The AltoRays is made up of Montreal-born-and-raised, Austin-based vocalist Dianne Donovan and Austin, Texas-based guitarist, composer, and producer Mitch Watkins. The duo has created a space-funky ‘ChillJazz’ bop from their debut album, Back to the Light.
In the vast ocean of sound, the artists that rise to the top usually ride a wave of their own unique voice and innovation. Enter eclectic jazz duo The AltoRays, who continue to carve their own exciting improvisational path with the third groovy single from their debut album Back to the Light, “The Hop.”
“It’s a groovin’ dance mixed with layered vocals, sleek guitar riffs and off-the wall improv,” describes Mitch Watkins.
Once again, Watkins and Donovan have combined their hunger for exploration, experimentation, and mad scientist motivation to create a fresh approach and feel to a genre with deep roots and tradition. The duo refers to the eight unconventional and highly collaborative songs on Back to the Light as creating a new genre category called ‘ChillJazz.’
“It took a pandemic!” Watkins says, giving silver-lining credit to the two-year, global health crisis for allowing him and Donovan enough time in their schedules to finally create their long-planned duo album, Back to the Light, released in November 2021.
“The music is unlike anything either of us have done before,” notes Watkins. “Instead of straight-ahead jazz, we explored every music form that has ever influenced us from Steely Dan to Weather Report, to Philip Glass to groove, R & B and pop.”
Collaborating in what they fondly call ‘Pent-Up House,’ Watkins and Donovan found the great flow of creativity to be unstoppable.
“There was something truly magical about those late-night sessions,” recalls Watkins. “The spirit was uninhibited, and we’d try anything and everything.”
“The Hop” is perfectly representative of those late-night, anything and everything sessions and has a video to underline it all visually. The psychedelic video reflects the pop of the ’60s in more innocent times. The video, by E. Buschek, uses a visualizer and analog visuals.
Donovan’s vocals on “The Hop” and all throughout Back to the Light are wordless, improvisational, and melodically textured, creating their own song within a song.
“This is the freest I’ve ever been as a vocalist,” says Donovan. “I got to explore the multi ranges of my voice and the textures, from an all-hummed tune to all-whispered singing, to animal sounds.”
In addition to Donovan’s vocals and the instrumentation provided by Watkins, drummer Tom Brechtlein (Wayne Shorter, Robben Ford, Al Dimeola), pianist Sean Giddings (Christopher Cross), saxophonist Rob Lockart (Arturo Sandoval, Terence Trent D’Arby, Paul Anka) and percussionist, Dr. Tom Burritt also contributed their significant talents to the recording.
As the duo at the creative core of The AltoRays, Watkins, and Donovan both have deep wells of experience to draw from.
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I’m Jenna, and I am the founder and editor of Canadian Beats. I have had a strong love for Canadian music, which started many years ago. I have a passion for promoting these talented Canadian bands and artists, and that’s how Canadian Beats came to be. I am so proud of what it has become over the last few years, with many talented music lovers and writers coming together to spread the word of Canada’s music.