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Shane Dylan's 'A Star or a Lonely Dreamer' fuses jazz, hip-hop and local talent

Shane Dylan describes his new album as “a tribute to Boston and to the music scene.” (Courtesy Marika Belamarich)
Shane Dylan describes his new album as “a tribute to Boston and to the music scene.” (Courtesy Marika Belamarich)

As a teenage pianist, Shane Dylan frequented Wally’s Jazz Cafe Club. It fed his love of jazz, but also introduced him to new artists and provided a space to play with fellow musicians.

“I used to go to [Wally's] all the time... they would always have a little set, and then afterwards there would be a jam session and I remember as a kid sitting in with them. I got a lot of experience,” Dylan says.

Now, some of the artists Dylan met at Wally’s, including trumpeter Chunka Amaré and bassist JP Heston are on his debut hip-hop album “A Star or a Lonely Dreamer.”

Dylan, 21, describes the album as “a tribute to Boston and to the music scene.”  It blends his jazz-influenced compositions with local talents Red Shaydez, Tashawn Taylor, Amanda Shea, Jolee Gordon and Kae. Dylan composed the music for the album, and while his voice is heard in harmony on some of the tracks, he highlights the other musicians.

Dylan met many of the other instrumentalists on the album through the New England Conservatory of Music, where he is currently getting his degree in jazz piano performance.

The album audibly captures Dylan’s love for piano. He began playing when he was around 7-years-old at the Brookline Music School. By middle school, Dylan really got into jazz, and was inspired by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Red Garland. He learned to fuse jazz with R&B and hip-hop, which he puts on display on his new album.

The song “In My Solitude” is a prime example of the jazz that permeates Dylan’s work. The song’s chorus honors Duke Ellington’s “In My Solitude,” famously performed by Billie Holiday. Dylan rearranged the instruments and added an element of rap by featuring Tashawn Taylor on the track, singing by Evan Wright and Amanda Shea reciting her graceful poetry.

Shane Dylan with artists featured on his album at their release concert. (Courtesy Kristopher Carter)
Shane Dylan with artists featured on his album at their release concert. (Courtesy Kristopher Carter)

In fact, poetry inspires a few introspective moments on the album. Dylan’s 16-year-old sister, Jordan Liss-Riordan, wrote and narrated “Moon Girl (interlude).” “I want to exist according to impulse/ I wonder if it’s too late to start again,” she speaks softly over mellow instrumentation. The words came after reflection and conversation with Dylan. “I feel like it's so easy in life to think we are supposed to be a certain way,” he said, “and how we think the world should perceive us.”

Dylan spent a lot of time pondering the order of the tracks — he wanted to make sure that even with varying sounds and voices, that the album had a cohesive sound. The album ranges in emotions. “The narrator is going on from some moments where they're having feelings of confidence. And at another moment, it's more like they're kind of more in their head, whether it's reflecting or battling insecurity,” he says. An introspective and emotional person, Dylan feels that the album title reflects his identity.

The one place he reliably finds sanctuary is playing music. “When I was at the piano, there was always a place where I felt like I could find peace. It would be sitting by myself, practicing or writing music and it was always like a place where I felt like I knew what I was doing,” he says.

The album includes 10 songs and features over 13 artists. “I try to kind of take the time on some of the songs to really showcase the band playing. I really was trying to be true to each element and giving each element its moment to shine,” he says.

Related:

Magdiela Matta Twitter Arts Fellow
Magdiela Matta was the arts and culture reporting fellow for WBUR in 2021.

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