Twenty-four-year-old pianist Kris Bowers has grown up in an era of highly accelerated technological advancement. Digital technology has afforded him and his contemporaries access to unprecedented levels of information and communication channels. In many respects, his generation is more powerful than any that has come before it.
Bowers’ awareness of this power and potential is at the heart of Heroes + Misfits, an ambitious debut album that positions him at the forefront of a talented sextet and showcases a musical and compositional style that – while clearly rooted in the jazz tradition – is also reflective of an eclectic musical age. Heroes + Misfits is set for release on March 4, 2014, on Concord Jazz Records.
The sense of creative eclecticism and diversity woven into Heroes + Misfits is characteristic of a generation that has been exposed to more information than any other generation in history, says Bowers, winner of the annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition at the end of 2011. While the sheer volume of information can be potentially overwhelming, it can also be empowering when channeled properly.
“Even before I started writing the music for the album, I started noticing this shift in society where, for the first time, our generation was starting to speak out and be more vocal all over the world,” says Bowers. “It was our turn to be heard, and that was evident in social and political phenomena like the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring. Generation theorists have donned us the ‘Hero Generation,’ not unlike the generation that committed itself to a great cause during World War II.”
And yet, his is a generation of individualism as well. “Radio and the media in general used to define what we would listen to or watch or consume,” he says. “But in the age of the internet, people can choose what they want to listen to or follow. They don’t need to conform. Being an individual and being unique – indeed, being a misfit – is celebrated now more than ever.”
Joining Bowers on this exploration of his times is a team of talented individuals, many of whom he has toured with over the past year or two. The roster of Heroes + Misfits includes: alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin, tenor saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III, guitarist Adam Agati, bassist Burniss Earl Travis II, and drummer Jamire Williams. Guest vocalists Julia Easterlin, Jose James and Chris Turner also lend a hand on four of the album’s ten tracks.
“Bringing this album into the world was a matter of figuring out how to create the most honest representation as possible of who I am as a musician and a composer,” says Bowers. “I wanted to take all the different types of music and all the different influences that are part of who I am, and make all of those things a part of my original compositions.”
The album opens with “Forever Spring,” a brief and atmospheric interlude that positions a gentle but persistent piano line amid chirping birds and other ambient sounds of spring.
The peaceful opening gives way to the much more urgent and electrified “Wake the Neighbors,” which features Agati’s recurring electric guitar riff atop a churning foundation created by Bowers with assistance from the rhythm team of Travis and Williams.
Bowers and Benjamin square off in the foreground of “#TheProtester,” an intriguing track that’s alternately pensive and forceful. The piece is inspired by Time magazine naming the protester as its Person of the Year in 2011. “This was the point at which I really started thinking about what my generation was about and the things it could potentially do to affect change,” says Bowers.
“Forget-er” is a churning, hypnotic piece that features vocalist Julia Easterlin singing a sensual melody above numerous layers of looped harmonies. Chris Turner steps up to the mic in the following track, “WonderLove,” a composition that shimmers with the resonant undercurrent of Bowers’ Fender Rhodes and synthesizers driven by Williams’ syncopated backbeat.
“Drift” is equal parts smoky and soaring, thanks in large part to tenor and alto saxes moving in tandem atop a persistent snare drum pattern, while “First” is a quiet, wistful solo piano interlude that showcases Bowers’ skill at conjuring up moods with the simplest of melodic and harmonic patterns. “First” segues into the equally melancholy and evocative closer, “Ways of Light,” which features the warm vocals of Jose James.
The emotionally stirring coda is just what Bowers is after throughout this entire debut recording. “It’s important to me that this record touches people in some way,” he says. “I want people to have some kind of immediate response to it – whether it makes them feel good, or makes them feel sad, or makes them think about things. I want this music to help people – especially people of my generation – realize the potential and the power that is inside of them. I want it to be an optimistic look at their unlimited possibilities.”
~ Concord Records