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Why release a piano trio album?
I have been playing in piano trios (with bass and drums) ever since I began playing jazz professionally back in about 1990, so I am very accustomed to that configuration. I particularly enjoy playing melodies, and not having horns or other dominant melody voices in the band gives me all the freedom and responsibility that comes with being the primary melody player. And of course, among the different types of jazz small groups, the piano trio has one of the richest recorded histories, so there is a more than ample range of approaches to draw from.
Why release an album now?
After about 20 years of marriage, fatherhood and law practice, in 2015 it became clear that a new phase of life was on the horizon ("Quantity Of Life," get it?). Instead of continuing to only play whatever informal trio gigs crossed my path, I decided to be deliberate about it: to form my own trio that would focus on my original music.
Cool, so about the album...
Right. By winter 2017, we had built up a decent book of my original songs and developed a rapport as a band, so we recorded what eventually became Quantity Of Life.
Winter 2017?!? It's October 2019! What took you so long?
Giving birth to my first musical child has been a very slow and educational experience.
Got it. Let's talk about the music.
As the saying goes, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture"---listening is the best way to experience it---but here's a song-by-song description.
TRASH TALK: There is a region of north central Mississippi known as the "Hill Country," just east of the much more famous Delta region. A haunting, droning, and sometimes incredibly funky style of blues grew out of the Hill Country (artists like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside are key), and "Trash Talk" is my blend of that style and the slick funk commonly used in TV show themes from the '70s (think "Sanford & Son" and "Rockford Files"). Jason, the drummer on the album, plays some delightfully swampy grooves inspired by bands like The Meters.
FOLK SONG: I wrote this song on election night in 2016 instead of following the presidential election returns on TV. It was inspired by the genuine but wildly different passions and concerns that Americans had in 2016 about the future direction of the country. Obviously those passions and concerns have only become more acute and divisive over the past four years. To reflect the chaotic disintegration of meaningful political debate, the song includes a piano solo that deliberately evolves into "free" playing with no clear harmony or rhythm. It then ends with an improvised solo piano interlude and a reprise of the original melody. If you like the solo piano interlude on "Folk Song," check out my solo piano album "Connemara."
SPIRIT & SOLIDARITY: Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band is one of my favorite jazz small groups of the past 20 years, and they were the headliner at the 2016 Rootabaga Jazz Festival in Galesburg, Illinois. During the amazing concert, Brian commented that he felt a sense of "spirit and solidarity" from the small, close-knit jazz community in Galesburg. The next morning I woke up with the main melody of this song in my head.
QUANTITY OF LIFE: Most of this song was written on two occasions, years apart from one another; soberingly, on both occasions there were members of my immediate family in the hospital. We talk a lot about "quality of life," but at some point it's the quantity that really matters.
UPPER WEST SIDE: This and "In My Humble Opinion" are easily the oldest songs on the album, both having been written in about 2002. This one gets its name from the New York City energy it attempts to express, as well as the fact that when I brought a set of my songs to a lesson with Maria Schneider at her apartment on the Upper West Side, this was her favorite of the bunch.
IN MY HUMBLE OPINION: A ballad dedicated to my wife and daughter, the melody of this song has a long, slowly evolving arc consisting almost entirely of continuous quarter notes. Andy, the bassist on the album, plays a particularly beautiful solo.
INNOCENCE: If you're familiar with some of the simpler, song-like compositions of Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, this one will bring that style to mind. It is inspired by the concept of child-like innocence and the importance of maintaining the capacity to experience feelings of hope, wonder, and possibility as adults.
DOWNTOWN CREEP: This is a stylized musical caricature of gritty urban streetscapes and the slinky, uncertain feelings they inspire. The title could describe how to walk through the city at night or it could be a name for someone you see on the street. Musically, it shifts between a stuttering funk groove and stoptime medium swing, but moves to double-time swing for the piano solo.
TASTE & SEE: A fusion of a churning jazz waltz groove and gospel music is at the core of this song, which explains the choice of a phrase from the Bible as its title. I am also fascinated by the notion of experiencing spirituality through the senses, such as taste and sight.