REVIEWS OF BANDZILLA RISES!!! from the world's press, blogs and music loving journalists !
Composer, arranger, guitarist and producer, Richard Niles' "Bandzilla Rises" CD according to drummer, Danny Gottlieb, "is a masterpiece of contemporary music that the music world needs now more than ever". Sporting fourteen distinctive originals by Niles (both music and lyrics) it includes titles like LA Existential and Stone Jungle to Tip for a Toreador and The 5th Elephant. Don't even ask about making sense of the titles or interpreting the lyrics, etc as being an arranger myself there is not enough that I can enthuse about of the writing and performing aspects of this recording. Quite complex and sophisticated throughout yet accessible and sending a very positive message with no shortage of wit and blindingly stupendous instrumental soloing and craftwork.
Niles, whose impressive CV and pedigree precedes him, spent a forty year career in the UK writing and producing such artists as popsters Swing Out Sister, The Pet Shop Boys, and Sir Paul McCartney to jazz legends like Pat Metheny and Ray Charles. Probably, for my money, the most eclectic and versatile collaborator with leading artists from so many genres that I can think of.
His first Bandzilla recording was released in 1987 and what a welcome (and overdue) follow up this is indeed. Having relocated back the LA in 2012 the current Bandzilla incorporates soloists and singers from both sides of the pond. These include Brit blowers like Steve Hamilton, Nigel Hitchcock, Mark Nightingale and Ian Palmer: singers, Kim Chandler and Daisy Chute to icons like Randy Brecker, Leo Sayer, Lamont Dozier Jr and Paola Vera
(for crying out loud..).
As it appears, that there is overdubbing and layering the puzzle together over an ocean in gradual stages over a period of time one doesn't get the sense of a concerted ensemble playing together on each piece as was the case on the 1987 "Blue Movie" release. The important point though being that "Bandzilla Rises" is still Richard Niles, through and through- sounding fully complete and homogenised delivering his unique sound and message to the listener.
As longtime colleague and friend, Pat Metheny (Rich studied with him at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1974) says on the liner note "You are the one and only you, Richard, and you've done it again here!" Here, hear, indeed and lets hope that Bandzilla will rise again and again and hows about a live tour in the UK at some stage for starters? Wouldn't that be a treat.
Come back, little Richard, come back and play for us.
Frank Griffith - London Jazz
9 x Grammy nominated saxophone star DAVE KOZ played a BANDZILLA track on his Serius XM show,
The Dave Koz Lounge... and he said,
There’s a new band on the scene. Bandzilla. The album BANDZILLA RISES!!! is an unparalleled music event. It’s the brainchild of a true original by the name of Richard Niles. Richard sent me the record and I fell in love with it. It’s music that defies description, a 25-piece jazz-fusion orchestra. This track, “Live As One” features the UK sax sensation Nigel Hitchcock. Lots of testosterone on this track! And when you listen to the album, that’s what you’re overwhelmed with – it’s got a lot of MIGHT – a lot of power! Very unusual and very different! That’s why I’m making it my Great Collaborations pick for this show!”
“With a purposeful grimace and a wonderful sound, friendly fiends do the demon dance to reel you, and some unusual suspects, in.
A conglomerate of studio musos bent on having fun, this band – led by Richard Niles whose talents elicited praise from Paul McCartney and Pat Metheny: a sign of the composer’s reach – finally deliver their long-playing blow. Structured like a theatrical performance, the album may seem to channel the P-Funk kind of reckless madness, yet there’s a method to it that sprawls from the repetitive embrace of ‘Live As One’ across the entire record – brass blaring and bristling with humor.
It ain’t no problem here to namecheck Proust or a Marx brother in a fusion context or taking the piss out of jazz pretenders, although the concept emerging from the grooves is quite serious. While this tight-but-loose ensemble jive is bent on a bass-burst extravaganza, Niles’ bark and Kim Chandler’s silky vocals express the tension of our times on ‘Why Is This World So Strange”’ which could reflect the band’s underpinnings if it didn’t chime with what’s going on on the outside.
This is why, perhaps, harmonies behind ‘You Can’t Get There From Here’ require trumpet high kicks and well-grounded vocal lines of Randy Brecker in order to question claustrophobia of the house on the hill or in city streets whose ‘70s-smelling soulful beats contrast the gloomy lyrics of ‘Stone Jungle’ – showered by Steve Hamiltons vibes in the same way his piano skittles sprinkle ‘This World Is Mine’ that sees Leo Sayer accept reclusive existence.
Even so, darkness doesn’t dwell on tracks lie ‘The 5th Elephant’ where reeds cradle the leader’s lazy-in-the-sun guitar licks. And Lamont Dozier’s silky inflections on bluesy pastiche ‘Love Don’t Mean A Thing’ can’t help bringing a smile to the listener’s lips.. and do they deliberately make ‘wrechedness’ sound like ‘Richard Niles’?
Celestial a cappela kicking off ‘Tip For A Toreador’ seals the piece’s Spanish drama before it’s fully unfurled to embrace Saracen magic and military march, and stresses the album’s unified eclecticism.
It’s a festival of sorts, so rise on and get on the rhythm.”
Dimitry M. Epstein, LET IT ROCK – Canadian rock blog.
