KJ Denhert at Knowlton Riverfest
Award-winning, NYC-based singer-songwriter-guitarist KJ Denhert – known for her soulful fusion of jazz, R&B, rock and folk – is in the midst of her first-ever itinerary of west coast dates. KJ and her longtime band, the super-tight NY Unit, drew an enthusiastic reception at Yoshi's in San Francisco, and at Temple Bar in Santa Monica. At the latter date, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne and contemporary blues icon Keb' Mo' were in attendance.
In addition to U.S. dates this summer, the Grenadian-American Denhert was an artist-in-residence at the world-famous Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy for a fifth consecutive year, July 11-20. She and the NY Unit – also featuring ace saxophonist Aaron Heick – played two shows daily, including a show opening for Alicia Keys on Friday, July 18.
Denhert's live performances showcase her earthy, vibrant personality as much as her genre-transcending music. Those qualities shine on her new album LUCKY 7, her Motéma Music debut. An enhanced 12-song CD also featuring videos, the disc is in association with KJ's Mother Cyclone Records imprint. KJ produced the album, her seventh, with NY Unit keyboardist Bennett Paster co-producing several tracks. Highlights include the title track, "He's Not Coming Home, " and the album's one cover, an intimate take on "Over The Rainbow" that's a fan favorite.
"They call me Lucky 7, the lucky thing is I never gave up…." these plucky lyrics from the title track of KJ Denhert's seventh CD and debut on the Motema imprint, are calling forth 'all manner of assistance' for this bold lady of urban-folk & jazz. With her seventh outing, this award-winning, guitar shredding, joke cracking singer-songwriter and philosopher has fearlessly put her money, life and music down for a giant spin of the wheel of fortune – round and round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows, but one thing is clear, with each spin of LUCKY 7, lucky listeners will come up winners every time.
KJ, with her sultry voice, whimsical insights, and impeccable artistry both as a vocalist and as a soaring lead guitarist, is truly in a class of her own. Her precise and eclectic style lovingly embraces the refinement of jazz, the pathos of folk and the groove of funk. All this talent is channeled through a bigger than life personality, raising the obvious question as to why she hasn't hit the big time yet. "'Yet' is the operative word here" says Motéma president Jana Herzen, who couldn't believe her luck at finding such a fully formed under-recognized talent charming small but eager crowds in the tiny 55 Bar on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village..
KJ effortlessly reaches out to many different types of audiences while never compromising her music or beliefs. An expert wordsmith, her lyrics wrap around her grooves and melodies, telling deeply personal stories that transcend to the universal. The origins of her exceptionally inclusive style lies partly in her heritage – she is a Grenadian-American of mixed cultural roots – and partly in her early musical influences. KJ remembers, "I fell in love with Sergio Mendes when I was eight, and then I picked up a guitar when I was ten and immediately I started writing music. I liked John Hartford on the Glenn Campbell Show and really got into James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, who I still consider my two main influences. I also loved the singer-songwriters of the time, including Carole King and Laura Nyro, and later fell in love with Steely Dan's music, and just wore out my copy of Hubert Laws' Rite Of Spring. A self-taught guitarist who learned by "listening to records and playing them over and over, " KJ explains that she learned to read tablature from a James Taylor book and learned modal tunings from Joni Mitchell's For The Roses songbook." I didn't really do anything but play guitar through my teenage years."
In the 1980s, KJ toured for six years as the lead guitarist and occasional vocalist with an all-female band called Fire, playing rock and top-40 music throughout the US, Canada and Europe. "My seven years in spandex" quips KJ. After the group disbanded, she took a 'day job' as a financial analyst in Cleveland while continuing to write and play. It was there that she founded the Mother Cyclone label and released her first CD. Returning to New York in 1997, she formed The NY Unit, the group that she performs with to this day. "I look for players who have an ability to groove and have lots of drama in their playing."
LUCKY 7 (set for digital release on Oct 18, 2007 and terrestrial release on January 8, 2008) represents the culmination of all of KJ's musical paths to date. "I left my day job four years ago and this is the sound I've been aiming towards ever since. It combines all of the styles that I grew up with and enjoyed, going all the way back to my crush on Sergio Mendes when I was 8. It has a bit of acoustic guitar, some R&B, and it grooves in what I hope after seven recordings will come to be know as my signature style. I took the chance to tip my hat to Steely Dan for the first time in a recording and James Taylor's influence comes through in the solo guitar and vocals on 'Sad Song.'"
Recorded and mixed by the multi-Grammy winning engineer Ben Wisch (Marc Cohn, Jonatha Brooke), LUCKY 7 is blessed by his penchant for bringing out the pop sheen in artists' vocals while simultaneously underscoring their individuality and emotional power. KJ also enlisted keyboardist and producer Bennett Paster to co-produce a number of the tracks, a pairing that was inspired by a breakthrough collaboration they had enjoyed at the 2006 Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. Looking back, KJ notes that trip to Italy was the beginning of a lucky streak which has carried her into four return engagements to Umbria, the recording of LUCKY 7, signing with Motéma, and all manner of other synchronistic good fortune that has been coming her way.
Of course, as they say, we make our own luck. And for KJ that is certainly the case. In addition to running her own band and label and moving audiences to laughter, dance and tears for over three decades of on-stage excellence, KJ has produced eight records, appeared at many major festivals and has held an ongoing residency at The 55 Bar in NYC since 1998. KJ has also won awards in many songwriting contests, including the Kerrville New Folk Song contest in June 2006 (for 'Private Angel'), the Mountain Stage New Song Contest in August 2005 (for 'Little Mary, ') and the Independent Music Award for Best Live Performance in 2006 for her live CD, Another Year Gone By.
On LUCKY 7, KJ rolls out eleven winning new originals along with an intensely intimate version of 'Over The Rainbow' that is bound to be a favorite among fans of vocal jazz. Among the many other highlights are the funky opener 'Little Problems, ' the swinging and ironic title track, 'Lucky Seven, ' the spirited heartbreaker 'He's Not Coming Home, ' and the infectious three-part suite "What's My Name.'
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