Management: Stacy James (844) 782 2926 | firstname.lastname@example.org
PR: Tom Estey 508-451-5246 | TJE6464@aol.com
New Album - "Stereotype Threat"
Release Date: Friday, September 14, 2017
FKAjazz - tenor saxophone (all), vocals (tracks 3, 4 & 7)
Marcus Machado - guitar (tracks 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Lez Lemon - electric bass (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 8 & 9)
Julian Litwack - guitar (tracks 1, 3 & 4)
JSWISS - vocals (tracks 2 & 5)
Justin Swiney - drums (tracks 8 & 9)
Noah MacNeil - rhodes (track 4)
Fred Thomas - vocals (track 1)
Compositions, Production & Mixing by Samir Zarif aka FKAjazz
Mastering by Joe Lampert Mastering
Photo & Album Art design by Luke Midgley
*FKAjazz uses Ableton Live and Universal Audio hardware & software for production and mixing.
FKAJAZZ - STEREOTYPE THREAT
by Jonathan Widran
With the release of his new album Stereotype Threat under the bold, fresh artistic identity FKAjazz (formerly known as…), NYC based saxophonist Samir Zarif lays the dynamic groundwork for the possibilities of what jazz is for his generation and provides a vision for what the cherished American art form can be moving forward. With a freewheeling energy driven by the still simmering melting pot of influences that drive his musical passion – traditional jazz, R&B and hip-hop – the full length collection is the culmination of a multi-faceted journey that transcends easy definitions. It’s always evolving with a sense of grooving and improvisational wonder and discovery.
Stylistically, Stereotype Threat is several worlds and hundreds of ultra-cool beats away from the multi-talented composer/musician’s 2010 debut Starting Point, which was released under his real name. That album featured musical snapshots he had been workshopping on the bandstand with The Story, the progressive, free jazz band with whom he had been touring. Performed with members of that group, the collection mostly featured odd metered material, but the final song “Keep the Faith” had an electronica vibe, a rock-flavored backbeat and Zarif on vocals. He developed this side of his artistry further when he joined forces with producer Brian Lindgren in 2011, and formed the electronic music production duo Pax Humana – which released the full length albums A Matter of Heart (2012) and A New Frontier (2014). His desire to expand to creative endeavors beyond jazz also led to his being commissioned to score a collection of short films by trans-media artist Donna Cameron, which were later presented and distributed by The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
One of FKAjazz’s contemporary inspirations is Grammy winning pianist and producer Robert Glasper, a fellow Houston native who attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) some years before the saxophonist. He and Glasper are blazing similar paths while remaining distinctive in their individuality and style.
“I’ve always looked to him as an older brother, because while the music he makes is different in a lot of ways from what I’m doing, in essence we’re coming from the same place, creating music that draws from jazz but is more the culmination of Black American music, a mix of old and new with a major hip-hop element. Because I grew up listening to music like A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots and Jazzy Jeff, that music is as much a part of my life as jazz. The goal is to take music beyond hip-hop, beyond jazz and create a whole new vibe from all of these influences.”
This desire to transcend easy genre boxes and categorizations inspired FKAjazz to create the perfect album moniker Stereotype Threat, whose opening track of the same name creates a unique generational crosscurrent by pairing the artist’s powerful sax melody with the spoken words of longtime James Brown bassist/vocalist Fred Thomas. “The phrase ‘Stereotype Threat’ literally means the fear of being reduced to a negative stereotype,” Zarif says, “and that fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you don’t disrupt that way of thinking. It was the perfect title because of my many influences. As I was developing this sound, my worst fear was being labeled as ‘the next saxophonist that plays like every other saxophonist.’ It was something I had to overcome internally in order to finally understand how to be true to myself.”
“I’m always veering left to some degree,” he adds, “and I wanted to make sure that the tracking of the album was thoughtful and told a story from track to track even in its diversity. I wanted to tell a story from start to finish, while at the same time have each track encapsulate an aspect of my life. There’s the fear of being stereotyped and the need to overcome that, the fear of being in love again and the urgency to overcome that, the fear of not knowing my direction in life, among other themes. The overall story comes from the discovery of who I am, the journey of being able to take away all the layers of my experience and get to the core of myself as an artist.”
