San Francisco-based jazz singer Karen Blixt releases her second album Mad Hope in Spring 2008. The thirteen-track collection is a robust and ambitious project that finds Blixt building on the successes of her 2006 critically-acclaimed debut “Spin This”, hailed by Jazz Review as “an exceptional debut album by an accomplished jazz vocalist whose fidelity to mainstream jazz is simply incredible.” Not yet available in stores, Mad Hope is already the 3 Chartbound release on the Jazz Week Album Chart. Blixt will be celebrating the new release with live performances at Yoshi’s Jazz Club (510 Embarcadero W., Oakland, CA 94607) on April 15 at 8PM and 10PM. The next month, look for Karen at Catalina Jazz Club (6725 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood California 90028) on May 21 at 8PM.
On Mad Hope, Blixt continues to take the inventive road less traveled, further exploring odd meters, intricate rhythms and engaging lyrics. Working alongside arranger/producer Frank Martin (Stevie Wonder, Sting, Patti Austin, Angela Bofill, Al Jarreau, and Dori Caymmi) once again, the pair set out to craft an album of tunes that expand the vocabulary of jazz music.
“We really wanted to have a range of style on this album,” says Blixt. “On the first album we received such great feedback about its variety. We didn’t have a particular concept for this album other than to offer more of our own material in a wide array of feels with a lot of musicality -- be it funk mixed with straight ahead jazz, mixed with world, mixed with Brazilian, in a few different time signatures. The goal was to give music fans the most varied listening experience.”
For this project Blixt and Martin co-wrote seven original songs, in addition to Blixt penning lyrics for two existing instrumentals – as well as four jazz standards she skillfully reinterprets. More comfortable with the songwriting process, Blixt drew upon her own experiences in distant places like the Latin/world music themed tunes “Frida” and “Antigua”, a homage to the colonial Guatemalan town where her children were born. Elsewhere on Mad Hope, Blixt releases her inner child, on such lighthearted offerings as “Jazz Ants” and “Seventh Heaven”, and a bass duet “Faith Baby Faith”.
For the project, Blixt and Martin brought together a first-rate team of musicians, highly respected and highly creative jazz veterans with well over 100 years of playing combined. The stellar rhythm section of Abraham Laboriel (Bass), Jose Neto (Guitar), Alex Acuña (Percussion), Will Kennedy (Drums), and Patrice Rushen (Piano), along with musicians Randy Brecker (trumpet) Sheldon Brown (Bass Clarinet), Paul Hanson (Bassoon) and Kenny Washington (vocals), represented Blixt’s wish list of talent to work with. Over two days in November 2007 at Skywalker Studios in Northern California, Karen had the privilege of collaborating with artists she dreamed about and respected from afar.
“It was a dream for me to be able to work with Patrice (Rushen),” says Blixt. “She’s been in the music world forever and has crossed boundaries between pop and jazz. I’ve seen her play a million times and really respected her from a far. She writes, she produces, she plays – it was so inspiring to watch her work and a real joy to work with.”
To round out the recording, Karen and Frank sought to uncover tunes outside the realm of the familiar. Classics like Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” set to Blixt’s lyrics now titled “Five and Five”, John McLaughlin’s instrumental “Time For Earth (Follow Your Heart)” again with Blixt’s lyrics, and Joe Zawinul’s timeless “Shadow and Light” take on new and unexpected lives, transmuted by the collective talents of the musicians performing.
"Making music is an enormous privilege and recording ‘Shadow and Light’ with Joe (Zawinul) on the original 1988 recording was very powerful,” says Abraham Laboriel. “Since it was the only time we worked together, when he saw me in tears as a result of my being so moved by the music, he simply said, ‘that's what music is supposed to do.’ I never played this song again until Karen invited us to participate with her in this new recording. The whole experience with Karen reawakened memories of the first time and was so inspiring at every level. I'm sure people will never forget how good they feel listening to Karen’s performances both on record or live."
Mad Hope is a lush and vibrant record, one with an abundance of pleasures to excite jazz purists and craft to entice pop music fans who love great music. At a time when the world outside may seem harsh and cold, the supple beauty and range of Blixt’s voice provides a warmth and compassion capable of keeping the madness at bay and giving listeners a semblance of hope even if just for a moment.