“BANDZILLA sounds like they drank from the waters of Tower of Power and Sons of Champlin. Composer Richard Niles brings together a wide ranging band that includes vocalists Randy Brecker, Leo Sayer, Baskerville Jones, Lamont Dozier Jr among others, as well as Brecker on trumpet and a swinging rhythm section teamed with a popping horn section.
The team is peppy on the funky “Live As One” and Brecker belts out “You Can’t Get There From Here.” Kim Chandler sings on the reggae “LA Existential” and the team gets into its inner Earth Wind and Fire on ”This World Is Mine” and “The 5th Elephant” with Nigel Hitchcock’s alto sax solo. The team gets into a soulful mood with Niles’ guitar and Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska’s voice on “Talkin’ In Whispers”. A Spanish choir melds with Daisy Chute and Clarice Assad on a gorgeous “Tip For A Toreador.”
BANDZILLA is hip to the bone!”
George W. Harris – Jazz Weekly
“Richard Niles and BANDZILLA give us killer jazz fusion that just plain rocks. It's like pure jazz blended with some serious funk, humor and rock and roll… incredibly strange, it's also very cool. Parts of it are pure jazz. Other things get into some pretty bizarre musical territory… part Frank Zappa and just a bit on the weird side.”
This is a weird little opening section with strange sound effects and a spoken vocal introduction.
Live as One
This comes in with some serious funk. I can make out some Parliament in the mix along with Frank Zappa and more. It's like pure jazz blended with some humor and rock and roll. It's a real powerhouse tune.
You Can't Get There from Here
Featuring Randy Brecker, this is a bit more of a serious jazz number. Still there is a lot of rock in the mix. It also has a great funk groove to it.
This one is incredibly strange. It's also very cool. Parts of it are pure jazz. Other things get into some pretty bizarre musical territory, progressive rock& reggae.
This World Is Mine
Here we find ourselves set a lot more in a rock vein. In a lot of ways this makes me think of Steely Dan. That's a compliment of the highest order coming from me. Featuring popstar Leo Sayer.
Compassion's in Fashion
Funk and jazz drive this thing in great ways. This is an instrumental, in contrast to the previous cuts. It's much more pure jazz (or perhaps fusion), too.
This thing is a powerhouse funk meets jazz and rock tune. It's such a cool groove.
The 5th Elephant
Another instrumental, this is killer fusion.
The Alligator from West 15th
Here we get a stomper that's part jazz, part Frank Zappa and just a bit on the weird side.
Love Don't Mean a Thing
This is a very bluesy cut that's pretty much pure soul/jazz sung by Lamont Dozier Jr.
Welcome to My World
A mellower motif starts this ballad in pure fusion territory.
Talkin' in Whispers
I like the melodic jazz on this a lot. Somehow it reminds me just a bit of Prince for some reason. There is some great fusion in the instrumental work.
Tip for a Toreador
There is a real trippy element to this. I love the vocal arrangement. There is a playful kind of feeling on this thing. It's a great cut. There is some unusual world music stuff later that takes it in a completely different direction.
Why Is This World so Strange?
If you can imagine Frank Zappa working with Barenaked Ladies, you are probably picturing something that sounds a lot like this. Niles sings with some weird modern processing. It's more of a rock song than a lot of the rest, but there is still plenty of fusion here.
G. W. Hill – Music Street Journal
"A surprising album with an odd cover and a weird name – that’s the strange universe of guitarist/composer/arranger Richard Niles. Niles is a jazz artist respected by many in pop, including such luminaries as Paul McCartney and Pat Metheny. Niles has also worked with an impressive list of world famous artists including Ray Charles, Tina Turner, James Brown, Mariah Carey and Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys and Michael McDonald.
Here Niles continues the tradition of the jazz bigband with a muti-colored sound of funk, soul and Latin music. There are also echoes of artists such as The Jackson 5, Earth Wind & Fire and Starsky and Hutch! Niles shimmering compositions and arrangements are performed by a host of some 24 musicians and singers including co-producer John Thirkell, Randy Brecker, Nigel Hitchcock, Mark Nightingale, Steve Hamilton, Lamont Dozier Jr., Clarice Assad, Daisy Chute and Paola Vera.
We are indeed at the crossroads of funk, soul, jazz and disco with a jump in the unknown towards something indefinable. After the initial surprise, the listener cannot help being impressed by the intense level of musicianship – the growling bass, the psychedelic guitar, the vocal harmonies. Niles’ music is indeed a great tribute to the whole history of popular music, great musical currents crossing freely.
Niles is a gifted designer who has created a truly modern big band.
Most importantly, what must be said is: this record swings and grooves to death!"
Review: Translated from Music In Belgium/ Published on 16-01-2017 /
"You're in for a funky jazz experience of a lifetime. Produced by composer Richard Niles and trumpet star John Thirkell (Uptown Funk) features jazz icon Randy Brecker, popstar Leo Sayer, Daisy Chute (All Angels), vocal virtuoso Kim Chandler, Brazilian singer Clarice Assad, Polish chanteuse Julia Zuzanna, soul man Lamont Dozier Jr. and some of the greatest players on earth, Bandzilla Rises!!! is one of the most adventurous-sounding albums that I think I have ever heard - and yet everything works to a tee. Well played, Richard Niles. Well played, Sir!"
"Those of you who read the small print on record sleeves may know that Bandzilla was led by
Richard Niles and that the 25-piece jazz-fusion orchestra was originally formed in the studio to play on
the Grace Jones track Slave To The Rhythm.
