by Bea Willis
Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius is a new name to us, she is a multi-instrumentalist (piano, melodica, percussionist, and vocalist) a native of Glens Falls, New York, who studied piano performance, composition, and ethnomusicology at the University of Washington and Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. The group Heard formed in 2008 when Kasius met Ghanaian drummer/musician Zorkie Nelson at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY., at the time both were working as dance musicians. It was during this time they began writing for what would become the band Heard, that features outstanding talent from the Capital Region of upstate NY.
The groups first album Karibu (2010), was met with critical acclaim and chart-topping success at #15 on the Jazzweek World charts. With the release of their latest album Flyway, the group once again has created an identifiable sound rooted in the tapestry of rhythms of West Africa and Brazil, with a healthy portion of jazz underpinning, giving it a distinctly international flair.
“Market Song” begins the album with an active bass line and festive kaleidoscope of instruments. Melodica, kybd marimba and udu, reside within the grooves of this tune. Jonathan Greene is inspired with a gritty baritone sax solo, while guitarist George Muscatello provides a colorized solo of well-chosen notes. Nelson adds twileshi, brekete and ngongo instruments to the track that further lends a Ghanaian authenticity to the song.
At the halfway point “Cotes Des Neiges,” known to be a multicultural neighborhood in Montreal, offers an area highly influenced by its proximity to the Universite de Montreal and which might just be the inspiration behind this tune which is deeply rooted in the cross-cultural sounds of jazz and Latin music. The tapestry of the tune, the added percussion and the not often heard enough clarinet by Jonathan Greene is stunning. The tune is peaceful, at times celebratory, in other moments introspective and cerebral.
Ending the album is “Fossils” a beautifully haunting melody, dark and luscious with ethereal vocal musings by Zorkie Nelson, weaved like a tapestry by cellist Melora Creager the two soar on this cut. Percussion is a key element in the sonic palette of this tune and Kasius on drums with Brian Melick on percussion create a deeply felt propulsion, while also allowing for space and breath of each instrument. Especially notable is the crackling sounds created by; wait for it, “paper.” Kasius truly uses every element at her disposal.
All eleven tracks were recorded at an old country wooden church tucked in the Catskill woods. Engineered, produced, and mixed by Joel Moss who won a Grammy in 2005 for Ray Charles’ last album Genius Loves Company. A welcomed listen, Flyway is a cornucopia of delightful performances and songs that will uplift your soul.