Led by 23-year-old soul sensation Ziek McCarter, San Francisco's Con Brio has mesmerized crowds with performances on some of the world's biggest stages including Austin City Limits 2015 and Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016 (Australia). Con Brio (meaning with spirit) has already graced the cover of Pollstar magazine, and the 7-piece group has premiere festival appearances forthcoming at this year's Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, North Sea Jazz (The Netherlands), Fuji Rock (Japan), Montreal Jazz Fest, Summerfest, and FloydFest; as well as upcoming tour dates with Grace Potter. Con Brio has cultivated a crazed fanbase without having released a full-length studio recording. Come July 2016, that'll change as Con Brio is set to unleash a dozen newly recorded songs into the stratosphere!
In anticipation of the band's featured 2016 festival appearances, Con Brio has teamed up with legendary producer Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Beck, Seu Jorge) for their debut studio album, Paradise (Release Date: July 15, 2016). Paradise is pure and simple a declaration of independence you can dance to; an assertion of what can happen when the human spirit is truly free.
The night before Con Brio headed into the studio to record their first full-length album, Ziek McCarter had a dream. In it, the singer received a visit from his father, an Army veteran who died at the hands of East Texas police in 2011. His father delivered an invitation: Come with me to paradise.
McCarter woke up with a song in his bones. "It was one of the most spiritual moments of my life," he recalls. It was up to him, he knew, to rise above injustice, and to perform in a way that lifted up those around him as well. To make Con Brio's music a place of serenity, compassion -- even euphoria -- right here on earth.
From the first primal wail of Benjamin Andrews' electric guitar on the title track, Paradise tells a story about modern life through its contradictions. "Liftoff" speaks of an urge to fly, to transcend the day-to-day with a starry, bird's-eye view. "Hard Times" brings us crashing back to earth with the struggles of city life, inequality, and a fractured society desperate for healing. "Money" is a revolution, a rejection of societal pressure to equate success with a paycheck and abandon one's dreams in the process.
"Free & Brave," the band's most overtly political anthem, is also arguably its most infectious. Over a driving R&B groove courtesy of veteran rhythm section Jonathan Kirchner and Andrew Laubacher (bass and drums), McCarter name-checks Trayvon Martin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clearly inspired by his own personal relationship with police brutality, the song is equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.
"'Free & Brave' is in part a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was also created to serve as a reminder -- to myself and to whoever finds joy in that song -- that there is a light there. We don't have to get bogged down, we don't have to feel helpless," says McCarter. "We might not see it on a daily basis, but we are still 'the land of the free and home of the brave'...I still take pride in that, in what pieces of joy and happiness we can create here with our actions."
Of course, songs about love and passion remain Con Brio's native tongue. (At Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016 in which the band shared a bill with D'Angelo, one journalist told McCarter his sex appeal had eclipsed that of his longtime idol. McCarter continues to have no comment.) So it's a refreshing surprise that the strongest love song on Paradise, in fact, is "Honey," a sweet, spacious and vulnerable tune that allows the band's horn section, Brendan Liu and Marcus Stephens, to shine. Though the group's built a reputation on sonic bravado, it's choices like these -- moments in which the music's power flows from its subtlety -- that truly highlight where Con Brio is going.
After showcasing many of these songs live throughout the past year, Con Brio is running on adrenaline, and they're thrilled to finally put this record in people's hands. To bring old fans along for the journey, to help new fans lose themselves in a beat or a message. To spread music that, hopefully, shakes away the daily grind -- and nurtures listeners' dreams about what their version of paradise on earth might look like, even for the duration of a song.
Ziek McCarter already knows what his looks like, because Con Brio's building it. And from where he's sitting, they're well past ready for liftoff.
"We don't want to walk, we don't want to drive," he says with a laugh. "We want to fly! We want to levitate!"