Capping two extraordinary decades as a recording and performing artist, Kyle Eastwood’s stylistically eclectic new album In Transit reflects the whirlwind reality of the breakneck schedule that Kyle and his longtime ensemble keep as they perform three quarters of the year in Europe - with a yearly jaunt to Asian countries and occasional swings to the U.S.
The Los Angeles-bred, Paris-based bassist and composer estimates that about half of the tracks were “road tested,” with a few rendered completely fresh in the studio. “That’s part of the concept, all the moving around and spending time on the road and working through our favorite material,” Kyle says, “but there’s also great movement in the music – and a sense that we’re always moving in fresh new directions as the sound of the band keeps evolving.”
Just as on his previous two critically acclaimed collections The View from Here and Time Pieces, Kyle plays with a powerfully swinging yet beautifully soulful and sensual quintet of young English musicians. The longest-term members of Kyle’s powerhouse quintet are pianist Andrew McCormack (12 years) and trumpeter and flugelhornist Quentin Collins (nine years). Newer to the fold, and adding brilliantly to the shared chemistry, are tenor and soprano saxophonist Brandon Allen (who made his first appearance on Time Pieces) and the latest member, drummer Chris Higginbottom.
After inviting renowned Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista to join the ensemble on numerous gigs throughout Europe, Kyle invited him to bring his lush and lyrical sensibilities to the Sextant La Fonderie Studio in Malakoff, France to record on four tracks of the new album. The most prominent of these is the intimate and dreamlike acoustic re-imagining of “Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso,” which was penned by Ennio Morricone, one of Kyle’s favorite film composers; having previously played with the great Italian composer, Di Battista brings an intimate familiarity to the piece.
“We all have similar tastes in music,” he adds, “and after playing together for a while have truly developed a unique musical camaraderie and dialogue that allows us to play seamlessly in sync and intuitively know just when to break for every member to take a solo. This harkens back to groups like Blakey’s where everyone played an equal part in contributing to the composition, arrangement and improvisations.”
Growing up, Kyle’s legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood, loved jazz and played the piano, and his mother spun everything from Motown to jazz from the ʼ50s to the ʼ70s. Kyle’s initial passion for jazz was kindled not only by attending concerts by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich and (his first) Count Basie, but also having the opportunity to meet these legends.
While mastering piano, guitar, electric and ultimately the acoustic bass, Kyle’s ever-evolving jazz sensibilities gravitated towards classic groups of the ʼ50s and ʼ60s that captured the spirit of what he calls “lyrical hard bop, full of groove and sophisticated harmonies. This style was exemplified by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers when Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter were in the group, Horace Silver’s Blue Note recordings and different quintets Miles Davis had throughout the 60s. As a bassist, Kyle was also deeply influenced by another giant of this era, Charles Mingus, whom he and his ensemble pays spirited homage to via an explosive, horn fired version of the classic “Boogie Stop Shuffle” which wraps In Transit’s multi-faceted journey.
The rhythmically intense, vibrantly re-imagined jazz classics on In Transit – Count Basie’s “Blues in Hoss’ Flat,” Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle” and Thelonious Monk’s “We See” – create a wonderful dual sense for Kyle of coming full circle paying homage to his influences while bringing those traditions into a forward thinking contemporary context. Original compositions like the freewheeling funk-jazz hybrid “Rockin’ Ronnies” (an homage to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, the band’s favorite London hotspot) and the brisk, high octane trip through a frenetic “Rush Hour” highlight the compositional talents of each member individually and collectively. Other key tracks include the McCormack penned “Jarreau,” a whimsical romp that pays tribute to the late great Al Jarreau, which borrows some harmony lines and chord changes from the singer’s “Not Like This”; and “Soulful Times,” a soaring and soul-jazz piece that opens the collection and introduces the ensemble’s sense of easy swing, bright piano harmonies, dynamic horns and the infectious pocket grooves of Kyle and Chris Higginbottom.
Throughout the first decade of his recording career, Kyle flirted with a variety of interesting stylistic approaches, including sophisticated electro-cool jazz (Paris Blue, 2004), smooth and playfully grooving jazz with hints of the 70s (Now, 2006) and an artsy, chic, urban, culturally eclectic vibe (Metropolian, 2009). The release of 2011’s Songs From the Chateau marked a decidedly fresh new era in the bassist’s musical evolution, committed to the kind of ensemble spirit Kyle speaks so fondly of.
“This is my favorite era in jazz,” Kyle says. “I think there were many collections of great innovative players and bandleaders in those days who were kind of easing away from just playing the usual standards and were toying more with creative harmonies and writing more original tunes. I also love the way they experimented with more avant-garde music on their way to creating new standards in jazz music. All those bands were notable for their incredible chemistry and interaction based on great musical relationships. It’s a creative time I never get tired of revisiting, both as a listener and as a performer and artist.”
True to its kinetic title, In Transit finds Kyle and his band running the gamut of emotional musical terrain while opening up to fresh horizons with a sense of curiosity and adventure. “I really think everyone played their pants off on this album, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” he says “I took a break from listening to it for a month or so after we finished tracking, then revisited it when I was back out in California and driving again. I put it on in the car and it came to life in exciting ways that remind me how fortunate I am to play with these incredibly inventive musicians. Because so many of the songs were first takes, it’s also a great representation of what we sound like live. People romanticize the traveling we get to do, but dragging our equipment around the world is the work part. When we’re onstage, playing the music and feeling the energy of the fans, that’s a blast!”