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Liner Notes


     Percolating, stimulating and motor- booty activatin’ are ways to rightfully describe the infectious music found on Aaron Whitby’s debut album as a bandleader. After proper dues-paying decades as a supportive keyboardist, arranger, co-writer, and studio cohort for a gang of noteworthy artists—George Clinton, Randy Brecker, Lisa Fischer, his brilliant life- partner Martha Redbone among them—Whitby emerges on Cousin From Another Planet as a musician of compositional range and depth and fecund instrumental prowess in his own right.

      The album’s rumprollin’ opener Sleeping Giant, grooves with intentions slinky and bulbous, not least thanks to the mucho phat and Mutronically enhanced bass work of longtime colleague and collaborator Fred Cash—a low end specialist of well-known invention and bumptiousness. Whitby serves us the album’s big picture in bite size portions here  —a funk-da-fied jam session feel undergirding tight, knotty jazz-smart progressions. In a positive and confident show of roots Whitby also revises Herbie Hancock’s modern classic of graceful angularity and stomp, Eye of The Hurricane. His re-interpretive take fuses VSOP and Headhunters Herbie into a recombinant funky freebopping whole. This jawn rides on the nimble bass handles of Jerome Harris, a veteran wrangler of complex changes. Whitby’s arrangement also generates ample room for saxophonist Keith Loftis, violinist Charles Burnham and drummer Rodney Holmes to steam, sear and shred the walls of the place. The album’s title track pays homage to John Styles Afrofuturist film classic ‘Brother From Another Planet’ while lyrically enfolding Whitby’s sense of himself as an immigrant, radical fellow traveler and musical messenger on a righteous mission—artistic engagement in justice work within his core adopted, embracing communities, Black and indigenous America. Whitby gives us his most ebullient and house-rocking acoustic piano work on ‘Cousin’—an artful lesson in jabbing economy and abstract butt-smack. The engaging journey here also includes Walking With Z (re Whitby’s beloved tween son Zach), a rollicking admixture of Ellingtonian romanticism and roadhouse earthquake. Burnham’s wah-wah fiddling shines in the cut and a flurry of tender mercies roll out from under of the fingers of the leader in loving dad mode. We’d also direct your attention to the collection’s closer, Escape Route which drives through percussive rhythm changes redolent of the best 70s fusion and prog—a time in music massively inspiring to those of Whitby (and this writer’s) generation—and gives welcome rise to a signature Fender Rhodes excursion by Whitby that leaves us begging for more. 

     With its well divvied up collages of serious, compositional construction and lowdown improvisational bravura, Whitby’s Cousin From Another Planet joins the ranks of this era’s hardiest re-dedications and festival-tent revival of soulful and exploratory jam-gnocity. May this music circuitously surge its backsliding way up and down your gluteus and into your oblongata again and again.

Black Grooves (hosted by Archives of African American Music & Culture)


British producer, composer, songwriter, and keyboardist Aaron Whitby has worked with many legendary rock and funk musicians, including the late Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison (Ohio Players), George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic) and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). On his debut solo album, Cousin From Another Planet, Whitby crash lands on Earth to create a masterful fusion of jazz, rock and funk brewed in the cosmos of the 1970s. Assisting with the creation of his “percolating, stimulating and motor-booty activatin’” music (as described by Greg Tate in the liner notes), is Charlie Burnham (violin), Keith Loftis (tenor sax), Fred Cash (electric bass), Gary Fritz (percussion), and Rodney Homes (drums). Other denizens of this universe include three goddesses of rock, punk, and soul: singers Lisa Fischer, Tamar Kali, and Whitby’s longtime collaborator Martha Redbone.


The album is ushered in on a percolating groove with “Sleeping Giant,” featuring Redbone, Kali, and Rome Neal on sung and spoken vocals. This message song urges people (the sleeping giants) to wake up and stand up to endless bigotry. Reminiscent of Blaxploitation soundtracks, the funky title track “Cousin From Another Planet” pairs Redbone with Fischer on vocals, but is primarily a vehicle for Whitby and Loftis to solo. Burnham has several opportunities to demonstrate his versatility on violin, with solo turns in “Walking With Z” and “The Invisible Man Breathes.” The latter traverses an arc from uneasy calm to riotious excursions led by the tenor sax before acquiescing with a classically oriented piano solo. The album comes to a satisfying conclusion on “Escape Route,” with Whitby charting a circuitous course through chord changes on Fender Rhodes, as the rest of the band follows through the twists and turns.