While providing a powerhouse platform for FKAjazz’s tenor sax, Stereotype Threat is also a showcase for his skills as a composer, producer and mixer. After creating the foundation of the tracks, he pieced together incredible contributions from his high level cohorts in NYC’s jazz scene, including guitarist Marcus Machado, electric bassist Lez Lemon, guitarist Julian Litwack, drummer Justin Swiney and keyboardist Noah MacNeil. Also featured is the high impact rap lyricism of JSWISS on “No Way To Go” and “Storytime Interlude.”
Highlights include the “Hard Times” intro that leads into “Brighter Days,” a tandem reflecting the importance of a measured optimism that understands that obstacles are opportunities to grow and learn from; “Angel Cake,” which began as a remake of D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” before FKAjazz flipped guitarist Marcus Machado’s guitar riffs to create a whole new celestial treasure; and “Wander as I Wonder,” whose title riffs on Langston Hughes’ autobiography “I Wonder as I Wander” and which addresses the challenges of deep relationships – and the importance of having a commitment that helps overcome them. The title of the moody and deeply grooving “F.A.F.” came from an Instagram fan’s spirited, off color declaration that the track was “Fly as F***.”
A musical wunderkind from the get-go, Zarif was raised by a mother who was an accomplished piano and vocal teacher and widow to an alto saxophonist that played in the Duke Ellington Band in the 70s. His Philly born father spent his formative years in Brooklyn as an accountant for both Malcolm X and the original Nathan’s Hot Dogs in Coney Island. Zarif played violin in elementary school, violin and sax in middle school, and was the principal saxophonist at HSPVA and Willowridge High school. He later moved to New Orleans to study jazz performance and composition at the University of New Orleans with trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard. While in New Orleans, he performed with Jason Marsalis, Aaron Neville, Nicholas Payton, and Jill Scott. After graduating from UNO, he moved to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music as a grad student of Jazz Studies and Saxophone Performance.
Immersing himself into the NYC music scene, Zarif became a renowned recording and touring saxophonist for many notable artists and bands, including the Grammy Nominated Miguel Zenon's Identities Big Band, The Story, Soulful Symphony, Chrisette Michele and Hans Glawischnig Jahira Trio. He has performed at world-renowned venues, halls and festivals such as Carnegie Hall (NYC), Blue Note (NYC), North Sea Jazz Fest (Rotterdam), Newport Jazz Fest (Newport, RI) , and Bimhuis (Amsterdam).
Zarif’s emergence as FKAjazz and his unique perspective on the distinctly American art form has prompted him to reflect on the meaning of jazz, its development over the last century, and its influence on other styles of music. “Before jazz, there wasn’t such a thing as American music really,” he says. “There was nothing that truly defined our culture as Americans as clear and true to its spirit as jazz. It was the first complete melting pot of music that shaped who we are as people, what we represent and the possibilities unique to our country. Everything else that followed, from rock & roll to hip hop, are the children and grandchildren of jazz music.”
“Likewise,” Zarif adds, “jazz is traditionally an art form rooted in the concept of creating something new on top of the old, of rebirth or reimagining. We saw with John Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’ or Miles Davis’ ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ a clear understanding of what the jazz tradition is. And we see it today with hip hop’s approach to sampling and remixing. Being a jazz musician for a large portion of my life, then periodically shifting to the EDM and hip-hop scene as a producer and DJ allowed me to see not only how jazz has influenced popular music today, but also how much pop music today has influenced and altered my trajectory as an artist.”
FKAjazz in Reviews
JAZZED MAGAZINE REVIEW
BY CHRISTIAN WISSMULLER
Originally from Houston, Texas, tenor and soprano saxophonist Samir Zarif first began catching the attention of many when he moved to New Orleans, where he performed often with the likes of Ellis Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, and the Jason Marsalis Quintet.
A move to NYC in the early aughts saw Zarif attending the Manhattan School of Music and performing with The Paislies and, later, The Story. With 2011 came his first album as a leader, Starting Point, a disc that showcased his talents as a songwriter and passion for alternative and electronic music genres.
With the release of his newest album, Stereotype Threat, Zarif unveiled his new artistic identity, FKAjazz (FKA = formerly known as), moving jazz forward even further into new and exciting territories, incorporating elements of hip hop, traditional jazz, R&B, and other musical forms.
