Krystle Warren doesn’t make it home to Kansas City very often, but when she does, she makes the most of it.
Warren, who moved to Paris in 2008, is in town this week for a few reasons: to visit friends, to work on a friend’s music project, and to perform Friday night at Californos in Westport.
“I’m really pumped about this show,” Warren said, while eating lunch at Fric & Frac on 39th Street. “We’ll be doing stuff from the ‘Circles’ and ‘Love Songs’ albums and some covers, too.”
Her hotshot band will include Beau Bledsoe, master of flamenco, classical, tango and fado, who will strap on an electric guitar for this gig; Brad Williams on drums; Brad Cox on keyboards and a horn section comprising Hermon Mehari on trumpet and Marcus Lewis on trombone. Lewis has performed with Janelle Monae’s ArchOrchestra, including at the 2011 Grammy Awards.
“Putting this band together felt like some ‘Oceans 11’ action,” Warren said. “I called in all the big guns.”
The jazz and roots artist has met plenty of big guns in a career that now spans 15 years. A 2000 graduate of the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Warren moved to Paris in October 2008.
She was about to release “Circles,” her debut album, on Because Music, a French label that signed Warren to a recording contract in 2007. The move was supposed to be temporary but Warren’s career flourished quickly, especially in the United Kingdom, so she stayed.
“What really kicked things off was the Jools Holland performance,” she said, referring to the host of the influential TV show “Later …”
“I’d done some tapings with the BBC, but once Jools happened, it was like night and day. It ushered in all these other random experiences.”
Those included working with producer Joe Boyd, who invited her to perform in a 2010 Nick Drake tribute and then a tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle, mother of Rufus Wainwright. Wainwright then invited Warren to open for him on tour and play with his touring band.
However, her career outlook has changed. Warren “clawed my way out” of her contract with Because Music and is now an independent artist. She has also shifted her focus from Paris to the United Kingdom and the United States.
“Because Music wanted to concentrate on France,” she said. “I have a loyal following there; occasionally I still get stopped by a fan. But it’s not really a thing that takes off there. It would be like trying to break in in Italy. The focus should have been the U.K. and the U.S. all along. My goal now is to do what should have been done from the get-go.”
In 2012, Warren was set to release “Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace,” an ambitious 24-song project.
“Joe (Boyd) advised me 24 songs was too much to release all at once, and I should split it up,” she said.
So she did. In March 2012 she released 12 of its songs on CD, but only overseas. It was released in the U.S. later that year.
The Guardian in London called it a “brave, personal set that extends her musical range even further. It’s a mostly cheerful album, with her deep, breathy voice easing between soulful balladry and scat jazz, with echoes of ragtime, gospel and country.”
The 12 other songs are getting their release on a limited vinyl-only edition of “Love Songs” that comprises all 24 songs. It is available through her website, krystlewarren.com. She got that idea from a friend who works in the music business and who had helped her promote “Circles.”
“He said, ‘Just release 500 copies and make it an amazing collector’s edition,’” she said.
Decisions like that are part of the life of an independent artist, which is a constant pull between freedom and responsibility, Warren said.
“When you do it all yourself, you don’t sleep much,” she said. “At the same time, I’m so glad it’s not in the hands of someone who would end up (messing) it up.”
Warren already is working on her next album, which she will call “Three The Hard Way.” It will comprise 10 songs and she will play all the instruments on it, a nod to one of her favorite albums, “McCartney,” on which Paul McCartney did the same. The sound will be stripped down, she said.
“I want to do something as naked as Gillian Welch did on ‘Soul Journey’ but with the punch of the Rolling Stones,” she said. “I want to play all the instruments and get a little unconventional with the arrangements.”
Her production crew will include Ben Kane, who, with Russell Elevado, worked on “Circles.” Kane and Elevado also engineered D’Angelo’s acclaimed “Black Messiah,” released at the end of 2014. Warren said she first heard “Messiah” tracks back when she was recording “Circles.”
“That’s how old some of those songs were,” she said. “We heard ‘Back to the Future’ while we were recording ‘Circles’ in 2005. And they’d already been working on that record for two years.”
Kane also played “Messiah” in its entirety for Warren before its release, helping to “light a fire under my ass” and get her writing for the new album, Warren said. Recording will begin sometime next winter or spring.
She was in a Kansas City studio this week, recording a track for a project from Cox, a musician, composer, performer and co-founder of the Owen/Cox Dance Group. On one track, she sings background vocals with two of Kansas City’s best vocalists: Barclay Martin and Lauren Krum of the Grisly Hand and Ruddy Swain. The Californos show opens with Ruddy Swain.
“Brad’s project is amazing,” Warren said. “The demos made me want to stop writing songs.
“On that track, our voices are across the board. I loved it. I actually sing lower than Barclay. He’s a high tenor, I’m a low, almost baritone.”
Warren leaves Kansas City in mid-July and will head to New York for a gig and to shoot a video, then back to France. She soon will know whether she has been booked the first week of October at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. If so, she will likely book a show in Kansas City again.
Friday’s will be only her fourth hometown show since she moved. Warren is settled in a home 45 minutes outside Paris, near the Seine, that she shares with her “better half,” a teacher.
Kansas City friends and relatives, including her mother, will be in Friday’s crowd. After all, this is still her hometown.
Krystle Warren performs Friday at Californos, 4124 Pennsylvania Ave. Ruddy Swain opens. Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For advance tickets, go to Californos.com.