No Filter is the eleventh album from Michael Kaeshammer. This is the sound of an artist following his muse completely unhindered by thoughts of commercial imperatives or genre constraints.
The prolific Vancouver Island-based singer/songwriter/pianist/producer has earned a loyal international following as a triple threat. He’s a piano virtuoso with a technical mastery of many different styles, an eloquent singer/songwriter, and a charming and engaging performer.
On No Filter, Michael mixes his well-crafted and melodic original songs with a couple of evocative piano instrumentals, and the result is a delightfully varied collection.
Kaeshammer has completely come to terms with his eclectic taste in music, something showcased on the record. “The songs here are just things I wanted to write,” he explains. “If they sound as if they have been influenced by a lot of different things, then that is just the way it is. To me, it just sounds like my music.”
On No Filter, Michael takes the listener on a highly entertaining journey through refreshingly diverse musical terrain. It begins, fittingly enough, with “Letter From the Road,” a buoyant and upbeat romp with exuberant horns and Michael in top boogie-woogie form. “Nothing Seems To Reach You” has rich dynamics via the combination of horns, organ and backing vocals, and it also showcases Michael’s smooth and soulful voice.
“Everybody Catches Love Sometime,” a co-write with James Bryan (Philosopher Kings), is a tender treat featuring sweet lyrics and a sound boosted by Randy Bachman’s typically fluent guitar work. Another highlight on an album devoid of lowlights is “Late Night Train,” with Michael’s lyrical piano complementing the honeyed voice of Denzal Sinclaire.
No Filter also features a couple of instrumentals, the jaunty “Westcoast Spirit” and the mellow album closer, “Sunset.” “I felt the record needed a breather at those points,” Michael explains.
Kaeshammer wrote these new songs at home, many on a grand piano he brought in for just this pupose. He arranged and recorded them in demo form, then had them fleshed out in the studio by his A-list touring band. That comprises bassist Devon Henderson, drummer Roger Travassos, trumpeter William Sperandei, tenor saxophonist Chris Gale, and trombonist William Carn.
The personal and musical empathy of this group is certainly audible on No Filter. “When you have a band that knows each other and really get along as people, the actual recording process is an easy one,” says Michael.
The self-produced album was recorded over just two days at elite Toronto studio Revolution Recordings. “Everything was live off the floor,” Kaeshammer recalls. “I find preparation is the key for that, so everything was set in stone the way I wrote and arranged it at home.”
Guest horn arrangers on the album are William Sperandei (“Talk To Me Baby”) and Juno-winning jazz luminary Phil Dwyer (“Letter From The Road,” “Nothing Seems To Reach You.”)
Some notable special guests also make valuable contributions to No Filter. Denzal Sinclaire adds vocals to “Late Night Train,” while Joel Parisien sings on “Sweet Grace,” a tune he co-wrote with Michael and Ron Lopata. Paul Pigat plays guitar on “Letter From The Road,” while Randy Bachman is featured on “Everybody Catches Love Sometime.”
Michael explains that “Randy and I have been wanting to do something together. I sent that song to him and asked if he could come in and play with the band on it, and it really fits the song. With Denzal, I’m a friend and a huge fan. When ‘Late Night Train’ came around, I thought it’d work perfectly for us to do together.”
No Filter showcases Michael Kaeshammer’s impressive evolution as a perceptive and poetic lyricist. “To me, unless a song is an instrumental, it always starts with the lyric. I begin in a stream of consciousness style, and then play around with it. The song rather writes itself after you get started.’
Helping Michael fine-tune his lyrics is gifted Nashville songwriter John Goodwin (Brad Paisley, Jeff Bridges, Judy Collins). “I met John down there about ten years ago when I was there to write for a record, and he and I have kept up a friendship. When you see an interview with Leonard Cohen and everything comes out of his mouth is like poetry, well John is like that. I’ll send a song and ask him to tweak a line or two. He’ll re-word it or take something out and all of a sudden it is perfect!”
Kaeshammer notes that “I find it easier to write from the heart in my songs. If I’m writing on my own at home it is like therapy. You can say things in a song you couldn’t say out loud in the same way. When I write a song I don’t know if anyone will ever hear it, so there’s no filter on it.”
Michael is now eager to add some of the material from No Filter to his live set list. Touring is a major component of his career, and his well-honed skills as a performer have placed him in real demand, in Canada and beyond.
At home, he can headline such prestigious concert halls as Massey Hall and Koerner Hall in Toronto and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and he regularly performs in Europe. One welcoming new market that has opened up for him in recent years is China, and Michael is breaking new ground for jazz there.
“I’ve toured China five times now, after first playing there at Canada House during the Beijing Olympics, and I’ll return in October,” he explains. “I play six week tours covering 30 cities, some of which have never had live jazz, ever. I play in lovely 1,000- 2,000 seat theatres, sometimes solo, sometimes with my band. At least a third of the audience will be kids, from 5 year-olds to teenagers. Piano students who come with their parents.’
Kaeshammer is an excellent role model for young music students, as he first made his own mark as a young piano prodigy. Growing up in Offenburg, Germany, he studied classical piano for seven years prior to falling in love at 13 with the boogie-woogie and stride piano stylings of such greats as Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis.
A quick study, Michael soon became skilled enough in this style tp perform it in clubs, concerts and festivals through Germany and beyond. When his parents moved the family to BC, Kaeshammer quickly attracted a following here, becoming popular on the jazz and blues festivals circuit.
His 1996 debut album, Blue Keys, was actually a solo piano record, and Michael has never lost contact with those roots. Last year he released another record of solo piano instrumentals, The Pianist, in under the radar fashion. “That album wasn’t planned as anything other than my recording some songs for my parents,” Michael recalls. “It’s as if you’re just sitting on your couch at home listening to me play.’
The Pianist did attract enthusiastic reviews, and was recently nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award. Kaeshammer has won previous WCMAs as Musician of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, while seven Juno Award nominations have netted him two wins.
With his recording career now spanning two full decades, Michael Kaeshammer has emerged as a truly original artist at the very top of his game and one in love with the creative process.
“Right now I love playing and making music more than ever,” he stresses. “It has got to a point where it is a really important part of my life rather than being my life and I love it so much now.’
Another big part of Michael’s life now is cooking, something this skilled chef jokingly calls “an addiction. I lose track of time when I do it, just like music. The fun part is cooking for people and watching their reaction. That’s like playing a show I guess. In the end it is all about the 12 year old Michael going ‘hey look at me!’”
We may not be able to enjoy Michael Kaeshammer’s latest culinary creation, but we can now certainly partake of his newest musical offering, No Filter. Satisfaction guaranteed.