That’s not the kind of band that you can keep on retainer although they have recorded with the likes of Ray Charles, Kylie Minogue, Mariah Carey, Michael McDonald, Cher and Tina Turner amongst many others over the years. But finally Mr. Niles has managed to get a Bandzilla record together and the
17-piece band and 9 vocalists have put together a fantastic set of jazz fusion.
Coming along for the ride are folk like Randy Brecker (The Brecker Brothers), Leo Sayer, Lamont Dozier Jr., Daisy Chute (from All Angels) and a stellar cast of musicians. Yes, it’s very seventies oriented in its fusion approach but the stylings of You Can’t Get There From Here, L.A. Existential and Why Is This World So Strange? will make fusion fans moist with enjoyment. If it’s your bag, then this is essential."
“Well musos, here's a long over due second record to make you stop your bitching about how vapid everything has become. A crew of 25 pros led by Richard Niles that originally got together to play ton Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm" and have since been the backing band of choice by everyone - they gather here to bring the funk, and everything else, in top shelf style. Maybe busman's holiday, maybe something time and tide won't give the space it really needs, you could call this thinking man's pop music but it provides heat for the feet with loads of bounce to the ounce as well.
Killer stuff throughout.”
REVIEW by Neville Farmer
There’s a lot of uncharted territory in the jazzlands between Duke Ellington and Funkadelic, Weather Report and George Benson, Miles Davis and Tower Of Power. The territory of orchestral jazz is fertile, diverse and dangerous. Big band cats are expensive, unwieldy and rebellious. The leader must either waves huge wads of cash at them or they must love him for his music.
Many great musicians love Dr. Richard Niles, the monster-mind behind Bandzilla. He grew up as the Mowgli of the jazz jungle, setting out on his own to understand the way music mingles, jars, fights and fugues. He knew no fear and no boundaries and he drew the great to him.
Over 40 years, he’s written, produced and arranged for pop royalty like Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, James Brown and Michael McDonald. He’s worked in jazz with with Bob James, John Patitucci, Bob Mintzer and Pat Metheny who called Niles, “one of the best composer/arrangers around”.
He has occasionally stuck his head above the canopy, releasing intimate guitar records of his own and creating the beast that is Bandzilla. In the two decades since that monster was first unleashed with an album Blue Movies, the band recorded and performed with Paul McCartney, Pet Shop Boys, Deniece Williams and Ray Charles. Then Bandzilla retired to its lair, and Niles returned from exile in the U.K. to his sunny California roots.
But he couldn’t contain the beast inside him. Bandzilla has risen.
Niles has written, arranged, conducted, played and produced an album that steers well clear of the sap-sucking quicksand popular music has stumbled into. Bandzilla Rises!!! bestrides the drought-ridden airwaves of music like a conquering hero. Indeed, Niles’ cohort of talented friends are all heroes. Jazz icon Randy Brecker and soul legend Lamont Dozier Jr., Nigel Hitchcock (Incognito) and Daisy Chute (All Angels), co-producer John Thirkell and popstar Leo Sayer – all armed to the teeth and each one a jazz gladiator.
Bandzilla Rises!!! may not appear subtle at first. Brass stabs and strident rhythms, sneering, teasing yet subversive lyrics and viral bass lines stampede at you from the first note. It ducks and weaves across the musical spectrum. It snaps at your ears.
But it fools you.
The exuberance of the music disguises Niles’ inner rage at world affairs and world un-fairs - the dysfunctionality of it all. There are touches of Gospel, Guthrie and Gaye in the driving protest song “Live As One” (a paraphrase of the gospel classic “Then I Shall Live” and Lennon’s “Imagine”). Niles lashes out at the lavish in the funky “You Can’t Get There From Here” sung by Randy Brecker. There are survival guides to city living in the groove of “Stone Jungle” and the reggae bebop of “LA Existential”. Niles laments on love in the gentle “Talking In Whispers” and the comedy retro-soul of “Love Don’t Mean A Thing”.
There’s the bitter lounge jazz of Paola Vera’s sultry “Welcome To My World”. Echoes of Chick Corea add spice to the epic “Tip For A Toreador”, sung by Daisy Chute. “The Alligator From West 15th” is a twisted tale of an ageing jazz hipster, a duet between Niles and smoky chanteuse Julia Sokolowska. Vocal virtuoso Kim Chandler’s breathtaking harmonies enrich Niles’ wit-riddled wordplay. Little wonder this flock of funky felines were so keen to sing his stories and investigate the mysteries of his tunes.
This is a work of incredible complexity, disguised with the catchy guile and slick licks of some of the world’s best players. The record is awash with Niles’ grinning impudence, both musical and verbal. It sucks up the legacy of the hippest jazz, flavors it with the finest funk and washes it down with technological twists and turns brought back from the future. It’s fearless. It’s intellectually, physically and emotionally stimulating. And it’s monstrous fun.
Refresh yourself from the songwriting-by-committee, auto-tuned gruel the record industry is feeding us. Soak up some mental adrenalin. Niles might be a vegetarian, but Bandzilla Rises!!! is mighty meaty music and you’ll need to wear a bib to feast on it.
