PND Records & Music Publishing Inc.

“Letter to N.Y.” Senri Oe

Letter to NY

Winding down after a long tour, an all-day studio session or from a few hours of composing, Senri Oe often turns to a special book on the nightstand in his Brooklyn apartment that reminds him of him of how much he loves New York City, where he moved from his native Japan to study jazz in 2008. A compilation published in 2002, “Poems of New York” offers an exhilarating mosaic of writings celebrating Senri’s adopted hometown, from Walt Whitman’s exuberant expressions to contemporary poets’ emotional responses to September 11. Composed and produced completely in quarantine, Senri’s latest album Letter to N.Y. is the dynamic musical equivalent of that literary volume – a special homage expressing his full love for NYC that perfectly captures the eclectic array of the Big Apple’s freewheeling musical energies.
New York City is special to Senri for a variety of reasons, starting with its bustling mix and intermingling of global cultures and the opportunity in normal times to experience all styles of music at any time. Even more dear to his heart and creative development, it’s the environment where new creativity flourished and a fresh musical dream took hold, propelling the multi-talented artist’s evolution from onetime young J-Pop superstar to one of contemporary jazz’s most dynamic and innovative pianists and keyboardists.
Since launching his recording career with his PND Records debut "Boys Mature Slow" in 2013, he has been on a roll through a variety of ensemble and solo settings, culminating in his debut solo piano album "Boys & Girls" (2018) and "Hmmm" (2019), a trio session with drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Matt Clohesy. Senri’s other albums include the full big band date "Spooky Hotel" (2013),
"Collective Scribble" (2015) and "Answer July" (2016), which featured jazz vocal greats Sheila Jordan, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens and Lauren Kinhan of the Grammy winning vocal ensemble New York Voices.

41lQfODhQFL      SenriOe-001      0

Spooky-Hotel     Screen Shot     cover340x340

The pandemic and resulting lockdown may have kept Senri from performing live and playing with other musicians, but it couldn’t stop his creative flow either during the first months of the pandemic or later in January 2021, when he started composing the bulk of the tunes that evolved into the different “pages” of Letter to N.Y. Where some might have seen limits to recording at home with only an upright piano, electric keyboard and the Logic Pro X music app on his laptop, he embraced the opportunity to explore – and invite some interesting “guests” to his workspace to create what he affectionately calls “the jazz songs people all over the world can hum.”
“The downtime during the pandemic led me to face what kind of musical person I am, which took me back to my musical roots,” says Senri, who returned home in late 2020 from Japan after his trio tour promoting Hmmm with Matt Clohesy and drummer Ross Pederson. “I started on classical piano, and growing up was influenced by both bebop and Miles Davis’ electronic jazz fusion of the 70s and 80s. I use a lot of those electric keyboard and organ sounds on Letter to N.Y.
“As I was creating these tracks in this spirit,” he adds, “I created this imaginary world where I imagined Miles, Jaco Pastorius and Bill Evans would knock on my door, call my name and ask me to join them in playing the kind of music they made back in the day. Sometimes, ‘we’ created loop sounds, other times Latin/Cuban vibes. One of the most interesting parts of the process was not writing anything down, just having my musical attenna/radar attuned and instinctively playing and recording the melodies.”
While Senri’s gently lyrical solo piano ballad “Togetherness” makes the perfect reflective coda for Letter to N.Y., it was actually written before any of the other pieces. He penned it as part of a flurry of unique musical activities that Senri engaged in during the early months of lockdown. Inspired by the fact that soldiers based overseas couldn’t see their families during this time, “Togetherness” was the artist’s contribution to Global Citizen’s “Together at Home” series of online performances hosted on artists’ social media platforms to fight coronavirus and promote social distancing; superstar participants included Lady Gaga, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and John Legend.
During this period, Senri also composed the solo piano number “Home” in honor of National Rebuilding Month, a campaign created by the organization Rebuilding Together to amplify the important message that everyone deserves to live in safe and healthy homes. In addition, he launched an Instagram page called “The HMMM Channel,” where he shared with his nearly 10,000 followers brief “Live from Senri’s Home” performances every other week for several months. In December 2020, Senri, Ari Hoenig and Matt Clohesy gathered at the Blue Note in New York to perform a livestream concert sponsored by Blue Note Tokyo.
Listening to Letter to N.Y. straight through from the opening title track to “Togetherness” is like taking a brisk stroll through the city experiencing the vibrant soundtrack of its musical and cultural lifeblood both before the pandemic and now, as life slowly begins returning to normal. Blending trippy synth sounds, an elegant piano melody and a seductive light funk groove, “Letter to N.Y.” sets the tone for the album via a soulful chemistry created by bebop phrasing, electro talking beats and Senri’s lush Steinway tones.
The keyboardist introduces us to the hypnotic exotica of the city, greeting the day with “Good Morning,” a track celebrating his personal rituals (making coffee, feeding his dog Peace, cleaning) with a swirl of African Kalimba, electronic piano, the Steinway, African Rain Crashbox, Caxixi, talking drum and zebra log – which combined allow us to experience the tweets of birds and whispers of breeze. The spirit of those Miles electronic ensembles is alive, well and thriving on the bustling brass boom both punctuating and driving “Out of Chaos” – a slice of what he calls “Senri Electronic Jazz” which hops from horn blast to horn blast through a series of plucky bass interludes.
With a graceful, easy flowing sense of soul-jazz gratitude, Senri delights in one of the great things he experienced during the pandemic era: “The Kindness of Strangers,” which he encountered everywhere from his local Korean takeout restaurant to the place across town where he picked up meds for his dog. In his mind, no authentic New York musical excursion is complete without a combination of the kinds of Latin flavors and shuffle beats which populate the bluesy R&B/jazz funk driven “The Street to the Establishment. “So toward the end,” he says, “the sounds are getting gorgeous and the rhythm is so big and complicated, reflecting the irresistible chaos of NYC.”
After visiting a fictitious bar with African musicians via the moody electric piano, ZULU and UDU drum and Rhodes of the brief yet ultra-infectious “Juke Box Love Song,” the keyboardist takes a wild imaginary – and decidedly otherworldly synth happy trip – with “A Werewolf In Brooklyn,” which includes the sounds of a Wurlitzer piano, 70’s sync lead and 80s analog lead. This, he says, is his crying heart, the improvisational call and response of a most intense mind game.
Without revealing much about the real life identity of his host, Senri engages in one of the most poppy, urban jazz flavored piano centric tunes on the collection, “Staying at Ed’s House,” by enlightening us to the fact that Letter to N.Y. is to him like a “Concept of Jazz Beatles. And just like people all over the world, I wish that people can now sing this tune any place in the world.”The final song before “Togetherness” is the dynamic Latin jam “Love” which features Senri’s grooving, explosive Rhodes vibe and some furious “Son Cubano” percussion.
“I wrap the album with the simple concepts of ‘Love’ and ‘Togetherness’ to reflect an important reality that we’ve all learned during this challenging time – the fact that when we’re left alone to face life’s greatest challenges, we realize the most important things are not money and fame but the people we love and want to be with most,” Senri says. “‘Letter to N.Y.’ is very impressionistic in its portrayal of New York music and culture through the lens of the pandemic, but heard together, the songs reveal a unique narrative story. It’s about the brokenness and collapse of the old way of life, yet with the hope that as we move into the new normal, restoration and renewal are also possible. The former world is over, so now we have to open a new door and take everything to a brave new level moving forward.”