Creative destruction. That’s how Gideon King describes the process of making music with his all-star band, Gideon King & City Blog (GKCB), and it’s easy to hear why. The group’s remarkable new EP, ‘Love Knot,’ is a musical wrecking ball, tearing down walls and obliterating convention as it forges its own exhilarating path through the worlds of jazz, rock, folk, and soul. Hinting at everything from Seal and Lianne La Havas to Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, the collection is both sophisticated and accessible, weaving its way through unexpected changes with lush arrangements and addictive hooks. King’s gifts as a writer and instrumentalist are on full display here, but more than anything, ‘Love Knot’ is a testament to the chemistry he’s able to generate with his bandmates in GKCB, an ever-evolving group whose virtuosity adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
“Once I’ve written chords and lyrics and brought them to the band the tune starts to emerge,” says King. “That’s when the groove starts to develop, when the harmonies start to take shape, when the song truly begins to blossom. Things rarely end up the way I imagined them at the beginning, and that’s my favorite part of playing with such incredible musicians.”
Recorded over the course of three intensive days at King’s Hudson Valley studio, ‘Love Knot’ explores romantic relationships from a variety of perspectives, examining all the harmony and dissonance that inevitably result when two human beings come together as one. King writes about love with great wit and nuance, showing rather than telling as he paints evocative, sometimes abstract portraits of men and women struggling to reconcile with the inexplicable energy of love. The intoxicating title track, for instance, reflects on the uncertainty lurking in relationships (“Is it over? Or is it just beginning?” vocalists Caleb Hawley and Alita Moses sing back and forth), while the slinky “Go Along To Get Along” spins a captivating tale about a male contract killer and his lover with New York and certain dark country roads as a violent backdrop. The breezy “Cliff” looks back on a breakup with equal parts regret, bitterness, and humor.
“These aren’t love songs, per se,” says King. “They’re songs about the crosswinds and jagged edges of relationships.”
Born and raised in New York City, King was surrounded by a wide range of music in his youth. His brother was a jazz prodigy who was already playing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie at the age of ten; his parents were classical purists who begrudgingly acknowledged even the mere existence of pop and jazz, and his sisters were free spirits who turned him on to the likes of Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd. When he launched Gideon King & City Blog, King envisioned a studio project that synthesized all of those formative influences into a cohesive whole, a loosely defined group with a rotating cast of characters who would come in and out based on the needs of each tune. King’s work features an astonishing list of collaborators, including guitar pioneer John Scofield (Charlies Mingus, Miles Davis), sax legend Donny McCaslin (David Bowie, Bobby McFerrin), renowned vocalist Marc Broussard, and SNL bassist James Genus (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea), among others. The first full studio album, ‘City Blog,’ released in 2015, earned glowing reviews, with the Huffington Post dubbing it “some of the most complex and satisfying music you may ever hear.” King returned to the studio in 2018 and released ‘Upscale Madhouse,” which garnered even more critical raves. The response encouraged King to take GKCB out of the studio and onto the stage, and so he assembled a live ensemble that began performing to packed houses at iconic New York clubs like The Blue Note, Joe’s Pub, and City Winery.
“When I put the live band together, my guiding principle was that I wanted to be the worst musician in the group,” says King. “I wanted to surround myself with artists who could push me and challenge me and elevate me, and I can’t say how rewarding that’s been.”
For ‘Love Knot,’ King leaned on the members of that core live band—pianist/music director Bryan Reeder, bassist Jeff Hanley, drummers Jake Goldbas, Diego Ramirez, and Zach Mullings, and vocalists Caleb Hawley, Alita Moses, and Sonny Step—which lent a cohesion to the recordings. In the studio, he encouraged the musicians to follow their instincts and try new things. The end result is the best of both worlds, a collection that lives and breathes in the moment without sacrificing an ounce of precision.
“My goal in the studio is to push players to the point where they almost hate me,” laughs King. “When they’re on the the brink, I know that’s when I’ve gotten all I can from them. It can be painstaking, but it’s worth it.”
Creative destruction always is.