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Chris Standring:
Don't Talk, Dance
!
By Jonathan Widran

Chris Standring’s got a little piece of advice for fans checking out his latest – and for sure his funkiest ever – collection on Ultimate Vibe Recordings: don’t talk, Dance!

Continuing to find fresh, dynamic ways to break new ground in contemporary jazz 16 years after seducing us with his debut album Velvet, the versatile composer, guitarist and producer lets the groove – along with his loyal archtop Benedetto and Fender Stratocaster - do all the conversing on a set that bridges old school R&B/soul-jazz with a trippy, soundscape rich, ultra-contemporary electronica vibe. Taking yet another dramatic and spirited left turn four years after his critically acclaimed classical/jazz set Blue Bolero redefined his and the genre’s creative boundaries, the versatile guitarist and composer – amping up to 120 bpm on most cuts - goes deep with his love for Euro-styled drum/bass driven chill, progressive dance music, ambient trance, electronic dance music (EDM) and even dubstep.

For Standring, upping his game as a producer leads to a lot of exciting experimentation throughout the 13 tracks, including many passages where vibe trumps melody and his trademark electric guitar sound – so much the focus on his pop-oriented 2012 set Electric Wonderland. He even has a blast with the talkbox on the densely percussive, high energy opening track “Sky High” and the album’s quirky yet sensual, easy-shuffling first single, “Sneakin’ Out The Front Door.”

Yet there are also familiar elements that thread back through Standrings’ previous discography, most prominently the vintage keyboards (Fender Rhodes, Organ) of longtime partner and sonic architect Rodney Lee and classically-tinged atmospheres, a la Blue Bolero, fashioned by a four piece string quartet (two violins, viola, cello) on “Sky High,” the lush and dramatic classical funk romp “Soul Symphony” and the wistful, romantic closing track “Nothing Lasts Forever.” The heavy pockets created by bassists Andre Berry and Neil Stubenhaus, and drummers Dave Salinas, Guy Richman, Dave Karasony, Sergio Gonzales, Eric Valentine, Joey Heredia and Chris Blondal are a foundational part of the sonically expansive don’t talk, Dance! experience as well.

Since establishing himself as a popular mainstay in the contemporary urban jazz genre with infectious R&B driven hits like “Cool Shades” (from 1998’s Velvet), “Hip Sway” (title track from his 2000 album), “Ain’t Mad Atcha” (2003’s Groovalicious), “I Can’t Help Myself” (from 2006’s Soul Express), “Love & Paragraphs” (from 2008's Love & Paragraphs) and “Oliver's Twist” (from 2012's Electric Wonderland), Standring has pushed his muse into offbeat and ultimately successful ventures like Blue Bolero (whose single “Bossa Blue” was the #1 Billboard Contemporary Jazz Track of the Year) and Send Me Some Snow, an inviting holiday collaboration with award winning pop/folk singer/songwriter Kathrin Shorr.

The guitarist has long attributed his shifting visions to one thing: “I get bored with myself. I can’t just rehash something I’ve done in the past. I have to do something fresh every time out. On most tracks artists record in my genre, there’s a melody, chorus and solo and essentially their featured instrument is the lead voice throughout. On don’t talk, Dance! I didn’t want to play that game, putting my guitar up front every minute. Because when I listen to all the crazy European music that’s been inspiring me lately, I’m finding a lot of it is more about vibe than melody and I didn’t want to change that too much. I chose to keep the ‘danciness’ part of that intact’ but put my own spin on it. So every song has a guitar solo but sometimes it creeps in from a distance or is buried a bit in the mix. When it’s there I wanted it to be super funky. As with my previous projects, it’s all about doing something different and fun.”

Rather than start out with a specific roadmap, Standring generally starts an album with a few basic concepts, then experiences that “snap” moment where the fun begins and he’s “off to the races.” Contributing to the “snap” that led to the overall direction of don’t talk, Dance! was his immersion into the sounds of his favorite progressive European groups. He started “Sky High,” the track that became the catalyst for the whole album, with a certain beat, which he topped with a chord progression. Everything flowed from there, as the track blends a bouncing, shuffle groove with a crisp guitar melody and trippy percussion.

