Leisure Chief Debuts Brand New Album ‘Cosmic Comics’

It has been two weeks since Orlando’s outstanding funk-soul-fusion-R&B-rock quintet Leisure Chief issued the first track “Saturday” from their much-anticipated new album Cosmic Comics, which debuts today, January 29.

This band can go in some many great directions, but they specialize in gorgeous silky soul jazz, and Cosmic Comics hits the target they nailed with “Saturday.” The music was written by Derek Engstrom and produced by Keegan Matthews, embodying the evolution of the band’s sound since their 2019 double-single “Deux.” The quintet here is augmented by strings, horns, and percussion to flesh out the dynamic range of the group.

Leisure Chief

There are plenty of reasons why Leisure Chief were recently voted Best Jazz Act in Orlando Weekly’s 2020 reader poll “Best of Orlando.” Five of the best reasons are: Derek Engstrom, lead vocals, background vocals, acoustic guitar, drums; Christian Ryan, alto Saxophone, background vocals; Jordan Garno, Fender Stratocaster guitar; Keegan Matthews, Fender Rhodes Mark II; and Chris McMullen, Fender Precision bass.

Trumpet, trombone, percussion, and a string quartet add great color to the album: Paul Chong-You, trumpet; Derrick Harris, trombone; Aleksandr Zhuk, violin; Ekaterina Gorkhover, violin; Abigail Dreher, viola; Aaron Merritt, cello; and Jorge “ITO” Colón Jr., percussion.

Leisure Chief are best known for their live shows at clubs and festivals in Florida. Cosmic Comics sets about reaffirming their talent in the studio, bringing to life their vision of something beyond. Working with engineers Brian Robertson and Andrew Yeomanson (City Of Progress Studio) and having the album mastered by Grammy award-winning Emily Lazar, assisted by Chris Allgood (The Lodge), has enabled them to bring their vision to life much better than their previous works could. From their press release:

Conceptually, Engstrom cites his inspiration for writing the album title Cosmic Comics as drawn from the book Cosmic Comics by author Italo Calvino, and the ability to illuminate beauty and perspective in often overlooked aspects of life; both serious and playful, but most importantly, parts of the same universe. The album carries that same quality, allowing each song to be explored in and of itself, but clearly parts of a whole. 

Cosmic Comics is available for purchase or stream on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and other platforms. Next Friday, February 5, the band will perform a virtual digital release party at the outstanding New Standard in Winter Park.

Cosmic Comics

“Saturday” features Matthews on electric piano and Garno on guitar, with McMullen’s bass pulsing along with Engstrom’s drums. This is so silky smooth in the very best sense of the word. Engstrom’s beautiful vocals dominate, reminiscent of Jamiroquai and Tortured Soul, with Ryan on backing vocals. The chorus highlights the string quartet and the horns.

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday with you
Is the reason that can get me through.
Another day to lift the weight.
Forget about the childish things we do.

 

When I look into your eyes.
They shine the same color.
Of brown and green and white.
It’s a marvel to behold you.
As we stare into the sky.
Forgive ourselves our former plight.
Only time can nullify.
Bring us closer to the light.

 

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday with you
Is the reason that can get me through.
Another day to lift the weight.
Forget about the childish thing we do.

 

Until we love ourselves again.

 

And absolve ourselves the obvious,
Honey let the light shine in.

 

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday with you
Is the reason that can get me through.
Another day to lift the weight
Forget about the childish things we do.

Much — but not all — of this superb experiment mines that deep groove soul jazz. “slide”certainly does, with the horn section joining Ryan for some great punch, as do McMullen’s deep bass lines. The strings work so well here. Garno has a really fine guitar solo underneath the vocals (much of his best work here is in great support), and Ryan takes a pedal-altered alto solo. The track ends with just the beautiful string quartet.

Anthony “AC” Cole, a titan on the music scene both in Orlando and nationally and a multi-instrumentalist, has a great guest slot on tenor saxophone on the title track. The tune is light and airy, Garno’s soft playing  offering a deft touch. Matthews plays electric piano, and the great backing vocals here and elsewhere are mostly an army of Engstroms with occasional backing from Ryan. There is a cool little electronic ending.

Leisure Chief

One of these things is not like the others: that would be “Space Taco,” an all-out instrumental funk romp. McMullen’s bass along with drums and guitar get the party started. and keep it going… Matthews soars on synths and electric piano. In the midst of the funk, Garno has a really good almost-Southern rock solo!

“Curves” is slow funky soul. Engstrom’s multitrack vocals remind of early Robert Palmer here, and a Rufus groove to boot. The strings join in partway through. Matthews goes badass on both clavinet and synths, Garno rips another solo, and the band laughing brings it to an end.

Ryan on alto sax is right up front on “Window,” full of more slow deep grooves. This one is just plain sweet. Merritt on cello has a fine brief feature, and Garno again shows under the vocals. Ryan has a nice solo, and the strings add to the song’s depth. Engstrom’s drumming is on point start to finish.

Leisure Chief

Pizzicato strings and then McMullen on space bass jump into “Meta,” then electric piano and Ryan and the horns. The syncopated beat is great, a different feel than the other songs. Matthews works the upper register of some keyboard before moving to synths and even melodica, and the strings are back as well. 

“Grumps” begins with Ryan on distorted flute or Matthews on synth (think the opening of “Strawberry Fields”), and the horns and guitar join in. Matthews plays organ here. Lots of vocal Engstoms here as well!

Cosmic Comics is a production masterpiece, and it is played so well by these five gentlemen and their accompanists. The album deserves an examination by you — track by track and as a whole. We think you will be delighted.

 

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