Neville Farmer is a journalist, songwriter and screenwriter based in London. email@example.com
If you’re in need of some funky fun with plenty of horn action and positive vibes, then you should check out the latest CD from Bandzilla,Bandzilla Rises!!! Things are tough out there these days. But Bandzilla will help, no question about it. Bandzilla is a funky jazz orchestra led by guitarist and composer Richard Niles, and this album offers plenty of different avenues leading away from the ugliness of our country. The group features several singers (including Leo Sayer), as well as some great horn players, and several of these tracks have something of a theatrical element. All tracks were written and arranged by Richard Niles.
Bandzilla Rises!!! gets funky with “Live As One,” which features Kim Chandler sharing vocal duties with Richard Niles. Nigel Hitchcock delivers some wonderful stuff on alto saxophone, and this track also features a good bass line. This one is full of bright, positive vibes. “I am waiting for the day/When we all can live as one.” Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, but music certainly helps.
That’s followed by “You Can’t Get There From Here,” one of my favorite tracks. “You’re an important man/With all your nasty crimes/And while you’re running the country/You’re in the New York Times/But who are you now?” Oh yes, I love this. Obviously, it seems to be about Donald Trump, but from what I can gather, it’s not about him specifically, but about those of his ilk (it was written in 2015). Still, this song is really working for me right about now. Plus, it boasts some great work on horns. I’m totally digging this song. Randy Brecker both sings and provides that excellent lead on trumpet on this one. Kim Chandler also sings on this track.
And then on “L.A. Existential,” one thing that really stands out is Richard Niles’ work on guitar. This tune goes in some unexpected and delightful directions. It is a mix of big band jazz sounds and funk, and with the heart of a friendly maniac from on high who passes out magic lollipops and sprinkles pixie dust on the hills in order to grow a menagerie of fanciful creatures. And there is a cool drum solo by Ian Palmer. And who had thought you would want to dance to someone singing “I can’t take this angst, mixed with dark despair”? Yes, this track is another of the disc’s highlights.
“This World Is Mine” has a bluesy edge, particularly in the guitar work. Leo Sayer (yes, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”) and Kim Chandler share lead vocal duties on this one. “I don’t swallow one damn thing on the 9 o’clock news” is a line that I would have appreciated even more last year. But now, with Trump’s constant claims of “fake news,” I find myself siding with the news organizations. It’s a case of appreciating anything that Donald Trump despises or disparages. But before this, I had lost faith in most news (particularly television news), because investigative journalism seemed to have become a thing of the past, and broadcasters were simply repeating whatever nonsense they were told. But I’m hoping, what with the current horror, that investigative journalism is on the rise once again. We certainly need it. As Leo Sayer sings in this song, “I can’t think of one politician that I’d endorse.” But what I really love about this song is that trombone lead by Mark Nightingale partway through. I also seriously dig that section with piano (that’s Steve Hamilton on piano).
There are a couple of instrumental tracks on this disc. “Compassion’s In Fashion” has something of a smooth jazz vibe, and then partway through, it gets a bit funkier. This track features some nice work by Nigel Hitchcock on alto saxophone. “The 5th Elephant” (composed just a few years after the release of the movie The Fifth Element) is the other instrumental track. The overall vibe is sort of in the smooth jazz realm too, but it has some delightful touches to keep things interesting.
“The Alligator From West 15th” begins like a big sexy number, and I expect some voluptuous chick with a feather boa to step into my room. And yeah, I’m a bit disappointed that one doesn’t. But no worries, because then the female vocals come in, and that’s just as good. That’s Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska on the female lead vocals (Richard Niles provides the male lead vocals). There is certainly something theatrical about this number, and it does get a bit silly at moments. The lyrics about Twitter and Myspace throw me a bit, as this song seems to come from another time, an earlier time. But this is a totally enjoyable tune, and I absolutely love the horns. Mark Nightingale is on trombone, and John Thirkell is on trumpet. That’s followed by another delightful number, “Love Don’t Mean A Thing,” which also has something of a theatrical vibe and a sense of humor, and features Lamont Dozier Jr. on vocals.
“Tip For A Toreador” is an interesting track, particularly in the vocals. I love the opening, as well as that strange vocal section halfway through. Wonderful. Bandzilla then concludes the album with “Why Is This World So Strange?” Of course, there’s just no answer to that question. “It isn’t just that everything seems really so deliberately wrong/It isn’t just that every time I try to write a letter it comes out like a song/But no one seems to care/Ants devour anteaters who’ve fallen asleep.”
Michael Doherty's Music Log
REVIEW from rootstime.be (BELGIUM)
Richard Niles is a jazz composer, arranger and conductor of a 25-strong jazz/fusion formation called BANDZILLA. It was established in 1986 to play in the recording studio on the legendary song" Slave To The Rhythm " by Grace Jones. BANDZILLA has performed with other big stars such as Kylie Minogue, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Ray Charles, Cher, Tina Turner and Paul McCartney.
BANDZILLA’s first album "Blue Movies" was enthusiastically received by the press in 1987. After several appearances as a backing band of international musicians, 30 years later, BANDZILLA rises again!!!
Original Bandzilla trumpet player John Thirkell and Richard Niles teamed up to produce fourteen new tracks recorded in London, New York, Scotland, France, Spain and Australia. They were joined by a selection of world stars of pop, rock, soul and jazz.
Kim Chandler is an Australian singer well known for her session work with The Bee Gees, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Michael Bolton and Björk.
Randy Brecker is the premier American jazz trumpeter known both for his own group The Brecker Brothers and for his studio work with Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, Dire Straits and Lou Reed.
Baskerville Jones is a soul diva breaking into the scene in Los Angeles.
