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  • Writer's pictureLuke Wolk

Kingsley Durant Album Review

Artist: Kingsley Durant Album: Convertible Release: 2023 Website: The latest release Convertible from Kingsley Durant is a well rounded band effort that straddles the many sides of what I would loosely call jazz. It’s a funky smooth set that bounces and swings, flirting with fusion at times, but never going over the top or straying too far from the pocket. The guitar is the clear focus of this set, supported by a tremendous band that serves the production impeccably and tastefully. The album clocks in at just over 49 minutes and has nine tracks in total. The lineup of musicians is about as good as it gets featuring Eric Johnson, Roscoe Beck, Tom Brechtlein, Steve Hunt and Ricardo Monzon. When instrumental records are taken on by virtuosos such as Kingsley it is easy for the artist to over play in an effort to impress their peers. There are so many great guitar players that push the established boundaries of the instrument in order to break new ground and make a mark in the music business. This record is a wonderful exception to that model. This album is an exercise in mature virtuosity and taste instead of a display of chops, reminding me a bit of how Johnny A, Duke Levine and Larry Carlton approach their music. One of my favorite cuts is Alice. The song features beautiful guitar playing that tugs at the heart strings with warm tone and taste. It is difficult to pinpoint Kingsley’s influences on this track, which is the case for the whole record. It’s harmonically complex and delightfully simple simultaneously. It is clear he has world class chops, but also the wisdom to restrain himself and play music that breathes. Another song I enjoy quite a bit is Sister Suz. It’s loose and almost jam band-like, reminding me of a mellow versionof the song that the band plays at the end of every episode of Saturday Night Live. As I listen to this track it feels like the musicians are casually carrying on a conversation through their instruments. There is a push and pull that is like the sound track of old friendships. Nothing is forced or contrived, but drenched in deep roots and comfort, like musically kindred spirits. My favorite tracks are the title track Convertible, Cobblestones and Funky Princess. It is on these cuts where it all comes together making it difficult for me to pick a favorite of those three. Convertible comes in strong, letting the listener know this is a serious group of top shelf players that are here to serve the song while still taking some space to shine. Funky Princess has Eric Johnson guesting throughout the track. His playing sits quite comfortably in the mix with Kingsley and the rest of the band, showcasing that he is more than capable of being a team player in a supportive role as well. Cobblestones is a funky piece that shows why the rhythm section on this album have had the stellar careers that they have enjoyed. With an All Star line up like this one it’s not surprising that the end result is world class. The compositions and arrangements move gracefully throughot the entirety of the set, piquing the ears without ever causing fatigue. The musicianship is pocketed and never pushy, yet showcasing some of the finest players of the last 35 years. It is a guitar record that doesn’t require the listener to be a musician to enjoy, because of its simple virtuosity and song based pieces, as opposed to open ended self indulgent jams. The overall production and guitar tones are joined perfectly at every turn. This is an impressive release that if you’re a fan of players like Johnny A and Larry Carlton you will undoubtedly enjoy.

Check out this interview with Kingsley Durant as well!

Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career.

I’ve been a musician for my whole life. But my musical career has never been a career, per se. I’m a mathematics educator by trade, although I’ve been retired from that for a few years. I just kept playing, whereas a lot of my friends who didn’t go pro let it slide. I made a record in 2003 for my brother’s label, Alchemy Records. It started out as a solo acoustic guitar set because that’s what I had done to that point that was worthy of recording. We ended up adding some instrumentation to about half of the tunes, and I even sang on a couple. Not long after that was released, I started writing music that was more electric guitar based. I put together a guitar-bass-drums trio to perform those tunes (along with some jazz standards) and did gigs in the Seacoast New Hampshire area, where I lived then. That material seemed strong enough to do a record, but it took quite a while to figure out how I wanted to present it. In 2018 I reached out to Steve Hunt, who I’d known for years through his associations with Randy Roos and Allan Holdsworth, because I wanted to have a keyboard player to flesh out the arrangements as Max Middleton did for Jeff Beck. That partnership has turned out to be even better than I could have imagined. With Steve onboard we just had to find a bassist and drummer that would suit the music. For Point of Reference, we chose Baron Browne (bass) and Vinny Sabatino (drums). For Convertible, we had to find a new bass player as Baron had since passed away. After hearing my demos, Steve suggested asking Tom Brechtlein to play drums. I’d met Tom when he was touring with Eric Johnson, and I knew bassist Roscoe Beck from those gigs as well. We reached out to them, and both agreed to do the project. With those two on board, Eric agreed to contribute to a track as well.

Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Early on it was my mother, who played classical piano and sang, and various members of her family: her father was a church organist and choirmaster; her uncle was a concert violinist and conductor; and her youngest brother was a rock-and-roll guitarist. He shared his record collection with me back in the mid-1960s: the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Beatles, Animals, Who, etc., as well as Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf. He also taught me my first couple of bits on guitar. Bands such as Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis were big for me in high school as they combined my orchestral and rock-and-roll interests. Yes’ guitarist Steve Howe inspired me to be more of a complete guitar player than a singer-songwriter who happened to play guitar. In college I connected with the whole “Boston jazz” scene via Pat Metheny and Mick Goodrick’s work with Gary Burton. Weather Report and Miles Davis were also huge influences at that point.

What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician? In terms of what I’ve done on my last two records, I’d say Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow.

Is there a particular song that has resonated with you for a long time?

From the above record it would be the last track, “Diamond Dust.” I love the way that tune is structured and orchestrated. The melody and harmony have always drawn me in as well. Another track that has always resonated strongly is the title cut on Weather Report’s “Mysterious Traveller.” I listen to that whole record every year on Christmas Eve. No idea why, but I’ve done so since 1975.

What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far? The new record. It’s extremely gratifying to me to have musicians that I’ve admired for years playing on my tunes and giving it their best.

Tell me about your favorite performance in your career.

In recent years I’ve been part of the Boston Hot Stove All-Stars, which was started by my uncle – the one I mentioned above – who is a Hall of Fame baseball journalist as well as a guitar player. Playing gigs with him has been a true highlight.

What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?

I’ve gone to several of Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch guitar workshops. Whenever Steve Kimock does an electric guitar workshop, I go to absorb everything I can from Steve. One night we were all sitting around jamming on the Grateful Dead’s “Althea.” I went last with the solo and, having heard a whole bunch of Jerry Garcia licks from everyone else, I just kinda cut loose and did my own thing. At the end, Steve told me, “What you played was beautiful. But it wasn’t the song. In any loose group situation, there’s always some player who’s just out there floating over the top of the music. And there’s another, who if you took him out, the music would fall apart. Be that guy.”

What's new in the recording of your music?

The ability to do a record where everyone does their parts in their own studios, yet it sounds as if it was done in a real studio, seems to have come into its own in recent years. I’m sure the pandemic contributed to that development. Although there’s a certain magic that happens when you’re all in the room playing together (as we did on Point of Reference) there’s also a benefit to the fact that the other players live with the tune for longer when they are working on their own.

How has your music changed over the years?

I think my ability to compose and arrange a tune has come a long way.

What inspires you to write the music you write?

Keith Richards gets it right when he talks about tuning in to some sort of airwaves.

What made you want to play the instrument you play? Uncle Peter [Gammons]. And Jeff Beck’s playing on the Yardbirds’ “Over Under Sideways Down.” As I mentioned before, Steve Howe inspired me to broaden my palette in terms of using different guitars and incorporating different styles.

How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past?

It’s more high-energy and aggressive.

How are you continuing to grow musically?

I just keep playing and trying to develop my musicality.

Are there any musicians who inspire you that are not famous? What qualities do you admire about them?

I don’t know how famous Randy Roos and Steve Kimock are, but they are two guitar players who inspire me for their deep musical understanding and their ability to present it onstage.

Describe your worst performance. What did you learn from this experience?

I can’t think of a single “worst performance,” but I do have a habit of bringing new-to-me guitars to gigs and running into trouble with them because I’m not comfortable enough with what I’m going to get from them. Steve Kimock has busted me for that on numerous occasions.

Tell me what your first music teacher was like. What lessons did you learn from them that you still use today?

Other than my family members, the first music teacher I remember well was Bonnie Klee, who taught the general music class I took in seventh grade. I was writing songs by then and she was very encouraging of them. She also helped me think about song structures and melodies. That came naturally to me anyway because of my mathematical bent. I still pay a lot of attention to that when I’m writing music.

How would your previous band mates describe you and your work ethic?

I’m organized and well-prepared. I write out “sheets” for the tunes and know what we’re going to do on a gig or a recording session. On the new record, both Roscoe and Tom seemed to appreciate the level of preparation Steve and I had done.

If you could play anywhere or with anyone in the world, where or with who would it be?

I would love to have Vince Mendoza do orchestral arrangements of my tunes and play them with the Metropole Orchestra.

If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be?

I’m a lot more familiar with the musical instrument industry than the music industry. My friends who are actually in the industry tend to be at the level where they can make a reasonable living doing what they do, but it’s a struggle. I don’t know any way of fixing that. The issue is more social, especially in the USA. There’s not a lot of broad cultural and economic support for the kind of music I listen to and seek out.

What are your biggest obstacles as a musician?

As an independent musician, especially an older one without a long track record, the biggest obstacle is getting heard.

What do you think the best aspects of the music business are? The actual musicians. It’s a joy to work with people like Steve, Roscoe, and Tom. And Eric Johnson.

What strengths do you have that you believe make you the musician you are?

I have a good ear and I use it. I’m relatively easy to get along with, especially with people I respect. I write good tunes.

Do you have any weaknesses that you're actively working to improve on? My technique on guitar isn’t all that great. I actively resisted having a teacher on guitar when I was young. That decision hasn’t aged well.

