"Earth Wind and Wonder"
Creative Perspective Music
Street Date: May 4th, 2018
On this exciting new project, the world-renowned saxophonist explores the wide-ranging catalogue of Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder. Braden is joined by two stellar rhythm sections that include pianists Brandon McCune and Art Hirahara, bassists Joris Teepe and Kenny Davis, drummers Cecil Brooks III and Jeremy Warren and percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell.
As a young man growing up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, Braden discovered the music of both Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder, and it immediately captured his heart, mind and soul. The esteemed saxophonist explains that “the messages within their music – built around core themes such as strength, love and joy, are imbued with African-American spirit, and yet embody a wide variety of human emotions and experience. They are delivered with power, artistry and elegance via memorable and singable melodies, rich harmonies, compelling lyrics, infectious grooves, outstanding arrangements and superb performances.” While Braden’s career grew in the direction of straight ahead jazz, he continued to listen to and study the music of his early musical heroes.
Earth Wind and Wonder augments the repertoire of “contemporary standards” that Braden has accumulated over the years; jazz interpretations of his generation’s “American Songbook”. As a matter of artistic and emotional expression, Braden enthuses that his exploration of this music has been highly rewarding, stimulating and fun!
The ten tracks that appear on Earth Wind and Wonder showcase the astounding versatility and adaptability of EW&F and Stevie Wonder’s legendary catalogue. Standout tracks include album opener “Fantasy” from EW&F’s All ‘n All, a grooving shuffle version of Wonder’s “Higher Ground”, a reharmonized, sultry rendition of Wonder’s “Visions”, and a stunning interpretation of EW&F’s “After The Love Is Gone”. Also noteworthy are two of Braden’s original compositions (“The Elements” and “The Wonder of You”) that take inspiration from the album’s concept.
This project was completed and perfected over the course of three separate recording sessions, the first being in Summer 2014 with Brandon McCune, Joris Teepe and Cecil Brooks III. Later that year, Braden unfortunately got sidelined by a scary, potentially career-ending surgery, which, thankfully, went well. In 2016, Braden was commissioned to perform this music with the Litchfield Jazz Orchestra at the Litchfield Jazz Festival. Inspired by writing big band charts of this material, Braden got back into the studio in September 2017 to record more songs with his most recent working band: Art Hirahara, Kenny Davis, and Jeremy Warren. Finally, in early 2018 Kahlil Bell recorded percussion on several tracks. Each of these incredible musicians brought their own flair, and through their incredible support of Braden, have been amazing partners in the development of this music.
Earth Wind and Wonder follows last year’s outstanding release Conversations, which featured Braden alongside Joris Teepe and drummers Gene Jackson and Matt Wilson. This critically acclaimed album went on to receive numerous accolades including a four-star review from Downbeat.
Braden presents this grooving new album in the hope that his audience will become energized and inspired by the music, in a way that encourages them to listen with new ears.
“This is the music that first imprinted my teenage brain, so I feel especially inspired to fly creatively with the band. Our performances, which are grooving and mellifluous but often complex and unpredictable (in classic modern jazz style), are enhanced by these well-known tunes – they remind us that jazz has and will always have roots in popular music. When played with joy and swing, these songs become a bridge into the modern jazz world.”
MORE ABOUT DON BRADEN
Don Braden is a world class musician who has recorded and toured with a number of jazz luminaries, and has produced 21 albums as a leader. He attended Harvard University as an Engineering major but decided to pursue his love of jazz, eventually being dubbed as one of the so-called “young lions” during the 1980s. Braden has written hundreds of compositions for a variety of ensembles, from duo to full symphonic orchestra, including many for TV and film. In addition he is a highly experienced jazz educator, having taught at several institutions (including Harvard University and the Litchfield Jazz Camp), and having presented numerous workshops around the world.
Creative Perspective Music
Street Date: May 30th, 2017
A follow-up to their co-led album Pay As You Earn, "Conversations" continues the almost quarter-century of collaborations between these two titans of jazz. With the help of esteemed drummers Gene Jackson and Matt Wilson, Braden and Teepe deliver creative, grooving performances of jazz classics and originals, which incorporate uniquely interactive improvisation.
Having met back in 1992 at a session in New York City, Braden and Teepe immediately recognized their affinity for each other both as musicians and individuals, as Teepe recalls: “We quickly recognized the compatibility of our personalities and attitudes, as well as our musical tastes and goals.”
Conversations, most of which was recorded during the Spring of 2016, highlights the interactive aspects of how Don and Joris play jazz as a duo. As Braden himself notes: “Framed by rich and varied tunes, strong and supple grooves, and emotional expression, the improvisations are really a manifestation of exuberant adventure for us. We create, exchange, explore and develop all kinds of ideas – melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, dynamically and more, and we really have fun while doing so.”
Conversations is further strengthened by the fervent relationship that the duo has developed with both drummers, Gene Jackson and Matt Wilson. With influence drawn from jazz masters such as Sonny Rollins and Elvin Jones, Braden explains that he and Joris enjoy performing as part of a chordless trio, as it allows them to focus on the interactive aspects of their music. This trio format, which is often referred to as “The Trio of Liberty” serves as an ideal environment for each individual musician to display their impeccable participation in musical discourse with each other. While Gene arranged Elvin Jones’ “Three Card Molly”, Matt brought his own original composition, “Stolen Time” to the table. At any given time, on any given tune, there are just two or three musicians performing, which, as Don explains, “allows that much more opportunity for clarity of communication”.
