Prominent Canadian jazz musicians Elizabeth Shepherd and Michael Occhipinti have joined forces as ES:MO, releasing their debut album The Weight of Hope as a newly formed duo.

The project combines both musicians’ abilities, creative backgrounds and individual accolades, with 15 total Juno Award nominations between the two of them.

ES:MO’s The Weight of Hope is a collection of the duo’s creative explorations in multiple genres including jazz, R&B, folk and Americana — making it hard to put a simple, definitive label on the album. Shepherd and Occchipinti tasked themselves with adapting existing songs and adding contemporary elements and their own creative imprint.

“It’s like walking a tightrope — we want to honour the song and have the artist be both pleased and surprised,” Occhipinti says.

Lead single “Any Other Way” was originally written by William Bell and later performed by the Toronto soul and R&B icon Jackie Shane. With the song, ES:MO looks to honour Shane’s legacy as a captivating musician and pioneering transgender performer as well as pay tribute the R&B sound that characterized Toronto’s Yonge Street in the 1960s.