Describe your favorite and least favorite part about being a musician.

Favorite part: making music that I like to listen to. Least favorite part: being absorbed in music so much of the time leads to a level of self-absorption that might not be so healthy.

Do you have any anxiety about performing live?

My ex-father-in-law (who was also my sixth-grade science teacher) once told me, “If you’re not nervous about walking into the classroom at the beginning of the year, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

If you had to choose one... live performance or studio work, which do you prefer and why? I enjoy playing live, although I don’t get to do so nearly often enough these days, but I prefer the studio. I love the art and process of making records. I remember listening to the Rolling Stones’ records back in the day and realizing that I liked the studio versions of tracks such as “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” much better than I liked the live versions. There’s something magical about some of those recordings that is impossible to reproduce onstage. I think it’s a sonic/textural thing.

What do you think about online music sharing?

It’s great that anyone, anywhere in the world, can listen to my music. The pay isn’t so great, though.

Describe your creative process when you write new music.

Part of it is just hearing and tapping into some idea, whether it’s a melody, a set of chord changes, a rhythm/groove, or a textural idea. Then there’s the work part, which is turning that thing, whatever it is, into a viable tune. I studied music theory and composition in high school and college. That gave me some good tools with which to work. Also, Leni Stern’s book Composing and Compositions had a lot to say about the kind of music I tend to write. I don’t turn on the studio gear and record until an idea is well-formed. Until that point, the main tool I use is a Digitech looper pedal. That allows me to record and store ideas. Sometimes, though, I just play a piece “solo guitar” until it’s done. “Akiko” is an example of that. It can take a few years when I do it that way.

Other than being a musician, what was your dream job growing up?

I’m not sure I ever had a dream job. I kinda fell into teaching; between my own family and the aforementioned father-in-law, I was around a lot of teachers so it seemed like a reasonable thing for me to do.

Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry. Only go into it if you absolutely have to! I’m probably not the right person to be giving advice on this topic, though.

What is your favorite piece of gear and why?

Most guitar players would say it’s some guitar they’ve been playing for years. I’m going to go in the opposite direction: it’s the guitar I just acquired from luthier Matt Artinger a couple of months ago. I own 18 of Matt’s instruments. Some were custom-built to my specs/request, some are prototypes of a model Matt designed, and some are just cool guitars he built on his own. This new one, which I just named “Ripple” on account of the figuring of the maple top and the finish color, is one Matt built on his own to commemorate 25 years in business. But it’s as if he crawled inside my head and distilled my 50 years of experience playing electric guitars and built my personal ideal guitar.

How do you prepare for your performances and recording work?

Not well enough. I never seem to find enough time to warm up and to get my attention in the right place.

What does your practice routine consist of?

I don’t have a practice routine. I do practice, but there’s not much rhyme or reason. Generally speaking, something will come up and I’ll realize that I need to work on it. So I do.

What do you like most about your new album?

Everything. The tunes, the overall sound (and the guitar sounds!), and (especially) the performances by the guys who did it with me. Of course there are bits of my own that I wish were better, but that’s how it always is. I’m my own worst critic. All of my professional musician friends are that way.

What artists do you enjoy listening to nowadays? I was never a Deadhead until fairly recently, but my car radio is on the SiriusXM Grateful Dead channel a lot of the time. I like Jerry Garcia’s playing a lot, and they have a lot of good tunes. I like the lyrics, too.

How do you promote your band and shows?

I don’t play live any more, so it’s a non-issue for me.

What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc.

My email is overfull of that stuff.

Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?

I have another “acoustic” record in the works. That was supposed to happen during the pandemic, but all of a sudden the music that became Convertible came to me and I followed that trail.

What's next for your band?

Roscoe is back on tour with Eric Johnson. Tom is working away in his studio, doing projects for people, as is Steve. In addition to teaching at Berklee, Steve also has an intense classical piano regimen these days. As for me, just writing and working on new music for another record.

What are your interests outside of music?

Cooking, mixology (and wine), bicycling, and spending time with my granddaughters.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I grew up playing ice hockey and coached that sport when I was in my first teaching job. In pee-wees (elementary school) one year my team was horrible and had a few different goaltenders quit during the season. I ended up playing goalie for the last few games. In my first game I played against a team that had David Silk, who was on the 1980 USA Olympic gold medal team (and a classmate of mine at Boston University) and later in the NHL. He scored three goals on me, but I stopped him twice on breakaways. The quality of youth hockey in my area in those days was high; of the five skaters on my line another year I was the only one who did NOT go on to play Division I ice hockey.

Are there any artists outside of your genre that have not had much influence on your music that you enjoy? Lots of orchestral composers, from Bach & Beethoven to Ravel & Chopin to Stravinsky & Bartok. Stravinsky’s ballets are a lifelong fave. In pop/rock music, Paul Thorn, Lyle Lovett, and John Hiatt.

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