MP3 Steve D'Angelo - Monkey Swing
A jazz based and guitar driven album of original instrumentals showcasing fluent fretwork, a strong melodic sense and inventive arrangements.
8 MP3 Songs in this album (44:59) !
Related styles: JAZZ: Contemporary Jazz, JAZZ: Progressive Jazz
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How do you make a monkey swing? Just play him this disc and watch him swing from tree to tree with graceful ease, a beaming smile on his face. This jazz-based and guitar-driven album of original instrumentals is likely to have at least the latter effect on human listeners.
This charming work manages to be both musically accessible and adventurous. The fluent fretwork, strong melodic sense and inventive arrangements of Steve D’Angelo are complemented by the tasteful accompaniment of some of Toronto’s best players.
Monkey Swing may be Steve’s debut as a solo recording artist, but he is anything but a musical novice. The wealth of experience he has accumulated as a guitarist, composer and producer pays off lucratively here, on a creatively top-calibre album that provides real aural pleasure.
D’Angelo’s prowess in a wide range of musical genres initially made it difficult to decide upon a musical identity for his first album. “I had wanted to make a CD for a long time, but I wasn’t sure of its stylistic mood,” he explains. “Finally, I just said, ‘I’m going to write tunes and play them. Whatever it is, it is.’ My only mandate was that it had to be live musicians and very good ones on my record. There are no computers here, as I wanted to capture a live feel.”
Mission accomplished. Armed with a batch of freshly-minted material, D’Angelo set up shop at Canterbury Sound with his core group. That comprised acoustic bassist Scott Alexander, drummer/percussionist Kevan McKenzie, and pianist/keyboardist extraordinaire, Robi Botos. With the exception of Botos, D’Angelo had worked extensively with all the musicians on Monkey Swing before, and their empathy is certainly apparent.
The basic tracks for all eight tunes were laid down in a single day, while the horn section that adds depth and groove to two numbers, “Pool Boy” and “March,” was recorded later. That grouping features three premier Toronto saxophonists, John Johnson on tenor (he also contributes flute), Vern Dorge on alto, and Perry White on baritone, plus trumpeter Dave Dunlop (whose recent disc The Hang features D’Angelo on guitar), while Mark Lalama contributes accordion to “FeFe.”
The bandleader confidently gave his players room to move, noting that “you hire really good people, then tell them ‘just do what you do.’” The group responded with deftly inventive musical touches, and the result is an album that is stylistically diverse while retaining a consistent sonic identity.
It leads off with the delightfully breezy title track, one featuring fleet-fingered electric and 12-string guitar, jaunty flute, and an irresistibly playful melody, followed by “FeFe,” a Euro-flavoured tune inspired by Italian cinema (it’s named after the nickname of Federico Fellini) and showcasing Steve’s skill on nylon string guitar. Other numbers range from the funk meets middle-eastern feel of “Pool Boy” to the sweetly romantic “Lulu’s Waltz” (dedicated to Steve’s wife) and the snappy 12 bar boogaloo blues of “Park Avenue Blues.”
The refreshing eclecticism of Monkey Swing comes totally naturally to D’Angelo. His tastes in jazz range from Miles and Mingus through to the big band sounds of the late ‘50s and ‘60s. “I’m a big Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle and Quincy Jones fan,” says Steve. “There is a playfulness there, and, without ripping it off, I try to capture that spirit in a tune like ‘Lazarus Rides Again.’”
His love of jazz orchestra has clearly had an impact on D’Angelo’s compositional style. “That is why I felt compelled to orchestrate these tracks,” he observes. “I wanted Rhodes and organ on some tracks, then flute and brass. It completes my vision of the tune.” Steve cites the likes of Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Pat Martino as influences on his guitar playing. Those are all artists stressing melody in their work, a characteristic he certainly shares.
Steve’s wide-ranging tastes and extensive musical experience extend far beyond jazz. After graduating from York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music (majoring in jazz composition and arranging), he immersed himself in Toronto’s r ‘n b scene. A member of George Olliver’s renowned band Gangbusters, he also worked extensively with Liberty Silver.
Stints as a touring guitarist with roots-based songstress Susan Aglukark and with Bowzer’s Rock ‘n Roll Party, backing up such artists as Little Anthony and Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), showed his versatility. On the jazz front, Steve worked with the likes of Doug Riley and Guido Basso, then left the touring and sessions world behind in favour of pursuing a career as a writer of music.
D’Angelo started out writing music for the CBC and local stations such as CFMT, for whom he has contributed over 50 themes, including news and station I.D. music. As a full-time writer at the music house the Einsteins, he was involved in successful campaigns for such major clients as Molson, Pepsi, Coke, Visa, Toyota, GM, Chrysler, and Xbox, to name just a few.
In 2001, Steve co-founded The EggPlant, a full-service production house supplying creative to the television and advertising community. This company has gone on to earn a stellar international reputation for its work. In 2008, D’Angelo and partners Terry Tompkins and Rocco Gagliese won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Original Song, for their theme for the PBS-aired FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman.
Through EggPlant, Steve has contributed themes and scores for such popular animated series as the Annie-nominated Peep And The Big Wide World, The Land Before Time, Word Girl, Naughty, Naughty Pets (a Gemini nominee) and Curious George (intriguingly, it was a cue written for Curious George that inspired the tune “Monkey Swing”). This corner of the musical world has brought D’Angelo into contact with some genuine legends. He has written and arranged music for blues great Taj Mahal (Peep And The Big Wide World), South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Land Before Time), and New Orleans pioneer Dr. John (Curious George).
D’Angelo remains in great demand in this sphere, but he is keen to take time out to promote Monkey Swing. “That is a priority for me,” he says. “In fact, I made the CD as a vehicle to get back to playing live with some regularity.” That is good news, as this is definitely some Monkey business you want to get involved in!