Seven Cameron Graves
- 1Sacred Spheres03:02
- 2Paradise Trinity03:11
- 3Sons of Creation04:21
- 5The Life Carriers02:53
- 6Super Universes02:41
- 9Master Spirits02:03
- 10Mansion Worlds02:47
- 11Eternal Paradise02:32
Info for Seven
Pianist, composer and vocalist Cameron Graves calls the music he’s architected for his new Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group release thrash-jazz, though that only begins to tell the story. Yes, upon an initial listen, the juggernaut metal force and hardcore precision of Seven can knock you back. After all, Graves grew up in metal-rich Los Angeles, headbanging to Living Colour as a kid and, after immersing himself in jazz and classical studies for years, reigniting his love for hard rock through records by Pantera, Slipknot and his most profound metal influence, Swedish titans Meshuggah.
But listen closer to Seven, Graves’ follow-up to 2017’s Planetary Prince (which Pitchfork called a “rousing debut”). “Los Angeles is a melting pot of everything,” Graves points out. His father, Carl Graves, was a great soul singer, and you can hear his imprint along with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding, on “Eternal Paradise,” which marks the younger Graves’ vocal debut. Throughout the album, the generation of 1970s jazz-rock fusion pioneers is a source of inspiration. “Our mission is to continue that legacy of advanced music that was started by bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Return to Forever,” Graves says. “That was instilled in us by the masters. Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock—these guys sat with us and told us, ‘Look, man, you’ve got to carry this on.’”
The “us” that Graves refers to would include the core quartet on Seven, as well as the West Coast Get Down, the now well-known expansive yet fraternal clique of high school friends who became some of the most influential jazz-rooted musicians to emerge in recent decades and played on Graves’ debut Planetary Prince: saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who guests on two of Graves’ 11 new tracks on Seven; bassists Thundercat and Miles Mosley; drummers Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin; and others. Growing up, the West Coast Get Down absorbed the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane, the daring hip-hop experimentalism of J Dilla and the rap and pop of the day, and all of those touchstones resonate throughout Seven. Early on, Graves’ jazz-obsessed pals would scoff at the pianist’s taste for heavy music, but not for long. “I brought Meshuggah to the game, and you can’t talk smack on Meshuggah. They are supreme musicians,” Graves says, chuckling. “It became legit after that amongst the L.A. scene.”
But beyond its fearless new musical alchemy, Seven allows Graves – a.k.a., the Planetary Prince – to further explore his deep passion for a number of interrelated topics in and around theology, astronomy, astrology and martial arts. A devoted student of the still-mysterious Urantia Book and its mission to, as Graves puts it, “explain the deepness of the spiritual and the physical universe together,” he named his sophomore album for the overwhelming presence and impact of seven throughout global spiritual traditions. (Not surprisingly, Graves has a penchant for writing in odd time signatures, particularly seven).
“There’s always a seven and there’s always a trinity,” he explains, before going on to detail another omnipresent triptych. “In all of the galaxies in the universe, everything operates off of the trinity of Thought, Love and Action,” Graves says. Just as this new music invites repeat listens in a kind of decoding process, Graves’ song titles – “Sacred Spheres,” “Paradise Trinity,” “Super Universes,” “Mansion Worlds” and more – will inspire a sort of bewilderment that leads to an ongoing curiosity.
A testament to his fervor and deft technique, Graves leads his thrash-jazz assault from the acoustic piano rather than the synth, though he gets powerhouse help from a band he can’t help but brag about. He calls Colin Cook, whose harmonically ingenious yet blindingly fast playing can evoke Allan Holdsworth, a “guitar god, man. I mean, chops for days and musical knowledge beyond his years.” Graves has developed a telepathic connection with drummer Mike Mitchell during their time together on the road with Stanley Clarke. Still, his versatility and far-reaching mastery can astound the pianist. “No one has the over-the-top chops that he has; no one has the timing and syncopation skills that Mike possesses,” Graves says. “He can play hip-hop, jazz. I’ve seen him play every style of swing like Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, and Elvin Jones. But I’ve always wanted to hear Mike play rock and metal,” Graves adds, “and this was my chance.” Through Mitchell, Graves hooked up with bassist Max Gerl, whose brilliant ears and impeccable time-feel place him in a striking legacy of bassists that the pianist has collaborated with, among them Thundercat, Hadrien Feraud, Mosley and, of course, Clarke.
