Real & Imagined Music • February 8, 2019 Release • R&I-006
By Jason S. Dennis
If not for trumpeter John D’earth, Kait Dunton might never have become a professional musician. So it’s only appropriate that her sixth album, Planet D’earth, is both a collaboration with and a musical letter of gratitude to the man who changed the trajectory of her life. “This record with John is a special thing,” Dunton says. “It’s not just another album. It’s a bigger story. A bigger meaning.”
Dunton met D’earth in 2001 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She’d been playing piano for 15 years but had no sense of turning her love of music into a career. Still, the Spanish major found her way into D’earth’s improvisation class. That’s when everything changed. He was the first person to show her what a life built around music looked like. He told her she could build one of her own—moreover, he saw that she needed to. John D’earth was like a planet that reoriented the gravitational pull of her life to center around music.
Fifteen years after meeting him, the idea came to her while sitting in L.A. traffic. It was an imperative: “I have to make a record with John.” She spent the next year planning and writing. In the summer of 2017, D’earth came to L.A., and they recorded for two days at Sphere Studios.
The result is a collection of new compositions based less on a specific sound than on an idea, an exploration of John D’earth as man and musician. “John is very much interested in the meaning of music, the emotion or story behind it, so this felt like the right approach,” Dunton says. She used facets of D’earth’s personality and playing style as inspiration to guide the listener on a journey, from fun and adventurous to moody and minimalist. Apropos of the concept, D’earth also contributed three songs.
For those familiar with Dunton’s ongoing band, trioKAIT, Planet D’earth is a sojourn from the signature style she’s created. “A large focus for trioKAIT is having a tight sound as a band,” Dunton explains. “This project is more exploratory, more contemplative. My focus was on storytelling and compositional style.”
That style, a study in counterpoint and balance, gave Dunton an opportunity to assemble a group of interconnected musicians for something more meaningful than just a studio date. Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Bob Mintzer joins D’earth on a recording for the first time, but the two have been friends since the 1970s, when they performed together for a summer in the Catskills. Dane Alderson, on electric bass, not only plays with Mintzer in the jazz-fusion band Yellowjackets, he lives in Charlottesville, where he and D’earth often share the stage. Drummer Jake Reed (also the rhythmic identity of trioKAIT) is married to Dunton, and they both know Mintzer from their music studies at the University of Southern California, where Mintzer teaches.
For Dunton, all these threads add up to another thematic element. Throughout her career, she’s sought to grow and evolve, to clarify her musical voice. This album is a chance to pause and reflect—in a way, to move at once backward and forward. It’s an acknowledgement of who she was and who she’s become. On Planet D’earth, Dunton spins at the core, the source of gravity pulling together people who affected her transformation.
Liner notes from the album:
This record is about time and story, and the threads that connect us. But it also documents one planetary alignment in particular: a musical convergence with Planet D’earth.
I met John D’earth in 2001. Wanting to learn more about jazz, I signed up for his improvisation class, still thinking it was supernatural stuff. By the end of my first semester as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I was already feeling the gravitational shift. Though now colored and intensified by memory, I am sure some cosmic event was occurring during my time at UVa. I am continually amazed at what an impact these years have had on my life and how powerfully they still resonate with me. Recently I expressed to John what a strong influence he’s been, but he reminds me that there are many pieces to the puzzle. John likes to see it from space: “We were in it together”. But looking back, I can see there was a distinct shift in my trajectory: I had been pulled into D’earth's orbit.
John seems to inhabit several realms at once. Unbound and flowing, colors bleeding. “Rhythm is king,” he explains. But also: “Don’t put music on a pedestal.” He cautions against “false deference to the music.” And would prefer not to appear on album covers. But nothing is lost in the transformation to “objet d’art” - as John put it succinctly via text message - and its exploration of what John has taught me about the music beyond the notes.
The idea for this album came to me while driving - like all my good ideas - and it was all the more striking in its obviousness: Make a record with John! The narrative thread for the album became to write and produce with him in mind, and so the record begins, “Dear John,” a musical letter of gratitude…
But what is really so magical about this project is how it came together. The whole record is a celebration of musical convergence: Of John’s long friendship with Bob Mintzer, playing together for a summer in the Catskill Mountains in the ‘70s, and now here for the first time together on a studio album; of John’s relationship with Dane, fellow C’villian, whom he personally selected as the bassist for this project; of Bob and Dane’s new relationship in the Yellowjackets; but also of my own relationship with Jake, whom everyone calls drummer, but I am lucky to also call husband. I am so happy to share with you this moment of converging threads.
Welcome to Planet D’earth!
Produced by Kait Dunton.
Kait Dunton, piano
John D'earth, trumpet, flugelhorn
Dane Alderson, electric bass
Jake Reed, drums, percussion
Also featuring: Bob Mintzer, tenor sax (tracks 1, 3 + 5)
Engineered by Rich Breen. Mixed & mastered by Rich Breen. Photography and album design by Peter Figen Photography www.peterfigen.com.
Recorded on August 9 + 10, 2017 at Sphere Studios in Los Angeles by Rich Breen. Daniel Rojas: String quartet arrangement on “Dear John”, recorded by Jake Reed at The Mountain View Studio in South Pasadena on October 25, 2017. Andrew Synowiec: Guitars on “Planet D’earth” and “Mister Zen”, recorded on September 29, 2017 at House of Syn Studio in Sherman Oaks, CA by Andrew Synowiec. Carey Frank: Hammond B-3 organ on “Mister Zen”, recorded on September 7, 2017 at Blue Dream Studios in Los Angeles by Sam Brawner. Kait Dunton: Fender Rhodes on “Thread Suite”, recorded by Jake Reed at The Mountain View Studio. Jake Reed plays Gretsch drums, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks and Remo drumheads.