John Caroll Kirby - Septet 

It is a great time for music and recording. The pandemic drove many artists into their bedrooms and living spaces to make recordings and others figured out ways to get into studios safely. I get a load of new releases sent to my inbox on a daily basis, but one that caught my ear is a new release titled Septet by L.A.-based keyboardist/composer/producer John Carroll Kirby. Everything about this release belies its street date. The album art and font choice is a throwback look and feel somewhere in between a Freddie Hubbard and a Yes album. Proggy, Jazzy, Psychedelic. Simple and to the point. Lots of space. I mention it at all because in this case, it is a wonderful representation of the music. If you listened to Septet in a vacuum, you might assume it is a product of the early seventies and maybe the soundtrack to an inner city cop film. It's refreshing in these days of overthought, heavy-handed and plug-in'd to death productions, to get a record that is simply well recorded, with solid arrangements and a pleasing tone to the overall record. It feels like the moments here were captured as opposed to captured, killed, stuffed, tweezed and manipulated. This seven piece band includes the usual suspects of keys, bass and drums, but is complimented greatly by mallets, woodwinds, hand percussion and of course JCK’s warped vintage synth stylings.

It could be called a "jazz" release but that wouldn’t tell you the whole story. It’s a bit of a listening journey and would be well suited, as I mentioned as the score to a movie. I want to listen to this driving through Topanga Canyon on a hot day, late in the afternoon with the top down in the late ’70’s. I just do.

Septet was produced by Kirby and Tony Buchen, recorded live at 64 Sound Studios in Los Angeles, engineered by Pierre de Reeder, mixed by Tony Buchen and mastered by Jake Viator. 

To my surprise, JCK has done many collaborations with well-known artists such as Harry Styles, Solange, Frank Ocean, Bat for Lashes, Blood Orange, Jonathan Wilson and many others. But of course, it makes perfect sense when you listen to those particular collaborations and realize the vibe he brings to each production or track. 

His collaboration with Eddie Chacon (Pleasure, Joy and Happiness) is a personal favorite. It sounds like a lost 70’s fusion crooner record that was recorded to a VHS tape that was left in a hot car only to be discovered and released after it had been filtered through a head full of acid. For whatever reason when I hear it I see Prince's face smiling and nodding along approvingly. 

Kirby could simply be an LA session and frequent performer at the Baked Potato, but instead he has embraced a bent view of the genre and opted for warped tones and healthy doses of reverb in his productions. The playing is great but more importantly the sound transportive. It doesn't just sound good, it feels good.

Stones Throw Records, home to many excellent alt and underground hip hop classics, has released more than one of his albums, and again, it makes perfect sense in the catalog because Septet is an album ripe as source material for recreations, re-imaginations and sampling. 

The video for “Rainmaker” off of Septet is one of the most entertaining views I have had all week. Set in 1980, it stars the likes of Mac Demarco, Eddie Cachon and others playing studio characters Kirby has encountered throughout the years. 

Anyway, I went down a John Carroll Kirby rabbit hole after listening to this latest release and think that many will enjoy doing the same. 

Worth noting is that the vinyl release of Septet has three extra tracks on its side D. It is a simple 2x LP release on nice thick vinyl cut by Josh Bonati. 

Look for a John Carroll Kirby interview at some point soon. I have so many questions…


Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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