Album reviews

Kiefer – ‘When There’s Love Around’

Kiefer – When There’s Love Around
(Stones Throw Records. Digital download review by Graham Spry)

It’s no doubt a cliché but it seems generally true that music from the west coast of America, and in particular west coast jazz, emphasises the optimistic, the redemptive and the transformational. And this is certainly true of the latest album by Kiefer (Kiefer Shackelford), a keyboard player from Los Angeles whose jazz influences quite evidently include Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock.

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Kiefer album cover

The album is named after the title track, When There’s Love Around – a tune by The Crusaders, which in many ways is a reference point for Kiefer’s music. Like The Crusaders, Kiefer’s music is led from the keyboards and occupies a pleasing and harmonious place between jazz, pop and soul. And the sentiment that there is love around is echoed by the positive vibes given off on each and every track. 

To even be on Stones Throw Records is an achievement for Kiefer, with labelmates being some of the most progressive and innovative music artists from Los Angeles including such giants of hip hop as J Dilla, Madlib and MF Doom. Although Kiefer has worked on the margins of hip hop and electronic music with musicians such as Anderson .Paak and Kaytranada, this is a mostly self-composed instrumental jazz album that acknowledges contemporary currents in Black American music rather than being overwhelmed by them.

This is an album of two halves, well suited to the vinyl format. The first half of the album features generally joyful but restrained songs that reveal Kiefer’s insecurities growing up as a mixed-race child, hence such titles as i remember this picture, crybaby and curly and an album cover that features two young children. The second part is mostly a tribute to Kiefer’s late grandmother, whose loss is keenly felt, and has a more sorrowful and reflective feel. The final and most buoyant track, i love my friends, is a celebration of friendship. There seems to be more of a tradition among African American musicians, including jazz artists such as Horace Silver, of openly expressing through music the emotional or even spiritual connections to family and friends. This may well be something to celebrate in a time when we are all encouraged to be more open about our innermost feelings.

Kiefer has gathered around him some of the best jazz musicians from the west coast including Will Logan and DJ Harrison on drums and Andy McCauley on electric bass and guitar. The album was recorded in three sets of sessions in 2020 at Jazzy Jeff’s invitation in his studio, and many songs were recorded in only one or two takes, to ensure that the final result retains its freshness and intimacy. This is an album unafraid to display emotion and sentiment and will appeal to those who appreciate music that is deceptively easy on the ear but rewards close listening.

LINKS: When There’s Love Around on Bandcamp
Kiefer on Stones Throw Records

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