Aaron Whitby ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ CD (Ropeadope) 4/5

For a career as diverse and rewarding as Aaron Whitby’s has been, it certainly comes as a surprise that his new release, ‘Cousin From Another Planet’, marks his official debut solo project as a bandleader.

That very diverse and rewarding career has seen London-born Whitby – as a pianist – grace stages and studios with artists including George Clinton, Raul Midon, Natalie Cole, Neal Sedaka, as well as serving as the Musical Director for his wife, vocalist Martha Redbone. Even throughout Redbone’s own auspicious career, Whitby’s never been far from her side and has served as a co-writer and co-producer for each of her releases, ‘Home of the Brave’, ‘Skintalk’ (released through Dome Records) and ‘The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake’, as well as the incredibly successful NYC-based musicals they have gone on to create together.

‘Cousin From Another Planet’ fittingly now sees Redbone by her husband’s side providing vocals throughout with a thrilling array of artists and musicians, many of which serving as long-time Whitby collaborators and with an awe-inspiring body of work between them: saxophonist Keith Loftis (Abdullah Ibrahim, Roy Hargrove Big Band), bass by Fred Cash (Martha Redbone) and Jerome Harris (Sonny Rollins), violin by Charles Burnham (Stuart Matthewman, Cassandra Wilson), percussion by Gary Fritz (Roberta Flack, Ronny Jordan), drums by Rodney Holmes (Santana, Monday Michiru), and vocals provided by the aforementioned Redbone, Lisa Fischer, Rome Neal and Tamar-Kali.

Listening to this album, there really is no doubt that Whitby and company are a collective of musicians that genuinely enjoy making and performing music – ‘Cousin From Another Planet’ seems to capture an infectious, almost joyous, energy that just carries throughout the project with songs like ‘Escape Route’, ‘Sleeping Giant’ and ‘Mrs Quadrillon’. It’s an understandable conclusion to draw – with much of the album reportedly having been conceived during morning walks with his son to school, it’s touching that that experience itself is commemorated with the song ‘Walking With Z’ (Zach). Even when tackling Herbie Hancock’s ‘The Eye of the Hurricane’, the allure of creation is just too great and the original composition ends up serving as a launchpad for what ultimately transforms into ‘The Eye of the Hurricane 2.0’.

Released through Ropeadope Records, Whitby has potentially delivered his tour de force. This could be the record he’s longed to make – the project that serves as the culmination of years of studio and live collaborations, a homage to his own influences as well as the chance to establish Whitby’s own name amongst these masters.

Imran Mirza