Keyboardist John Carroll Kirby got his big break in 2016, working as a guest songwriter and musician on Solange’s A Seat At The Table. Since then, he’s become one of the most in-demand studio session keyboardists around, collaborating with forward-thinking artists like Frank Ocean, The Avalanches and Blood Orange, to name a few.
Along the way, he’s released a few solo works, most notably his 2020 debut for independent label Stones Throw titled My Garden, which blended elements of new age and jazz to create a melancholic masterpiece. Never complacent, Kirby returns one year later with the release of Septet.
Septet sprouted during a 2019 live performance at esteemed LA venue The Blue Whale with a septet consisting of Kirby on keys, Deantoni Parks on drums, Tracy Wannomae and Logan Horne on woodwinds, JP Maramba on bass, Nich Mancini on mallets and David Leach on percussion. The band clicked and Kirby began writing songs for what would eventually become Septet.
As a whole, the album is an inspired and joyous jazz-fusion outing. Broken down track by track, Septet reveals a wide range of influences and inspiration. Lead track “Rainmaker” kicks things off in raucous fashion, with the band opening up and stretching out over the course of seven and a half minutes. The joy behind their playing is palpable and infectious. It’s a really fun track. Tropical elements abound on the marimba-heavy “Sensing Not Seeing,” while “Jubilee Horns” has major Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock vibes. New age elements once again creep into Kirby’s music on “P64 By My Side,” a slow tempo funk roller led by a vamping flute melody and dramatic keys. Standout track “Swallow Tail” is a sublimely smooth slow builder with dramatic highs and lows that mirror the pandemic during which it was written and recorded.
Recorded during lockdown, Septet is fittingly imbued with all the feels – sublime and joyous jams alongside melancholy moments. It’s a fitting exclamation point on a tumultuous time.