Gabriel Kahane

Meet the forward-thinking singer-songwriter and composer who juggles catchiness and complexity

“I try to make things that people have a reason to return to over and over again.”

Gabriel Kahane has been furrowing his own path in folk, singer-songwriter and compositional circles for years, but he quips – mainly by virtue of his many, many odd time signatures – that he is “guilty as charged” when it comes to meriting being talked about in the progressive realm.

The American pianist, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist may not be known by the masses, but his prodigious talent deserves a much wider audience – and his penchant for thinking outside the box, peppered amongst radio-friendly hooks, is abundantly clear.
Take his latest solo album //Magnificent Bird//, for instance; a record which was the product of a song-a-day writing challenge during one month of a year-long absence from the internet. It is accessible yet melancholic and multi-layered, with free-roaming piano runs and melodies regularly taking experimental detours; for the latter, try the tune //Basement Engineer//, a standout wacky trip.

“Every day basically began the same way – I’d start writing longhand,” Kahane says as he explains how the 2022 record came together. “I’d basically write until my hand cramped or until I felt I had something. And then I would type it up, print it out, mark it up, make a new draft. Usually somewhere between three or five drafts in I’d have something where I would take it to the piano.”

More generally, the Oregon-based Kahane says he wants to make tracks that people “have a reason to return to over and over again”.
“I think if you make music like I do, particularly in an era where music education has gone to shit pretty much everywhere, it’s probably not going to land for a lot of people first time – it really does demand second, third, fourth listening,” he adds.

While Kahane – who has collaborated with prog-friendly pianist Brad Mehldau as well as acts like Paul Simon, Phoebe Bridgers and Chris Thile – has released five solo albums to date, his other musical avenue is composing, with numerous collaborations with orchestras and ensembles on his glowing CV.

These works tend to diverge even more into the avant-garde, with Kahane animatedly painting from a multicoloured palette of notes and rhythms.

“I didn’t ever set out to write for orchestra or string quartets – that wasn’t part of the plan,” he says. “I had a lot of interests as a kid. I played chess, I played baseball, I sang in operas, I got interested in improvised music and jazz piano as a teenager. I spent most of college focused on theatre and acting.”

But it was with his eccentric 2006 piece //Craigslistlieder// – piano-and-operatic-vocal vignettes based on real adverts from the online US marketplace Craigslist – that caught the attention of classical music circles.

Further highlighting the variety in Kahane’s career, he is scheduled to perform with the BBC Concert Orchestra in London in late January as they run through his piece //emergency shelter intake form//, a “deep dive into inequality through the lens of homeless and housing issues” in the US. CC


LINE-UP: Gabriel Kahane

SOUNDS LIKE: Piano-led folk music that dares to do the unexpected.

CURRENT RELEASE: //Magnificent Bird// is out now via Nonesuch Records.


— Chris Cope

From "Limelight - Gabriel Kahane" Prog Reprinted with permission.

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