If freedom has a sound, the music of jazz/R&B keyboardist Alex Bugnon is it.
On his newest release, Tales From The Bright Side, this unique artist opens his mind and yours to the possiblities of music that span multiple genres - from the bass-driven power of 70's funk, to traditional jazz, and even classical music, with a generous amount of R&B and gospel thrown in for spice. "All the things I've written are things that I've been listening to since I was born, but with my own melodies, my own sound," says Bugnon.
With this album, his first on RCA, Alex Bugnon finds himself in the happy realm of unfettered personal expression. Tales From The Bright Side is crafted with joy. And while the title may be whimsical, make no mistake that the artist is serious about his music. Alex Bugnon (pronounced BOO-nyon) was raised in Montreux, Switzerland where he literally grew up at the jazz festival. Year after year, he listened and learned from a disparate group of visionaries, including Carlos Santana, Aretha Franklin, Les McCann, Billy Cobham, George Duke, and of course, Herbie Hancock, who Bugnon has known personally since childhood.
First stop after Switzerland was Paris, where he studied at a conservatory for two years, followed by a stint in Boston at the Berklee scholl of music. While there, bugnon followed his instincts and spent time playing with a local gospel group, Clara Mahomes and the Gospel Leviticus. He now recalls that time with fondness: "I played a lot of gospel while I was in Boston, doing all the Southern tours, riding in Winnebagos."
After Beantown, it was on to New York City, where he spent four years backing up R&B performers such as Najee, Freddie Jackson, Keith Sweat, Patti Austin and James Ingram. "I was jumping from tour to tour until I landed my first recording," Bugnon recalls, "and I've been recording ever since."
Before Tales From The Bright Side, there were four albums: Love Season (1989), which reached #2 on the R&B charts and was honored by Black Radio Exclusive as "Best Jazz Album" of 1990, Head Over Heels (1990), 107 in the Shade (1991) and This Time Around (1993).
One thing that Bugnon is particularly proud of are the two Soul Train Award nominations that his records have garnered. "Soul Train is very important to me because everybody in the industry can vote," he says. "It's not just a panel or jury."
Whether his latest effort will be similarly recognized is to be seen, yet there's no doubt that Tales From The Bright Side is Bugnon's most creatively satisfying effort to date. "It's a sense of personal renewal for me," he says. "It's more personal than anything else." And that feel of energetic optimism and individuality can be heard on every one of the 12 tracks on the album.
"This is the first time since I started recording that I've felt so much freedom in my head," Bugnon declares. "Also freedom from the record company to really take a chance and explore some stuff that I've never done before."
As he has in the past, Bugnon has gathered a close circle of friends and fellow artists to help bring his music to life, including Charles "Poogie" Bell as co-producer and drummer, Artie Reynolds and Anthony Jackson on bass, Bernard Wright on synthesizer for some tracks, Vincent Henry on saxophone, Keith Robinson and Mike Campbell on guitar, and finally, Don Alias and Steve Laws on percussion.
This is the first album on which Bugnon has written almost all the tracks, choosing only to record a single cover tune, "Thighs High," the Tom Browne instrumental hit from the early 80's. "I don't want to do any instrumental covers of vocal songs anymore - it's too corny," he explains. So I decided to do cover of an instrumental tune. I thought it was real funky, so we just slowed it down a little more to make even more groove that people like to hear in the 90's."
With the exception of that one borrowed tune, the record is a testament to Bugnon's stunning compostional range. He begins with "Okra," a joyful groove that effortlessly sweeps you up into the swing of things. That tune is followed by "Harlem on My Mind," which blends jazz voicings with the retro funky feel of a 70's "blaxploitation" movie. "'Harlem on My Mind' kind of gives me the vibe of movies like Shaft," he says.
R&B highlights can also be heard on "Mr. Hancock," Bugnon's affectionate tribute to his lifelong friend and inspiration, Herbie Hancock. "Oaktown" serves up a generous helping of slap-happy funk in the style of the music that emerged from the Bay area of California in the 70's and 80's.