A soul-deep affinity for the peers who join him on the bandstand has been a continuing theme throughout Graves’ career. He met his musical comrades in the West Coast Get Down as a freshman in high school, and they nurtured their game-changing chemistry at a series of regular haunts that have entered the jazz lore: Doboy’s Dozens, 5th St. Dick’s, the Piano Bar in Hollywood, where the visibility, growing crowds and possibilities just seemed to surge.
Graves, like the rest of the West Coast Get Down, saw his profile explode following the 2015 release of Kamasi Washington’s debut, The Epic, easily on the short list of the most celebrated jazz releases of the 21st century. Since then, the collective has seen its members carve out their own identities, through their own acclaimed bands, solo releases and tours. “It’s beautiful,” Graves says of the last few years. “Those are my brothers.” With his actual brother, Taylor, Graves produced and performed pop music that earned them a major-label signing with MCA under Randy Jackson. Their recent collaborations included the score and related soundtrack album for Michelle Obama’s Becoming documentary for Netflix, which was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score).
Camaraderie aside, some of the most interesting plans Graves has for the material on Seven have to do with solo performance. He includes one stunning solo-piano piece, “Fairytales,” but explains that the music was conceived to achieve varying impacts using different formats – contrasting performance situations he’ll no doubt explore in the months ahead. “This project has two different characters,” he says. “When you play these songs on solo piano, they sound just like a contemporary classical song, like Debussy or Ravel. But when you play them with the band, it turns into this hard-rock record.”
The release of Kamasi Washington's The Epic last year marked a seismic shift in the jazz landscape and the game-changing arrival of the genre-blurring Los Angeles collective West Coast Get Down. That evolution continues with the release of Planetary Prince, the debut album by visionary pianist, keyboardist, composer and WCGD founding member Cameron Graves.
Upon signing with Mack Avenue Records, Graves’ nearly released four song EP of the same name was expanded to an eight track full length album, all packed with the same mind-expanding invention that marked all of the work previously generated by the WCGD – including Kamasi Washington’s universally acclaimed debut The Epic (which prominently featured Graves throughout its three discs). These releases havemarked a seismic shift in the jazz landscape and the game-changing arrival of the genre-blurring Los Angeles collective West Coast Get Down blending elements of Jazz, Classical, Rock and Hip-Hop.
Planetary Prince continues that evolution, with the scope and ambition of Graves’ vision only more evident on this release. “Cameron Graves’ music is vigorous and refreshing. There is an infectious raw energy on Planetary Prince that is coupled with these terrific melodies and blistering solo work, the whole album is energizing,” reflects Mack Avenue Records’ President Denny Stilwell, speaking on the new signing. In its full realization, the album only furthers that pulse-quickening, consciousness-broadening energy and maintains it over the course of nearly 80 illuminating minutes.
The core of the band is made up of fellow West Coast Get Down members, whose musical and personal relationships with Graves stretch back to their high school days: tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. To their ranks are added trumpeter Philip Dizack and bassist Hadrien Faraud, both key members of the groundbreaking modern L.A. jazz scene.
"Cameron Graves is a musical genius. He has an innovative approach to the piano that is completely unique. Cameron's new album 'Planetary Prince' is an amazing and almost unbelievable combination of modal jazz, romantic era European classical music, and mathematical death metal. A style so cool that it deserves it's own genre. Cameron's music has been inspiring me since I was thirteen years old and it still does today! I'm so glad he's sharing it with the world!" - Kamasi Washington
The title of Planetary Prince, which also serves as Graves’ pseudonym, comes from The Urantia Book, a spiritual tome that emerged from Chicago in the first half of the 20th century and that purports to reveal the truth of humanity through a combination of spiritual and cosmological ideas, including radical retellings of familiar stories from the Bible.
