CMU Artists Of The Year 2010 – #4: Chilly Gonzales

In February, Jason Beck released a free mixtape to celebrate officially changing his name to Chilly Gonzales. Entitled ‘Pianist Envy’ it kick started what has been an incredibly busy and successful year for Gonzales.

Beck has, of course, recorded under the name Gonzales for a number of years, releasing numerous solo albums in the guise, and also producing artists such as Feist, Jamie Lidell and Buck 65. Although his career has spanned many genres, it all stems from the piano, an instrument on which he is classically trained and also the holder of the record for the longest ever solo performance (27 hours, three minutes and 44 seconds).

Receiving widespread acclaim, ‘Pianist Envy’ saw him apply his piano skills to a variety of hip hop and R&B tracks by the likes of 50 Cent and Kelly Clarkson over 28 minutes, with the man himself saying: “[This is] my declaration of defiance to the rappers and beatmakers who, unbeknownst to them, leave space for my musical imagination. You know those rap beats and electro songs – the ones with almost nothing in them? Well, I go all Liberace on these beats with my piano and my orchestra”. He’s not one for making half-hearted statements.

In August he released his latest album, ‘Ivory Tower’, which saw him and producers Boyz Noize throw all manner of styles at his piano compositions, adding dance beats, rapping, synths and 80s soft rock along the way to create an album that, while not perfect, has enough hooks and hits to keep you coming back. And the profile of the record was helped in no small part by its first single, ‘Never Stop’, being picked up by Apple for its iPad TV adverts.

Coinciding with the album release, Gonzales also began screening his first film, also called ‘Ivory Tower’ and featuring music from the record. Billed as an “existential sports comedy”, Team CMU was treated to the first airing of the film in Germany, at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg in September.

Directed by Adam Traynor and starring Gonzales along with fellow musicians Peaches and Tiga, the film follows two champion chess player brothers in a bitter battle of love and chess. This probably sounds weird already, and I haven’t even tried to explain the concept of ‘jazz chess’, which runs through the entire movie. Although it takes a while to settle into, about 30 minutes in ‘Ivory Tower’ becomes one of the funniest and most quotable films we’ve seen in a long time. Tiga, in particular, turns out to be an incredible comic actor.

But that’s not all. As anyone who has witnessed it will know, the Gonzales live show is where his genius really lies, and I’ve been lucky enough to see him play three times this year, both solo and with a full band. What’s unique about his show is that he manages to blend music and comedy without diluting either, something he seems to have totally perfected in 2010. He can dazzle you with incredible musicianship and make you laugh until your face hurts both separately and at the same time, resulting in one of the most entertaining shows on the live music circuit.

As well as all of this, he even provided piano accompaniment for Peaches’ solo performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. I hope he has a rest soon, he’s going to tire himself out. Maybe release the ‘Ivory Tower’ film on DVD next, that probably doesn’t require much exertion.

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