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Kevin Keith

Kevin Keith's new urban jazz project, The Electronic Jazz Ensemble,
releases its debut CD,
This is EJE:


feature and interview by Greg Howard



This is EJE, 2008 CD,
now available from Stick Enterprises
The Electronic Jazz Ensemble, was born out of electronic, electric and acoustic instruments, and the kind of creative collaboration between far-flung musicians that the internet age has made possible. The core of the ensemble is the duo of Kevin Keith on Stick, bass, guitar, keys and vocals, and the amazing David "fingers" Haynes, who plays drum machines with the kind of virtuosic intensity usually reserved for more physical instruments. Haynes is also a fine trap drummer. And the three thousand mile hookup between them sounds as natural as any that two long-time musical partners would display.

This is EJE is perhaps the first Stick-intensive foray into the Urban Jazz genre. Kevin's vocals are so strong and expressive that the appeal of this record goes way beyond the tight groove, catchy hooks and relatively unusual instrumention. Keith and Haynes have a very broad sonic palette bwteen the two of them, and EJE could easily have released a duo album, but the addition of some great players like keyboardists Jeff Lorber and Paul Harris and saxophonist Ron Brown adds a real sonic depth and polish.

EJE has come to play, and they have a great shot at attracting the right kind of notice that will take the project places.

I asked Kevin a few questions via email about this new project. (see the INTERVIEW below).

EJE promo video

For more about EJE's activities, videos and sample tracks from their CD please see:
www.myspace.com/ejeband
ejeband.com
www.myspace.com/davidmhaynes


INTERVIEW

Greg: Did anyone else in the project contribute any vocals? I only ask because of the great range and variety in the vocal tracks.

Kevin: Great range? Wow, thanks! All vocals are myself. I have been doing a lot of singing lately so we decided to add some vocal hooks and voice harmonies on a few things to give the CD some dimension.

Greg: Even though your Stick and bass grooves have a lot going on, they are always so in the pocket. How do you think about "space" in the groove.

Kevin: The placement of space is what makes a groove sound cool. As a bass player I listened to a lot of funk. The driving force of funk is the bassline and drums right up front. Funk tempos are slower so the groove only works when you play AND don't play in the right spaces.

Greg: You and David have a great hookup, it's tight, but not robotic, do you lay down your tracks at the same time?

Kevin: Unfortunately no, but that will change. David and I met through Youtube and we live 2000 miles apart. I email him tracks and he adds drums or he puts down drums and I add tracks! We have played together on some videos. There will be a video for Line 6 coming to Youtube and our website this month (www.ejeband.com). This video is literally the first time we met in person and played together.

Greg:I was fascinated watching the video of David playing the drum machine, and it made me start thinking about the similarity in the way each of you makes music tapping with your fingers. Do you think this adds to the musical connection you have going on?

Kevin: Definitely. I get lots of ideas for the Stick while watching David play the drum machine. On that note, David Haynes is not only one of the nicest people I have ever known, he is scary talented! I watched the taping of hhis video with my own eyes but I still couldn't believe that anyone could be that good at anything.

Greg:So there's a strong core duo at the center of this music, and the two of you could easily have made a disc that was complete and very engaging on your own. What was it about the songs you were writing that encouraged you to draw on outside talent to realize them?

Kevin: We had the opportunity to work with some great musicians who could take our instincts further than we could. We knew we would walk away with great performances, great memories and great lessons. Ron Brown's sax playing took the songs to new heights. Jeff lorber on grand piano.. I mean, wow! I've admired his work forever! It was a dream come true when he walked into the studio. Paul Harris is a wonderful musician and an incredible composer. It all just worked.

Greg:Will EJE be touring in the future, as a duo or maybe with Ron as a trio?

Kevin: We are hoping to schedule some things in the summer and fall. We are not sure of the lineup as of yet but we will post on the EJE site, Myspace sites, Stick Enterprises, blogs, etc.

Greg:You use The Stick really effectively as a vocal accompaniment. Is there anything about playing the instrument and singing that works particular well from your or that you find to be a big challenge?

Kevin: Not really. I've done a lot of singing while playing bass and guitar so the Stick was actually a natural transition. It might have been different had it been my first instrument.

Greg:Like so many Stick players, your style is so unique, I couldn't say that there was anyone that was an obvious influence, but I'm curious if there's anyone you draw a lot of inspiration as a bassist, a vocalist, a songwriter, an arranger or a producer.

Kevin: I was originally a guitarist so I was influenced by electric blues, rock and classical guitarists. Then I learned bass and I got into the funk and fusion bass players. I studied piano briefly in college and got into classical piano. My original thought was that Stick would allow me to utilize all these influences into one instrument (which it did) but then I heard the Stick players and it showed even more possibilities.

You had a tune on Stick Figures called "Blue Ridge". That tune opened my eyes to the capabilities of the Stick as its own voice. To this day its my favorite Stick composition. Watching Larry Tuttle play was hugely inspiring and Don Schiff's two handed basslines on tunes like "Rainfall" had a huge effect on me. Bob Culbertsons amazing. Bob will play these huge classical compositions and then turn around and play something like "Blue" which is a completely different style. The four of you are my heaviest influences and mentors as Stick players.

Greg:When do you reach for your bass and when for your Stick?

Kevin: It's mostly a compositional feel of 4th versus 5ths tuning. Different tunings inspire different ideas. I'll also use bass guitar for slap solos and more "traditional bass" sounding grooves, but the Stick allows me to have basslines with much greater range and it only takes one hand to play them. Thats huge! Now I can play chords and leads against the bassline by myself! There's a tune on the EJE CD called "Bandwidth". It has this funk bassline that crosses 3 octaves and would be impossible to play on bass guitar even using 2 hands. "The West Side" is similar because I hold down the bassline while doubling the sax lines in the verse and chorus.

Greg:This disc sits so comfortably in the urban jazz genre, as far as I know you're the only Stick player whose really working in this arena. Do you think the openness to new instrumental sounds (electronic drums, synths, etc.) makes it easier to fit an instrument like The Stick into the mix without having to conform to some expectation like you might find in a more traditional jazz, pop or rock setting.

Kevin: Absolutely. We really wanted to do something new and different with Urban Jazz. The Stick has this unique voice so it was perfect.

Greg:I've noticed that you're a huge fan of the EMG sound on the ACTV-2. What's different to your ear about that pickup from the Stickup?

Kevin: EMG's have this great growling edge to the low end. Its really smooth yet it just cuts through the mix.

Greg:Looking forward to see where the EJE takes you. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Kevin: Thank you Greg and the gang at Stick Enterprises. The pleasures all mine.



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