SINGER / SONGWRITER / PRODUCER VIVIAN SESSOMS BRINGS INTERPRETIVE FINESSE, SEASONED SOUL AND A CONSCIOUS JAZZ MINDSET TO NEW ALBUM, LIFE produced by vivian sessoms and multi-instrumentalist chris parks, featuring ace keyboardist shedrick mitchell, with guests donny mccaslin, casey benjamin, keyon harrold, donald edwards, brandee younger and more
Accomplished singer and Harlem native Vivian Sessoms, makes an almighty return in the company of some of the world's finest musicians and stakes a claim to a sound all her own on her new album LIFE. Having earned her stripes as a performer with Ryuichi Sakamoto, P. Diddy, Cher, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, P!nk and many others, Sessoms and co-producer/creative partner Chris Parks bring her vast array of experiences to bear on an inspired, jazz-influenced set that proves Sessoms a fiery, forward-thinking artist in her own right.
"Although LIFE started out as a jazz record," Sessoms recalls, "there was a lot happening here in the U.S. and in the world, and that really started to influence my choice of songs, which I think pulled the record in a direction that was more socially aware." Whether she's recasting material by Billy Strayhorn, The Stylistics, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Cole Porter or Isham Jones, Sessoms is consistently powerful and very much at home within these finely crafted and surprising arrangements. The acoustic and electric blend, the expansive harmonic concept of keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell, the grooves anchored by drummer Donald Edwards and the numerous interludes: it all coheres to make LIFE something confident and unique, a definitive statement. Sessoms expressive, sophisticated sound draws on jazz, R&B and pop in fresh and moving ways.
Political consciousness is never far from the surface on LIFE, Sessoms first full length in over ten years. Certainly in Sessoms' searing rendition of "Strange Fruit," the anti-lynching poem-turned-song made famous by Billie Holiday. Vivian explains,"'Strange Fruit' is a song I never performed until very recently because it was very painful. One of my favorite movies is "Lady Sings The Blues" with Diane Ross. I remember seeing that film as a kid and asking my mother what did "blood on the leaves mean" and her explaining to me that the song was about lynching and what that meant. I was stunned into silence that things like that could happen to people, so hearing that song has often made me want to cry. In the wake of tragic incidents like Michael Brown, Akai Gurley and several others, I was moved to start singing the song in reverence. I've since talked about the civil rights movement and how Billie received death threats when she recorded the song. It was still relevant 30 years later when Nina Simone re-recorded it and we could never have foreseen that it would still be as relevant today. It literally haunted me and rang in my head everyday until I decided to record it…
The theme is also present Sessoms cover of The Stylistics' inspired and brooding R&B masterpiece "People Make the World Go Around," written by the legendary Thom Bell and Linda Creed and arranged by Ray Angry. "People" has always been one of my favorite songs," says Sesssoms. "A lot of what this album is about, was having a chance to record some of my favorite music or the work of my favorite composer while embracing the challenge of meshing different styles and genres together. I looked at reinterpreting some of the standards in more modern ways and skewing some of the more contemporary tunes, giving them a little more brevity. Many songs I grew up singing have now taken on much different and deeper meanings. I listen now and realize the lyrics of these songs were layered and timeless."
On the album's inaugural single, the ultra-funky "See Line Woman," we hear tenor sax great Donny McCaslin (of David Bowie's Blackstar band and the Maria Schneider Orchestra) rising up with tremendous power and characteristic grace. Concedes Vivian, "I can't take all the credit for 'See Line.' I've worked for several years with a composer and arranger from Denmark, whose work I admire - Mads Baerentzen. A while back I hired him to do some arrangements, one of which was "See Line Woman." He came back with a rough idea which the 3 of us - Mads, my partner Chris and I then fleshed out in the studio until we were happy. That recording was the genesis of this album, LIFE."
LIFE also features celebrated harpist Brandee Younger, trumpeters Keyon Harrold and Kenyatta Beasley, trombonist Vincent Gardner, saxophonist Casey Benjamin (on vocoder for "No Greater Love") and more. Niece of the legendary Nancy Wilson, the classically trained Sessoms also ventures the plaintive and lyrical original "Dreaming of a Boy," co-written with Parks — "a piece I wrote about realizing my son was growing up." she explains.
"In our work together, Chris [Parks] and I have done a lot of moving around from rock to soul to jazz," Sessoms observes. "But I think the underlying thread is it's all kind of funky or it leans toward soul. Our first project was a rock record with a band called Vivid, a nod to my favorite band Living Colour, but even that had a kind of funk-rock vibe. We have radically different ideas about production sometimes — it's like a poker game, ‘If you do this, I'll do that.' But somehow it works for us!"
Shedrick Mitchell's arranging role on LIFE also proved decisive. "I've known Shedrick a long time, before I knew Chris even," Sessoms says, "and he's on my previous album "Sunny One Day" (2007). I had all these ideas in my head and Chris suggested bringing him in as a good fit. All I can say is - he brought the magic!" Indeed, listen to his and Sessoms' treatments of Billy Strayhorn's iconic "Lush Life," which enters a completely new harmonic zone and rhythmic feel while never losing connection to the meaning and intent of the original. The appended vamp outro, titled "Love Sick," features some of Sessoms' most inspired singing on the album. Across the board, arranging is one of LIFE's key strengths: Dave Archer and Sessoms work similar magic with the Porter classic "I've Got You Under My Skin," and Mitchell endows Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman/Where Were You When I Needed You" with a beautiful, flowing waltz feel and unexpected deviations in the form. "You could say that this fits nicely in the genre of jazz, but in the words of Nicholas Payton - it's Black Music," notes Vivian when discussing the mastery involved in producing LIFE. She continues, "If you're familiar with my previous releases, I think you can see a natural progression." Vivian Sessoms, with her unerring pitch and dynamism, conjures captivating moods and melodic departures on every song, in ways that couldn't suit the music better. These elements sum up so much of what is special about LIFE in its risk-taking and endlessly resourceful spirit.
