I’ve always loved the layered, bittersweet, slightly dissonant chords that jazz music is known for. The versatility of the genre is a definite draw, as well; the realm of jazz encompasses anything from smooth, enigmatic laments to the vivacious, danceable improvisation of bebop.
But it’s not only in the traditional umbrella of sounds we call “jazz” that its influences are found. Jazz is to the world of modern music as the moon is to the tides; the effect it has might not be immediately obvious, but its influence is consistently present if one knows where to look.
One of the best examples of this is the emerging genre of jazz-hop, the fusion of jazz and hip-hop. It can be categorized as just 'hip-hop' or even 'lo-fi', but the incorporation of distinctive jazz instruments, sounds, and chord progressions sets it apart. Jazz-hop has enjoyed more widespread popularity recently as relaxing study music, and indeed, that’s how I discovered it. But do a bit of digging and you'll quickly discover just how easily jazz-hop can follow you out of the library and onto the dance floor.
Traditional jazz is often known for its hi-hat drum ‘ride’ patterns, but jazz-hop takes the smoothness of the saxophone and piano and pairs it with the deep, satisfying beats and dexterous rap lines of hip-hop. It attracts well-rounded musicians and producers who are able to fluidly switch between different styles. In Canada, one of these musicians is Anthony Rinaldi.
Based in Toronto, Rinaldi is a U of T Jazz alum, saxophonist, vocalist, and producer. His latest release, The Infinite Sky, draws musically on jazz-hop, and lyrically on themes of space and time (via a love of sci-fi). It also currently has the highest number of plays of any album on our new releases! Our DJs listen to massive volumes of music and come from many different musical backgrounds, so that's truly a testament to just how good of an album it is.
With that in mind, I reached out to the artist himself to learn more about the album our hosts appreciate so much. All systems go - it's time to launch right into The Infinite Sky!
How did you first get your start in music? How did you start playing the saxophone?
My first instrument was the piano, which I started taking lessons on when I was 5. My piano teacher was a very open-minded teacher and in addition to learning all of the essential basics like scales/finger positions we worked on repertoire from a wide variety of genres including pop, classical and jazz songs on the instrument. I started playing alto saxophone in grade 6 which I loved immediately, followed by switching to baritone sax in grade 7 and then getting into tenor towards the end of high school.
What made you interested in the jazz/hip-hop fusion style of The Infinite Sky? Are there any particular jazz-hop artists that influenced you?
I went to the University of Toronto for Jazz Performance and although primarily formally trained in Jazz, I have always enjoyed playing a wide variety of genres including hip-hop. I first started playing hip-hop shows sitting in with the group The Extremities (Andrew Kilgour and Shaun Ryan) back in 2009, which was my first chance to fuse jazz and hip-hop in a live setting which is something I really enjoyed doing. Some jazz-hop artists/albums that have been very influential are Steve Coleman (such as his album The Way of the Cipher), Soweto Kinch (Conversations with the Unseen) and Kenny Garrett's appearance on Q-Tip's record 'Kamaal the Abstract'. I was also inspired to make this record in part by hearing all of the interesting horn arranging and solo-ing on Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly'.
Listen: The Infinite Sky by Anthony Rinaldi
Can you describe your songwriting process?
The process for writing songs for this album started with me getting together with my long-time collaborator Andrew Kilgour (aka Fresh Kils) who is a multi Juno nominated producer, engineer, beat maker and live MPC player. We got together and listened to a bunch of his beats that might work well and then narrowed it down to about 6 or 7 that laid the foundation for the tracks. I then took these beats and made arrangements of them, writing lyrics, horn parts and playing solos while also thinking about what guest artists I wanted to have on the album. Next, I would bring this material back to Andrew Kilgour and in addition to engineering the album would provide me with his feedback and helped to finesse the tracks.
I went to the University of Toronto for Jazz Performance and although primarily formally trained in Jazz, I have always enjoyed playing a wide variety of genres including hip-hop.
