Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Noir jazz meets midnight blues in the music of Twin Danger

Noir jazz meets midnight blues in the music of Twin Danger – an intriguing new group formed by Vanessa Bley and Stuart Matthewman, whose self–titled, co-produced and co-written debut album appears on the Decca Universal Music Classics label.

Twin Danger updates a classic sound in a contemporary style with such captivating Bley/Matthewman originals as "Pointless Satisfaction," "Just Because," "Sailor," and "Coldest Kind of Heart." The album sessions also yielded one surprising cover song, a distinctively different interpretation of the hard–rock track "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age.  The core of Twin Danger is Bley and Matthewman, however on-stage for their sultry live performances the band expands with a tight-knit outfit of five musicians.

Vanessa Bley grew up in a close-knit artistic community in upstate New York. Her mother is the painter and video artist Carol Goss; her father is the renowned jazz pianist Paul Bley, who worked with Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman in addition to several dozen albums – many issued on the Improvising Artists label, which Goss and Bley co–founded in 1974. Surrounded by the creative arts growing up, Vanessa studied piano for several years but found she preferred improvisation and songwriting to practicing classical repertoire.  "I love Chopin and Bach but lacked the patience to play technically correct. Meanwhile, my father would tell me ‘you can either sit down at the piano and improvise or you can do the dishes.' So I'd try to play something like...oh, the sounds of a thunderstorm."

Vanessa also began playing guitar and bass, teaching herself both instruments. After high school, she moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology for Cosmetics & Fragrance Development and Marketing. Within a short time, Vanessa was showcasing her original material at various downtown venues and occasionally co–writing songs with different collaborators, including Estonian pop singer Kerli. Vanessa and Kerli co–wrote "Creepshow" for the latter's 2008 album Love Is Dead. Meanwhile, Kerli was writing separately with Matthewman – and it was she who suggested that Vanessa would vibe with this talented Englishman...

Stuart Matthewman, born in Hull, England, co–founded the group Sade with Sade Adu, Paul S. Denman, and Andrew Hale. Stuart and Sade co–wrote many of the best–loved songs on the band's multi–platinum albums including "No Ordinary Love," "By Your Side," and "Your Love is King." In 1996, Matthewman, Denman, and Hale formed Sweetback, a predominantly instrumental band whose albums Sweetback (1996) and Stage 2 (2004) featured guest vocals by Maxwell and Amel Larrieux among others.  Subsequent projects for Matthewman included working with Maxwell on three of the superstar's albums, remixes under the name Cottonbelly, and compositions for film and television.  The latter included "The Astronaut Farmer" starring Billy Bob Thornton and the Emmy–nominated "Life Support" starring Queen Latifah.

Stuart plays guitar and keyboards, but his unmistakable tenor saxophone tone predominates in Twin Danger. "Vanessa and I share an odd, eclectic taste in music, from Black Sabbath to Chet Baker to film soundtracks," says Stuart. "We weren't thinking it all out or going for a particular sound – Twin Danger just happened the way it did. If we'd really thought about it, we'd have never made a jazz record!"

At first, Stuart started playing guitar on Vanessa's gigs in the Lower East Side, but soon they began to develop a deeper creative collaboration. Stuart recalls: "I was messing around on guitar with these strange chords that I didn't really think could add up to anything. I mentioned it to Vanessa and she said, oh, send it over. "About an hour later she came back with this beautiful song, ‘Just Because.' The demo is pretty much what you hear now on the album...and we went on from there."

In 2013, following a packed Twin Danger set at Otto's Shrunken Head in the East Village, an enthusiastic Japanese promoter approached Stuart and Vanessa. The next thing they knew, Twin Danger was en route to Tokyo where the band performed a run of ecstatically received shows at the prestigious venue Billboard Live. In September 2014, Twin Danger joined forces with Josh Fox, director of the Oscar–nominated documentary Gasland, for "The Solutions Grassroots Tour." Coinciding with the massive People's Climate March, this multi–media production was designed both to motivate communities to adopt renewable energy solutions and to raise the campaign banner for pro–renewable energy legislation. The show, which included guest host appearances by actors Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger, ran for five sold–out nights at Brooklyn's Irondale Theater.

As for the origin of the name Twin Danger, Vanessa Bley explains: "It refers to the alter ego, the part of you that can be wild or irrational or even destructive – but it's still a part of you and not accepting that is what makes it dangerous." "We're making music to get lost in. It's warm and beautiful but there are dark undercurrents revealing fundamental issues of the self. That's what makes it Twin Danger."

The band performs live with a crew of friends: Robert Granata (guitar), Anthony Marchesi (keys/vocal harmony), Omar Little (trumpet), Julian Smith (bass), and Nick Anderson (drums). 

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