As a young girl from from a rich musical pedigree, Sessoms expressed the sense of her presence in history, and as she began to seek career opportunities and landed a gig with the great Ryuichi Sakamoto; it was an experience that would match a vast musical curiosity with her talent. As an ethno-musiciologist, Sakamoto introduced Sessoms (singing in Japanese) to a unique perspective: rather than expanding out from the root, begin from a classical background and add multicultural styles elements. It is exactly this approach that brings LIFE – into perspective. The roots are there in powerful form, and yet a worldly, diverse, and universal aspect is presented in every arrangement and composition Of LIFE, Vivian offers, "Ultimately, I think the album tells a story of Black life in America. It takes the temperature of civil rights and race; tackles themes of pain and loss and also the restorative power and beauty of falling in love."
Vivian Sessoms' work has landed her on renown stages at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall,The Beacon Theatre, The Apollo Theatre, Irving Plaza, The Knitting Factory, Bowery Ballroom, Highline Ballroom, Joe's Pub and many more. She has performed, written and or produced dozens of jingles, has toured internationally and made TV appearances on The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View, The Wendy Williams Show, Soul Train, The MTV Awards, MTV Unplugged and many more.
Vivian and her band are currently on a world tour in support of LIFE.
Vivian Sessoms discusses the making of her latest musical offering LIFE, including the players, the writing and the production of the record.
High-resolution press pictures. Click on an image to download the high-resolution version.
«…The central focus, of course, was Vivian Sessoms, and what an amazing voice she possesses. She has a very wide range and remarkable control, from breathy whispers to a powerful roar. Every number is transformed into something new and very personal, particularly an unbelievable version of Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit. From Duke Ellington's composer/arranger, Billy Strayhorn, to pop music, she injects new life, emotional value, and excitement.…» — Barry Lenny • Broadway World
«…Her new album is ‘LIFE’ with brilliant new arrangements on classic songs and standards. …» – JazzFM
«…Her fresh take on “Lush Life” is another amazing add to this collection – it is easily the best version of the Billy Strayhorn classic I’ve heard since Donna Summer‘s Quincy Jones-produced interpretation from 1982. Here again, many singers would have struggled with the word “too” which Vivian easily bends and stretches and floats around with, with Rhodes and brass/string arrangements just adding a lot of urgency and immediacy, turning the outro into something highly mesmerizing. …» – GINA LOVES JAZZ - Matthias Kirsch
«…And Sentimental breezes by with a slightly bossa nova-ish, '60s French movie feel and features an exquisite vocal by Vivian Sessoms. …» – ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE - Aidin Vaziri
«…On this album, Sessoms' clear, exquisite voice (which has backed Patti Austin, P-Diddy and Rob Thomas) shimmers against a percolating R&B/jazz backdrop …» – BILLBOARD MAGAZINE - Gail Mitchell
«…Finally bowing as artists in their own right, the team took their sweet time to craft a profoundly impressive debut, crafting a project so polished yet effortless sounding, it's as if it bonds to your DNA and defies you to stop playing it. As addictive as Pinkberry, Sunny One Day is a fortified confection of spell-casting tracks and layered vocals laced through universally relatable musings and snapshots of love and life. …» – URBAN NETWORK - A Scott Galloway
«…Vivian led with dynamics that would turn on a coin, powered then pp. Sometimes you feel delirious with the strength of the emotions; not once I felt goosebumps. Totally apt with demanding masterpieces like Billy Strayhorn and political paens like Nina Simone and Billy Holiday's racial lament for all time. The voice of '60s R&B and beyond: cultured and resolute, too often knowing and forlorn, and the essence of internationalised American popular music. Worthy of the big stage; available in intimacy. This is what we chase, these precious moments available if you keep your eyes open to passing opportunities. Fabulous. …» – CANBERRAjazz.net - Eric Pozza
feat. inspired reworks of the enduring classics:
"See Line Woman"
"No Greater Love"
"Under My Skin"
Watch the "Strange Fruit" Video
"LIFE" tells the story of Black life in America. It takes the temperature of civil rights and race: tackles themes of pain and loss and also the restorative power of love."
Album Chart Highlights
*Top 15 iTunes Jazz Album char
*A-Listed at Jazz FM
*Top 100 Jazz Week
*Top 10 Most Added week on release
Selections from "Life" are being featured internatinally on outlets such as:
Jazz FM's Folded Space and Trans-Atlantic Jazz
Jazz After Hours + Jaz on PRI
The WMFT Network
Jazz Variations Radio
Jazz wrapped a two month tour of Australia featuring
Perth Melbourne Balgowlah Heights Newtown
The Wangaratta Jazz Festival in Victoria
Canberra. Capital Territory Brisbane
Auckland. New Zealand
The Pace Report: "Living A Vocalist's Life"
The Vivian Sessoms Interview