In addition to all the great original music being generated locally, Wisconsin is also in the business of exporting extraordinary talent to other parts of the country and the world.
A splendid example is singer-songwriter-composer Kat Reinert, whose new album, “Spark” was released on August 21st.
Growing up in Milton, Wisconsin, Reinhert – then Kat Berentsen – began her pursuit of her musical muse at Lawrence University, where she studied with Ken Shaphorst and voice teacher Patrice Michaels-Bedi.
“I loved Lawrence,” Reinhert said. “It was an amazing experience and it was invaluable to my growth as a musician. I found my voice.”
“I love Appleton. It’s such a beautiful place,” she continued. “I still keep in touch with the people from Lawrence.”
After two years at LU, she faced a difficult decision.
“As a singer, I needed more technical education than Lawrence could provide at the time,” she said. “I had to leave this wonderful college and small town for a conservatory in scary New York City.”
She enrolled at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, where one of her classmates and friends was internationally-acclaimed jazz vocalist Jane Monheit. She earned a master’s degree in Jazz Pedagogy in 2007 at The University of Miami where she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Music Education, specializing in Popular Music Education.
“Spark” is a very strong, consistent tour de force that contains 12 Reinhert originals and an engaging cover of Rush’s “Limelight.”
“I’m very proud of this album,” she said, “not only because of the content and the themes it explores, but also because of the music and the arrangements that the musicians helped to create and shape as we’ve played together for the last four years. This is the kind of album I’ve always wanted to make.”
“It’s my originals as I envisioned them,” Kat said. “We recorded in this old school studio where I’ve always wanted to record; they have Coltrane’s mike and a grand piano from Carnegie Hall. I hired a producer – pianist David Cook – I had not done that before. I also hired a publicist, because I want to be honest about what I’m doing. This does not fit into jazz or any other genre – and that’s okay. It’s me celebrating music and allowing the musicians to be who they are. I’m fulfilling the dream of a 19 year-old kid.”
The new CD is the culmination of “six or seven” years of her exploration of songwriting.
“Over that time, I concentrated on lyrics,” she said. “I want to write lyrics that not only help me but perhaps others who are dealing with things that they cannot talk about. When you go through the jazz vocal programs, at both the undergrad and grad level, there is no emphasis on songwriting. You study the great songs but they don’t tell you how they were written or how they were created.”
There were two years in between that she wasn’t living in New York.
“I used the time like a workshop,” Kat said “to get better at the things I wanted to get better at. I had something deep to say that I wasn’t finding in the standards.”
A growing trust of the players in the band led to a more team-oriented approach when it came to the arrangements.
“They trust you as a person and as a musician and I trust them,” she said, “and that enables me to bring in something that isn’t quite finished and ask ‘what do you think?’”
The title tune addresses the same values in a relationship, as she writes, “at last I trusted, at last I listened, at last I found you were here for me.”
Much of the lyrical content deals with the kind of heartbreak and insight that comes after years of experience.
“Divorce does really interesting things to you, like any life-changing loss,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to look inside yourself and be honest.”
“Prison” includes the line, “you’ve got to kick the ball and chain of shame to the curb,” while the opening cut, “Walk Into The Rain,” includes “we’ve said goodbye so I know that I’ve just got to walk into the rain…so that we can be free to love.”
Reinhert is at perhaps her deepest and most reflective on “Without A Fight,” where she speaks of “sitting naked in your living room and you pray for the courage to move.”
“I was very angry when I wrote that song, so it was actually pretty easy to write,” she said. “It is awesome as a songwriter to have a song that has double and triple meanings for people.”
There is plenty of positive, upbeat emotion available in songs like “My Arms,” “Little Compartments,” and “Naked,” an interesting exercise in self-exploration of the “palladium mystery” of her “secret disguise” and her request for “silk sheets, if you please.”
An off-the-cuff suggestion and a Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert led her to cover Rush’s Limelight.”
“It deals with what you do after you succeed or fail. You go back to work,” she said. “You do not compete with your success or failure.”
The album features outstanding playing – Reinhert gives her band plenty of room to stretch out, develop themes and have fun – from Cook on piano/keyboards, guitarist Perry Smith, bassist Sam Minale and drummer Ross Pederson. Cellist Jody Redhage adds just the right touch on “Prison” and “Paper Bag.”
The entire ensemble seems to be on the same page with the mantra that is prominently featured on Reinhert’s refrigerator: “I will dare greatly to create a life that’s filled with love, gratitude and music so that I can help others to find their voices with the gifts that I share.”
“Spark” can be purchased at katreinhert.com – she is also on Face Book, Instagram and Twitter.