The gratification of a hook-drenched melody will never leave you high and dry. That is what you’ll find in Atlantic Groove Society’s newest venture (Feb. 2022), “Past and Present.” The album creates a warm, expansive feeling in ten memorable tracks. While the horn (from leader Alexander Hartgers) soars and sings, guitar, drums, keys, bass and vocals do their respective parts with mesmerizing technique and a huge dollop of bite (“Funk That” which might have the brightest and tightest hook of the bunch). The smooth paean to love, “Aimee Meets Silvana,” contrasts with the high-energy sway of “Happiness is Now” and there’s even a Europa-type anthem coming atcha in the beautiful “Close to Me.”
The LA-based Hartgers plays trumpet, flugelhorn and keyboards, and he is also the composer/arranger, programmer and sound engineer in the first foray by this group of musicians. He is joined in this project by his friend and musical colleague of over 20 years, Dutch keyboardist Raymond Kaitjily.
What was your introduction to jazz and specifically to trumpet?
My grandpa played trumpet as well as my father. At home my father and parents always played music, even in the car, and I was exposed early on to Jazz, and Dixieland, but also Soul, and Motown, and some classical music, and Latin music. I played drums and trumpet, and later on chose the trumpet as I was a natural on it more so than drums.
Who are your musical influences?
My father was playing the records of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Mangione, etc. and I continued listening and later studying this music. Trumpet players: I became involved with the later like Claudio Roditi, Bobby Shew, Chuck Findley, Roy Hargrove, Arturo Sandoval, and even later on Chris Botti, Rick Braun, Till Bronner. But my musical influences are very broad.
What do you picture when you compose?
Not so much as to picture something but more what I hear and feel, as I want to translate a feeling. I want to express my emotion. I am a technically gifted player and can play difficult music like say, bebop, and can solo very well, as well as kicking out high notes on Salsa & Motown songs.
I graduated Cum-Laude from the Music University in The Netherlands, but I don’t want to play like that anymore, because I want to be able to touch people’s feeling & emotion by playing beautifully and leaving space in the music, which is actually more difficult to accomplish and can be very challenging in a different way.
Then later on when the song is finished, I come up with a title for it, picturing what it feels like, so I came up with the titles like “Happy Go Lucky” that made me feel happy when listening to it and “Night Drive,” a melody I came up with when driving around at night. The song sounded like a smooth drive at night on the highway.
When you’re creating instrumental music, the whole process is really organic, so sometimes the titles and concepts don’t come around until you’re well into it or even finished with it.
How is this different from your previous work?
It’s my first really personal album that I made with the help of my musician friends (particularly keyboard player and composer Raymond Kaitjily) that became the studio session band we call the Atlantic Groove Society.
How did you know that your talents and Raymond’s would mesh and produce great music?
We have known each other for a long time and played in a band which did many concerts & weddings together. We played all these Motown and soul classics with a horn section, which I arranged. We always had so much fun playing these gigs and all the musicians in the band were laid-back and we had a great vibe going.
I noticed Raymond had these great voicings and soulful expressive solos on keyboards. In 2018, I asked him to play a solo for one of the songs I was working on, and it turned out exactly how I imagined it to be. Then later on I was stuck on a song and asked him to come up with a bridge for the song, it turned out great and I noticed once again what a gifted player he is. It was very easy for me to play over his voicings and lay down melodies and solos on top of it. That’s what triggered me to ask him to write songs together. Then the pandemic hit and started the whole thing in high gear.
Now that I’ve been living in the US since 2013, we’re still having so much fun long-distance (he’s in the Netherlands) by sending music files to each other and creating songs from them which we record at home. That’s where the name “Atlantic Groove Society” came from. The Atlantic is what divides us, and the songs are based on groove, with the help of our musician colleagues/friends as the society.
How did you choose the other instrumentalists?
Since we are both long-time musicians, we have many similar connections in the industry and have played with many of the same people. As a producer, I know who will be a good fit for the song or solo I envision it to be, as does Raymond, so he or myself would approach them in the hope they would play with us. So far everyone has agreed, and now that the word is out for our first album. We are already working on the second album, and we have musicians approaching us to join. Which is awesome.
What is your musical goal with “Past and Present” and what does the title refer to?
I wanted it to be an album full of happiness, soul, emotion and reflection. The title “Past & Present” has a double layer meaning, as it refers to Raymond and the other musicians’ time spent in the past and now in the present with me/us.
I hope more radio stations will pick up this album for the people to enjoy in the world, as this album and the musicianship are as good as the more established artists in the Smooth Jazz category. And there’s far too few good-sounding trumpet players in this field. I can exactly play like Rick Braun, but I want to sound like my unique self, with the same quality of playing.
How would you characterize the flavor of this album?
A cool mixture of chilled-out lounge music and Funky Smooth Jazz that is worthy of some attention! The album is a tasteful collection of medium and down-tempo tracks, with a few smooth ballads. Easy listening, groovy feel, good music.
What was the most challenging aspect of producing the album?
Making an overall album that is mixed and mastered, since some of the songs were recorded earlier and they sounded different, with different mics and equipment.
Another challenge was recording the song “Aimee Meets Silvana,” a beautiful ballad tribute to Aimee, who unexpectedly passed away November 2020. (Aimee was the mother of our vocalist Pascale Kaitjily). I wanted it to sound very soulful, emotional and sensitive. I could relate to it because both my parents passed away a long time ago, and I wanted to put that feeling into the song.
I recorded “Aimee” in one take and send it back to Raymond. He liked it so much that he made and mixed the song, and as I heard it back, it was beautiful.
What were the highlights of production?
Raymond did a great job in final mastering the album. “Happiness Is Now” by Freddie Hubbard was recorded live in the studio in one take, and I’m very proud of that achievement and musicianship. A few other tracks or solos were also recorded in one take by me.
Talk about giving each musician time and space to solo – what does that feel like and what are the results?
Yeah, I like to give space and opportunity for other players and let them solo, as I am looking for the best overall result. It’s definitely not just about me or Raymond, as you can see and hear on this album. We invited many quality players to participate and solo. I wanna make the song sound good and groovy by inviting the right player for the song and giving them room.
What might you do differently for your next album?
I think we will make the second album sound smoother and more polished but in exactly the same style. It will be easier to accomplish as the songs will all be recorded around the same time now, not like “Past & Present” which was recorded over several years. I think I will use more horn section and double layers to get that smooth polished produced sound everyone has nowadays.
This has been a nice introduction to the Smooth Jazz scene, and we will top it with an even better second album! We are in the middle of composing and recording it, and foresee this to be finished in around one year, maybe by the end of this year 2022, as a few songs are already almost finished. Raymond and I have so many songs lying around that we have material for another album after that, so that will make three albums in total in a short amount of time.
We enjoy composing and recording the songs and sending files over to each other and creating something nice.
For more information visit https://atlanticgroovesociety.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2022 Debbie Burke