Luminously striking a power pose on the cover of her “Heaven on Earth” album, urban-jazz violinist Brooke Alford’s five-year process in writing and recording her second full-length collection has been an honest, emotional and raw journey through traumatic loss and unexpected difficulties. When pushing through is the only option, the album is about overcoming no matter the circumstances thus the music on the nine-song set that dropped last Friday is an empowering and invigorating listen reflecting “The Artist of the Violin’s” enlightenment, growth and personal development through her lived experiences.
Although she released her debut album, “Expressions,” in 2007 followed by “The Viosocalist” EP in 2012, the Atlanta-based Alford had never gone after radio airplay until she teamed with seminal urban-jazz keyboardist Bob Baldwin to produce the single “Closer” in 2018. At the time, she didn’t know the sensual R&B groove with reggae percussion inflections on which she and Baldwin sing the chorus would be the inception of an album project. The single fulfilled her objective of getting radio spins, earning a spot in the top fifty. A remixed version appears on the album that opens with another Baldwin collaboration – the optimistic single, “Heaven on Earth,” illumined by Alford’s exquisite violin play – to bookend the album.
The next year, Alford’s father was diagnosed with cancer, shifting her focus from music to family. Then the pandemic hit, further stifling her artistic output. Her father did succumb to the disease in 2020, leaving the family devastated. Through prayer and reflection, Alford had a realization. Instead of mourning, she decided to shine, determined to honor her father by creating a legacy of hope, inspiration and upliftment.
“2020 by far was the toughest year of my life, yet the most rewarding. I saw a very dark side of life when my father perished from the illness. While transition is very sad and hurtful, I found this experience with my dad to be bittersweet. It takes ‘loss’ in order to ‘gain.’ It is a difficult life lesson. My dad inspired me to just ‘go for it’ and shine bright like a diamond in my music career and life. His legacy will continue to evolve and live through me and my future linage,” said Alford who will remember her father during an album release concert on Father’s Day (June 18) at City Winery in Atlanta.
Taking her father’s cue, Alford wrote “SHINE” with George Freeman. The funky mid-tempo single dropped in 2021.
Moving on with her life as the world emerged from the pandemic last spring, Alford and Freeman wrote and released the festive “New Day” featuring the keyboardist’s elegant solo buttressed by impassioned violin play.
“Last year was a significant one. A newness had occurred. With the world recovering from the pandemic, it was time to celebrate coming into a fresh season, a ‘new day.’ Writing the melody felt so natural and the creation flowed like water through my fingers. I sent the melody to George (Freeman), and he perfectly matched the energy in the production. The organ that he added to the song gave such a soulful rock and classic feel, just like a fresh Sunday sunrise,” described Alford.
Last August, the rousing “On The Move” became the third Alford and Freeman creation to release as a single. It’s a slick and soulful contemporary jazz energizer. Alford said the song is about the certainty found in life’s constant forward motion.
At that point, Alford knew she had an album taking shape, one that derived inspiration from the discomfort she had endured and captured her positivity and enthusiastic spirit. As she planned the recording sessions and plotted the release with her team, more unanticipated setbacks forced her to shelve the project for a time.
After regaining her footing yet again, the resilient Alford resumed work on “Heaven on Earth,” which consists of eight of her originals and a completely reimagined version of Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” The cover tune has roots dating back to a 2017 recording date with friends Justin C. Gilbert and Anthony Parrish. Alford experimented by placing her classical violin amidst hip hop beats, cuts and scratches, and a rap.
“It was pure synergy. Although the energy was right in the studio, the recording process came to a halt because of life happenings and changes. Last fall, Justin and I said simultaneously that we should finish working on the track. The song transformed from simply Rhodes keyboards, percussion and violin to what is heard on the track today. I invited two of my favorite artists in hip-hop, James ‘DJ Jsmoove’ Hayes and emcee Mully Man, to take the production to even greater heights,” said Alford.
On “Feeling Love,” a sophisticated and seductive R&B-jazz dalliance, Alford teamed with crooner Kelley Andre to cowrite and produce the song. His rich baritone voice provides the male counterpart to Alford’s feminine energy presented in the form of lush strings and expressive violin.
Alford tapped Grammy nominee Reggie Hines to cowrite and produce a pair of tunes with her. On the ambient “Wanting More,” she records for the first time playing an electric violin, creating a yearning and desirous sound as the track’s tempo and intensity builds to a crescendo. Alford says her performance pays homage to one of her primary influences, the late violinist Noel Pointer. The second collaboration, “Cascade to the Congo,” is an eclectic amalgam of sounds, styles and textures driven by a throbbing Euro house beat and Hines’ saxophone wails.
“After we laid down ‘the’ take for ‘Wanting More,’ I was ready for us to create a contrasting tune that was upbeat, had natural sounding percussive instruments, a dance groove, and a violin-saxophone duet. We had to navigate our way to the synergy of this track since there are so many approaches to take based on the elements I wanted in the track. Once we found our groove, we FOUND it,” Alford emphasized.
“Life is a beautiful dance, and ‘Cascade to the Congo’ transcends all age groups, ethnicities, backgrounds, and so much more. The song captures the ethos of the entire album. It is all about getting up, dancing, and celebrating self-love and those special moments with loved ones. This track reminds me that this is such an amazing time to be alive, that one can genuinely experience ‘Heaven on Earth.’”
“Heaven on Earth” contains the following songs:
“Heaven on Earth”
“New Day” featuring George Freeman
“On the Move”
“Feeling Love” featuring Kelley Andre
“Cascade to the Congo”
“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”
Bonus Track: “Closer (Quiet Storm Radio Edit featuring Bob Baldwin)
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