|Chris Standring: Electric Wonderland
By Brian Soergel
of Chris Standring's groundbreaking 2010 CD Blue Bolero, which topped
several year-end lists and produced a No. 1 single, made it a tough
act for the guitarist to follow. But Standring has managed quite
nicely with Electric Wonderland (March 20, 2012, Ultimate Vibe Recordings),
a 10-song CD of original songs that fuses elements of Blue Bolero's
orchestral touches with a deft jazz-pop touch that's been a hallmark
of Standring's stellar career.
"I feel like it's an extension of Blue Bolero,
but a bit more playful and upbeat," says Standring. "And
it also came out much dreamier. I'm playing electric guitar, so
I wanted to merge the two when naming the CD."
On Electric Wonderland, Standring's longtime fans,
as well as guitar aficionados, may recognize that he's doing two
new things here. The first is, in keeping with the CD's title, he's
traded his archtop jazz guitar-which imparts a much more acoustic
sound-for a Fender Stratocaster, whose strings and solid-body infuses
his music with a more expressive sound.
"The Fender Strat guitar gives you an electric
quality," Standring says. "Because I'm a jazz player,
I wanted to get a jazz sound out of that instrument, but to be expressive
in the way a rock guitarist might, such as with bending the strings."
The other change Standring made on Electric Wonderland
was to throw away his pick, for the most part. This leads to a difference
in tone and an enhanced personal and intimate experience for the
listener. "I went through a phase where I didn't enjoy hearing
myself play with a pick. It got in the way in what I was trying
to express. When I put it down and played with my fingers and listened
back to it, it felt more musical, much more intimate. I found myself
gravitating more to that sound. It's also how I'm playing live now."
You can hear the result immediately on "Pandora's
Box," the first track, which leads to a snazzy Fender Rhodes
solo by longtime musical partner and friend Rodney Lee. The song,
like many on the CD, showcases a live string section that complements
Standring's playing. "I had a string quartet in the studio
for the whole record. On Blue Bolero, a lot of it was string samples.
I'm still really into the string world, into orchestration."
Standring's finger-picking skills are also amply on display in "All
One other new element Standring adds to Electric
Wonderland is playing a ukulele. Not the four-string kind, but a
robust-sound six-string version called the guitalele. You can hear
it at the beginning of "Almost September," a head-bobbing,
hand-clapping midtempo slice of brightness featuring trumpeter Rick
Braun, and on "Castle In The Sky," where his acoustic
picking on the guitalele is layered with electric picking, strings
and Dan Lutz's steady acoustic bass lines.
Fans of the big bossa beat will enjoy "Oliver's
Twist," which offers a shuffling bossa nova groove, DJ-type
scratching and an acoustic guitar solo. Standring brings out the
talk-box once again, a la Peter Frampton, on "Wishful Thinking."
Classically trained in guitar, Standring combines a waltz with swinging
jazz on "Merry Go Round," the song most like an extension
of what he had going on with Blue Bolero and provide a showcase
for pianist Mitchel Forman.
Fans of Standring's drum & bass songs from
his 2000 CD Hip Sway ("What Is Is," "Ultraviolet")
will enjoy "Escapade". It has Standring on guitar and
keys, Dave Karasony on drums and the orchestra section of Nikki
Garcia, Barbra Porter, Tom Tally and Cameron Stone. Finally, Standring's
heartfelt way with ballads is realized on "Heart of the Matter,"
a song with deep personal meaning for the guitarist, and "Nightingale's
Bridge," the latter a true jazz-quartet foray with Standring's
measured picking, Forman's piano, Karasony's quiet drum brushes
and Larry Steen's upright bass.
With Electric Wonderland, Standring is sure to
draw more accolades from both music critics and his ever-growing
fan base. JazzTimes magazine has twice named his CDs the best of
the year, while 2010's Blue Bolero was named CD of the year by the
influential Art Good's JazzTrax. The song "Bossa Blue"-which
was No. 1 for nine weeks-was named Billboard's Contemporary Jazz
track of the year.
Standring debuted in 1998 with Velvet, and he's
been a constant presence on contemporary jazz charts ever since.
He followed Velvet with Hip Sway in 2000, Groovalicious in 2003,
Soul Express in 2006 and Love & Paragraphs in 2008. 2011 saw
the release of Standring's first holiday release, Send Me Some Snow.
It's a CD of all original songs with vocalist Kathrin Shorr, one
that David Bowling of Blog Critics called "a unique look at
the Christmas season that should be enjoyed for years to come."
After beginning his musical career the traditional
way, on jazz record labels, Standring now releases music on his
own label, Ultimate Vibe Recordings, which has been a successful
move for the artist. In 2008, he offered his very first CD release,
one that was never released, Main Course, as a digital-only present
for his fans through Ultimate Vibe; now Main Course is digitally
In addition to his steady spot on the contemporary
jazz charts, Standring is also a popular performer with his solo
shows and with package tours. In March, he'll be performing for
the first time at the esteemed Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia.
He'll also be on stage in his native England and in his adopted
United States, where he's lived in Southern California for 20 years.
Chris Standring grew up in the small town of Aylesbury in England,
later studying at London College of Music and writing music for
the BBC and for several theatrical orchestrations before moving
to Los Angeles in February of 1991. That's where Standring first
hooked up with Rodney Lee, as they both were playing with Lauren
Christy, a U.K. singer who had also moved to Southern California.
In 1996, Standring and Lee released an acid-jazz CD by their group
Solar System. The CD, featuring vocal covers of "Walk on the
Wild Side" and "Me & Mrs. Jones," introduced
Standring's vibey instrumental tunes to the world.
In 1998 Standring made his solo debut with Velvet,
featuring the hit "Cool Shades." 2000's Hip Sway offered
the contemporary jazz radio single of the same name. His next album,
2003's Groovalicious, delivered the hits "Ain't Mad Atcha"
and "Miss Downtown Sugar Girl." In 2006, Standring's Soul
Express featured the Paul Brown-produced smash hit "I Can't
Help Myself." It was followed by Love & Paragraphs in 2008,
which included the upbeat hit single of the same name. Blue Bolero,
in 2010, included the smash No. 1 single "Bossa Blue"
as well as "Fast Train to Everywhere."