New album “LAST FLIGHT OUT”
featuring Funeral Bonsai Wedding and Quartet Parapluie
Available Everywhere Now
“This achingly gorgeous album shows what can result from emotional and artistic honesty. It’s a rare and wonderful thing. The songs are expertly crafted, the core band sounds impeccable, but the strings add an element that separates Last Flight Out from other similarly ambitious albums…an almost otherworldly sophistication. This isn’t so much an album as it is musical world-building. It contains that level of heft and depth” – Popmatters
“Touchstones. Talismans. Certain pieces of music have the ability to transport you to a different dimension. More than mere music, they become a part of your DNA. You can never imagine a moment when they were not a part of your life. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, John Martyn’s Solid Air and now Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding’s Last Flight Out. Merging the landscape between folk and jazz, it approaches the sublime with subtlety and grace. A touchstone for our times, a talisman pointing to a moment of sheer beauty, Last Flight Out reminds us of the power of music to engage and inspire. Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding offer a gift of humanity. We are connected. May that connection never die” – Folk Radio
“one of the more poignant, melodic, chamber folk/pop albums to pop up in a while. Along with Dawson’s exemplary songwriting what shines through in particular are Jason Roebke’s string arrangements and Jason Adasiewitz’s vibes…brilliant music” – Echoes and Dust
“An album of quietly affecting songs…imaginative, risk taking and a beautiful listen. Listen to the almost 8 minute long, wonderfully titled ‘The Monkey Mind Is On The Prowl’ and be blown away by the feeling contained within Dawson’s vocals, calling here on the emotional intensity of Neil Finn at his most plaintive as the outro stretches on for 3 minutes or more. We are in unusual musical territory here, it is a terrain to be savoured and embraced. It is music to wash over a weary soul, perhaps prescient in its timing in view of the madness in which we find ourselves now.” – Americana UK
“A gorgeous record that soars on the strength of the band’s collaboration. It’s almost hard to believe that the album was recorded in a single day — every song is polished without feeling rigid, each band member playing off of one another with equal parts precision and leeway. While Last Flight Out might be about fatalism, there’s no nihilism that comes with it. Instead, Dawson turns that impending end into something productive, something beautiful. “With these final years, can we at least try to be kind?” he asks on “While We were Staring into our Palms.” It’s an admirable idea, one that requires a certain hope in life and love. That hope isn’t naked, though; it permeates all of Last Flight Out, which sits as its own testament to the power and beauty of collaboration.” – Mixed Frequencies
“Quartet Parapluie (cellist Melissa Bach, violist Vannia Phillips, and violinists Inger Carle and Andra Kulans) bring a warm yet stately eloquence to arrangements penned by Roebke, gorgeously and judiciously shadowing the singer’s anguished struggle to preserve equilibrium in a world turned upside down. The astonishing title track features some of the singer’s most elliptical writing—two short verses confronting a growing helplessness in fight or flight mode in which no clear escape exists. The song opens with a plangent string melody that teeters between uplift and sorrow, and apart from Dawson’s tender, aching voice and simple acoustic guitar strumming, no other instrument is heard until he finishes up the second verse, with Roebke’s bass entering almost as a desperate lifeline for the narrator’s sagging spirit. Voice and strings go silent for the remaining 90 seconds, allowing the rhythm section to present a ray of hope in the form of the vibist’s luminescent solo.” – Peter Maragsak / Nowhere Street
“Stratospheric…the title track, which opens the album, pits the Quartet’s legato lines against Dawson’s cellophane-textured high tenor, which has a little heart-stopping gasp in its higher registers. And when the minor-key melody resolves into a major chord on the line, “the whole, cold truth is revealed,” it’s such a dazzling surprise that you feel a momentary disorientation. “However Long It Takes” features an insanely memorable instrumental riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Brill Building hit single, set irresistibly against a staggered percussion. The tune also features Dawson’s best vocal performance; all successful storytelling is a matter of tension and release, and when Dawson emerges from a carefully navigated melodic inquiry (“Where are you calling from? / I recall your name / Ah, but then again”) to vault into a rapturous bridge, he dissolves the tension in a burst of sonic splendor: “Oh, I am turning / All this beauty is overwhelming me / I am surrendering, I am surrendering, oh.” I’m happy to savor each transcendent moment it has on offer. As I certainly will, over the coming weeks. Feel free to join me.”
