group NORI and as one third of retro-girl-pop project Charlie Faye & The Fayettes, Adderley’s long maintained a reputation as a must-hear powerhouse performer, be it on her own or with her eponymous trio.

Akina Adderley plays with NORI on December 11th at Central Market North Lamar and with The Akina Adderley Trio on December 29th at Geraldine’s, but the big news comes in the form of a standalone single. Touting a gospel-blues-adjacent waltz of a groove and lyrics that look at our collective path as a nation, “Home Before Dark” will keep you in bright spirits even in these wintry early nights.

Kristine Mills: “Reach Out To Me”

Though she’s historically called Houston her home, after several LPs that navigate the many canals of jazz (including two in the bossa-nova-verse), singer Kristine Mills is about to actualize her international aspirations with a move to London. That pond-hopping dream becomes a reality only after the release of Mills’ aptly-titled new record, Looking Back. Moving Forward., which drops next Friday. On the cusp of Looking Back. Moving Forward. Mills performs 7PM this Thursday at Parker Jazz Club for a single and music video release show, one that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home thanks to a livestream. But if you do plan on coming out, you’ll want to check out Kristine’s powerful pipes ahead of time with “Reach Out To Me” and the aforementioned music video for that jazziest of hues, “Blue Isn’t Blue Anymore“!