I’ve had Anest, Kendrick, and McKkinney’s album ‘Live at the Blue Llama Vol 2.’ sitting on my desk for some time at this point. Honestly, I’m a bit intimidated by this album. It’s just so different from what I typically write about that I feel like my words do not fit this genre or style but I pride myself on checking out a little bit of everything so here goes nothing. Let’s dig into ‘Live at the Blue Llama Vol 2.’ from Anest, Kendrick, and McKinney.
Before we really get into this, let me lay out the players really quick. This album features Alex Anest on guitar, Corey Kendrick on Organ and Gayelynn McKinney on drums. It was recorded on multiple dates in 2019 at the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I feel like looking up pictures of this beautiful venue helped enhance my listening experience so I suggest you do the same before hitting play. It’s a modern looking jazz club with gorgeous circular lights hanging from the ceiling. Pictures of Instagrammable food and drinks pop up when you search this place. Think trendy and high class but with this sense of accessibility around it. Okay, you with me? Have you transported yourself into The Blue Llama Jazz Club? If not, don’t worry, hitting play will be the push over the edge that you need.
“Angel Eyes” is the first track on this album. You hear scattered clapping before the band kicks in and drifts you off to one of the calmest planets you’ve ever been to. This opening song is slow and steady and, at nearly ten minutes long, a bit lengthy for what my attention span has been allowing me lately but there’s so much movement throughout the track that I was somehow able to keep it together. There are no big waves or walls of sounds in this track rather a steady build of notes that are so expertly placed and performed. You get to hear all three players on this opening track which definitely help lay out what to expect from the other songs on this 2-LP release. At the same time, you hear so many different elements, styles, and sounds throughout this track that it leaves you excited to hear what else you may get from this album.
Second on the album is “Where’s Timmy?”. This track has a bit more of a boisterous energy to it while still remaining cool, calm, and collected. I may be losing it but I feel like there are moments throughout this song that you can hear chatter in the room. The fact that I can’t tell if it’s actually there or not shows the power of this album and this trio’s sound along with the importance of getting into “the zone”. Those sounds I think I hear could just be due to the pictures I saw of The Blue Llama and the fact that I’ve spent some time at a local jazz club. Regardless, I felt like “Where’s Timmy?” brought a sense of life to this album in all of the right ways.
It’s time to turn the first record over and make way for “Chant”. I think it’s the name of the song but I wasn’t expecting the organic flow I got with this third track. There’s something so free about everything here all the way down to the beat. It’s relaxed but with an undeniable sense of structure. The walking bass line in this track is what really caught me but there’s no denying the way Alex’s guitar playing guides you through this song. Another favorite element of this track was obviously the organ part. As a pianist, I always find a thrill in hearing keys being played in any fashion and what Corey Kendrick does with his parts throughout this song is stunning. Again, it felt very organized and clearly planned but, at the same time, had a sense of freedom behind every note and every beat. The cherry on top when it comes to “Chant” is the quick drum solo. It’s not frantic or even loud but fits the song so perfectly and really showcases Gayelynn’s talent so perfectly.
“Chant” leads into “Jean De Fleur” absolutely perfectly. This fourth song speeds up the tempo ever so slightly but enough to make you feel a drastic change. “Jean De Fleur” was an instant favorite of mine. The song almost edges into chaos but in a jazz kind of way. The tempo is fast and furious but all of the players keep their composure throughout the nearly seven minute song. I was lost as I listened to this on. I was so busy trying to keep track of all of the parts and notes flying past my head that, before I knew it, the album had moved onto “St. Thomas” which kicks off with an absolutely stellar drum solo before letting the rest of the band take this song off into the Anest, Kendrick, and McKinney world. The melody of this song, although not predictable or even recognizable, felt familiar. I feel like listening to “St. Thomas” was the first time where I felt like I knew what was happening in this album. I both loved and hated that feeling but it made this fifth track another super dynamic listen.
The second LP in this release starts off with “Sweet Georgia Bright”. I was thinking that, with the change in LP, maybe the sound of this group would change but it really doesn’t. That’s not a problem at all but just something I think I was overthinking. Another epic piece of art with notes that are brilliantly placed and with a sense of creativity coming with every beat, I took some time during this track to pour another hot tea and just sit back and enjoy. It was fun to kind of pretend like I was at the Blue Llama as this track played and as “Sweet Georgia Bright” gave way to “Just a Thought”, I almost started clapping as if completely losing my sanity and awareness. “Just a Thought” has hesitation behind some notes which I felt really fit the title of this track. The drums are soft and delicate but provide just enough edge to drive the rest of the band forward throughout this ten and a half minute long song. Remember that wall of sound (or lack there of) that I spoke of earlier? Well, you get it in this song but it’s not a traditional wall of sound. There are moments in this track where everything comes together just right and blasts you with a sonically enjoyable experience relating back to a wall of sound that I would get from my normal punk and metal tracks.
Well, we have come to the final wax that is ‘Live at the Blue Llama Vol 2.’ from Anest, Kendrick, and McKinney. This second side of the second LP starts with “Dolphin Dance”. When it came to listening to this one, I tried to keep the song title in mind and it changed everything. Without keeping the title in mind, this is another instant classic jazz track full of smooth notes and genius composition. When you think about “Dolphin Dance” when listening to this song, you catch onto a playful energy that reigns supreme throughout the song. It’s crazy how much a song title can effect a song but I loved it when it came to this song and it showed me a whole other side of this trio that I wasn’t quite expecting.
Wrapping up this beautiful album is “Idle Moments”. I won’t say that this is an epic track because, like the others, it stays fairly cool, calm, and collected but it’s truly a perfect way to close out this journey. “Idle Moments” brings all of the notes, composition, creativity, and genius to a close in a beautiful way. It showcases everyone that had a part in this album while bringing everyone together for one final hoorah. The ambiance of the room noise just adds that special sauce to this final track. It’s as if leaving that in this song helps usher you out of your dreams yet keeping you in The Blue Llama Jazz Club for as long as you want after the song is done. Seriously a gorgeous way to end this already stunning release.
There you have it, my first jazz album review. I’m sure I’ll get a call from my dad after I publish this reminding me of things I didn’t mention or something that I got wrong but I’ll call this a win. I’ll be honest, this was one of the hardest albums for me to review thus far just due to not having the right verbiage to use. That being said, this was one of the most enjoyable playthroughs I’ve ever had with an album. I loved being transported away from my house and inserted into a trendy jazz club. Sure, I’d look a bit out of place there as I do when I hit the jazz clubs up here in the Twin Cities but I would be comforted by the soothing music of Alex Anest, Corey Kendrick, and Gayelynn McKinney and that sound is enough to make anything and everything okay.
This album is only available on vinyl but you can buy it HERE!
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