Robert Rodi – New City
“In a time where everyone is in their homes waiting for the coronavirus to blow over, lots of music is being played and a lot of the time, music fans want something they can relate to. For Chicago native Steve Dawson, he unintentionally created an eerily relatable album. With darkness continuing to consume the world at a drastic pace, we can look to albums like this for comfort.” – American Songwriter
“This album strikes me as being connected to a folk-jazz sound with people like Van Morrison, John Martyn and a record like Ryley Walker’s Primrose Green, but the raw, earthy expression is balanced by the ornate use of strings. The lyrics on the album are also important. I see them as a way of examining what it means to be in the world, and actually think of them as inspirational songs, whether it’s the plea for kindness in While We Are Staring Into Our Palms or the feeling of being overwhelmed by beauty in However Long It Takes.” – All About Jazz
“This set is a winner on its own merits; the songs are as strong as the singing and the playing is just top-flight all the way through” – The Vinyl District
The idea of FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING came to Steve Dawson while riding a bus in his hometown of Chicago. Every day he passed a florist with three windows, each with a sign. “Funeral,” read one. “Bonsai,” another. “Wedding,” read the last.
However random, Dawson realized the words sounded natural when put together, much like the group that would share its title. Indeed, when FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING released its self-titled debut album in 2014, the collaboration appeared like it shouldn’t work. As the songwriter-singer behind Dolly Varden, an acclaimed Americana band from Chicago, Dawson’s roots are country and soul. He is joined by three Chicago jazz musicians — vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Charles Rumback and bassist Jason Roebke — known for their inventiveness on Chicago’s legendary free jazz scene, having participated in projects with people like Ken Vandermark, Ryley Walker, Thurston Moore, Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, and Nels Cline, among many others.
Put together, the music of FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING is unlike all of the above. On Last Flight Out, every sound is inverted: Adasiewicz’s vibes serve as the lead instrument, Dawson’s voice often leads to chants, and Rumback and Roebke shift time to move the music to side pockets as they move it forward. The closest comparison to the ephemeral blissed-out melodies is Van Morrison’s epic Astral Weeks, which aims for transcendence amid ordinariness. To reach those otherworldly heights, Dawson had to invert the process he was conditioned to within the context of a rock band.
The musicians first played together in 2005 at Chicago’s Elastic Arts, a hothouse for experimental jazz. “It felt like I was floating,” Dawson remembers. That performance led to the group defining its sound in the studio and conducting a handful of shows including its debut at Constellation, a free jazz performance space and a summer performance at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park. After pausing for a few years, Dawson invited Funeral Bonsai Wedding to join him for a 2017 residency at the Hideout. By then original drummer Frank Rosaly had relocated to Amsterdam and was replaced by Charles Rumback. They were joined by Quartet Parapluie, an all-female classical string ensemble whose members have also moonlighted for groups like Belle and Sebastian, Iron & Wine, and Kanye West.
Afterward, everyone on stage knew what they needed to do next: Make a record and expand the scope of what FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING could become.
This time out, Jason Roebke played a bigger role in writing the string arrangements to accompany Dawson’s songs, enhancing them in ways that made even the most downcast lyrics glow with beauty. “Jason added to the meaning of the songs. It’s pretty incredible. I had been playing with him for many years, but it shows me he’s paying attention to the full songs — not just his part, but the whole picture,” Dawson says. “It’s really wonderful.”
By shedding traditional song structures, and inspired by the open space created by his new collaborators, Dawson found himself gravitating towards more impressionistic lyrics, which happened to fit the surrealistic world that emerged since the last record. Those details creep into Last Flight Out through lyrics and moods that hover on the edge of both hope and despondency — A state that reflects the everyday news cycle. “The songs go unexpected places,” Dawson says. “I let my imagination go where it will. I didn’t try to confirm it to a traditional narrative.”
The first thought had to be best thought since LAST FLIGHT OUT was recorded in a single day at Kingsize Sound Labs in Chicago with John Abbey at the controls. The band was fresh from a headlining performance at Constellation and wanted to capture that energy in just a few hours.
For Dawson, the magic of FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING comes from that blind trust. If Dawson hadn’t seen that florist window, if he hadn’t agreed on a lark to improvise on a stage he’d never played, if he hadn’t decided to put his songs in the hands of musicians he barely knew at the time — He would have been stuck.
FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING is the sound of starting over and not knowing what’s next until it happens.