Aaron Whitby’s sonic explorations on Cousin From Another Planet are nothing short of a jazz fusion masterpiece, enhanced by references to Black literary, social and political themes as well as an ace backing band and vocalists.

Next Bop

 

Aaron Whitby has been a session player for years, backing folks like Randy Brecker, Natalie Cole, George Clinton, and his wife Martha Redbone. In this time, his own voice as a pianist definitely picked up a lot, which may show why he has such a steady hand as a leader in his debut album, Cousin From Another Planet, out now on Ropeadope.

For an album with only one cover, so much of Cousin From Another Planet feels so very familiar. For an album that in so much of its press materials tries to describe itself as light, jam-based, or to pull from writer Greg Tate, “percolating, stimulating and motor-booty activatin’”, it’s astounding how simultaneously serious this music is. This isn’t to say this music isn’t fun, it is immensely so, but it’s played at such a level and with such gravity that it demands being taken seriously.

Album opener “Sleeping Giant” immediately conveys that gravity complete with spoken word from Tamar-kali & Rome Neal, every word and note finding its proper places with assuredness. That same vibe continues through “Walking With Z”, each solo careful placed but not with such seriousness that it isn’t an altogether fun listen. Charlie Burnham’s violin here is like spicy black pepper in the dry rub for barbecue, so very crucial for such a seemingly simple ingredient. Rodney Holmes’ drum breakdown in the middle of the group’s take on Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane”, which Whitby titled “The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0”, is a definite stand up and take note moment which seems to burn away perfectly before Whitby’s airy rise as if he (and his voice) were evaporating only to form the heady clouds overhead once more.

The thing about gravity is that it’s a force that draws. Depending on its presence in space, a body can draw with gravity elements surrounding it. Through talent and time, Whitby has gained and built a voice through gravity that draws attention from those who know better and from those who should, and with the release of his debut album, one would hope, as well, those who will.

Cousin From Another Planet, the debut album from pianist Aaron Whitby, is out now on Ropeadope Records.

Musical Memoirs

 

The funk just leaps off the CD player and it’s hot and in your face; delicious as the aroma of bar-b-que cooking at the park. Aaron Whitby’s piano playing is hard-hitting, fusion-funk and his musicians seriously lock into his 88-key-grooves. Whitby has composed seven of these eight songs. The one song he ‘covered’ is “The Eye of the Hurricane” by Herbie Hancock. Otherwise, he lets his creative juices flow and serves up some pretty awesome classic jazz-fusion compositions to wet our palate. Whitby uses synthesizers and vocals to pump the various arrangements up. After working many years as a studio musician and playing it all; jazz, R&B, pop, folk and world music, he finally sank his teeth into composing and producing a debut album. His compositions lend themselves to chord changes that inspire improvisation and funky musical trenches that captures the listener’s attention and inspire dance moves and finger-popping. Favorite tunes are: “Sleeping Giant”, that incorporates chants, vocals and the hot licks of Rodney Holmes on drums and Gary Fritz on percussion. They admirably support Aaron Whitby’s inspired piano playing. A male voice chants, “We are the Sleeping Giants.” A female voice shouts, “Sleeping giants – you have the power. Wake up!” In this way, Whitby incorporates some social consciousness into his musical commentary.

Another favorite original composition by Aaron Whitby is the title tune,“Cousin from Another Planet.” I can tell that Whitby is a Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock fan. He knows how to capture a ‘hook’ and enhance the rhythm, fueled by funk. That’s what makes a hit record. The guest vocalists sound as funky and fiery as Whitby on piano. Also notable is Fred Cash on electric bass. Keith Loftis adds a tenor saxophone solo that brings back the days of ‘live’ Rock & Roll shows, reminiscent of the funk that Ernie Watts brings to the stage.

This is an exciting project of original compositions and the keyboard and piano skills of Aaron Whitby grandly embellish his production. Whitby is able to blend many different styles of music into a cohesive package of creative fusion. “The Invisible Man Breathes” is an excellent vehicle to show-off the many faces of Whitby, using time changes and every key on the piano to accentuate his composer vision. Always melodic, Charlie Burnham brings his violin to the party and shines like flickering birthday candles. This recording is full of surprises. From funk, we move into an Arabian production with Middle Eastern flair and the Loftis saxophone replaces the violin with intensity. Avant-garde music parts the clouds momentarily, like a ray of sunshine and splashes across space and time. Aaron Whitby seems to be expressing musically all the moods and mess humanity can make in this one, single song.

