Album Notes 

Alchemy Sound Project‘s release Further Explorations presents innovative compositions and virtuoso performances by five jazz composer-performers, each a highly advanced improviser in their own right. The synergy of this collective, enhanced by two guest performers, produces music that is fascinating, raw and honest.

While the group’s configuration and roots serve as a continuation of the jazz tradition, the members also compose orchestral works, film scores, chamber music and solo pieces for various ensembles and projects across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia. Music education, support for the arts and expansion of cultural self-awareness and empowerment are important themes for this group.

Charcoal, Clear, Beautiful All Over – The title is a translation of the Japanese word “Sumi” and as such is a fitting tribute to A.S.P. pianist Sumi Tonooka, composed by A.S.P. reed and wind player Salim Washington. Colorful and moody, this piece is one of the most evocative on the album.

Further Explorations – Intended to connote a journey of discovery that parallels the creative act, this richly-hued piece by Erica Lindsay explores the balance and necessary tension between the unknown and the known that exist within the creative mind.

Alchemical – Seeking to reference classical counterpoint and a sense of grandeur, this composition by Samantha Boshnack opens with a horn fanfare and quickly moves into a heavy groove, prompting intense solos from Tonooka and Lindsay.

Waiting – An intimate, plaintive and highly emotional expression of personal struggle penned by Sumi Tonooka, this piece runs the gamut from modern chamber music to swinging jazz.

Beta – Erica Lindsay’s second contribution to the album is groovy and angular. It carries the playful dodge-and-weave energy of the written lines into its solo sections.

Her Name Is Love – David Arend re-imagines elements from a solo piano piece by Czeck composer Leoš Janáček, contextualizing and re-harmonizing themes from that much earlier work, written here for jazz ensemble (minus piano).

Archetype – Referencing Jungian philosophical aspects of alchemy and archetype, this swinging piece by David Arend evokes the traditional jazz big band style.

Divergency – Samantha Boshnack sets up a tension between light and dark in this progressive composition, the title referring to a mashup of diversity and urgency. An introspective trumpet solo emerges from the interplay of melodies and rhythm in the theme.

Joie de Vivre – Sumi Tonooka’s optimistic composition is a playful romp combining her love of Malian music and the contrapuntal approach of composers such as J.S. Bach.

The Call – Salim Washington wrote this piece in tribute to Solodeen Muhammad, one of the hipsters of his father’s generation. It attempts to channel the energy that this streetwise, musically savvy father figure passed on to Salim.

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Toni Gates


Album Notes

When you are tasked with the privilege of writing liner notes it’s important to consider the persons involved. Toni Gates is a longtime friend. She is the bringer of light and goodness. She’s also no stranger to the trials and tribulations that life has to offer, and therefore, like most of us, a complex person. The rich tapestry that is Toni is reflected in her music, which becomes a treat for the lucky listener.

There is innocence residing beside power, savvy and wisdom. There is joy with pain, precision with soulfulness. There is the presence of pain, but also hope. Toni’s courage and honesty is compelling and allows her to wear her feelings on her sleeve; feelings that are universal, archetypal. All of these elements contribute to a thoroughly inspiring listen, one that will stay with you for quite some time.

On this recording Toni has established herself as a formidable song writer. Her songs contain haunting melodies and profound lyrics; resonating on a universal level. The tunes are strong and evocative. There’s plenty of variety and mood shifting, and she shows off her versatility and depth in the choices she makes. For instance, you travel from the melancholy of “When I Look at You” to the optimism of “Movin’” in a flash. Take the sensitivity of “That’s What She’ll Say” then move to the upbeat sound of “Move Me.” And then you are confronted with the plaintive cry of “Motherless.” You will not find a rut in this array of compositions. Toni also shows her off her fearlessness in her unlikely choices of arrangements, with some surprising picks, such as “Eleanor Rigby” and one of my favorites, “Happy Together,” by The Turtles.

The songs are presented with a refreshing absence of overproduction; simply and clearly. It is a bare bones approach which allows the truth to shine through without clutter. There is no waste, just the essence of what it is to be human. And did I mention that Toni is also the consummate musician, playing piano on all but four tracks with bravado and conviction? It should come as no surprise that she wisely hand picked the band that appears on the rest of the songs. She has assembled some of the finest musicians ever to grace a stage in Kansas City. These players are sensitive, giving people, always willing to set their egos aside for the greater good. They are devoted to play what is appropriate in every case in the most passionate manner. These cats have really nailed the spirit of the songs and their composers’ intent.

Ultimately, what you have here is a musical portrait of a great lady. It was my honor and pleasure to make a small contribution to this wonderful project. I’m confident you will agree that Toni Gates is a force to be reckoned with and that she has created something beautiful that will stand the test of time.


Stanton Kessler, Kansas City (2016)

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