It’s been both delightfully inspiring and energizing - yet admittedly also a bit challenging - trying to keep up with the ever-evolving passions of Arun Shenoy since his solo debut album Rumbadoodle earned a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2012 and established him as a multi-talented force in contemporary instrumental music.
In the decade since his breakthrough, the Singapore based guitarist, composer and producer has released a series of successful themed contemporary jazz and world fusion albums, an impactful singer-songwriter project and a steady stream of popular singles (all with amazing artwork) recorded with a rotating collective of musicians under various names: Arun Shenoy & The Groove Project (A Stagey Bank Affair), The Groove Project (Volume 1: Flights of Fantasy, Volume 2: Winds of Change) and Arun Shenoy & The Maverick Express (The Unplugged Songwriter Sessions). All of these are brilliantly produced projects in their own right, speaking kindly to Shenoy’s eclectic vision and desire to ensemble with and rise to the level of the greatest musicians in his universe. Yet one could see how it might be hard to keep up with the shifts in group names, especially when it comes to locating music, as we all do these days, on streaming.
Billings, branding and liner note credits aside, Elemental is the celebration and culmination of years of collaboration between Arun and Shell. Connecting through a Recording Academy member website, Shell took a liking to Arun’s “Violin Song” and Arun loved “Beautiful Dreamer,” a song Matthew produced for R&B singer Carolyn Malachi. The two first joined forces on the song and video for “Genesis,” which was followed by Matthew mixing the radio edit of Arun’s “Bliss” and ultimately, the duo co-producing the last two Groove Projects. Since 2015, Arun has also co-produced/executive produced Matthew’s albums Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning, First Light, Towards New Beginnings, Towards New Beginnings II: Songs of Healing, Contemplation and New Perspective on Arun's indie label Narked Records.
Matthew says, “I feel Arun and my musical chemistry works so amazingly well because we both have a love for jazz and music featuring live instrumentation. We are kindred spirits in this regard. So much of music these days is synthetic. However, we share a deep passion and respect for organic instruments fused with soulful musicianship.”
That aesthetic drives the array of passionate, funked out and groove intensive energies on Elemental, which features numerous potential smooth jazz radio singles while delving stylistically into other vibes the duo enjoys, including old school Motown styled soul, EDM and progressive electronic textures, Lo-Fi and even tastes of Brazilian Chill Baile Funk. One of the ways Arun and Matthew distinguish this collection from another Groove Project is by working with almost an entire new band, featuring keyboardists Jonathan Wesley (also piano), Strat Carter, Marcus Johnson, Mello D, Angie Nicole, Erik Frederickson and Evie Sebenick.
Notable holdovers from the Groove Project collectives guitarist Sami Turunen, saxophonist Marcus Mitchell (who appeared on Volume 1), bassist Hector Ruano, drummer/percussionist Glenn Welman and – truly holding compelling, heart tugging emotional court as a driving presence throughout – saxophonist/flutist Douglas Lira. To make a classic contemporary jazz reference, Lira’s contributions are very much like those of Brandon Fields, Jeff Kashiwa, Eric Marienthal and Paul Taylor’s work over the years with the legendary pop-jazz fusion band The Rippingtons, creating much of the melodic expression of group leader and guitarist Russ Freeman. Many of the tracks begin and end with potent sax melodies, punctuated in the middle by crisp and edgy improvisational electric guitar solos.
Arun comments, “Matthew and I have a nice creative chemistry and working with all of the talented artists who are featured across the various tracks was fulfilling and a whole lot of fun. Indeed the sax is the predominant feature across the recordings. This is thanks to the incredible performances by Douglas, whom we wanted to showcase.”
With romantic, sociopolitical and forward thinking titles titillating our souls and intellect throughout, Elemental is a high spirited session from start to finish, starting with the jangling, snazzy funk seduction of “Nightfall” (featuring a crisp, edgy guitar solo amidst the sax magic) and easing on through the whimsical, deep bass driven search for “Newfound Treasure” and kicking back for the collection’s most intimate, ultimately soaring heartfelt ballad “Forever My Love.”
Lira’s whimsical flute and sax, some haunting, intense industrial percussion and easy thumping danceable beats forge a dynamic balance on the perfectly titled, progressive urban rock/jazz fusion jam “Visions of the Future,” which gives way on the artsy title track to a hypnotic swirl of exotic, pitter patter percussion, ambient moods, urgent sax and crackling, distorted guitar tones – which is probably the trippiest and adventurous if not radio friendly track in the bunch.
The happy strutting funky pocket coolness resumes on the feisty, hard driving “Answers,” which is followed by the sexy, slow burning romantic romp “Believe in Love.” The titles of the next two tracks hint at a bit of social consciousness in mind, starting with an emphatic, raw yet elegant plea to “Think Critically” and then bringing a moving, richly soulful flow to remind us how important it is to “Protest Injustice.” Elemental draws to a lush, mellow close with “Sweet Dreams,” which features guest saxophonist Marcus Mitchell's gentle and breathy lead horn melodies over a soft spoken new age keyboard performance filled with elegance by jazz pianist Marcus Johnson.