One of the most diverse, in demand sax players in all of contemporary jazz, Jeff Kashiwa finds pure joy at the heart of his increasingly fast paced touring schedule by reminding himself, every time he gets on stage, that he’s there to do one thing: Play!
Over the last few years, he’s been doing just that to the tune of 80 performances annually, bringing his trademark exuberance to gigs with his longtime band Coastal Access, shows across the country with The Sax Pack (featuring fellow genre A-listers Steve Cole & Kim Waters), dates in the U.S. and England with Acoustic Alchemy and others with Chuck Loeb. Last year, he also reunited with The Rippingtons—whom he originally recorded and toured with from 1990-99—for the group’s 20th Anniversary Tour; he will be joining his former band for many dates this summer as well.
Play is also the definitive, one word answer that came to Kashiwa’s mind when he thought about what he truly wanted to do on his fourth Native Language CD. "I asked myself, what am I trying to say, and how do I feel?" he says. "I think I’m simply conveying that I’m beyond playing it safe and keeping the spectrum limited to one color. I don’t want to hold my breath and be so polite. I wanted more of a group vibe and to go back to just having fun. The songs cover a lot of stylistic territory, from funky pop to more classic traditional jazz. They’re all part of my new definition of Play: To be free; to engage in joyful activity. We just got in the studio and said, let’s play. Let’s really play!"
With that mission statement in mind, Play is the spot-on perfect title for Kashiwa’s most adventurous recording to date, reflecting not only his spirited performances on the tenor--beginning with the wild and unexpected 56-second minute improvisational intro "Play! Prologue"--but also his loose, high-energy interaction with an exciting ensemble of musicians who are all longtime friends and colleagues.
The emotional core of Play is the eight Kashiwa-produced tracks recorded live at Sounden Studios with his band Coastal Access, an approach that recalls the saxophonist’s m.o. on his second Native Language release, 2002’s Simple Truth. In addition to longtime members Allen Hinds (guitar), Melvin Davis (bass) and Dave Hooper (drums), the saxman brought in legendary Yellowjackets keyboardist Russell Ferrante to play sparkling acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, along with famed percussionist Lenny Castro.
"By design, these tracks have a different sound than the others on the album," says Kashiwa. "We recorded everything on two inch tape, which is a rare approach to take and brings a whole different flavor to the mix. Chris Hobson is a great young engineer who worked with (studio co-owner) Robbie Robinson to create a world class recording."
Coastal Access is the ensemble appearing on Play’s first single, the retro soul flavored, sizzling horn- stacked funk jam "Forever." The fiery track, which grew from a demo that bassist Roberto Vally gave Kashiwa, has a churning, relentless groove that reminds the saxman of the theme from The Sopranos. Four of these Kashiwa-helmed tracks also feature Roger Burn on vibraphone, including the mystical and exotic, reggae-tinged "Blue Jeans"; the sensuous pop-samba driven "New View" (which includes the crisp nylon string guitar of Acoustic Alchemy’s Greg Carmichael); "Fall" (a lush and eloquent, classic jazz quintet ballad); and the sensual old school tune "One Good Turn." The other Coastal Access cuts are the coolly thumping, adventurous and slightly ambient "Way Out West" (featuring drum programming by Native Language label mates Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace, aka Four80East); the searing, bluesy ballad "Once Again" (featuring Hinds’ beautiful weeping guitar solo and Mike Ricchiuti’s B-3); and the up-tempo, horn-spiced "Remember When."
The three opening tracks (after the Prologue) and the deeply soulful, anthem-like "So Many Ways" were produced by keyboardist and Kashiwa’s former Rippingtons band mate Dave Kochanski and feature top sidemen Tim Stewart (electric guitar) Alex Al (bass) and drummer Teddy Campbell. The snazzy horn arrangements on the feel good pop-soul tune "The Lucky One" and the mid-tempo, bluesy "Changes" were done by Kochanski and saxophonist/keyboardist David Mann, while the brass on the sensuous "So Many Ways" was arranged by Mann and Kashiwa. Mann, Kashiwa and Acoustic Alchemy’s Miles Gilderdale collaborated on the brass behind the exotic, danceable funk of "Movin’ Up," which features the track’s co-writer Gilderdale on acoustic guitar.
"When I was in London last December appearing with Acoustic Alchemy at Pizza Express," says Kashiwa, "I spent my spare time producing via email, sharing files with David in New York to get the horn parts right and also working with Mike Ricchiuti on some keyboard parts. It’s a unique way to get business done these days."
A native of Seattle who also currently makes his home in the U.S.’s "Emerald City," Jeff Kashiwa became one of the most dynamic live saxophonists in contemporary jazz during his amazing decade long tenure with The Rippingtons. Performing hundreds of Ripps gigs all over the world, he appeared on many of the band’s classic recordings, including Welcome to the St. James Club, Curves Ahead, Weekend in Monaco, Sahara and Black Diamond, as well as Live in L.A.
While the group is busy recording and touring schedule dominated his professional life, Kashiwa took some of his down time to lay the foundation for his eventually thriving solo career. Forming Coastal Access while living in Orange County, California, he released his first two solo recordings, Remember Catalina (1995) and Walkamile (1997). Signing to Native Language a year after leaving the Ripps in 2000, Kashiwa was an immediate smash on the smooth jazz charts, scoring a #1 hit for over eight weeks on the Radio & Records chart with "Hyde Park (The Aah, Ooh Song)" from his label debut Another Door Opens. He later released the acoustic-oriented Simple Truth in 2002 and Peace Of Mind in 2004.
"While I’ve always been inspired by great melodic saxophonists like Stan Getz, I watch The Actor’s Studio regularly on Bravo and am also fascinated by the way famous movie actors talk about their craft," he says. "No matter how successful they are and how happy they should be with their previous success, they’re always more focused on what’s next. It’s the same with me, and I’m always looking forward to what’s on the horizon. That means getting in touch with who I am as a musician, feeling comfortable in the studio and knowing that it’s time to Play The word was like a mantra throughout the process of making this album. The red light went on and all of the musicians gave incredible performances straight from the heart."