In a slower, more contemplative vein, are tunes like "Tosma," "Sunrise," and "Yaslyn," a gorgeous acoustic jazz number which is named after Bugnon's daughter. The album concludes with the hauntingly evocative "Waltz in G Minor."
Should Alex Bugnon's music be called "fusion"? Only in the sense that it brings together the best of several different styles, in a way that never dilutes, always strengthens. "I don't really see my music as a middle ground," he says. "I've found a good balance between what I listen to in jazz and what I listen to in funk, but I've never tried to make a mixture of things."
When you hear Tales from the Bright Side, you'll see that it's not "fusion", but freedom that best defines the music of this extraordinary artist.
Not many musicians can say their first concert - at age six - was hearing the debut of Arethna Franklin, the Queen of Soul, at the famed Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland.
But keyboardist Alex Bugnon can.
Thanks to the encouragement of his father, a jazz musician, Bugnon literally grew up at the Festival, happily immersed in a multitude of influences, from Memphis Slim and Bill Evans to Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk.
"My thing when I was growing up was funk - and Santana. I saw the movie 'Woodstock' when I was eight or nine and freaked out. Sly was the most incredible thing I'd ever heard!" Bugnon enthuses. "I love bebop... and horn section melodies... and the textures of Art Blakey and the Messengers or the Gil Evans/Miles Davis era. You'll hear that kind of flair in my music - with a buttom line that's grooving all the time."
At 16, Bugnon enrolled in the Paris Conservatory of Music for two years, then left for Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he also gigged with gospel groups Clara Mahomes and the Gospel Leviticus. He spent for years in New York City backing, touring, and recording with Patti Austin, Freddie Jackson, James Ingram, Keith Swaet and others - before making his first solo debut recording.
Bugnon 's first Narada release - ALEX BUGNON ... AS PROMISED joins five previous recordings. He's been twice nominated for Best Jazz Album (Soul Train Awards); logged the highest entry by a jazz album on the R&B charts; been honored by Black Radio Exclusive as "Best New Jazz Artist of 1990"; and released several R&B chart-toppers.
Now, more funky jazz is headed our way in ALEX BUGNON ... AS PROMISED!
This soulful jazz excursion is Alex Bugnon’s personal response to his fans. "I stayed on the road nearly four years, playing mainly in the U.S. and at European festivals. Every time I’d perform, people would ask me when my next album would be out. I’d always say, ‘I promise you, soon,’ even though I knew it would not," he admits. "The title really speaks to the people who asked me. They will know, it’s very personal to them."
Bugnon added hip-hop drum machine grooves to his live rhythm section, and used acoustic piano, Moog, several keyboards, and vintage rock'n roll and funk instruments from the '70s and '80s to produce the earthy R&B feel he loves. His Narada Jazz debut features eight of his own tunes, plus one written by Lauryn Hill, All That I Can Say (from Mary Blige's latest album), and John Coltrane's distinctive classic, Naima. Buhaina, his tribute to Art Blakey, and His Coolness - " a tune for any body that's cool in the jazz world, like Miles" - harken back to his jazz roots. Others, like All That I Can Say and Scirocco, (named for the wind because " it comes in, out of nowhere, and opens up, like a flower"), reveal his taste for R&B and funk-laced rhythm. "I've been trying for quite a while now to finally bring together, and incorperate, what I like to hear. More than other record I've done, this one is more complex, and more simple, at the same time. It's really, really, really funky."
Just as promised, Alex Bugnon fulfilled a commitment to his fans…with one mighty set of music. Bugnon praises his band for "…a real group effort. Everyone treated this project as their own, with a lot of interest and excitement. Their brainstorming made the whole process very dynamic." His grooves on the keyboards are joined by a group of artists which reads like a "who's who" in jazz and R&B - Christopher Williams’ (All That I Can Say) slinky, soulful vocals; Gerald Albright; the sensational Angie Stone (Won’t Be A Fool); and Branford Marsalis (Chasing Spirals), among many others. The sounds all come together to make a slick, exciting set filled with urban, jazz and R&B pulse.