Michael Kaeshammer’s latest album, “Something New,” strongly evokes the best feelings of New Orleans (if you’ve ever been there, you’ll perhaps know what I mean) – no surprise since his work is heavily influenced by that city’s musical scene. Featuring guest appearances from such artists as Cyril Neville (The Neville Brothers), George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Johnny Vidacovich (Professor Longhair), Mike Dillon (Primus), the New Orleans Nightcrawlers Brass Band Canadian bassist David Piltch (k.d. lang), along with special guests Colin James, Randy Bachman, Curtis Salgado, Jim Byrnes, Amos Garrett, and Chuck Leavell of The Rolling Stones, the album is a delight to the ears.
Since I’m partial to piano myself, it’s no great stretch to appreciate a truly talented player, but Kaeshammer’s skill is immense, straddling the styles of jazz, stride, and boogie-woogie effortlessly. Songs like “Come On Home” and “She’s Gone” are perfect demonstrations of this talent, while slower ballads like “Josephine” and “Heaven and Earth” amply exhibit an equal expertise with more tender playing (which can sometimes be more challenging than the high-energy uptempo pieces). “Forbidden Love,” perhaps one of my favorite pieces on the album, is a cool-jazz pleasure to the ears. “Sweet Georgia” is a hugely fun, straight-out jazz trio treatment of the old, familiar standard – but there’s nothing dated or tired here! With “Weimar,” Kaeshammer closes the album quietly, but passionately – an interesting choice of programming for the track order, but it works as an endpoint for what is overall a delightful journey.
Throughout his twenty-year career, Kaeshammer has consistently exhibited excellence, and this project is no exception. Taking full advantage of the depth of talent available to him (both his own and that of his guests), he has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable album that evokes the best of the New Orleans sound that he loves.
We’re pleased that Michael Kaeshammer took a few minutes to chat with us about the new album.
If you had to name one or two things you were hoping to accomplish with this album, what would those be?
I accomplished exactly what I wanted to with this album, that’s the advantage of having no creative or financial interference from anyone except me. I was very conscious to get my career to a point where my record making is based on exactly making the record I want to make without considering any commercial attraction. Ironically, the freedom and honesty of the music has made the record more commercially appealing. What I set out to do was record an album with friends only in a place that inspires and means something to me (New Orleans).
In your bio, you mention that you “saw this album as being about producing other people as much as about being the artist.” Which do you feel is more challenging for you – producing others, or being the artist, and why?
Neither is challenging but they both have their attractions. Being the artist is great because I love writing and interpreting my songs on top of playing the piano, which I could do all day long. Producing myself and other artists/singers is a great feeling because you can imagine and shape the music from the outside, kind of like a conductor would do with interpreting a classical piece through a symphony orchestra.
All the songs on the album are so great, but I found myself coming back to “Josephine” again and again – that ballad sound, with the strings and a hint of blues, is rather infectious. Can you tell us a bit about this song?
The song is a love-song to my girlfriend, plain and simple. Songs come easiest and almost write themselves when you have a subject matter that is close to your heart, you can just write out your thoughts and there is your song. Sometimes they don’t even need any editing. There are a few songs like that on this album, songs like the songs “Forbidden Love” (about a visit to a North Korean restaurant while on tour in China), “Who Are You” (about being yourself and following your path) or “Scenic Route” (about a roadtrip from The Loveless Cafe in Nashville to Sun Studios in Memphis).
You finished a tour of the People’s Republic of China last October – can you talk a little bit about that tour, what it was like playing there, how it impacted you, and so forth?
It was my 7th time touring The People’s Republic of China and I’m going back for an 8th tour this October. I love the country and the people love my music there. It is also a haven for anyone interested in great food, nothing at all compared to what people are used to eating in Chinese restaurants in North America and Europe. Having spent 4 weeks in 20+ cities on every trip to China has made me appreciate and connect with the local culture and lifestyle. It also made me realize how different audiences react to music around the world, most Western countries will find a connection with a swung beat and faster tempos while in a lot of Asian countries the straight beats and slower songs have more of an impact on an audience. Those things have helped me alter my approach to shows outside of China as well.
This album was recorded in New Orleans; so many artists find it to be a hugely inspirational place for their music. How does it inspire you, specifically?
It is the city where the music and pianists I love come from. In New Orleans you play the kind of jazz that is meant to dance, party, get together and feel good while I found during the time when I lived in New York City most jazz places were more vacated by listening audiences to the point where you were being told to “keep your voice down” if you were talking in the audience. I much prefer the easy-going atmosphere this style of music was initially intended for. It is also an inspirational place because it’s a small community in a hot and humid place. When I lived in the Garden District for a couple of years I realized how people in New Orleans make you feel like you are part of a community, even when you don’t know them and just cross their path on the street.
I think you are the first artist we’ve interviewed who has a section on his site just for recipes. (I have my eye on the gnocchi in lemon spinach in particular.) Have you always had a passion for food and/or cooking?
I have always loved good food but my passion for cooking started a number of years back when I got fed up by continuous processed food on the road. It started to affect my body and my psyche. I don’t know how people can eat processed food in their day-to-day meals, but I’ve seen them do it privately as well. For me it’s a given that everything is made from scratch at home, and I mean everything (bread, pasta, sauces, spreads, herbs, marinates, etc). Why wouldn’t you make things from scratch and know exactly what you are putting into your body? When people say they don’t have enough time in the day it’s purely an excuse. The lemon spinach gnocchi you pointed out are a fantastic dish. Most restaurants will serve gnocchi with marinara sauce but it’s the zest of the lemon and the taste of the olive oil that balances the texture of a potato dumpling best (gnocchi is nothing more than that).
You’ve worked with a number of tremendous musicians (folks like Cyril Neville, Chuck Leavell, Colin James, and Randy Bachman on this project alone, just to name a few)… are there any still on your ‘wish list’ that you’d care to name?
There are many artists I would still love to work with and/or produce. When the time is right those names will come up in my mind. Right now there are a couple of German artists I’m interested in recording with and we’re talking about some possible studio sessions already.
There are a number of gigs already on your tour page – are there any to which you’re looking forward especially, and are there more coming (for those folks who may not see a date near them yet)?
I love to play wherever I go. Granted, I love visiting places where I know I can indulge in other things besides the show, for example the staff or audience members are friends, there are some amazing restaurants I want to check out, or I can’t wait to play the piano in the theatre. But in general, I just love playing music anywhere at any time.