John Carroll Kirby
Starting in the late 2000s and continuing into the 2020s, keyboardist, composer, and producer John Carroll Kirby has amassed an impressive and evolving discography as an adaptive collaborator and recording artist. Frequently heard on Sébastien Tellier's assorted studio projects, Kirby has also contributed to releases by Norah Jones, Solange, Bat for Lashes, and Harry Styles, among dozens of others. In addition to one-off sessions as part of Drool and Mind Gamers, Kirby has several solo releases to his credit. Almost exclusively instrumental and both melodic and atmospheric in nature, they've mixed new age, jazz, and R&B in a manner that is as expressive as it is difficult to classify. He started with a handful of low-key projects for assorted small independents toward the end of the 2010s, and has since issued Conflict (2020), My Garden (also 2020), and Septet (2021) through Stones Throw. A lifelong Los Angelean, John Carroll Kirby (often credited as John Kirby) established himself as a session and touring musician. He picked up his first major credits in 2007 with contributions to will.i.am's Songs About Girls, Jully Black's Revival, and Raya Yarbrough's self-titled LP -- an eclectic trio of albums that indicated Kirby's versatility. His résumé expanded throughout the next few years with albums by Mike Doughty, Norah Jones, David Holmes, and Madeleine Peyroux all featuring his input. Most notably, he played synthesizer and tack piano on Jones' Grammy-nominated "Chasing Pirates." Additionally, Kirby formed and soon deepened an affiliation with Sébastien Tellier. He was credited with electric piano on two songs for the artist's My God Is Blue, all keyboards on L'Aventura, and not only played on but also co-arranged and co-produced Marie et les Naufragés. Between those sessions, Kirby partnered with Cara Stricker under the alias Drool for a self-titled album of moody avant-pop released by Terrible Records. Shortly thereafter, Kirby was part of Blood Orange's Freetown Sound and Solange's Billboard 200-topping A Seat at the Table. For the latter, he co-produced three tracks and played synthesizer on "Cranes in the Sky," another Grammy-nominated recording. Kirby finally released material of his own in 2017. After the INGA collaboration "The Shrek Orchid," Mind Gamers' two-track Power of Power (made with Tellier and Daniel Stricker, and assisted on the B-side by Karl Lagerfeld), and a connection with Shabazz Palaces, Kirby issued his first solo album, the lush Travel. Meditations in Music, a comparatively sparse set recorded with only a Minimoog and a Yamaha DX7, followed in 2018, the same year Kirby was extensively involved in the self-titled album from Martin Johnson's the Night Game. Kirby was exceptionally prolific in 2019, appearing on Solange's When I Get Home, Bat for Lashes' Lost Girls, and Mark Ronson's Late Night Feelings, along with Frank Ocean's "DHL" and Harry Styles' "Canyon Moon." He found time during this year to issue "Lazzara," his Stones Throw debut, and Tuscany, an LP consisting of two side-long piano pieces, for the Patience label. Kirby entered an even more fruitful 2020 by playing on the Avalanches' Blood Orange collaboration "We Will Always Love You." Two Stones Throw albums followed in April. Conflict, a piano-based set of shorter compositions, was offered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fuller My Garden -- what was intended to be Kirby's first Stones Throw album -- followed a few weeks later. He worked closely with Eddie Chacon on a set of meditative soul ballads entitled Pleasure, Joy and Happiness, offered that July. Additional keyboards and synthesizers were contributed to Miley Cyrus' Plastic Hearts and the Avalanches' We Will Always Love You, both released before the year was over. In June 2021, Kirby returned on Stones Throw in leader mode with the lively Septet.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 25, 2021 | Stones Throw
In the late '70s keyboardist Bob James did a series of instrumental albums that immediately divided listeners and critics. Some were swayed by the music's light and funky tone while others savaged it for being formulaic and insipid. One thing James detractors were sure of: this lightweight fluff would never influence anybody. It's funny how often musical certainties prove false and here Los Angeles pianist/composer John Carroll Kirby, who has worked in the heady company of pop stars Solange, Frank Ocean and Harry Styles, leans heavily on that once derided aesthetic along with six fellow players who also find inspiration in discovering an easy listening groove and enriching it. Kirby's a believer in animism—the idea that all things, inanimate or alive, possess a soul—and "P64 By My Side," which celebrates the late California mountain lion famed for its skill in repeatedly crossing freeways, is pure James (and Hubert Laws), with the flutes of woodwind players Tracy Wannomae and Logan Horne rhythmically repeating an easygoing chord pattern before sliding off into solos that are complemented by Nick Mancini's vibraphone solo. Septet may come to be known as Kirby's "flute album." He opens "Swallow Tail" with round tones of an electric keyboard before switching to a note bending effect as flutes again become his main instrumental foil. Ostensibly written for the bandleader/ jazz drummer, "The Quest of Chico Hamilton" is more of a set piece for vibes soloing than any display of drumming pyrotechnics and Kirby goes all sprightly and twinkling on a Fender Rhodes in "Jubilee Horns" filling the solo space with flutes and marimba. Likely recorded as group jams with everyone playing live at once, the sound here is deceptively deep and rich and so incredibly listenable that it's eternally in danger of fading into background music as the funky line between smooth jazz and Muzak is tread. With similarly laid back Japanese city pop having just won new respect and fresh reissues, perhaps it is time for this variety of jazz pop to undergo a similar reassessment? © Robert Baird/Qobuz