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San Gabriel 7 with Sinne Eeg

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    Posted: 16 May 2022 at 7:26pm
The SAN GABRIEL 7 is a progressive funk band presenting all original music, formed in 2006. A prolific and inventive recording ensemble, the band’s 11th and newest album, UNDER THE STARS (released April 1, 2022), continues their unique approach to creating projects by featuring Danish singing sensation SINNE EEG.
The group was formed by JIM LEWIS, a trombonist and a spacecraft engineer who works at JPL, the federally funded research and development center managed for NASA by Caltech, located in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. Lewis formed the first iteration of SG7 with a few of the talented musicians/scientists from JPL and Caltech. Today, the band comprises some of the top professional jazz musicians from Southern California. With Lewis still at the helm, the SG7 features tight horns, a first-rate rhythm section and exciting arrangements. Jazz journalist Scott Yanow says, “Throughout its existence, the San Gabriel 7 has always been funky, versatile, and creative. Sometimes the group’s ensembles have sounded a bit like a big band, or perhaps a little like Tower of Power, a rock group or bop septet. In all cases, the San Gabriel 7’s musical personality shines through.”
During the first couple of years, the band played mostly straight-ahead standards with a mix of other styles, but soon after 9/11, Lewis, who was in the National Guard, was deployed to Afghanistan as a Special Forces Team Leader, and he asked DAVE CUSHMAN to lead the SG7 in his absence.
Cushman is a creative composer and arranger. He brought his original charts and compositions to the band, imbuing their sound with a funky edge. As the original band members moved on, Cushman also began to make personnel changes, bringing in more professional musicians. When Lewis finally returned after spending 18 months in Afghanistan, he loved the band’s new direction. Cushman has been the sole arranger for the group ever since.
Lewis also began to engage some of the finest jazz musicians in the country to perform and record with the band as guest artists. The list of talent that has worked with SG7 over the years is impressive and includes such stellar players as Andy Martin, Bruce Lofgren, Steve Huffsteter, Pete Christlieb, and Eric Marienthal, to name just a few. Lewis was a student of the late trombone legend Bill Watrous, and the two became friends. Watrous became a supporter of the band and appeared on several SG7 recordings.
The musicians on UNDER THE STARS feature regular band members, each of whom has a long list of professional credits playing with some of the biggest names in the music business. The rhythm section is made up of CHAD EDWARDS on keyboards and Hammond B3, CHRIS GORDON on piano (who also produced the album), STEVE GREGORY on guitar, JONATHAN PINTOFF on bass, RANDY DRAKE on drums, and SCOTT BREADMAN on percussion. The horn section is KYE PALMER on trumpet and flugelhorn, GLEN BERGER on saxes, flute, oboe and English horn, JIM LEWIS on trombone, ALEX BUDMAN on saxes, flute and clarinets, and DAVE HOLBEN on tuba.
 Lewis also decided to take the band down two different paths for their recordings. The first is producing all instrumental albums featuring Cushman’s arrangements. The other path features vocalists. Lewis is especially fond of singer/songwriters, and he decided to make albums presenting some of his favorite vocalists. However, rather than hire a singer to perform the band’s music, the band performs the music chosen by the singer, whether they are originals or just part of the singer’s repertoire. Cushman arranges almost all the music.
The band’s first foray into vocal music was with the 2012 release of Lost My Heart, featuring the popular Australian singer, Ingrid James. The album received critical acclaim and was a hit for James in Australia. They followed it up with Red Dress, featuring Femi Knight (2020), Time to Stay, featuring Andrea Miller in 2020, and Sneakin’ Up on Love, featuring Katie Campbell (2021).
Sinne Eeg, the featured vocalist on UNDER THE STARS, is considered the preeminent jazz vocalist in Scandinavia. She’s the recipient of numerous awards, including the Danish Music Award, which she won for Best Danish Jazz Vocal Album of the Year four times in 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2015, for her albums Waiting for DawnDon't Be So BlueFace the Music and Eeg-Fonnesbæk. She’s also the first vocalist to receive the Ben Webster Prize France’s prestigious Prix du Jazz, awarded by France’s Academie du Jazz, plus The Queen Ingrid Honorary Grant, bestowed to her directly from the queen of Denmark. Eeg makes regular trips to the U.S., garnering fans and performing in major venues across the country. She has recorded a dozen albums to date. Downbeat Magazine’s 4.5-star review said, “The Danish jazz singer, an established star in Europe, checks all the boxes: burnished tone, perfect intonation, swing, unerring taste, and an adventurous streak. She is a complete musician who, remarkably, also has a gift for interpreting lyrics in a natural, conversational way.”
Eeg is not only a brilliant vocalist; she is also a great songwriter. Her talent for writing and composing won the prestigious Danish Carl Prize 2018. The compositions on this album reflect Eeg’s out-of-the-box writing style. “Much of my composing is melody driven. I might write something with a bar missing or an extra bar. I just like to keep in the flow of the melody. A song may wind up with a tricky mixed meter, but it usually makes sense because the melody makes sense.”
The eclectic music shows the breadth of Eeg’s writing talents. The opening song, “Rocket Blues,” is a 13 bar, wordless song written to be a part of the horn section. “I’m in the Mood for Love” is a jazz waltz. “The Barista” is about having a crush on a guy who makes coffee. “Under the Stars” is a contemporary bossa nova influenced by Nordic jazz. “Getting Along with Love” has a dance feel and features background vocals by Andrea Miller, Fletcher Sheridan, and Trist Curless. “The Festival” is a celebratory song inspired by Brazilian music, while “What About Love” has an R&B/gospel flavor. “I’m Feeling’ Good” is a ballad, as is ““Never Let You Go, although it is in 12/8 with a 50’s vibe. And “Hymn” is another wordless vocal piece featuring the horns minus the rhythm section.
The San Gabriel 7 attracts so many talented guest artists because they are a high energy band of top-notch players. Presenting albums with the music chosen or written by vocalists is certainly rare, if not unique in the jazz world, but the results are eminently alluring. And any album featuring the singing and writing of the multi-talented Sinne Eeg is bound to be an eleven on a scale of one-to-ten.
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UNDER THE STARS was released on April 1, 2022 and is available everywhere.
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