Austin-based Guitarist, Composer & Producer Mitch Watkins & Vocalist Dianne Donovan Unite to Create a Space-Funky ‘ChillJazz’ Bop from Debut Album, Back to the Light
In the vast ocean of sound, the artists that rise to the top usually ride a wave of their own unique voice and innovation. Enter eclectic jazz duo The AltoRays, who continue to carve their own exciting improvisational path with the third groovy single from their debut album Back to the Light, “The Hop” – check it out on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZUEXOinjno
With a super funky, percolating bass line, driving, snappy percussion, tasty horn and keyboard hits and improv vocal scats, “The Hop” is a total groove mood and a time trip that zooms back to the swingin’ ‘60s and forward to the future at the same time.
Listen on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/album/1xNb8B2jml0m7WPtGVroVg
“It’s a groovin’ dance mixed with layered vocals, sleek guitar riffs and off-the wall improv,” describes Mitch Watkins, Austin-based guitarist, composer and producer and one-half of The AltoRays.
Once again, Watkins and his duo partner, Montréal-born and now Austin-based vocalist Dianne Donovan, have combined their hunger for exploration, experimentation and mad scientist motivation to create a fresh approach and feel to a genre with deep roots and tradition. The duo refers to the eight unconventional and highly collaborative songs on Back to the Light as creating a new genre category called ‘ChillJazz.’
“It took a pandemic!” Watkins says, giving silver-lining credit to the two-year, global health crisis for allowing him and Donovan enough time in their schedules to finally create their long-planned duo album, Back to the Light, released in November 2021.
“The music is unlike anything either of us have done before,” notes Watkins. “Instead of straight-ahead jazz, we explored every music form that has ever influenced us from Steely Dan to Weather Report, to Philip Glass to groove, R & B and pop.”
Collaborating in what they fondly call ‘Pent-Up House,’ Watkins and Donovan found the great flow of creativity to be unstoppable.
“There was something truly magical about those late-night sessions,” recalls Watkins. “The spirit was uninhibited, and we’d try anything and everything.”
“The Hop” is perfectly representative of those late-night, anything and everything sessions and has a video to visually underline it all. “The psychedelic video reflects pop of the ’60’s in more innocent times.” The video, by E. Buschek, uses visualizer and analog visuals.
Donovan’s vocals on “The Hop” and all throughout Back to the Light are wordless, improvisational and melodically textured creating their own song within a song.
“This is the freest I’ve ever been as a vocalist,” says Donovan. “I got to explore the multi ranges of my voice and the textures, from an all-hummed tune to all-whispered singing, to animal sounds.”
In addition to Donovan’s vocals and the instrumentation provided by Watkins, drummer Tom Brechtlein (Wayne Shorter, Robben Ford, Al Dimeola), pianist Sean Giddings (Christopher Cross) saxophonist Rob Lockart (Arturo Sandoval, Terence Trent D’Arby, Paul Anka) and percussionist, Dr. Tom Burritt also contributed their significant talents to the recording.
As the duo at the creative core of The AltoRays, Watkins and Donovan both have deep wells of experience to draw from.
McAllen, Texas-born Watkins has performed all over the world highlighted by four tours with Leonard Cohen, including Cohen’s final tour. He was a member of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band for eleven years and has performed with Jerry Jeff Walker, Barry Wallace, and numerous others. The Austin Jazz Society Hall of Fame member has released 5 solo albums and has produced albums for the likes of Abra Moore, Bob Schneider, and Jerry Jeff Walker.
An Austinite by way of Montréal and Edmonton, Dianne Donovan started out as a background vocalist for Moe Berg’s facecrime, a precursor band to The Pursuit of Happiness, while she was studying jazz. She went on to sing at some of North America’s most prestigious venues with Gary Guthma’s Tribute to Harry James show and has been featured on numerous radio and television shows including “Tommy Banks Jazz”. Donovan’s first album Yes and No was produced by the great Canadian jazz icon, Banks. A second solo album A Musing garnered great reviews from the likes of Wayne Arthurson of Vue Weekly, saying it has “songs that are the epitome of smooth, sensuous jazz, offering solace but leaving behind a lingering simmer.” Now making Austin her home, Donovan can be heard performing with her own combos and as one third of the vocal jazz trio, The Beat Divas.
In addition to creating music, Donovan spins it on the airwaves. She’s an accomplished daily radio show host and producer of “Classical Austin” for KFMA Radio. Additionally, she currently produces a weekly vocal jazz show, “Voices in Jazz” for CKUA Radio in Edmonton, interviewing a variety of jazz greats from Bobby McFerrin to Shirley Horn.
All that varied experience adds up to enough seasoned know-how to be able to jump into the musical kitchen with all the best ingredients for The AltoRays. Now serving…their latest smooth, joyful, and danceable swig of ChillJazz.