Kirsten Edkins: Shapes & Sound – a new take on classic jazz recording processes and inspirations
Shapes & Sound, the sophomore album from saxophonist and composer Kirsten Edkins, is now available to stream on digital platforms after a limited vinyl release. Featuring Gerald Clayton on piano, Ahmet Turkmenoglu on bass, Lemar Guillary on trombone and Chris Wabich on drums, the eight-track album of original compositions has been described by reviewers as a “must own” and “one of the best play-through jazz albums this year”
The players on the album represent the very best of the Los Angeles music scene. Collectively, they have worked with artists such as John Scofield, Stanley Jordan, Vince Mendoza, Otmaro Ruiz, Charles Lloyd, Usher, John Legend, Leon Bridges and Beyonce. But beyond their musical prowess, Kirsten has gathered a group of friends who share an affinity for tone and groove. Each of the players she’s brought on board brings their own strong voice and diverse experience.
Asked to describe her process, composer and musician Kirsten Edkins states clearly and plainly that her goal is to “make good music.” To her, that means the reach of the music must extend beyond “jazz fans.” The music on this album, she notes, is inspired by jazz, with the focus on “feel,” but more importantly the universal language of a strong, listenable, tangible, catchy melody.
Kirsten describes her twenty-five year journey in music (the last fifteen of which including playing with some very notable bands in Los Angeles) as an effort to carve out her one distinct personality and voice as a jazz player. This album captures one of the things that first captured her – the excitement of hearing musicians perform live. Here she attempts to draw audiences in and share the personality, texture and nuance of the playing. In the same way that the seeming imperfection of a reed chirp on a Stan Getz album drew her in, she chooses not to insulate the audience from the grit of musicians making music.
Her goal is to play with purpose. To play less, but make a greater impact texturally and rhythmically. Played just right, she observes, a single note from a great musician is as identifiable as a “hello” on the phone from an old friend.
All of that musical intent is lost if it can’t be physically delivered to the listener. As important as the players she worked with is the collaboration with award-winning engineer Kevin Gray. Having mastered over one hundred top ten albums, Gray has worked with artists as diverse as The Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, Madonna, Wayne Shorter, Prince, Art Blakey, Dr. John and Cher. Fifteen years ago, Gray began a passion project–to meticulously recreate Rudy Van Gelder’s Blue Note Hackensack studio. Shapes & Sound is the first album recorded in this remarkable “all-valve” (vacuum tube) studio, duplicating the vintage technology and sound from microphone to disk cutterhead.
Shapes & Sound was recorded live, in that small living room studio. Each track represents a single take, with no overdubs or punches. In a world filled with changing technology, this album takes us back to the classic albums of Hank Mobley and Miles and Coltrane. It places as little as possible between the listener and great musicians just playing together.
Befitting its unique recording process, the album was initially only available on vinyl. The intent was to complete the vintage experience by providing a physical object, not an ephemeral streaming experience. Extraordinarily well-received by the vinyl and audiophile community, the first two pressings were completely sold out, necessitating an unanticipated third pressing.
Kirsten’s influences can be heard throughout the album. In the opening track, “Party Slug,” the Cha Cha drum groove serves as a nod to the distinctive style of John Scofield, complemented by pianist Gerald Clayton, who has toured alongside Scofield. Strategically placed rests highlight the groove, which Kirsten refers to as “writing in ‘space’”. The title, an homage to the Kirsten’s husband’s cat, embodies the ideal companion for an introvert at a party—a laid-back yet cool presence, akin to a party slug.
On “Bird Shapes,” Kirsten pays tribute to the bebop genius Charlie Parker with a deconstructed and reconstructed version of Parker’s classic “Confirmation.” The composition features intricate harmonies and twists and Ahmet Turkmenoglu’s bass solo echoes the classic Blue Note sound, adding a distinctive element.
Showcasing the dynamic trombone prowess of Lemar Guillary,”Sweet Pickles” takes the listener into a festive atmosphere with a New Orleans second line. The song, influenced by John Scofield and incorporating elements of Eddie Harris’ solo lines, brings a lively and soulful vibe.
In a surprising turn, “The Goose” is a slightly chaotic and dissonant track with weaving lines and unusual rhythmic patterns. Breaking down and rebuilding the classic chord progression of Donna Lee, the band executes this complex piece flawlessly in a single take. The track pays homage to the styles of Thelonious Monk and Johnny Griffin, creating a unique sonic experience that showcases the concentration and connection between the ensemble members.