Clarice Assad is a Brazilian-American composer, pianist and singer of pop and jazz.
Leo Sayer - yes, the little British curly haired singer – is known for his 70s & 80s hits like hits like One Man Band, When I Need You, and You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.
Lamont Dozier Jr. is a gifted soul, gospel and jazz singer, the son of 'Motown' legend Lamont Dozier Sr. who together with Eddie Holland and Brian Holland wrote dozens of hits for 'Motown'
After a somewhat mysterious introduction, the real work begins with the song Live As One (see video), sung by Kim Chandler and Richard Niles and a saxophone solo by Nigel Hitchcock (Tom Jones Incognito and Mark Knopfler). Then the sound gets funky with You Can’t Get There From Here with vocals by Kim Chandler and Randy Brecker. Leo Sayer and Kim Chandler then sing the more rocky This World Is Mine.
Compassion's In Fashion and The 5th Elephant are entirely instrumental jazz numbers featuring Nigel Hitchcock. For us, the highlights of this album are Lamont Dozier Jr.’s very soulful gospel sound on
Love Don’t Mean A Thing and the Brazilian rhythms of Tip For A Toreador
with Daisy Chute, Kim Chandler and Clarice Assad doing amazing vocal work.
BANDZILLA RISES !!! A masterpiece by Richard Niles for lovers of great soul, jazz and funk music.
Translated from French review in HIGHLANDS MAGAZINE 084
BANDZILLA, (not to be confused with GODZILLA) is a conglomerate of studio musicians who, between sessions, come together for fun. The leader is Richard NILES, composer, arranger and guitarist. They met when Grace JONES 'SLAVE TO THE RYTHM was recorded in 1985. Since then they have recorded with PAUL Mc CARTNEY, Ray CHARLES, James BROWN, Kylie MINOGUE, PET SHOP BOYS, Tina TURNER and Pat METHENY who, moreover, considers Richard NILES “one of the best composer/arrangers”.
An incredible array of 24 musicians play saxophones, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, a real big band. There are renowned jazzmen like John THIRKELL, trumpet who played with Buddy RICH, GIL EVANS, LEVEL 42, and more recently Bruno MARS. Nigel HITCHCOCK, played saxophone with Tom JONES, WET WET, Ray CHARLES and Mark KNOPFLER. Mark NIGHTINGALE is on trombone, having distinguished himself with STING among others. Steve HAMILTON on keyboards, works with Billy COBHAM.
Singers include Leo SAYER, the well-known English pop icon. Randy BRECKER (Michael's brother) also sings. Lamont DOZIER JR. is the son of the legendary Motown songwriter/producer. Also present, Daisy CHUTE of ALL ANGELS.
This is modern jazz in many shimmering colors, yet still in the great tradition of American big bands. Among the many vocal tracks are two instrumentals both featuring the alto sax of Nigel HITCHCOCK: “Compassion's In Fashion” (featuring marimbas and piano) and “The 5 Elephant” (Brazilian jazz). “Tip For Toreador” sung by Daisy CHUTE has a Spanish influence. “Stone Jungle” turns to hot funk. Leo Sayer lends his rocky voice on “This World Is Mine” (and how!).
Richard NILES is very present on the guitar, and vocals. Each singer has been well chosen according to the song to be interpreted, especially the 50s rock and soul vocals of Lamont DOZIER JR on “Love Don’t Mean A Thing”.
BANDZILLA is not traditional jazz, rather a mix of jazz from the ‘50s and funk from the ‘70s. We hear influences from Chick COREA to The BRECKER BROTHERS. This is music for soul lovers. jazzy funksters, trumpet and saxophone lovers, funky guitar lovers. BANDZILLA, simply monstrous! J-Pierre SCHRICKE
Review in JAZZ JAPAN by Mari Ochai "RICHARD NILES' KOOL COLOSSUS"
The jazz orchestra project "Richard Niles Kool Colossus" is the work of composer/ arranger Niles who continues to be active having started his career in the 1970's. Regardless of the many genres of music here, it is all an expression of “attitude with emotion".
Niles is a sensitive producer/arranger/composer who worked on big hit songs for Swing Out Sister “Breakout”, Grace Jones “Slave to the Rhythm” and Pet Shop Boys 'Go West'. He has recorded and performed with his fusion project BANDZILLA since 1986. It is co-produced with Niles’ long-time colleague John Thirkell, trumpet player for such names as Buddy Rich and Bruno Mars. I look forward to Richard Niles performing in Japan this year.
I interviewed Niles about his new release in Japan.
What was the concept behind Richard Niles’ Kool Colossus?
My music was described in a recent review as “eclectic but unified”. What the reviewer mean was that although there are many stylistic influences, the album is “unified” by my own approach to those styles. I see no difference between styles. All art forms are a means of self-expression. Each one is another musical element to work with in a way that expresses my attitude and emotion.
I have worked in pop (Paul McCartney, Pet Shop Boys), R&B (James Brown, Deniece Williams), jazz (Pat Metheny, Randy Brecker) and even classical music (Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa). I approach all of them from MY point of view. With each composition, I am saying to the audience, “Here is what I think about this subject.” I have many subjects I care passionately about, both musically and lyrically. Much of today’s music sounds the same. But I grew up in a time when artists had their own identity and their own agenda. There is an artistic imperative for an artist to express their own world-view. While I am doing that, I also want to both entertain and challenge the listener. Writing for a large ensemble gives me a varied palette to paint many colors.
