Artist to Watch: Vincent Orsolini

photo by Jim Barcus, makeup by KC Posh, Hannah Baker

The Kansas City pianist and composer, with drummer Tyree Johnson, is preparing to release the first full-length studio album by their jazz-fusion combo, Everyday Strangers

Along with Chicago, New Orleans and New York, Kansas City boasts a long and distinguished jazz tradition that has encompassed artists from saxophonist Charlie Parker to singer Kevin Mahogany. And countless musicians have sought to become part of that musical heritage.

Among them is pianist and composer Vincent Orsolini, a San Francisco native who grew up in the south of France — a country with impressive jazz credentials of its own. Since arriving in Kansas City six years ago, Orsolini has embraced the jazz community and pursued a number of projects, including the jazz-fusion combo Everyday Strangers in collaboration with drummer Tyree Johnson.

After earning a degree in sound engineering in Marseille, Orsolini set his sights on relocating to America. And he soon realized that Kansas City might be his kind of town.

“I was like, what’s out there? And, interestingly enough, Kansas City was on the map — and I decided to come see for myself,” he said. “I just fell in love with the city. I fell in love with the people and the rich, deep jazz culture that we have.”

“I am an avid believer that Kansas City is this hidden gem in the middle of the United States that is completely underrated. I did not expect to find what I found: the true, in-depth human connections that I was able to make through my music.”

Everyday Strangers, he said, takes on a different shape “depending on the concerts, and depending on the venues. It’s an evolving roster — a platform not only for Kansas City musicians, but for musicians from out of town.” Orsolini describes himself and Johnson as “the nucleus and the core of the band,” which has become increasingly popular — including gigs at the Blue Room, the Gem Theater and the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

“Tyree is a Kansas City native, and he has an incredibly rich Kansas City jazz background,” Orsolini said. “And I bring some of my culture” — particularly the influence of his roots in France and the West Coast — “into the equation as well. So it’s this incredible melting pot of cultures.”

Indeed, experimentation and an openness to music from every sphere are key to the evolving Everyday Strangers sound.

The combo is likely to expand its fan base with the release of its first full-length studio album, produced, recorded and mastered by Orsolini and Johnson and due in the coming months.

Cover art for Everyday Strangers’ upcoming album, “Out of Time.” “Additional ‘surprise’ artworks are planned for some of the songs on the album,” Orsolini said. (courtesy of Vincent Orsolini and Strange Labz)

“Our album, ‘Out of Time,’ is coming out very, very soon,” Orsolini said. “We just released a single called ‘Too Raw,’ which is part of the album.”

A 10-minute adventure in jazz, rock and funk, “Too Raw” is the kind of track whose appeal is not limited to hardcore jazz fans. But serious followers of the genre might be reminded of such fusion bands as Weather Report, Return to Forever and the Pat Metheny Group. Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Too Raw” is that it’s at once a splendid exercise in improvisation and a fun listening experience.

The plan is to release more singles in advance of the album launch “so that people have time for the music to sink in.”

Orsolini said he expects 2022 to be an exciting year.

“As individual artists, but also as Everyday Strangers, we’re about to put a big emphasis on production, releasing music, and performances. I think we’re coming on stronger than ever, and we’re more enthusiastic than ever.”

Although his work in Kansas City keeps him quite busy, Orsolini said he maintains family and business ties in France. And he happened to be in Marseille during production of “Stillwater,” a recent film starring Matt Damon as a working-class Oklahoma man whose daughter has been falsely imprisoned for murder.

“I wasn’t in the movie, but I was there when they were shooting it,” Orsolini said. The film directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) does “a great job” of capturing the character of the city, he said.

“They didn’t show everything — obviously there are so many other facets of Marseille,” he said. “But it was a good representation.”

In his pursuit of sounds and stylistic approaches that blend adventurousness and accessibility from a global perspective, Orsolini follows in a long line of jazz innovators.

“Music is an absolutely international language,” he said. “There’s just no other way to put it.”

For more information, www.vincentorsolini.com/everyday-strangers

Calvin Wilson

Calvin Wilson is an arts writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is also host and creator of the jazz program, “Somethin’ Else,” on 107.3 FM and 96.3 HD2 in St. Louis.

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