About Kirsten Edkins
A professional musician from the age of sixteen, Kirsten Edkins is a performer, bandleader, teacher, studio musician and accomplished recording artist. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Edkins has been a glowing fixture of the Los Angeles music scene for the past decade and a half. She has been a member of several Grammy Award–winning bands including the Bill Holman Big Band, John Daversa Band, John Beasley’s MONK’estra and the late composer Johnny Mandel’s band. Her television appearances include American Idol, The Late, Late Show, The Tonight Show and The Voice. As a performer in her own right, she has toured the United States, Canada, South America and the Caribbean. Her first album, Art & Soul, featuring original compositions and collaboration with noted artists (Bob Sheppard, Larry Goldings), reached the top fifteen on Jazz Week’s radio play charts. Her current release, Shapes and Sound (CoHearent Records) continues her exploration of her original voice and exquisite craft. As an educator, Edkins has taught at institutions like the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, the Bill Green Mentorship Program of the Los Angeles Jazz Society, the Monterey Jazz Camp and traveled the country to do guest artist appearances at several colleges such as the Eastman School and Butler University. In all of this, Edkins draws on her musical heroes, Eddie Harris, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, among others, and combines that inspiration with a desire to use music to empower, enrich and encourage players and lovers of music.
Kirsten Edkins Bio
Music found Kirsten Edkins when she was a girl. The power of the Cannonball and Coltrane album, the deftness of a Joe Henderson line—this became her world. She dove in with such ferocity that she began performing professionally at the age of sixteen. From the moment she started, teachers and mentors (among them, saxophonist Bob Sheppard and the renowned music educator Ray Ricker) encouraged her to nurture her growing passion. She graduated from the Eastman School of Music and began a career that has made her a glowing fixture of the Los Angeles music scene for the past decade and a half.
As a performer, Kirsten is highly sought-after. She has been a member of several Grammy Award–winning bands including the Bill Holman Band, Claire Fischer Orchestra, John Daversa Band, John Beasley’s MONK’estra and the band led by the late composer Johnny Mandel. She is a new member of Chris Walden’s Pacific Jazz Orchestra (produced by Herb Alpert); its inaugural season is this year.
She’s shared the stage with a who’s who of pop music (Pharrel Williams, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Blake Shelton, Lionel Richie, Christina Aguilara, Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, Natalie Cole, Indina Menzel, Katharine McPhee and on and on and on). The list of jazz legends she’s performed and recorded with is even longer—Larry Koonse, Bill Cunliffe, Jeff Hamilton, Tim Hagans, Bernie Dresel, Otmaro Ruiz, Wayne Bergeron, Gary Smulyan, Joe LaBarbera, Gordon Goodwin and on and on even more. Kirsten has made numerous television appearances including American Idol, The Late, Late Show, The Tonight Show and The Voice.
While she treasures those collaborations, Kirsten has developed her own voice as a unique and captivating performing artist. Her first album, Art & Soul, produced by Bob Sheppard, featured original compositions ranging from groovy tracks evocative of John Scofield to some good old-fashioned straight-ahead jazz styling. The album, which featured Larry Goldings, Larry Koonse and Mark Ferber earned a spot in the top fifteen albums on Jazz Week’s radio play charts.
Her recent album, Shapes and Sound, is a groundbreaking collaboration of artistry and engineering. When award-winning mastering engineer Kevin Gray completed construction of his all-analog/all-tube recording studio, CoHearent Records, there was only one artist he could imagine for the debut album. The result is an album that captures the “essence of an era” while, at the same time, existing emphatically in the present. It is both the culmination of the refinement of her craft and honing of her voice and a herald of things to come.
When she isn’t recording or touring (the U.S., Canada, South America, the Caribbean), Kirsten channels her love of music into education. She has taught at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, the Bill Green Mentorship Program of the Los Angeles Jazz Society, the Monterey Jazz Camp, the Stanford Jazz Camp and the Idyllwild Arts Academy. She remains active as a traveling Guest Artist and clinician, visiting programs such as the Eastman School of music, California State University Fullerton, Cal Poly Pomona, Butler University, Long Beach City College, the Monterey Jazz Festival, NASA (North American Saxophone Alliance) and the University of North Carolina. Through her work as an educator, Kirsten hopes to use music to empower, enrich and encourage players and lovers of music. She especially hopes to be a role model to young players entering the world of music.
Kirsten resides in her native Southern California where she has an active private studio. She is a proud D’Addario Winds Endorsed Artist and plays Retro Revival mouthpieces.
Personnel + Credits
Kirsten Edkins – saxophone, composition
Gerald Clayton – piano,
Ahmet Turkmenoglu – bass
Lemar Guillary – trombone
Chris Wabich – drums
Kevin Gray – engineering, mixing & mastering
Party Slug – composed by Kirsten Edkins
Parker Shapes – composed by Kirsten Edkins
Dedicated to You – music by Saul Chaplin & Hy Zaret, lyrics by Sammy
The Goose – composed by Kirsten Edkins
Sweet Pickles – composed by Kirsten Edkins
Wuhoo – composed by Kirsten Edkins
Proprietary Minor – composed by Kirsten Edkins
Hula Hoop – composed by Chris Wabich