André Ethier and Joseph Shabason's 'Fresh Pepper' Is a Mystery Box Challenge Gone Right

BY Christina McCallumPublished Jun 23, 2022

Bringing the culinary arts from the kitchen to the recording studio, Fresh Pepper deliver a sonic feast through the eight delicious tracks of their self-titled debut album. A collaboration between former Deadly Snakes vocalist André Ethier and saxophonist Joseph Shabason (who's played with the likes of War on Drugs, Destroyer and DIANA), Fresh Pepper finds the Toronto duo reflecting on their experiences working in kitchens while trying to make ends meet, set to a smorgasbord of eclectic, ambient jazz.

Fresh Pepper advances both the gentle acoustics of Ethier's pastoral 2021 album Further Up Island and Shabason's deeply personal solo music (exploring topics such as his mother's battle with Parkinson's to his fraught religious upbringing). Like nailing a Mystery Box Challenge, Fresh Pepper successfully unite a variety of disparate elements: lyrics that narrate buzzing, chaotic kitchen scenes; smooth, relaxed soundscapes with velvety vocals; and the pair's varying genre backgrounds of indie rock, synthpop and adult contemporary.

Fresh Pepper announce their artistic vision in seven-minute-long opening track "New Ways of Chopping Onions," in which Ethier juxtaposes a sous-chef questioning his line cooks and a singer questioning the lines of his song. This is where worlds collide: the fast-paced restaurant environment is reflected through lush, peaceful inflections, brought to life by Shabason's vibrant saxophone melodies.

Ethier and Shabason haven't ventured into this project on their own; Dan Bejar of Destroyer and the New Pornographers, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, and Bernice members Robin Dann, Thom Gill and Felicity Williams all make appearances on the record. The guests unlock possibilities for a wide musical vocabulary — bursts of flavour that engage and delight throughout. This happens most prominently in "Seahorse Tranquilizer," where Ethier and Bejar's vocals intermix with playful sax solos and the faint din of restaurant chatter.

A range of food industry experiences are captured in Fresh Pepper, from "Prep Cook In The Weeds," which recounts more monotonous moments — "no strangers to the sound of crickets, no strangers to the sound of tumbleweeds," muses Ethier — to the chaotic clatter of kitchen activity in the upbeat instrumental track "Dishpit." It all crests with triumphant album closer "The Worm," a bold and epic finale that takes their hero's journey to a close, set to buzzing electric guitar riffs. The two skillfully tie their new project together in this moment, delivering a full range of tasting notes from the diverse backgrounds of them and their many collaborators — garnishing their take on jazz with the right amount of spice.
(Telephone Explosion)

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