The AltoRays Give You A Lift Back To The Light

The Austin duo introduce the sublime sounds of ChillJazz with their new album.


The AltoRays brighten your world with the sunny sounds of their new album Back To The Light and their single Lift — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

The best music creators are equal parts mathematician and mad scientist. They know how to get the right sounds out of their instrument, but also delight in mixing them up into an exciting, boundary-pushing concoction. That unbridled joy of skilled experimentation is evident in The AltoRays’ unique sonic style — a jazzy sub-genre they’ve dubbed ChillJazz.

The music is unlike anything either of us have done before,” notes Austin guitarist, composer, and producer Mitch Watkins, one-half of The AltoRays with Montreal-born singer Dianne Donovan. “Instead of straightahead jazz, we explored every music form that has ever influenced us, from Steely Dan to Weather Report to Philip Glass to groove, R&B and pop.”

Collaborating in what they fondly call their Pent-Up House, Watkins and Donovan found the great flow of creativity to be unstoppable. “There was something truly magical about those late-night sessions,” recalls Watkins. “The spirit was uninhibited and we’d try anything and everything.”

Lift, the eight-track album’s lead single, is an intriguing, ear-catching combo of those multi-influences. It’s an upwardly mobile trip into the atmosphere, riding on space-age synth melodies over a smooth, funky bass line, Watkins’ tasty guitar work, and Donovan’s lovely, ethereal backup vocals. “Lift reflects the overall feel of the album as a cosmic, transcendent journey that you just might want to dance to,” says Watkins. “Plus, this one is a lot of fun to sing along to, as you needn’t bother with words just follow the band.”

The vocals on Lift and throughout Back To The Light are mostly multi-layered and wordless, creating their own soundscape. “This is the freest I’ve ever been as a vocalist,” says Donovan. “I got to explore the multi-ranges of my voice and the textures, from an all-hummed tune to all-whispered singing, to animal sounds.”

In addition to Donovan’s vocals and the instrumentation provided by Watkins, drummer Tom Brechtlein (Wayne Shorter, Robben Ford, Al DiMeola), pianist Sean Giddings (Christopher Cross), saxophonist Rob Lockart (Arturo Sandoval, Terence Trent D’Arby, Paul Anka) and percussionist Dr. Tom Burritt also contributed their significant talents to the recording.

Watkins and Donovan also boast seriously impressive backgrounds. He has performed all over the world with Leonard Cohen, was a member of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band for 11 years and has performed with Jerry Jeff Walker, Barry Wallace, and numerous others. The Austin Jazz Society Hall of Fame member has released five solo albums and has produced albums for the likes of Abra Moore, Bob Schneider and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Donovan started out as a background vocalist for facecrime, a precursor to The Pursuit of Happiness, sang with Gary Guthma’s Tribute to Harry James and has been featured on numerous radio and TV shows. Her first album Yes And No was produced by Tommy Banks. Donovan performs with her own combos and vocal jazz trio The Beat Divas, and also produces classical and jazz radio shows in Austin and Edmonton.

Check out Lift above, sample The AltoRaysBack To The Light below, and head over to their website.