Bassist/composer Arthur Kell is one of the most original voices on today's New York jazz scene. For the past twenty plus years, he has played with an amazing cross-section of the most influential contemporary jazz musicians in NYC and around the world, including Thomas Chapin, Bobbie Previte, Marc Ribot, Billy Bang, Bill McHenry, Guillermo Klein, Christian Howes, Art Baron, Bruce Barth, the Finnish singer, Sanni Orasmaa, Bernard Purdie, Matt Wilson, Allison Miller and many others.
Since 1997, he has led groups featuring such contemporary jazz stars as Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, Gerald Cleaver, Donny McCaslin and Chris Cheek. Kell's debut on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, Victoria - Live In Germany (the follow up to his first two releases as a leader, See You in Zanzibar, and Traveller) was praised in JazzWise Magazine for having, "an engaging warm empathy between the players, who opt for substance over flash and in the process pull off the wonderful trick of making the whole add up to considerably more thank the sum of the individual parts", and in the German Daily, Badische Neueste Nachrichten, "At no point during this amazing concert did the audience doubt that tremendous art was being performed here. Arthur Kell is an excellent composer, instrumentalist and band leader. Although his compositions sound gentle, they have exceptional bite. The quartet sounds like it is cast from one sound . . . Both the ballads and the quick, concise pieces are convincing with their ingenious complexity . . . in some magical way they are together, rhythmically and harmonically . . . true musical mastery".
Jester (Live in Germany II)
Featuring: Arthur Kell (bass, compositions), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Brad Shepik (guitar), Mark Ferber (drums)
Kell once again seized the opportunity to have his quartet (with Ferber replacing Joe Smith on drums) documented live in Germany on their latest tour, with the result being the brilliant new recording from the bassist/composer, Jester, available on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records on June 26, 2012. "Almost all of the touring I've done with my own group in the last five years has been in Europe. So, I'm really happy to have another CD that captures the amazing spirit of all those tours," said the bassist/composer.
The album's theme also explores the often misunderstood truth about jesters and their link to modern day artists and activists. Kell explains, "the jesters became essential in society because they used any skill they had - physical, verbal, musical and political - to educate and illuminate. Any artist or activist today can understand how speaking to the world with intelligence, humor and insight remains a vital role. The jester as a silly man wearing bells is just a stereotype, a caricature that isn't even representative of most European jesters, much less of those in other cultures. Jesters came in all shapes and sizes and characters. Foolishness could be just the vehicle a jester used to convey an important message to a ruler. Within the confines of society's conventions, they were the ones who were pushing boundaries."
The Jester could be demented, wise, foolish, unpredictable, indispensable - a mercurial figure, and that is the point. Like an artist, their license was flexibility, their job was to say what others could only think, their aim was perspective. Kell explains, "I had found myself one day writing flippant phrases for a tune. So I called it 'Jester'. But I soon realized that they were so much more than wily jokers. They were all over the planet for many centuries - in the halls of Montezuma, Babur in India, caliphs in Kufa, Queen Elizabeth, Henry VIII, Chinese emperors and across Africa. They were the wild card which kept a leader thinking clearly, often wielding vast influence. But more broadly, they were a trickster, that vital character at the heart and dawn of human society that crossed boundaries to open the imagination. In another guise, they were Hermes and Coyote. I love the fact that they could come from anywhere: a poet, a duck-herder, a musician, a hunchback. And it was a gig."
The cover image is one of a series of jester finials on an iron fence around a bank in Bucharest that jumped out at Kell on a walk through town. "A bank encircled by jesters! Was this making fun of banks by design? Or was it their protection - the sage advice of fools? Perfect," mused Kell.
Victoria (Live in Germany)
Featuring: Arthur Kell (bass), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Brad Shepik (guitar), Joe Smith (drums)
I was fortunate to be able to have the last two concerts of a tour in May 2008 recorded for broadcast by German radio stations: Deutschlandfunk in Köln and Sudwestrundfunk in Karlsruhe.
But, returning home with only the live mixes of two sonically different recordings, I set my sights on starting over in the studio to get it right. Months later, friends encouraged me to take the live recordings off the shelf and listen again. They were right! I found them increasingly infectious and hard to deny. In the end, there was no editing or remixing, just a mastering session.
Almost all of the touring I’ve done with my own group in the last five years has been in Europe. So, I’m really happy to have a CD that captures the spirit of all those tours. There’s never going to be a substitute for a working band.
Originally a collection of my compositions about various people, I settled on a title from the lead cut Victoria and Her Sisters. As described below in the liner notes for each song, it represented a completely unexpected and welcome change in my life but one that I had to really fight for. The cover and most of the other photographs are of hand-carved figures from the interior of an abandoned house that I stumbled upon.
Arthur Kell - bass & compositions
Loren Stillman - alto saxophone
Brad Shepik - guitar
Mark Ferber - drums