Kenny Shanker Wise Cat

A new CD born from collaboration and camaraderie has just been released by five stellar New York City musicians, including Kenny Shanker on saxophones; Mike Eckroth on piano; Daisuke Abe on guitar; Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums.

“Coalescence 2” does sweet and light (“Downhill”), high-stepping funk (“Whatever, That Was”), melodies that twist intervals into delicious pretzels (with a bitchin’ bass) in the song “Mars”; and fascinating, contrasting textures in “Galileo’s Dialogue.” Showcasing the amazing chops of these musicians, “Coalescence 2” is also a trip worth taking into the minds of five awesome composers.

How long has “Coalescence 2” been in the making?

Yoshi: The recording itself was quick; just one rehearsal then two days in the studio. Unlike the last album, we spent months for mixing and mastering, to make sure that everybody was happy with the mix. I think it came out nicely.

What was the most challenging part of the production or recording process?

Kenny: The post-production was probably the biggest challenge. We all had different ideas of what we wanted to hear. The nice thing about this whole process was that by incorporating everyone’s ideas, we came out with a much better finished product. I’m really happy with the way it sounds. 

How would each band member characterize his own contribution in writing for this album?

Yoshi: Two of my tunes are rather simple and catchy, adding a nice contrast to the otherwise jazz/fusion oriented album. “Galileo” showcases the piano/sax interplay in a freer context, which we don’t explore often.

Kenny: I brought in 3 compositions: “Winter Song,” “Lynx” and Mars. “Winter Song” is gentle and moody, “Lynx” is playful, and “Mars” is intense. I always write with this particular group in mind and I knew these guys would play beautifully on my songs. 

Mike: I think the three tunes I wrote represent the different bags I like to write in-in other words I am drawing from some diverse traditions in the music and I never like to get stuck in a rut writing-wise. I draw from fusion, contemporary jazz, and ECM music, styles which complement some of the more straight-ahead sounds on the album.

Brian: I consider this group of musicians to be an optimistic bunch of guys. I attempted to capture that quality with “Downward Climb.”  I felt Kenny and Daisuke were perfect to play the melody together in unison, knowing that Mike would tastefully ornament the space with his own statements. Yoshi is the anchor. I like the result. With “The Dash”, I was thinking of openness and simplicity. These guys can certainly accommodate that vibe brilliantly. 

Each musician’s favorite track and why?

Yoshi: Brian’s “Dash.” The simplicity of the song brings out the lyricism.

Brian: It’s extremely tough to pick one out of this bunch but I’ll say Kenny’s “Winter Song.”  Just a very pretty tune.  Need more of those in the world.

Daisuke : I like “Basel Paisagem” because my daughter likes it and even sings along. Great tune by Mike.

Mike: All of the tunes are pretty strong compositionally. I like “Lynx,” which is kind of a quintessential Kenny tune- melodic and playable right off the bat. Yoshi’s “Whatever, That Was” is a fun groove tune, and it’s great to see Brian getting into the act composing for this project with his tunes, too.

Kenny: My favorite at the moment is probably “The Dash” by Brian but I had a lot of fun playing over Yoshi’s song, “Whatever, That Was.” I also had a blast with Mike’s song, “Weather Chaser.”

Does the friendship strengthen the music or vice versa?

Brian: My belief is that both are happening.  The process that we go through, from writing the music to mastering and packaging the final product, bonds everyone together. It works well because it is a democracy with a common, like-minded goal to be achieved. Everyone is on the same page. It is the same with the playing of the music. The common goal yields the cohesive sound. Everyone is aware of their responsibility and produces results without overstepping.  

Did any of the writing come from out of your comfort zones?

Mike: I was definitely going out of our normal acoustic vibe with the tune “Weather Chaser”… it was kind of written to a loop but with an almost 70s fusion sonic palate in mind. There is fender rhodes and it’s kind of a groove tune with a bass line that was actually lower than the normal range of the acoustic bass so Yoshi had to tune his low string down just for that tune! This track was definitely a diversion…

As an ensemble, what is the major way 2012’s “Coalescence” differed from this new album?

Daisuke : When we made our first recording in 2012, I was more of a guest artist on the project, so I was trying to fit into the band. Now, after many years of playing together regularly, we coalesce a lot more.

Are you performing this live? Where do you hope to play it?

Kenny: We have sone fun performances coming up in NYC. We are playing the Queens Jazz OverGround Festival on March 31st at Flushing Town Hall. And we are doing our CD Release Concert at Jazz at Kitano on April 18th. 

Miscellaneous comments?

Daisuke: I really hope this music can reach a lot of people and make people happy.

Yoshi: Great job, everybody!

Brian: Let’s do another one soon!

For more information, visit https://wisecatrecords.simdif.com/press.html.

Photo and image courtesy of and with permission of Kenny Shanker.
(c) Debbie Burke 2019