How is the Kool Colossus connected to Bandzilla Rises!!!?
My band, BANDZILLA was formed after I included a big band in my arrangements for Grace Jones’ Slave To The Rhythm record. British jazz trumpet star Guy Barker had been asking me for years to form my own big band and I made a deal with him that if he would set up the gigs, I would write the music. The band was featured for 10 weeks on a British TV series and we played many concerts over the next years. We performed and recorded with Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Michael McDonald, Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue and Jane Monheit.
A big band is an expensive luxury and eventually it became too impractical to continue. Then, last year, my friend John Thirkell offered to help me do a new album. John was in the original BANDZILLA and has played on many of my records for the last 40 years! He recently did the brass for “Uptown Funk”.
When Pony Canyon offered to release the record in Japan there was a legal problem. The company that owns the copyright on the name “Godzilla” is known to be very litigious. Although they did not contact us, we decided to avoid any possible problem by not using the name “Bandzilla” in Japan. Even though GODZILLA is a fictional dinosaur-like movie monster, and BANDZILLA is a 25-piece jazz ensemble, we agreed to change the name of the band, for Japan, to Richard Niles’ Kool Colossus. The japanese album is also different because there are extra tracks.
The album starts with Live As One. It’s a very powerful tune for the beginning of the album.
Why did you choose this song to start the album?
Many of the songs on the album have a strong element of social commentary. This song is a plea for a world where we can all ‘live as one’, regardless of race, creed or nationality. The only hope for the future is to realize that we are all brothers and sisters, all human beings facing the same problems. Although it is a cliché, it is nevertheless true that love is the answer to our problems.
Today’s political environment shows that the horrors of World War II have not been banished. As long as we have politicians eager to promote prejudice, division, jingoistic nationalism, we are in danger.
War only benefits the politicians, bankers and arms dealers. I discuss them in my song "You Can’t Get There From Here". I am saying to them, you cannot get to peace and happiness by satisfying your greed.
All the songs are written and arranged by you, except Stone Jungle and Scream & Holler.
How was co-writing with Deniece Williams and Phil Spalding?
Deniece Williams is one of my favorite singers of all time. We wrote a musical together in the 90s called Follow Your Dream. Stone Jungle was a song from that musical where the heroine sings about the pressures of living in a big city. I’ve worked in Tokyo four times in the early 90s with the artist Silje (we had a #1 record in Japan, "Tell Me Where You’re Going").
I’ve also lived in London, New York, LA and Boston. So I know what people are going through.
Phil Spalding is a British bass player well-known for working with Mick Jagger, Elton John and Roger Taylor. We became great friends in London and had a lot of fun in the studio. We wrote four songs for the Ray Charles album "Strong Love Affair". "Scream & Holler" was a song that Ray loved but never got a chance to record because he passed away in 1994.
Great singers like Kim Chandler, Randy Brecker, Leo Sayer, Baskerville Jones, Lamont Dozier Jr., Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska, Daisy Chute, Paola Vera, Clarice Assad, Yukiko Haneda and yourself are involved here.
How did you choose the vocalists? Did you have certain artists in mind when writing songs?
I always wanted to use Kim Chandler because she is a vocal phenomenon. One of the top session singers and vocal coaches in London, she can sing anything! The other singers were chosen for each song because I hear a certain kind of voice when I write. I am very lucky to have this amazing pool of talent.
How do you work in the studio when you create an album?
In the ‘old days’ I would just write a score, bring the parts into the studio and record the track live. That’s impractical in these financially troubled times. Now, I write a score for each composition using a program called Sibelius. I then transfer that score to Logic Audio Pro using midi sounds. I then record my guitar parts first. I then replace all the midi sounds with real players. I do the drums and bass, keyboards and vocals here. Some of the musicians record in their own studios and send me the recorded files. Sometimes I will ‘produce’ their performance long distance using Skype or Facebook Instant Message. This album was recorded in Australia, London, Scotland, L.A. and France.
Yukiko Haneda is featured in Talkin‘ In Whispers. Why did you feature a Japanese version as well?
I met Yukiko in the 1980s, introduced by our mutual friend Uri Gellar. She is a wonderful singer and actress, and a lovely person to work with. So when Pony Canyon offered to release the record, I thought it would be my way of saying ‘thank you’ to the Japanese people. When I had a hit in Japan in 1990 with "Tell Me Where You’re Going", Silje (now known as Silje Nergaard) was very popular in Kyoto. We loved the beauty of Kyoto and performed at the Heian Shrine. We wrote a song Kyoto Wind for the station and Silje recorded a Japanese lyric for Tell Me Where You’re Going which was played a lot on Japanese radio. Yukiko wrote a beautiful Japanese lyric for Talkin’ In Whispers.
Is there any song that stands out to you? What’s your own favourite music?
I don’t want to single out any one song. My ideal music is performed by committed artists who have the talent and courage to be unique.
You are from very creative family. How did your upbringing affect your musicianship?
My father Tony Romano was a singer, songwriter and guitarist who worked with Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. My stepfather, Jesse Lasky Jr. was a poet, playwright and screenwriter who wrote ober 60 films, including The Ten Commandments. My mother, Pat Silver-Lasky is and actress, author and screenwriter. That background gave me a deep love of music, language and storytelling.
