Blake Aaron: Bringin' It Back
The making of the solo debut album, With Every Touch (2001), was a slow process that took nearly two years to finalize. Aaron said that he had a lot to learn when recording this CD. However, it wasn’t just luck that helped him nab special appearances by Eric Marienthal and David Benoit. Aaron was invited to sit in on a session where Marienthal was playing. A couple of Aaron’s songs were played and Marienthal agreed to make a guest appearance on the CD. Marienthal would later bring David Benoit into the recording sessions for the new album.
By contrast, the funky sounds of the album, Bringin’ in Back, were accomplished in a marathon of 10 weeks. “In April , I only had three of the songs that we used in the album. We probably threw out about ten songs before the final seven were written in 2½ months,” said Aaron during a recent telephone interview.
Why do a new CD in such a short time span? “I wasn’t even thinking about coming out with a new album,” Aaron stated before sharing another story of circumstance. One day he was sitting with several radio producers and members of the promotional company, when someone inquired about new tunes. Aaron played them, “She’s So Fine,” and they all agreed it was a winner. Before he knew it, a new album was in the works.
“I’m the kind of guy who jumps into the deep end of the pool without looking sometimes,” said Aaron. Never one to back down from a challenge, Aaron boldly accepted a street date of August 19, 2003. The hours were long and difficult. Cutting most of the guitar tracks in his Orange County home studio, Aaron admitted, “My July 4th consisted of recording all day in the grueling heat.” In order to cut down on noise, the air conditioning must be turned off during sound takes.
Four of the songs were co-written with his producer, Michael Whittaker. “Co-writing changed a little bit of the shape of the album,” shared Aaron. “Collaborating can spark creativity when you’re out of ideas.” Aaron stated that he probably wouldn’t have thought of the melody of “Keeping It Real” had it not been for the partnership. Another song, “So In Love,” was originally written in a different format before being finalized. They knew the layering was great, but the melody was too similar to another cut, “Infatuation.” “Songs need to make a separate statement. We ran the track and took off the melody. I started playing a few lines on top of the instrumentation and we ended up liking it much better,” stated Blake.
Inspiration for new songs can come from anywhere. Aaron has been known to call in melodies to his answering machine from the road. Sometimes songs come with a flood of creative textures and vibes. “She’s So Fine” was written in 45 minutes. “She’s So Fine” is a fun song that is one of my favorite ones. It came so quickly to me, ” Aaron stated before admitting he hated the song at first. “I battled for half an hour and then the whole rest of the song came to me. In the end, I was really glad that I just didn’t throw the song away.” “She’s So Fine” features an appearance by trumpeter Greg Adams in a colorful arrangement. Aaron soothes the soul with a stately presence.
Slowing it down a notch in “Chicago Song,” Aaron creates a sensuous feel with Mike Todd on sax. Written by Marcus Miller, this tune is the perfect fit for Aaron’s deeply resonating style. “One Beautiful Day” adds just the right touch of blues with a contemporary flavor. The grooves flow freely in the cover title, “Bringin’ It Back,” which highlights another special appearance by Greg Adams. Co-written by Aaron and Whitaker, the driving beat and instrumentation are hot. A romantic interlude, “I Thought It Was You,” is full of illustrious contrasts. Featuring only guitar, piano/keyboards and bass, Aaron treats this composition with delicate ease. “Gonzo’s In The House,” featuring saxophonist Jeff Gonzales is funky splendor as Aaron kicks it up.
Besides the new album, one of the most impressive things about Aaron is his relaxed demeanor both on stage and in person. He seems to honestly appreciate his audience and the members of his band. During a rainy St. Louis concert, Aaron forgot about the damp weather and stepped off stage to serenade the crowd. He had been so impressed by the commitment of the soggy concertgoers that he wanted to give them a more personal experience. This connectivity with the audience showed on their faces as Aaron played throughout the afternoon. With regard to the band, Aaron brags, “I’m so lucky I’m able to get some great musicians to play with me. I have some of the best guys around. It’s not just me slaving away. A lot of other people are working hard.”
Aaron believes that live performances are a lot different from the CD recordings. For one, the songs in live performances are a lot longer and freer for improvisation. “When you do a CD, you try to package it for radio. If doing a radio cut, you will scale down the song even more,” said Blake. “Crowds will also influence how I run a show. If I look at the audience and they’re dancing and it looks like a party vibe, I’ll play tunes that keep the energy going,” said Aaron.
Aaron hasn’t always played jazz. As a child he shocked his mother when he declared, “I want to be a rock and roll musician.” Needless to say, she wasn’t too hip on the idea at first, but now is his biggest fan. However, it was jazz that kept pulling at his spirit. “I’ve always had a deeper passion for jazz. There is music that I really love but, then there is the music that I call my “soul music” that is inspirational to my becoming a musician.” Aaron stated that Pat Metheny, Nat King Cole and Miles Davis were examples of “soul music.” Listening to these records, Aaron knew, “This is the path that I need to stay on.”
Bringin’ It Back is a call home for Blake Aaron. The bluesy R&B sounds with vibrant undertones demonstrates that Aaron has definitely found his way.