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Chris Stamey leads jazz collective on latest album

As it should be, Chris Stamey’s name is all over his latest album — most notably as the songwriter, arranger and producer.

And while Stamey also plays guitar on A Brand-New Shade of Blue (Omnivore Recordings), his voice isn’t heard on the 13 songs, which the longtime solo artist and co-founder of The dB’s says are suitable “for late nights and rainy days.”

“You try to go with what they bring to it and just say the minimum direction,” Stamey says about the way he handles singers. “I always think that being in the studio wearing headphones is not that different than being one of the astronauts in the Mercury space program. You need somebody back at Cape Canaveral giving you some feedback.”

The material came together in November 2019, with Stamey on piano instead of guitar.

“It’s difficult to play close voicings on guitar. You can kind of get three whole steps under your fingers, but you can’t really have four or five note clusters, and a number of these songs have close voicing,” he explains. “[With this material] there are specific harmonic ideas I’m trying to decipher and make my own.”

All of the songs on A Brand-New Shade of Blue were written on paper — hence the album’s title being preceded by “Music From the Songbook” — “and then my friends and I came up with some versions of them,” says Stamey, whose companions are billed as The Fellow Travelers. “It wasn’t quite as amorphous as some songwriting might be.”

He describes the title track as “somewhat of an homage” to John Coltrane, and other songs — such as “Come Home to Me” — are “more clearly Tin Pan Alley-ish in their musical vocabularies.”

Sessions commenced in early 2020 at Stamey’s Modern Recording in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and he says about 85 percent of the album was recorded prior to the pandemic resulting in a premature halt in March.

Everyone subsequently shifted to remote recording mode, with Stamey getting on the phone with the string players, wind players and other instrumentalists to talk about their computer setups.

“We’d order a microphone from Amazon and try to figure out where in their house would sound good,” Stamey says. “It was fun. Some of the folks were experienced with this already. There was a good camaraderie about it. There really weren’t forensics issues with this. Even if they hadn’t been recording [at home] before, they still had great musical instruments.”

— By Chris M. Junior

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