You studied in Berklee in the 70s with Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs and Herb Pomeroy. How did the university years affect you as a musician?
Studying with those masters gave me a unique insight into what I call “the methodology of genius”. Those years gave me a methodology, a system to create effective and heartfelt music. I was inspired by my teacher’s courage to break new creative ground.
What is your next project?
I hope my next project will be a Japanese tour! We want to make contact with Japanese music promoters.
I look forward to bringing our music and our spirit to your rich and beautiful creative culture.
Japanese jazz magazine interview by Yumi Kudo
Your latest album, THIS WORLD IS MINE is fun to listen to, especially for people like me who grew up listening music in the 70s & 80s. why did you name the album THIS WORLD IS MINE? Is there a philosophy or specific concept behind this album?
One of my favorite quotes is, “Without Art, we would die of reality.” (Friedrich Nietzsche). The song is about how I feel as an artist in a world ruled by the ‘reality’ of greed and selfishness, where money is more important than morality, where “the end justifies the means”. I am sure most artists feel the same.
Art is a way to create an alternative, ideal world, a utopia of my own design. In a world where corruption is rewarded and what is perceived as the truth is decided by those in power, the artist has no choice but to retreat into a private world where none but the true of heart can enter.
The line “the truth is true” is a paraphrase of one of my other favorite sayings, “The truth does not require you or I to believe it, in order for it to still be true”. So although “believing does not make it true”, equally, the truth you believe in will set you free. The artist knows that the so-called ‘real world’ of politics and banking will never understand the message of creativity, love and peace.
The artist says,
“this world is mine
you’re not livin’ in my world
And I’m not livin’ in your world
So leave me alone”
So the artist makes the so-called ‘real world’ “invisible”, and lives in a mental state of artistic purity, love and spiritual fulfillment.
By the way, I feel especially happy to have the great Leo Sayer singing this song. I was his Musical Director back in 1976 and it is a pleasure to be working together again. He is a passionate campaigner for the environment and many other good causes.
What is the meaning of 'Kool Colossus'?
To tell the truth, we were concerned that there might be some legal objection to the original name of the band, Bandzilla. So to avoid that possibility we decided to change the name. In English, it is common jazz slang to refer to a great musician as a ‘monster’. Godzilla was a big monster. Bandzilla is a monster band. It was a little joke. For the Grace Jones album “Slave To The Rhythm” producer Trevor Horn called my band “The Big Beat Colossus”. For the Japanese release I called it the Kool Colossus because it was so ‘kool’ to have a release in Japan!
Tell me about the first album of BANDZILLA, 29 years ago!
The first album “Blue Movies” was released in 1990. The concept was to bring the big band into contemporary music. This was never a nostalgia project to emulate the music of the 1940s. The ‘true artist’ is never content to merely reproduce what has been done before. There is an imperative to break new ground, to explore (as Miles Davis called it) “new directions in music”. So, on “Blue Movies” I had the drummer play electronic drums to have a very contemporary sound. The brilliant keyboard player Peter John Vetesse played a variety of synthesizers and sound effects. My brass writing is quite distinctive – very sharp, powerful and funky. All this made the record sound unlike any previous big band. That album is still exciting today. Most of the compositions are mine but I included two hit songs I had arranged, “Breakout” (Swing Out Sister) and “Slave To The Rhythm” (Grace Jones).
Introduce us to the new Kool Colossus album.
Large ensemble music is expensive. There are many musicians, studios and engineers to pay. After a long successful career in London working primarily on other people’s music, I decided it was time to concentrate on my own music. From the beginning I considered myself a composer and songwriter. So I moved to Southern California and began to write what I loved, not what I was paid to write.
Each song on the album is important to me. Each song has a message. “You Can’t Get There From Here” is a song to the politicians and bankers who have led our planet to the brink of disaster.
“Live As One” is a plea for racial equality. It is incredible to me that even now in the 21st Century our world is so ignorant to still be ruled by racial prejudice, religious hatred and nationalism. Why can’t we all live as one? We are all human beings who have to face our own mortality. When do we forget how precious every human life is? How precious every moment is? Where do we forget to love and learn hatred, selfishness, cruelty and fear?
“Why Is This World So Strange” is a humorous way of looking at the same thing. As you’ve noticed , there is a LOT of humor on this album. Because, when things are bad, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying!
Other songs have a more personal rather than a political/social message. All artists are storytellers and there are some interesting stories here. “The Alligator From West 15th” is about a young girl who meets a fascinating old jazz musician in a club. “Tip For a Toreador” is about a girl who meets a famous bullfighter who’s greatest desire is to own a restaurant.
How did you select musicians and how did you make this album? How long did it take and where did you record?
This record was made possible by my co-producer John Thirkell. He was in the original Bandzilla and he offered to help me make this new record. He is an incredible trumpet player who has played ‘jazz chair’ with Buddy Rich and played on many hit pop records, such as “Uptown Funk” for Bruno Mars.
The record was recorded between 2015 and 2016. I recorded the rhythm section and the trumpets and saxophones at my home studio in California. I also recorded my vocals and Lamont Dozier Jr. here. John recorded Mark Nightingale on trombone in London. Steve Hamilton recorded his keyboards in Scotland. Randy Brecker recorded at his home studio in New York. (Randy is one of my favorite musicians of all time and a great inspiration to me.) Nigel Hitchcock recorded his saxophone solos at his home studio as did his wife Tini Thomsen on baritone sax. Kim Chandler, Clarice Assad and Daisy Chute recorded at their home studios in Spain, Chicago and Scotland. Leo Sayer recorded his vocals in Australia. Baskerville Jones recorded her vocals at the studio of Michael Parlett who mixed the album.
