While Los Angeles is never going to be associated with soul music like Philadelphia, Detroit, Memphis, and Chicago, the city has developed a vibrant contemporary soul scene in recent years, spawning numerous acts including KING, Kelela, Syd, and her more hip-hop/funk-inspired band, The Internet. One of the most compelling indie acts to emerge from this uprising is the groove-heavy, blue-eyed soul trio Moonchild.
The prolific band, which just released its excellent fourth album, “Little Ghost,” has made an impressive artistic leap forward from its previous, more low-key efforts that were heavily indebted to the neo-soul sound of the late 1990s. While Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Jill Scott, among others, were clear touchstones for much of the trio’s earlier work, including the fluid grooves of 2017’s “Voyager,” “Little Ghost” expands the band’s reach with a more imaginatively conceived musical dynamic, reflecting its rapid growth.
Moonchild, which plays Brighton Music Hall Saturday, is a young, evolving act that’s constantly experimenting and refining its sound as it goes along. The three members — vocalist/instrumentalist Amber Navran and multi-instrumentalists Max Bryk and Andris Mattson — all studied in the jazz program at USC, where they met just over a decade ago.
The sense of discovery at the core of jazz improvisation is at the heart of their creative process. “We never go into making a record with a cohesive vision of what it’s going to become,” says Mattson via phone in a collective interview with his bandmates.
“With each record, we are discovering something new, so all are definitely going to be different. We are always making music in our rooms — we all have our own recording set-ups — so after ‘Voyager,’ we were making new beats and trying new sounds. We got new synths, new gear, and plug-ins, and learned new instruments. We brought everything we learned to the songwriting and recording of ‘Little Ghost.’ ”
All three are relatively new to soul music, but their music has a flow and vibe that belie the lack of deep roots. “We make the music we love and hope that people feel connected to it. The connection is important. That’s part of what I think soul is about,” says Navran.
Bryk quickly picks up on her thought. “When we discovered soul music in college, we gravitated towards albums like [D’Angelo’s] ‘Voodoo,’ ‘Mama’s Gun,’ and all the [Erykah] Badu albums. There was so much to absorb, but we all genuinely loved the music. When we got together in the early stages of trying to write our first songs, we all had the same influences and sound in our heads, which is rare. We just clicked and the music came easy. Things just evolved from that point.”
At the center of the band’s sound is Navran’s subtle, insinuating (often multi-tracked) vocals, which have become more expressive with each release. With “Little Ghost,” she’s honed her hypnotic style with evocative phrasing and an even deeper connection to the lyrics that delve into matters of the heart and personal empowerment.
Unlike most vocalists who pick up singing at an early age, Navran got a late start and hasn’t looked back. “I started singing in college,” she says. “I was studying jazz saxophone and started writing songs with lyrics, so I began singing them for people. I started to learn about the voice, and I’ve just gotten better over the years.”
The sonic embellishments on “Little Ghost” blend organic instrumentation (heavy on keyboards and punctuated by horns and strings) with a woozy, off-kilter, electro approach that is very much in keeping with the experimental, funk-oriented soul pouring out of the Los Angeles indie scene in recent years.
The trio has been lauded and supported by many luminaries in the soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop communities, including producer 9th Wonder, this year’s rap titan, Rapsody, The Internet, and Kamasi Washington. For a blue-eyed soul band on the verge, the embrace has been a clear validation of their fiercely independent music (they’ve produced all of the albums) and provided a stamp of authenticity.
“To be included in the company of soul and hip-hop artists has been meaningful,” Mattson says. “It’s been important to our growth and validates what we do.
Some, like DJ Jazzy Jeff, have included us in just amazing experiences. He invited us to his playlist retreat the last two years, and we’ve gotten to meet a lot of our heroes. It definitely is a boost of confidence. We know what we are doing is reaching people and speaking to them.”
At Brighton Music Hall, Brighton, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. (doors). Tickets $23.50 (advance), $25 (day of show), 617-779-0140, www.events.crossroadspresents.com
Ken Capobianco can be reached at email@example.com.