“The phrase ‘Stereotype Threat’ literally means the fear of being reduced to a negative stereotype,” Zarif explains. “It was the perfect title because of my influences. As I was developing this sound, my worst fear was being labeled as, ‘The next saxophonist [who] plays like every other saxophonist.’”
Published Oct 2017
O'S PLACE REVIEW
by D. Oscar & Heide Groomes
"Stereotype Threat" Review: Riveting, electronic, club beats dominate the landscape of Stereotype Threat, the latest release from saxophonist FKAjazz (aka Samir Zarif). The band is composed of Lez Lemon (b), Julian Litwack (g), Justin Swiney (d), Noah MacNeil (keyboards, b, vocalist) and FKAjazz with several guest artists sprinkled through the set. JSWISS adds rap on "No Way To Go" and "Storytime Interlude". Marcus Machado (g) makes his presence known on two selections notably "Angel Cake" including Lez Lemon (b). It's a solid, funky, dance party.
Published Sept 2017
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
"...On his forthcoming release 'Stereotype Threat', the triple threat Musician/Producer/Writer doesn't disappoint. This is clearly a man on a mission. He takes traditional jazz and twists into a force that is uniquely his own. He fearlessly plays with precision and a passion that takes you on a musical journey like no other. As promised, there is Greatness here."
Published Sept 2017
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Mark F. Turner
Among the many new voices with something unique to say, Texas-born saxophonist Samir Zarif's Starting Point is as fresh a debut as they come. A member of the internationally acclaimed group The Story—whose names include rising stars, pianist John Escreet and saxophonist Lars Dietrich—Zarif also contributed to singer Maria Neckam's memorable Deeper (Sunnyside, 2010). In both cases, his horn has been impressive, but leading and composing his own release is a real opportunity for the saxophonist to shine... read full article
THE URBAN FLUX
Out of the box, Zarif’s steadfast approach to display not only great talent but reveal his unique character and skills to score fluid yet off measured sounds which intertwine seamlessly in the fabric of the global landscape. With that said, what we have here is the versatile artist who is undeniably focused and willing to valiantly explore the possibilities as he merges his distinguish voice into the fold with “STARTING POINT.” read full article
by Nick Bewsey
Like many of his contemporaries, Texas-born saxophonist/vocalist Samir Zarif isn’t boxed in by tradition, which makes his splendidly realized debut recording, Start- ing Point, something to talk about. Zarif programs his recording like a suite, and it’s clear that he finds sonic quality to be as vital as rhythm and harmony, and the album unfolds with an engaging purpose. A meticulous musician with a gifted ear for composition, much of the album reaches for Trane-like highs with reverential tunes (“Dancing In The Garden Of Dead Roses”) and sinewy horn solos (“Letter To The Brothers”). But his “jazz beyond jazz” approach works best on “Fear and Deceptions,” opening the door for punchy bass notes by Zack Lober and crisp backbeats courtesy of drummers Greg Ritchie and Colin Stranahan. Zarif expertly fuses poetry slam performance art (“The Old Man’s Box”) with spacey pop electronics (“Keep The Faith”) and steps out with a remarkable vocal duet with Maria Neckam on “This Life,” a song that wears the sensitive textures of a Nick Drake tune.
Published May 2011
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Dan Bilawsky
Saxophonist Samir Zarif has experienced a wide cross section of the cultural landscape of the United States. Zarif grew up in Texas, spent his college years learning and performing in New Orleans, and then traveled north to New York for his studies at the Manhattan School of Music. While all of this isn't necessarily remarkable for a budding musician to take in, these experiences contrast sharply with the aural images that Zarif presents on Starting Point... read full article
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Raul D'Gama Rose
Zarif is a horn player who brings a searching soulfulness to both soprano and tenor saxophones. There is an almost inaudible vibrato in his playing as he makes deep and searing forays into the after world of spiritualism. In this respect, he directly follows the John Coltrane of later years. But Zarif is a singular voice as well. His tone is somewhat dry, and his ponderous journeys into the realm of harmonic invention are characterized by the gilt-edged glide of broad glissandos. Moreover, his playing assumes an almost cubist personality as he brings a statuesque, Zen-like imagery to the exploratory phrases and lines that pepper his musical excursions, especially when he employs his own voice to narrate his lyric poetry and when he slides in the electronics... read full article
by Shuhei Hayashi
photos by Luke Midgley