Celebrating an extraordinary and prolific 20 years since the release of his debut album Velvet, Chris Standring grabs his Benedetto Bambino archtop electric guitar and spins his trademark retro-meets-modern vibes in fresh and unexpected directions to create the perfect antidote for these daunting, uncertain times - a powerful, melodic and rhythmically infectious burst of Sunlight.
A bright, ambitious soul jazz experience from the static electricity sounds that start "Static In The Attic" through the wah-wah vocals in the song’s closing reprise, the multi-talented British born, Los Angeles based composer/producer’s latest album draws on his trademark, slightly off the beaten path urban jazz artistry and distinctive passion for working with warm, organic and soulful instruments. As it flows and grooves along, the collection artfully reveals an artist perfectly comfortable in his own skin. No longer on a quest to discover his musical identity, Standring has fully arrived at a place where he can declare, "This is what I want to say, and this is who I am!"
If he seems to be defiantly accentuating the positive, it's by design. One of the creative breakthroughs putting a new spring in his step is taking the opportunity, after years of thoughtful contemplation, to re-imagine his favorite song of all time, Brian Wilson's epic Beach Boys classic "God Only Knows," and bring it into a lush, atmospheric soundscape all his own. He’s also ensembling with a batch of his favorite handpicked musicians, including bassists Andre Berry, Jimmy Haslip and Roberto Vally, and drummers Chris Coleman (Prince, David Sanborn), and Dave Karasony. Helping him create the perfect retro soul flavors throughout are some of the world’s premiere keyboardists, including longtime collaborator Rodney Lee, Mitchel Forman and John Novello. Famed tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb fuels the playful horn section hook of "Do Not Adjust Your Set," which also features a high energy solo by saxman Brandon Fields.
"Overall, Sunlight’s got a joyful, upbeat vibe" he says. "It’s not a dark record in any way, although the last track ‘The Principle of Pleasure’ gets a little intense. I wanted to find some kind of word that described the overall feeling of the album, and despite the diversity from track to track, thought ‘Sunlight’ captured the positivity and optimism of the music perfectly. It’s got an upbeat spirit about it. It probably wasn’t conscious, but maybe deep down I was being reactionary, calling out and taking a stand against the darkness of these times. For a lot of people, music can be a bright spot no matter what’s going on with them personally and in the world."
The exuberance Standring infuses into every measure and beat of Sunlight is a perfect reflection of the extraordinary year he enjoyed in 2017. As he was recording most of the tracks at his Korakia Studios in L.A., he was enjoying a total of three #1 chart hits. In addition to "Like This, Like That" from his previous album Ten (2016), he was also a featured artist on two extensively played tracks he co-wrote, Cindy Bradley’s "Category A" and Paul Brown’s "Piccadilly Circus," which was inspired by Brown’s and Standring’s exploration of London while in the city to perform shows at The Pizza Express Jazz Club.
Standring also released his first ever live performance project Live in London, recorded at Cadogan Hall in the UK in March 2017. A full length video of the concert is available online. Mica Paris, the popular UK soul singer who is the featured artist on that album’s "One Temptation," joins Standring for the lone vocal on Sunlight, the ultra sensual "No Explanation," which the guitarist penned with singer, songwriter and 7-time Grammy nominated producer Lauren Christy.
When it comes time for Standring to start a new project, he seeks out that small, indefinable and sometimes hard to articulate moment of inspiration that becomes a catalyst and provides the perfect sonic through line. He can trace the multitude of cool, trippy textures on Sunlight to the sparkling, hypnotic sound of what he calls "swirly guitars" – split between a panning to the left and then the right on the sonic spectrum – that sparked three of the album’s key tracks.
These include the richly orchestrated, buoyantly disco-fied "Aphrodisiac," inspired by the progressive orchestrated Philly Soul music of the late 70’s; the trippy, mystical and spacious excursion "The Revisit," (featuring legendary pianist Bob James) and the meditative, sonically liquefied dreamscape "Moon Child." Other key tracks include the dancing beach party jam "Like Paradise" (featuring a true sense of aloha via Standring’s Hawaiian flavored slide guitar licks) and a picture perfect blast of romantic magic via a high octane romp through "Love Street."
While Standring became a popular force in contemporary urban jazz with infectious, ubiquitous R&B driven hits like "Cool Shades" (from Velvet), "Hip Sway" (title track from his 2000 album), "Ain’t Mad Atcha" (2003’s Groovalicious) and "I Can’t Help Myself" (from 2006’s Soul Express), he actually laid the foundation for his vibey, soul based, sonically expansive vision as a solo artist with Solar System, a 1995 duet project with Rodney Lee.
Pushing the stylistic envelope to fresh uncharted territory, his 2010 work Blue Bolero spawned a single ("Bossa Blue") which became the #1 Billboard Contemporary Jazz Track of the Year. Standring’s other hit releases on his label Ultimate Vibe Recordings include Love & Paragraphs (2008), Electric Wonderland (2012) and Don’t Talk, Dance! (2014).
"The thing I like most about Sunlight is that it’s an album where you can just turn the musical faucet on and everything flows effortlessly and naturally," the guitarist says. "There’s nothing forced, everything breathes and every element fits seamlessly together. Over the years, I’ve created a style where I’m able to say something musically that can be appreciated universally, while still allowing me to get my jazz rocks off. It’s the perfect balance. The little details of making an album make it a lengthy, deeply immersive process, but there’s something incredible that happens when a germ of an idea is fleshed out. That’s the fun part of all this, where I can get a bit lost in the creative process and time is suddenly irrelevant."
Sunlight is released to the world March 23rd 2018.
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