Michael Leonhart & JSWISS – The Alchemy EP

“The Alchemy EP” is a collaborative project from Grammy Award-winning trumpeter, producer, and orchestra leader Michael Leonhart, and rising rapper JSWISS. The union formed after a spark of creative chemistry during a monthly residency at NYC venue Jazz Standard, during which JSWISS guested with the Michael Leonhart Orchestra for performances broadcast on NPR & WBGO.

The pair began working on the EP late 2019 after a successful string of shows together, during which they performed orchestral arrangements of the legendary hip hop tracks, “Electric Relaxation” (A Tribe Called Quest) and “Untouchables” (Eric B. & Rakim), which sample jazz records from the legendary label, Blue Note. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it didn’t derail the project, but forced it to be worked on remotely, with JSWISS and Leonhart completing their parts separately from home. The ability of the duo to meld their two musical backgrounds and strike gold with a body of work despite the universe’s best efforts to put the music business on pause is what sparked the title “The Alchemy EP.”

Marrying the worlds of hip-hop and jazz, Leonhart and JSWISS meet in the middle, with both having plenty of experience crossing genre lines. Leonhart, besides playing on the smash hit from Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”, boasted a diverse résumé of collaborations including Steely Dan, Q-Tip, Wu-Tang Clan and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. JSWISS has also has also become a favorite collaborator of who’s who list of some of the most sought instrumentalists at the crossroads of jazz, hip-hop and soul, including Nicholas Payton, Ben Williams, Marcus Strickland, E.J. Strickland, Chris Dave and Marcus Machado.

“The Alchemy” EP expands on hip-hop’s history of sampling jazz and dabbling with live instrumentation — à la A Tribe Called Quest or The Roots — incorporating orchestral elements and infects grooves to go with JSWISS’ thoughtful approach and clever lyricism on subjects varying from Black empowerment, to love, to a celebratory tribute to his late grandparents. The last three songs on the EP are inspired by and focus on significant themes from “Manuscript Found In Accra” by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, coincidentally more famously known for his classic book “The Alchemist.”

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