Ex-Prince Guitarist Donna Grantis Channels Prince, Toronto and Improvisation on New Album 'Diamonds & Dynamite'
Published Mar 22, 2019"Prince was and is an inspiration; there are so many things that I've learned from him that I really tried to apply to this new project," says Donna Grantis of her debut solo album, Diamonds & Dynamite.
Originally from Mississauga, ON, the acclaimed guitarist is best known for working with the late Prince as the part of funk-rock band 3rdeyegirl and his New Power Generation supergroup, but she's now assumed the mantle of bandleader for her debut solo album, out now on eOne.
Diamonds & Dynamite is the culmination of what Grantis learned from the legendary Prince and the level of guitar mastery and musicianship that she's attained. The eight-track instrumental jazz album is a fusion of her love of rock, funk, soul and jam session-styled improvisation that working within the jazz genre facilitates.
"In terms of improvisation and jamming, I learned how to listen and just play with an incredible amount of conviction. [Prince] was just a master bandleader and I'm really trying to apply a lot of those concepts to this new project."
Diamonds & Dynamite was recorded in two days in Minnesota where Grantis now lives. As bandleader, she did it all: writing, arranging, producing and performing — and, she adds, she was pregnant with her first child at the time.
To facilitate the adventurous and improvisational feel with the session players — which included bassist Cody McKinney, percussionist JT Bates, tabla player Suphala and keyboard player Bryan Nichols — the music was recorded live to tape.
"I really love the feeling of performing and not always knowing what's going to happen next. So there's a general structure to the songs. The songs were very composed prior to me bringing them to the other musicians. There was a fair amount of flexibility in terms of how open the various sections are.
"That's something that we did at Paisley Park, and recording that way just makes the music sound so credible — to play under the pressure of committing to a take and learning to nail a take collectively as a group."
Grantis lives in Minnesota these days, but she fondly recalls her days in the Toronto music scene, and how they contributed to her sound now.
"The amazing thing about Toronto and, you know, being a session musician there for a number of years, was that the scene is so incredibly diverse. In any given week I'd be either writing, rehearsing, performing or recording with people like blues vocalist Shakura S'Aida, the late soul singer Haydain Neale of Jacksoul, a hip-hop artist like Kardinal Offishall or playing pop-rock with Amanda Marshall.
"That diversity in the city is one of the main things that makes Toronto so cool," Grantis adds. "It's also one of the things that really helped prepare me for playing with Prince. In any given show we would cover all of those genres."
She notes that the music of Miles Davis helped to shape the feel of the album as well: while on tour with Prince, the band would play select Davis cuts while the audience would be getting seated.
Playing songs from Davis's electric-influenced period of music that he created in the '70s opened up her mind to a new way of playing, she says.
"What love about that music is that it's so improvisational and jammy. It's got one foot in jazz and the other in rock and roll — that's something that always really resonated with me. There's a really chaotic vibe in the music."
Diamonds & Dynamite is a slice of jazz-rock-funk fusion, a style that works to her strengths as a guitarist and a music connoisseur.
"I definitely come from a blues background. I love the harmonic sophistication and freedom that jazz allows. And I love electric rock guitar and the influence of playing with the New Power Generation and Prince," Grantis says.
"I feel like you can put all of those influences in a blender and this album is a mix all of that."