There are consistent references to both outer space and the concept of time in the album artwork and song titles. What drew you to these themes?
I have always had an interest in space since I was a kid, reading a lot of sci-fi books and always being fascinated by looking up at the night sky. The references to time in the lyrics on the album are a reflection of my awareness I had a few years ago of just how fast it flies by, while also acknowledging that we don't have forever to achieve what we want to.
The album cover artwork itself is a very SciFi-esque collage; did you have any inspirations for that visual style? How did your vision for the artwork connect to your vision for the music?
I have been a fan of Larry Carlson's artwork for a very long time and always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to use his artwork one day for an album cover. Since the music itself ended up having a very spacey, psychedelic vibe to it after recording it all I knew immediately when I was looking through his artwork that the image I chose was the right one to reflect what was on the album. Also, I have always been a 'busy' player on the saxophone and used a lot of effects during the recording process that ties in well to the abundance of interesting/strange things in the artwork.
The references to time in the lyrics on the album are a reflection of my awareness I had a few years ago of just how fast it flies by, while also acknowledging that we don't have forever to achieve what we want to.
There are many guest collaborations on The Infinite Sky. What do you personally enjoy most about collaborating with other musicians?
From the initial planning stages of this album, I knew that I wanted to bring in as many talented friends of mine as possible to contribute to the music. The 12 guest artists are all musicians that I have performed or toured with in the past in a variety of different groups/genres.
I love working with different artists since each person has a unique approach and brings something different to the table when they play. I had these musicians in mind when writing melodies and lyrics for the different tracks, visualizing how they personally would sound and crafting lines for them that would bring out what I like most about their sound/tone/vibe, etc.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians looking to build their network and meet other collaborators?
It can be difficult establishing a network and finding other like-minded musicians who are on the same page as you. It's all about meeting and hanging out with as many people as you can, as well as playing in as many different scenes of music as you can. For me, the two best things that helped with that were joining the Toronto All Star Big Band when I was still in high school and then going on to study music in University. In both situations, I got to meet so many hard working, focused people and most of the gigs I do these days (and a lot of my friends) have ties back to these experiences.
I love working with different artists since each person has a unique approach and brings something different to the table when they play.
You also worked on production for the album. What would you say characterizes your style as a producer?
This was my first foray into the production side of things and was a great learning process, figuring out how I wanted to turn all of these ideas I had in my head into something concrete. I have a significant amount of experience playing many styles of music including jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul, rock, metal, experimental etc., all of which I actively can draw from as a producer. I also had the opportunity to work with legendary producer George Massenburg (Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire) on two full-length rock albums with my former rock group Urban Preacher. We collaborated on writing horn parts and I learned so much from him about his recording process and what makes a song work, which was an invaluable experience.
Do you have a favourite memory from working on this album or performing it live?
I really enjoyed the intense mixing sessions that Andrew and I had. There is so much going on in terms of layers of sound with several of the songs, so it was really fun to chisel away at the balance of things and really hear some parts shine, little by little.
Any particular plans for future projects? Do you have any other musical genres you’re curious about or would like to explore?
I am active in a variety of genres and would like to make a follow up album that is in a similar vein but much easier to pull off live. With 14 musicians on the album, several of which are from Halifax (and me being based in Toronto) it is quite hard to try and pull off shows/tours of the album live and do it justice. I picture a trio/quartet-sized group for my next original project, whatever it ends up specifically looking like in terms of instrumentation.
That’s some great advice for building a network of like-minded musicians, for sure! The aspect of community is, without a doubt, a major theme in the making of The Infinite Sky, and that’s something we always love to see in the music scene. Add a dash of sci-fi in there, and you have a perfect (solar) storm of an album.
Jazz-hop is definitely one of the most sonically intriguing fusion genres out there, where the classic feel of jazz blends with the modernity of hip-hop. Whether you're a long-time fan or a jazz-hop initiate, make this album the next stop on your journey through the shining depths of Canadian music.