Following their initial encounter and subsequent tours across Europe, Braden and Teepe released their first CD as co-leaders, on the German label, Mons Records, entitled Pay As You Earn, which featured Tom Harrell, Cyrus Chestnut and Carl Allen. Subsequently, Braden and Teepe continued to join forces on many more productive projects which included CD’s, tours, jazz education, and compositions for various ensembles, including full symphonic orchestras. Now, more than two decades later, they continue to perform and compose with each other as prosperously as ever.
Individually, both artists have had the opportunity to add a list of musical success and experience to their respective resumés, as both have toured with and learned from many legendary jazz masters. Don has worked with Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Tom Harrell, Roy Haynes and many others. He has produced 19 CD previous CD as a leader, and has been very active as a jazz educator all over the world, including a three year stint at Harvard University, his alma mater. Joris spent 9 years in Rashied Ali’s group, and also toured and recorded with Billy Hart, Benny Golson, Sonny Fortune and many more. Besides touring, producing and arranging on a regular basis, he is currently the chairman of the Jazz Department at the Prins Claus Conservatoire in Groningen, Holland (where Don also works). He has 14 previous CDs as leader.
However, amidst his successful career, in 2014, Braden developed an unfortunate and tragic ailment, which almost forced him to terminate his career as a saxophonist. During a routine facial massage, a hard lump was discovered along his jawline, which turned out to be a potentially malignant tumor. After a challenging time – a biopsy, a three-hour surgery (brilliantly executed so as not to permanently damage the nerves necessary for playing sax and flute), two months off for healing, and a lot of soul searching, Braden was fortunately able to gradually return to the jazz scene in December of that same year.
As difficult and traumatic as the experience was, Braden saw this turn of events as an opportunity to analyze and reevaluate his life choices and direction. Having galvanized his basic belief that being an excellent person helps you become an excellent artist, he significantly improved his own health and fitness, and continually strives to maximize positive life energy. He is now also starting to actively promote healthy living to his students and colleagues, and is even working on an article for Downbeat magazine. Conversations is Don’s first recording since these events, so it also represents his joy for life, and his gratitude for the privilege of expressing and sharing jazz music.
For "Earth Wind and Wonder"
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Everyone is playing with love and respect for the material, swinging hard and spinning these classic songs into jazz gold." Read the full review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"This is not Smooth Jazz. This is the real deal. Braden has taken the contemporary, musical standards of his generation and converted them into arrangements of the only original artform heralded as the United States’ indigenous, classical music; Jazz." Read the full review here.
MUSIC AND MORE BLOG
"This is breathtaking, especially if you are familiar with the material...I can't give this album any better recommendation." Read the full review here.
GEORGE W. HARRIS
"Other artists have tapped into the Motown/R&B songbook, but Don Braden does it most successfully here, focusing on the songs of Earth Wind and Fire along with Stevie Wonder." Read the full review here.
"It’s a pure thrill, driven partly by EWF’s foundational funkiness and Braden’s dazzling interpretation." Read the full review here.
"The quartet album pays tribute to those formative artists by way of Braden's straightahead arrangements of their tunes." Read the full feature here.
JAZZ JOURNAL UK
"If you enjoy the music of the soul giants given a jazz twist, then this one is for you." Read the full review here.
"...It all makes for an unexpectedly inventive reappreciation of some durable '70s radio hits." Read the full review here.
"The album, Earth Wind and Wonder mixes modern jazz attitude with the irresistible groove of vintage motown, making it accessible to both jazz heads and R&B aficionados." Read the full interview here.
"Overdue Ovation - after a close call, a tenor giant is inspired a new." Read the full feature here.
"It takes sustained creativity and ingenuity to keep things interesting and musically provocative in a group absent of a chordal instrument, but these guys handily achieve those goals by way of high-octane playing and deft arrangements." Read the full "Disk of the Day" feature here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Teepe and Braden bring new meaning to the idea of "talking a good game" with this album. It's a wonderful treat to be a fly on the wall during their conversations." Read the full 4-star review here.
"Braden and Teepe are individually amazing musicians, and their interpretation of this song is interesting, creative and performed with improvisational ebullience." Read the full review here.
"This is very much a conversation between equals, with or without drums. Good eavesdropping." Read the full review here.
"Clearly sailing on the same waters, bassist Joris Teepe and saxophonist Don Braden, who first met in 1992 at a session in NYC and discovered many compatibilities in their musical processes, converse with prodigious fluency and articulated precision on their new album, Conversations." Read the full review here.
"Fans of Don Braden will not want to miss this outstanding record. Bassists will be knocked backwards by Joris Teepe’s cogitations. Even more, those who have a fondness for the saxophone trio will instantly recognize that this is a hard-won achievement of master musicians." Read the full review here.
THE JAZZ WRITER
"It took about seven years to complete, but Conversations by Joris Teepe and Don Braden is worth the wait." Read the full review here.
"Team-up between the Dutch, ex-Rashied Ali quintet bassist and the expressive New York-based saxophonist who carry a wealth of first-class experience with them into this energetic trio set."
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"This album is a testament to a powerful bond, two veteran jazz journeymen with a quarter-century of playing together whose musical ongoing conversation continues to yield creative and entertaining results." Read the full review here.