Javier Santiago Muses on Bi-Coastal Life,
Shedding Inhibitions, and Rising From the Ashes
on All Original New Album, Phoenix
Available June 29 via Ropeadope Records
Album Features Dayna Stephens, Ben Flocks, Nir Felder,
Zach Brown, and Corey Fonville with Special Guests
Nicholas Payton, John Raymond, and J. Hoard
“All throughout my life, I feel like I have gone through a series of personal deaths. I begin something new, a new life or a new community, then at some point there is an inevitable crash or fall — one that cleanses, renews and marks a turning point of change and growth. This natural cycle of death and rebirth is like the Phoenix. It’s a process that all beings go through, whether it be humans, animals or Gaia, the earth itself.”
For years, keyboardist Javier Santiago has ping-ponged across the country, searching for his sound in New York and California but he has always stayed true to his soulful roots in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For his Ropeadope Records debut, Phoenix, Santiago offers an album full of snow-dusted funk and a refreshing approach to jazzified-fusion.
The opportunity arose when an arduous journey for education took him from his Midwest home to study at the Brubeck Institute in California and then New York City’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. His journey out west started in 2007 and proved to be a very freeing experience, opening up the young composer and arranger both personally and musically. Two years later, the transition to New York and reality of hard work was more jolting. “It shocked me,” he admits, “in the best way possible.”
After six years on the New York scene, Santiago found allure and unique welcoming vibe back in his hometown and returned to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. There, he applied through the MacPhail Center for Music for the McKnight Artist Fellowships Program — a program that is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country — and received a $25,000 un-restricted cash grant.
From there, Santiago called on a mix of Bay Area and Big Apple musicians he met through his studies and work to assemble a stellar cast for this auspicious debut. On Rhodes and synthesizers, he’s joined by saxophonists Dayna Stephens (his former teacher) and Ben Flocks, as well as guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Corey Fonville (a rhythm section which Santiago recorded with several times before). The album also features special guest trumpeters Nicholas Payton and John Raymond, as well as vocalist J. Hoard to further push Santiago’s rebirth to the welcome ears of the open mind.
Initial sessions for the album were recorded at the legendary Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California: “Bill Evans! McCoy Tyner!” Santiago was no stranger to the history of the space. “I thought it would be great to record in California and the band agreed we would feel different recording in New York or Minnesota. I think this music went in the direction it did because of that room and that location.”
The churning title track, “Phoenix,” has become an anthem for Santiago. Synthesizers hum from all sides as Felder puts down solid emphasis amidst the groove. “It’s about that process of crashing and burning and rising up again,” he explains. “This part is the rise up.” The ten-minute track is a tour-de-force for Santiago employing tight horn harmonies, searing instrumental solos and a persistent groove from Fonville’s unyielding cymbals. That was no coincidence.
“Before the session, Corey (Fonville) was telling the studio manager, ‘I have a package coming in,'” says Santiago with a chuckle. “‘Let me know when it gets here.’ He had bought this flat ride cymbal just for the session. He had a particular vision about how he wanted the music to sound and the vibe he wanted to bring. The flat ride is sort of a retro sound. A lot of great fusion records had a flat ride vibe. He was really excited about that.”
Santiago’s modern sound, forged from his own unique experience, is a welcome addition to the scene. His perspective, charged by growth and an ethereal energy, is shorn of its inhibitions and focused squarely on pushing the groove. All rise.
Javier Santiago · Phoenix
Ropeadope Records · Release Date: June 29, 2018