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Stephanie Nilles
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T&M 052: 15.00 Euro
"...takes a big ship" - 2013

1. gimme a pigfoot (and a bottle of beer) 2:54 2. like a stone cast out to sea 5:12 3. # 3:55 4. caution tape 4:30 5. vodka-based fishbowl 3:28 6. transistor 3:34 7. kate in the haze of the rum 3:38 8. mazurka 2:25 9. canadians are from canada 3:12 10. #occupymypussybitch 5:04 11. winin' boy blues 4:11 12. break yer neck 3:37 13. ol' tin pan joe (feat. the st. agnes chorus) 5:11

Two years after her European debut „Fuck Off, Grizzly Bear“ (T & M 050, 2011) singer/songwriter/pianist Stephanie Nilles is back with a new album. Unlike its predecessor „….Takes A Big Ship“ is an album recorded with a small band of core players, featuring violin virtuoso Zach Brock and „The Magic Number“ (Matt Wigton/bass, Frederick Kennedy/drums). All are brilliant musicians from Brooklyn/NY, where this new set of songs was put together and brought to life. The album’s title implies a courageous trip on rough seas, the joy of movement and the thrill of taking risks. Attributes that clearly mark Stephanie Nilles‘ approach towards music as something unique, including a clear-eyed view on American life and (sexual) politics, a language that does not shy away from real-life diction, an abundance of musical passion. To be shipwrecked may be part of the danger – but it’s a familiar job hazard for every artist trying to make a difference. Stephanie Nilles is still keeping her head above water and on this album the power of her music is unmistakable yet again.

In the recent past, Stephanie Nilles has been dubbed as “the most compelling jazz piano / lounge punk artist since Tom Waits”. There is much praise for her expressive powers, her passion, her urge for artistic freedom. To some she even comes across as Mose Allison reincarnated, playing jazz with a special twist. A kind of Ani DiFranco-like punk ethos/attitude comes into the mix as well, fuelled by a rebel spirit that is not conforming to the requirements of the mainstream music business. Stephanie Nilles is her own woman and a soulmate for every freedom-seeking misfit travelling the backroads of today’s popular culture, relying on authentic personal expression as a touchstone for quality.

The Stephanie Nilles story so far has mainly taken place in four cities: Chicago – Cleveland – New York City – New Orleans. Stephanie was born twenty-eight years ago in the Chicago metropolitan area and music played a major part in the family history. Especially live music making, an “extended part of basic education”, as Stephanie states today. A lot of diverse sounds were appreciated in her family: Pete Seeger, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Mozart. At age five Stephanie took up piano lessons, adding cello later on. With an abundance of talent and determination, she became a classically trained musician taking her talent quite far: Stephanie graduated from the Cleveland Institute Of Music with a degree in piano performance. „I was performing in international competitions… and I was practicing in a room by myself for seven or eight hours a day. It started to occur to me that I was unhappy”, she remembers. “I started to feel like the music I was playing didn’t relate to the world around me….I was also looking at an eternal vocation of unemployment…. and I was frustrated with spending 80 % of my time arduously preparing music that was written 200 years ago.” Consequently, the piano prodigy decided to quit and to leave music altogether.

To clear her head and find new inspiration, Stephanie Nilles moved to New York City. She worked a variety of jobs, delving deep into the East Village alternative scene. She listened to the “anti-folk” musical stylings of the times and met many young jazz practitioners who used to be classical musicians. She is encouraged to put original music to original texts she performs at poetry slams, re-inventing herself as a creative person over time: „Finally I got over my fear of composing which was instilled in me by decades of practicing masterful classical works of art that I know I can never reproduce.” Stephanie starts to present her new style at open mic’s and is soon gigging regularly, hitting the road with a vengeance. A wonderful jazz poet/singer/songwriter/musician is born. Today she spends about ten months per year on the road, performing in bars, clubs, living-rooms and coffee houses. A one-woman musical enterprise who has made her European debut in January 2011 at Germany’s “Women In (E)motion” festival in Bremen, followed by more European club and festival shows in 2012.