“Mrs. Quadrillion” is fun to listen to and very smooth jazz with a funky under-tow. Burnham is back with his violin and Whitby knows just how to introduce you to a melody. He gives his musicians ample time to develop their improvisational solos, and then brings us all back to the comfortable ‘hook’ of the song. Rodney Holmes takes an exciting solo on trap drums.

You will discover that Aaron Whitby is a storyteller, a band leader and an admirable composer. You will hear something new and fresh each time you play this album. Expect the unexpected.

Glide Magazine


London-born, current Brooklyn resident Aaron Whitby handles too many roles to fit in a convenient headline, so we’ll lead with his credits as producer, composer, songwriter, pianist, engineer and educator.
Cousin From Another Planet (Ropeadope) is Whitby’s debut as bandleader, and appropriately enough, it is on the progressive Ropeadope label. It’s a mash-up of funk, fusion, and prog , sure to please fusion and jam-band aficionados. His bold piano playing is often front and center as he draws from classic jazz and fusion with echoes from his many years of working in R&B, Pop, Folk, and World. Whitby composed seven of the eight selections, the other from Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0.”

We’re not about to catalog all the people that Whitby has worked with but he is best known for his work with longtime collaborator and life partner Martha Redbone, the acclaimed Native/African- American songstress with whom he created the music genre “Native American Soul” and subsequently took William Blake to Appalachia. The single sand albums they co-wrote/co-produced include notably: “Home of the Brave,” “Skintalk,” and
The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake. These have received numerous award and critical praise. Currently, the team have created and tour Bone Hill – The Concert, a devised, multi-disciplinary theatrical concert originally commissioned by Joe’s Pub and The Public Theater. Whitby and Redbone are recipients of the NEFA NTP Award and NPN Creation Fund Award and are currently developing a new musical commissioned by the Public Theater in NYC supported in part by MAP Fund and Creative Capital.

Whitby’s storied career has many other projects, but we allude to those above as Redbone provides vocals on “Sleeping Giant,” “Make Somebody Happy,” and the title track.  Also aboard on that track is Lisa Fischer, of Rolling Stones fame, and with whom Whitby has worked several times. The musical program is designed to also be performed live on state accompanied with video art by VJ Lady Firefly (Dave Chapelle, The Roots) to capture the colorful, cartoonish and movement-inspired world view. The album was recorded in Lehigh Valley, PA with overdubs and piano recorded at two separate studios in Brooklyn. Musicians include:

Charlie Burnham – Violin, vocal on “Mrs. Quadrillion”

Fred Cash- Electric Bass

Gary Fritz – Percussion

Jerome Harris – Acoustic Bass on “The Invisible Man Breathes” and The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0”

Rodney Holmes – Drums

Keith Loftis – Tenor Saxophone

Aaron Whitby – Piano, Fender Rhodes, Synthesizers, Vocal FX

Vocalists in addition to Redbone and Fischer are Tamar Kali and Rome Neal, both on “Sleeping Giant”

As you’ve doubtlessly gleaned from the song titles and the brief synopsis of Whitby’s current creative projects, this is highly imaginative, rather unpredictable, meandering and at times soul-stirring music. “Sleeping Giant” kicks off with a funky, smooth groove, propelled by longtime colleague Fred Cash’s sturdy bass line, as the voices, synths, and percussion keep it percolating until Loftis’ tenor takes it home. ”Walking with Z” is named for Whitby’s teenage son and begins and ends with Ellington-like acoustic piano sandwiching rollicking roadhouse riffs, featuring Burnham’s wah-wah fiddle effects and Loftis’ tenor. “Make Somebody Happy,” aside from Redbone’s vocal chorus, is mostly a funk exercise featuring Whitby’s Fender Rhodes, Loftis’ sax, and Cash’s driving bass.