As a special ‘thanks’ to our Japanese fans, I recorded a special version of my song “Talkin’ In Whispers”. The Japanese singer and actress Yukiko Haneda wrote a Japanese lyric and recorded her vocal at my studio.
I chose every singer and musician in the same way that a director would cast a film role. I feel SO grateful that all these musicians gave me their incredible talent.
Did you release this album under your own name because you wrote and arranged all the songs?
I co-wrote 2 of the songs. I love the songs and never got a chance to release them. They are both sung by the dynamic and soulful Baskerville Jones. I wrote “Scream & Holler” with Phil Spalding. I had written 3 songs with him recorded by Ray Charles on his “Strong Love Affair” album. I wrote “Stone Jungle” with the great Deniece Williams for a musical we wrote in the 1990s.
I released the album under my name because I wrote and arranged and conducted and produced all the music. The ‘world’ of this album is indeed mine!
Your latest album is like a kaleidscope of colorful music with many styles.
There are many genres of music represented here. But as many reviewers have said, it all sounds like one album, “unified” by my own particular approach to composition, songwriting and arranging.
Why did you take a big band approach to this music?
I have written for large ensembles throughout my career. With such a varied palette you can paint fascinating pictures. Writing for a small band is like Japanese Suimi-e painting. Writing for a big band is like Salvador Dali!
You have been produced, arranged and written so many hit songs ... Can you share some secrets? How can you make music appeal to the public?
In my book “The Invisible Artist” (available from Amazon) I reveal the techniques of arranging used by some of the greatest arrangers of pop hits. Arrangers are the unsung heroes of pop. They got a lot of credit in jazz, but they rarely were mentioned in pop. I have learned so much from analyzing the work of the great writers who have gone before me. As a lyricist I learned from Lorenz Hart and Bob Dylan. As an arranger I learned from great artists such as Jesse Stone and Arif Mardin and Paul Riser and Jeremy Lubbock. I have assimilated all I’ve learned from teachers and by transcribing and learning from records. I use all these concepts and mix them up in my own way to say what I want to say more clearly.
I have contributed to hits such as “Breakout” (Swing Out Sister), “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” (Tears For Fears) and many hits for The Pet Shop Boys, Take That, Westlife etc. Each group required different concepts. You can read about this in more detail in my book, “The Invisible Artist”.
The biggest secret is to make the song better and make the singer sound great!
How do you balance between popularity and artistry in music?
Many years ago the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hurst said to my stepfather, Jesse Lasky Jr. “Young man. If you want to live in the masses, write for the classes. If you want to live in the classes, write for the masses.” Throughout my life I have balanced my commercial writing to earn a living and my artistic writing to feed my soul. Some musicians do both. Some only concentrate on one. I think Oscar Wilde said it best. When he was asked, “What is the most important thing an artist must have?” Wilde answered instantly, “An unearned income!”
You have been a “behind the scenes” man. How do you find this position? Is it satisfying? You didn't want to be a star yourself?
If I hire a gardener or a plumber, I expect them to please me with their work. If someone hires me to produce or arrange or write music for them, I want to do my very best to please them. In order to do that, to be part of a production team, you have to, as Quincy Jones says, “leave your ego at the door” and serve the needs of the project. I have worked in pop with Paul McCartney, jazz with Pat Metheny, rock with Cher and even classical music with Kiri Te Kanawa. I can work in any style of music because I serve the artist, not myself. And people have been hiring me consistently since 1975 because I can do that, working to a strict deadline and budget.
At the same time, I have something personal to say. So I have consistently done my own projects throughout my career. I have 2 solo albums as a guitarist, “Santa Rita” and “Club Deranged”. I have two jazz-fusion large ensemble projects, Bandzilla nd the Kool Colossus. I have discovered and recorded three artists, Clive Griffin, Silje Nergaard and (Korean singer) Younee. I perform regularly. I have done gigs under my own name constantly.
Any last comments on this project?
I am really looking forward to coming to Japan to perform with the Kool Colossus. We are looking for the right business partner to make this happen. I guarantee when we do, it will be the most exciting multi-media extravaganza ever seen in Japan. On the other hand, if we can’t finance the big show, I would also be happy to play with a small band in some of your great Japanese jazz clubs. I can guarantee show that combines groove, grace and style!
German Review: ECLIPSE MAGAZINE (October 2017)
Richard Niles’ BANDZILLA“BANDZILLA RISES!!!”
Pat Metheny is full of praise for the skills of his former student Richard Niles who made a name for himself for his work in london as arranger for Cat Stevens, The Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. For Grace Jones’ cult hit “Slave To The Rhythm”, Niles formed his big band, BANDZILLA. Their first album “Blue Movies” appeared in 1989 and we have had to wait 30 years for its successor, “BANDZILLA RISES!!!”
Niles now presents himself as a composer who has bathed in the waters of Tower Of Power and Steely Dan. The brass section play with a jagged precision and enough bite to never be considered mere background. Star performances come from Leo Sayer (vocal) Randy Brecker (voc. Trumpet) and Nigel Hitchcock (sax). Top Track: L.A. Existential.