“That’s a really deep book,” says Graves, whose interest in Urantia grew out of a lifelong fascination with astronomy, astrology, spiritualism and meditation reflected in both his music and his study of the ancient Chinese martial art Xing Yi Chuan. “A lot of people might think it’s sacrilegious, but it makes so much sense about the breakdown of the universe and deities and Earth and man.”
The way that The Urantia Book refracts religious traditions through the lens of science and speculative philosophy has parallels with the ways in which Graves and his West Coast Get Down compatriots have reimagined the jazz lineage with hip-hop and prog rock inflections as well as interstellar ambitions. Graves makes a direct connection between his music and the book with pieces like “Adam & Eve,” “The Lucifer Rebellion” and the title track. The bold, hard-charging opener, “Satania Our Solar System,” echoes the book’s ominous name for our own neck of the universe.
Not all of the pieces are directly inspired by Urantia, but all of them share the same cosmic perspective. “Andromeda” was sparked by striking images of the Andromeda Galaxy, sister galaxy to the Milky Way as our closest neighbor in the universe; “Isle of Love” is an imagined destination populated by a race of pure love. “El Diablo” takes a slightly more playful approach to the ferocious rhythmic churn of “Satania,” this time anchoring it with a buoyant, elastic groove and unleashing Bruner for a supernova solo. “End of Corporatism” asserts a political message by way of a bristling, abstract funk that highlights the interplay of Graves’ fleet, fluid keyboard skills and the supple power of his bassists.
While those heady concepts are key to the sprawling imagination of Graves’ tunes, they aren’t responsible for the fervent, impassioned playing of Graves and his ensemble. That comes from the members’ nearly two decades of musical history together. “I don’t communicate the Urantia ideas to the band,” Graves says. “They just know that my song titles are kind of weird but the music is really cool. I like to write a lot in odd rhythms, especially in 7, which takes the music somewhere else and lets the cats build off of that.”
Graves initially met Washington, Porter and the Bruner brothers in his freshman year at Locke High School in Los Angeles, where they'd rehearse together in school band and spend recess listening to John Coltrane together. At only 16-years-old, Graves, along with Washington and the Bruners, made his recorded debut with their collective group, the Young Jazz Giants. The group started playing regularly at a local poetry spot called Doboy's Dozens, eventually shifting to Fifth St. Dicks where they started experimenting with a ten-piece band.
“That’s when we started getting into our groove,” Graves recalls. “We were finding grooves, writing different songs, and learning from each other, creating that chemistry that we have today.”
Later the West Coast Get Down migrated to the recently closed Hollywood venue The Piano Bar for its legendary weekly series that further honed their collective sound and notorious energy, which they channeled into the recording of The Epic and now Planetary Prince. “We’ve been playing this material with that kind of intensity for a long time now,” Graves says. “We all grew up listening together to hip-hop and rock and metal and jazz, so we all know where we’re going and how to complement it. It’s just intuition.”
Graves has also carved out a notable career apart from the WCGD. With his brother Taylor he formed the R&B/fusion duo The Graves Brothers, releasing their debut, Look to the Stars, in 2013. That project grew out of a British/American pop group called The Score with which the brothers found enormous success in England. Graves was also a key member of actress/musician Jada Pinkett Smith's nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom, providing entrée into the world of film and television scoring through the Pinkett Smith-directed film The Human Contract and TV series Hawthorne. Through his soundtrack work Graves connected with legendary bassist and fellow Mack Avenue Records recording artist Stanley Clarke, and is now a member of his latest band, touring internationally.
This album contains no booklet.