The title track pays homage to John Sayles Afrofuturist film classic
Brother From Another Planet with Whitby sense of himself as an immigrant doing musical justice work within his adopted core communities of indigenous and Black America.  It has Whitby’s most energetic piano work. We get several dramatic passages and more mix of the acoustic and electronic in “The Invisible Man Breathes.” The lengthiest track, “Mrs. Quadrillion” begins as a ballad before the ensemble work kicks in, leading into a vocal turn by Burnham and punctuating lines from his violin, Whitby’s piano, and Loftis’ sax excursions. Hancock’s tune is a mash-up of his acoustic Blue Note period and Headhunters with the accent on funky. Jerome Harris shines on the acoustic bass and Loftis, Burnham, and Holmes offer incendiary spots as well. There are some moments where Loftis seems like he’s headed for the stratosphere.  The closer, “Escape Route” brings us back to the glory days of jazz-rock fusion and prog with several percussive rhythm changes capped off by Whitby banging away at his Rhodes.

Whitby and band take us on one exhilarating ride. Jump in and buckle up. It’s joyous, bumpy, and fun.

UK Vibe

Aaron Whitby ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ CD (Ropeadope) 4/5



For a career as diverse and rewarding as Aaron Whitby’s has been, it certainly comes as a surprise that his new release, ‘Cousin From Another Planet’, marks his official debut solo project as a bandleader.

That very diverse and rewarding career has seen London-born Whitby – as a pianist – grace stages and studios with artists including George Clinton, Raul Midon, Natalie Cole, Neal Sedaka, as well as serving as the Musical Director for his wife, vocalist Martha Redbone. Even throughout Redbone’s own auspicious career, Whitby’s never been far from her side and has served as a co-writer and co-producer for each of her releases, ‘Home of the Brave’, ‘Skintalk’ (released through Dome Records) and ‘The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake’, as well as the incredibly successful NYC-based musicals they have gone on to create together.

‘Cousin From Another Planet’ fittingly now sees Redbone by her husband’s side providing vocals throughout with a thrilling array of artists and musicians, many of which serving as long-time Whitby collaborators and with an awe-inspiring body of work between them: saxophonist Keith Loftis (Abdullah Ibrahim, Roy Hargrove Big Band), bass by Fred Cash (Martha Redbone) and Jerome Harris (Sonny Rollins), violin by Charles Burnham (Stuart Matthewman, Cassandra Wilson), percussion by Gary Fritz (Roberta Flack, Ronny Jordan), drums by Rodney Holmes (Santana, Monday Michiru), and vocals provided by the aforementioned Redbone, Lisa Fischer, Rome Neal and Tamar-Kali.

Listening to this album, there really is no doubt that Whitby and company are a collective of musicians that genuinely enjoy making and performing music – ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ seems to capture an infectious, almost joyous, energy that just carries throughout the project with songs like ‘Escape Route’, ‘Sleeping Giant’ and ‘Mrs Quadrillon’. It’s an understandable conclusion to draw – with much of the album reportedly having been conceived during morning walks with his son to school, it’s touching that that experience itself is commemorated with the song ‘Walking With Z’ (Zach). Even when tackling Herbie Hancock’s ‘The Eye of the Hurricane’, the allure of creation is just too great and the original composition ends up serving as a launchpad for what ultimately transforms into ‘The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0’.

Released through Ropeadope Records, Whitby has potentially delivered his tour de force. This could be the record he’s longed to make – the project that serves as the culmination of years of studio and live collaborations, a homage to his own influences as well as the chance to establish Whitby’s own name amongst these masters.

Midwest Record


The long over due solo debut from a piano cat that's been in the background making everyone else look good for long enough, he steps up as a modern cat making modern jazz for nu ears. More of the mash up variety that an in the pocket traditional release, he sees and hears the future and you can feel a new cut road form the map Miles left us in the 70s. Snazzy stuff that will keep you tuned in throughout.

A small sampling of press about Whitby's previous work:


MINNEAPOLIS POST
"The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake,” is one of those out-of-the-blue surprises that make critics respond with raves…genuinely new and exciting.” Pamela Espelande

THE NEW YORKER
"(The Garden of Love) A brilliant collision of cultures.”

MOJO
"Fabulous album. Skintalk is supremely soulful with it’s sinewy organic retro grooves. A gem of a record.”

BLUES AND SOUL (UK)
“Once in a blue moon an album (Skintalk) comes along out of nowhere that starts by giving you goosebumps and ends by knocking you completely off your feet. This is one such album. In terms of quality and soulfulness it eclipses everything else I've heard this year."

BILLBOARD MAGAZINE
“(Home of the Brave) Stunning disc, a sharply drawn, wonderfully human collection of material…. remarkable flair for crafting pleasantly sticky, completely original jams." Larry Flick

TIME OUT NY
“Groove heavy power-house of a band.”

 

Cousin From Another Planet Trailer

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