Each track launches its own melodic and harmonic colors and groove intensity while reflecting the overall progressive funk flow of the set. “Inside Outside” blends trippy electronic atmospheres and bright horn section accents over a snappy guitar melody. “Voices In My Head,” which blends an intense old school R&B beat, whispery female vocals, dreamy synths and organ fills, makes its intention clear with a spoken word intro: “To elevate yourself to the next level of funk, please press ‘1’ now.” After “Soul Symphony,” which is punctuated with provocative spoken phrases like “I’ve come to realize I want you,” and “I just can’t take it,” Standring gets himself into “Another Fine Mess,” with a Steely Dan-like swirl of bluesy pop, soul and jazz via Rhodes, guitar and rising horns.

The beat intensive “Crazy Bom Baizy” is as wild as it sounds, a spaced out electronica-driven discofied jam that marks the guitarist’s first foray into the world of dubstep. With a title inspired by the 70s Jeff Beck track “Scatterbrain,” the tripped out, edgy and swinging funky jazz jam “Scatterfunk” showcases Standring’s ability to get a huge modern sound working with a live band playing in the studio and a string quartet providing sweet caressing atmospheres. “Absolute Madness” lives up to its title as an old school electronica funk fusion jam, but with a twist: a brooding, lower toned, decidedly brooding guitar meditation at the tune’s core. “Imagine That” likewise juxtaposes an infectious mid tempo groove and funky rhythm guitars with a darker lead guitar melody. Standring has always been a masterful ballad composer, and balances the high energy of most of the tunes on don’t talk, Dance! with a few slices of mid-tempo wistful elegance. Chief among these is the beautiful vocal track sung by his old friend and fellow Brit Lauren Christy (famed for her work as part of the hit production team The Matrix), who co-wrote the dreamy, soulful “Ride,” which asks a prospective suitor if he is old enough to hop on. Standring experienced some personal emotional upheaval in his life towards the end of the writing process for the album, which led to the thoughtful and sensual musing of “Yesterday’s Heaven” and the string quartet, acoustic guitar showcase “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Standring’s extensive background in studying and playing classical and jazz guitar during his formative years has inspired melodic and harmonic possibilities throughout his career that have set him apart from many instrumental artists whose upbringings and influences were more limited. The guitarist grew up in the small town of Aylesbury in England, later studying at London College of Music (where he played with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and received a Fellowship Diploma) and writing music for the BBC before moving to Los Angeles in February of 1991.

After establishing himself on the competitive local contemporary jazz scene with extensive club gigs, he hooked up with Rodney Lee when the two played in Lauren Christy’s band. In 1996, Standring, working with Lee under the name Solar System, honed in on the R&B driven jazz sound that would become his trademark; their acid jazz oriented self titled album featured vocal covers of “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Me & Mrs. Jones.” After launching his recording career the traditional way, on established jazz labels, Standring started his own company Ultimate Vibe Recordings, on which he has released each of his albums since Love & Paragraphs in 2008. That same year, his label offered the very first CD he ever recorded, the previously unreleased Main Course, as a digital-only present for his fans; Main Course has since become digitally available worldwide.

“While I am grateful for having a diverse educational and performance background in jazz and classical music that has always given me a wide creative palette to draw from, it’s my equal early love for progressive rock groups like Focus, Camel, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes that has inspired me to take stylistic risks throughout my career,” Standring says. “I grew up at a time when bands like these were encouraged to take sharp left turns, and gained new fans all the time by doing so. The success I enjoyed with Blue Bolero made me realize that it’s okay to try new things as long as they come from an honest place. don’t talk, Dance! is truly where my sensibilities are these days. You can never get enough of a good groove.”



 

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