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  • Jonathan Widran

MATTHEW SHELL & KENNY MCNEIL, "Jazzy Lil Jane II (Chill Afrobeat)"

In my review of Contemplation, the beautifully expressive, new age album Matthew Shell created in 2021 with pianist Vahagn Stepanyan, I referred to Matthew as a “versatile, intuitive and deeply empathetic artist, composer, engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist.”

Considering his fascinating discography since he first came on my radar in 2020, I feel the need now to add several more descriptors covering his vast artistry – eclectic, adventurous, full of wild, dynamic mood shifts, vibes and rhythmic curiosity. During this period, in addition to Contemplation, I have been blessed to experience and share my thoughts on his spiritually immersive, new age/global fusion two part Towards New Beginnings series and Elemental, a tight, funky and in the pocket urban contemporary jazz collaboration with Grammy nominated guitarist Arun Shenoy.

Just as Matthew’s many admirers try to get a beat on where his freewheeling muse will take him next, hoping to figure out where the proverbial kinetic laser on the wall will land next, he’s on the move again with an infectiously hypnotic jaunt into fresh exotic territory with the quirkily titled “Jazzy Lil Jane II (Chill Afrobeat).”

Vibing this time with another manic expressive – Maui based producer, singer, songwriter and creative consultant Kenny McNeil – Matthew gives himself free reign to showcase his crisp, colorful high register melodic guitar tones over a freewheeling laid back island groove, dreamy atmospheres and trippy sonic textures that include punchy, then soaring horn blasts and Kenny’s intoxicating echoing chants of “There you go” – almost like an ethereal voice of encouragement.

The three-and-a-half minute track rolls like a journey that’s part grounded, visceral and organic, part soaring and surreal, powered along by that dashing swirl of emotional guitarisma, snappy beats and creative, unexpected synth sounds. The fact that the melodic through line focus is on Matthew’s electric guitar is significant because on several of his recent projects, he’s deferred the guitar lead to others like Sami Turunen. On this song, the guitar work is the seamless collaboration between Matthew and Sami, and when you hear a wild, highly technical guitar solo, that's Sami rocking out!

Composed by Kenny and co-produced and arranged by Kenny and Matthew, “Jazzy Lil Jane II” can trace its roots to the artists’ first meeting at Assembly Line Studios in Vienna VA back in 2008. Matthew engineered a session for Kenny, who was vocal arranging and producing for an artist named Elika. Matthew loved McNeil’s vocal artistry and asked if he would contribute to writing and singing on a song called “Forever.” Their immediate friendship evolved into a business partnership, and within a year, they completed the album What’s Your Dream? – and their friendship and partnership have blossomed from there.

While the track stands on its own as a dynamic introduction to their work as a duo, Kenny offers a unique back story involving an alternate take with lyrics weaving an intriguing narrative. He says, “There are revamped lyrics and enhanced melodic vocals prepared afte the new Chill Afrobeat vibe takes its course. The vision is to create this vibe and sound to be extremely powerful but able to move without disturbing the natural order of things.”

Kenny’s original lyrics were about a woman who is married but living a separate life being entangled with a man who is a night and day difference from her husband, and who doesn’t understand why this woman pursues him when she has a perfect life. At the end, the hustler realizes he has several women like this calling him – and that he is the one who allows and opens the door for these women to chase him. He knows he has to change. As for the title, “Jazzy Lil Jane” is not a specific person but represents any opportunist who tries to be in our life for the wrong reasons.

Matthew and Kenny have recorded a full album titled We’ll Find a Way II: The Chill Afrobeat Album and will be releasing individual singles over the next months leading to the drop of the collection.


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