Hemisphere opens its album, American Dream, appropriately with one titled “America.” Unlike much of the rhetoric we hear in the media today, this is a positive assessment of the United States. In fact, much of this 11-song album is overwhelmingly positive.
There’s lots of really nice keyboard instrumentation working throughout the album. That, and harmony vocals. The act is clearly jazz influenced. However, while some of these arrangements are musically sophisticated, this project is closer to sophisticated pop than any sort of jazz album. Rob Shinno is the driving force behind the act, and he plays many different types of keyboards throughout. He’s been playing piano since he was seven and was first schooled in classical music. He formed Hemisphere with Don Bowman, who sings, plays saxophone and keyboards. Bowman is also the act’s lead vocalist.
Even a song like “Where Do We Go Now,” which reads like a questioning type of song, nevertheless comes off positive and hopeful. Its chorus is created with multiple layered vocals, which may remind you of Manhattan Transfer. The song’s verses do take a long hard look at human behavior. Even so, though, the music is so doggone upbeat. The track also includes a really fine jazzy piano solo. Some of this album’s skilled musicianship brings to mind Steely Dan’s ‘70s output.
There was a moment during the ’70 when jazz and pop music intersected more naturally. You don’t hear that so much now, though. This is probably because electronic music and hip-hop sounds have so infiltrated the pop realm. Yes, there are hip-hop artists that respect and appreciate jazz music. For instance, Kendrick Lamar has used jazz musicians to help him complete his musical visions. However, hearing jazz in today’s pop music is usually as rare as hearing classically elements on pop songs. Furthermore, electronic music, with all its computer programming, is nearly accursed among jazz players. Artists like the aforementioned Steely Dan, as well as Joni Mitchell, easily incorporated jazz into their pop recordings during that decade.
All of this is to say that Hemisphere often sounds like a throwback to a bygone era. The pop music this band creates is unlike most of what other contemporary pop acts create. This is likely because these are skilled musicians. Granted, today’s pop players are also skilled, but they’re not often called upon to improvise the way jazz players are taught to do.
One titled “These Are The Days,” with its rollicking electric guitar fills throughout, as well its electric guitar solo, is the album’s rocking-ist track. It’s not, say, Van Halen rocking, mind you, but it’s guitar-y enough to please rock and rollers.
Those that miss that intersection between jazz and pop music, will gravitate toward American Dream. Also, anyone bored with the overly beat-heavy sounds of today’s pop should be impressed by Hemisphere’s fine playing and singing. Lastly, let’s not forget the act’s positivity. The world desperately needs hope to hang onto. Hemisphere fills its music with a whole lot of hope. If this music doesn’t make you feel even a little bit more peaceful, you better listen again more closely. As you mom used to say, this stuff is good for you.