If you’re interested in jazz you might have noticed the recent buzz around the up and coming artist named Kiefer. His downbeat and lo-fi debut LP ‘Kickinit Alone’ was released in 2016 and became an underground hit; with tracks like ‘U R What U Repeatedly Do’ and ‘Reinvent Yo Self’ being particularly praised for their fluid fusion of hip-hop and jazz.
Kiefer Shackleford was taught to play the piano at a very young age by his father; a pianist and jazz enthusiast himself, who also educated him on the work of jazz greats such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis as he grew up in San Diego. Now living in Los Angeles, Kiefer works with hip-hop producer Mndsgn as part of his live band at shows, cooks up beats with up and coming rapper/producer Jonwayne and has rubbed shoulders with other notable names such as Moses Sumney and Anderson Paak.
‘Happysad’ is an amalgamation of different emotions and feelings as Kiefer explores different chord progressions and improvisations with the expertise that only an accomplished pianist could muster. Whilst the nature of the music obviously tends to expose different emotions depending on the listener, there are some tracks on the project where Shackleford almost takes your hand and leads you on a sensual journey – the track names also tend to do a reasonably good job of signposting the emotion or feeling trying to be conveyed.
Opening tracks ‘Dope Nerd’ and ‘What A Day’ are fine examples of this, with the former producing instant slow head bopping vibes with it’s chilled out tone and the latter exuding summery fun with its repetitive and catchy piano refrains, interjected speech sample that break up the flow (there is very minimal voice sampling or singing on the album – or at least not that much that is obvious), and jazzy improvisation midway through the track.
Afterwards, the tracks ‘Highway 46’ and ‘Highway 41’ take a listener on a more ambient journey than the previous tracks with much more simplistic and stripped back soundscapes to what has already been heard. Here it becomes obvious as to why Kiefer has drawn similarities with the likes of the late hip-hop icon J Dilla with his production style, as well as Dilla’s protégé Karriem Riggins. Kiefer’s tracks are polished, but don’t feel constrained or too intense.
After the short, funk infused ascension of ‘Upwards’ – a track that successfully employs a genre that Kiefer hasn’t forayed into too much prior to this project , ‘Happysad’ closes on ‘AAAAA’.
‘AAAAA’ is a pulsing blend of soundwaves, lightly crashing cymbals and is probably one of the tracks with the least piano improvisation (or at the very least it seems less prevelant than other tracks); holding back on the piano for a change proved to be a masterstroke here as Kiefer delivers arguably the most sensual production on the project, and a definite stand out track.
Overall, ‘Happysad’ is an excellent second project by Kiefer, and in many ways it’s a more solid all round project than the last. A more critical reviewer might suggest that it lacks a sense of direction for much of the project, but with a hip-hop/jazz fusion project exploring emotions, the lack of direction is more than warranted – especially with Kiefer’s mastery of improvisation in the frame. While ‘Happysad’ is not an album for those that like to have musical ideas spoon fed to them, it is an excellent project for those who enjoy musical exploration and adventure.
‘Happysad’ is out now via Stones Throw Records.