Today, the magical music city that is New Orleans is home to the 29-year-old artist. She enjoys the openness of the Crescent City’s scene, the diversity of its characters, the vibrant nightlife and the respect given to artists: “New Orleans is a place where artists can be happy. It’s the only city in the States where artists can survive by being artists,” she says. On the contrary, the young poet/musician looks at her country from a distance, seeing a country that neglects to honor the wealth of its cultural heritage. Creative endeavour is part of her day to day events: “Whatever I happen to be thinking about or reading about or talking about with people is what I sing about”, she says. Being curious about life, about people and about the politics of human relations is part of this equation. The resulting subject matter may be heavy sometimes, but Stephanie enlightens and entertains without preaching. Every new recording stands as a fresh set of observations from an artist who is truly awake and offering empathy.

This new recording starts with two updates from the classic jazz and blues canon: “Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer”, followed by “Like A Stone Cast Out To Sea” – the former one of Bessie Smith’s final recordings, the latter a rewrite of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”. First a song about the desire to let loose and have a good time, then followed by a late summer blues rumination from the real life. An ouverture and solid groundwork for more vignettes from this nonconformist’s notebook: some freedom-loving beatnik prose (“#”), a slice of politico-philosophical poetry (“Caution Tape”), bar-room scenes from the life of a thirsty soul (“Vodka-Based Fishbowl”), a unique snapshot of life, love and death with a Newmanesque twist (“Kate In The Haze Of The Rum”). All of this much different from your regular singer-songwriter fare - emotionally complex subject matter, coming an artist who does not consider herself to be a part of the pop world. Whatever the classification, this stuff is as good as it gets in terms of integrity and authentic personal expression. It’s great writing brought to life by brilliant players from the jazz world, including Zack Brock; violinist extraordinaire and tightrope walker between genres. Everybody’s on the same wavelength here, playing for the sake of the song.

Some prime favourites for Stephanie: Willie Nelson, James Brown, PJ Harvey, Nina Simone, Chavela Vargas. Intense stuff all of it, just like part two of this album: Stephanie comments on the attention-seeking nature of manufactured pop by harking back to her classical music past (“Mazurka”), followed by a pastiche of standard American worldviews (“Canadians Are From Canada”) as well as a rant on the dubious integrity of well-to-do occupy protesters (“Occupy….). Next is a fierce double attack on misogyny in music - in classic jazz and commercial hip-hop (“Winin’ Boy Blues” – Jerry Roll Morton; “Break Ya Neck” – Busta Rhymes). A beautifully drunken beatnik hymn to freedom and independence is last, augmented by a choir of friends and comrades (“Ole’ Tin Pan Joe”).

„Engage yourself in your craft as best you can… and people will come looking for you”. Stephanie Nilles’ statement of intent still stands and it applies to this new album as well. To confront the global hodgepodge with beauty, intelligence, passion and wit and make some kind of sense of it all in the process seems to be the unspoken objective. It’s coming from Stephanie Nilles – artist, musician, free spirit. Not to be missed.




CD 1

1  

Gimme A Pigfoot(And A Bottle Of Beer)  

02:54

2  

Like A Stone Cast Out To Sea  

05:12

3  

Number  

03:55

4  

Caution Tape  

04:30

5  

Vodka-Based Fishbowl  

03:28

6  

Transistor  

03:34

7  

Kate In The Haze Of The Rum  

03:38

8  

Mazurka  

02:25

9  

Canadians Are From Canada  

03:12

10  

Number Occupymypussybitch  

05:04

11  

Winin' Boy Blues  

04:11

12  

Break Yer Neck  

03:37

13  

Ol' Tin Pan Joe  
NILLES,STEPHANIE/BROCK,ZACH & THE MAGIC NUMBER/+

05:11