Conversations with My Family, the auspicious new album from celebrated keyboardist Mike Garson debuts on jazz producer, engineer and entrepreneur George Klabin's Resonance Records imprint. This collection of original works, some of them dating back 30 years and others written as recently as during the Conversations sessions themselves, heralds Garson's arrival in the front rank of jazz piano performance and composition.
Based on Garson's longtime practice of creating music inspired by members of his family, Conversations is both adventurous and accessible, animated by extended sections of improvisation involving Garson, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Gary Novak, enhanced by guest appearances from upcoming Resonance artists that include flutist Lori Bell, violinist Chris Howes, guitarist Andreas berg, and trumpeter Claudio Roditi, and adorned with arrangements by Kuno Schmid.
From the breezy swing, bracing unaccompanied piano intro and spare but illuminating charts of the opener, The Child Within," to the hushed eloquence of the closing title track, Conversations reveals a depth of artistry only hinted at in Garson's affiliation for more than 30 years as keyboardist and creative collaborator with rock legend David Bowie.
Mike has built an enormous following through his work with Bowie," says George Klabin, president and founder of Resonance Records. But because of that association, Mike has had very little time to focus on bringing his own music to the world, until now. With his extraordinary playing and writing, and with the contributions of Kuno Schmid and the artists that we've gathered for this project, I know we've got something special here."
Garson's unique talents bloom throughout Conversations, but his influences are evident too. Born in New York, he began studying classical piano at age seven, studied in depth with the brilliant iconoclast Lennie Tristano, and absorbed a year's worth of insight during a six-hour lesson with the great Bill Evans. Throughout his career he combined his studio and touring commitments to Bowie with stints in innovative bands such as Brethren and Free Flight, freelance work with Stan Getz, Thad Jones, Mel Torm, and other giants, and solo albums dating back to a highly regarded set of unaccompanied piano, Avant Garson, in 1979.
His range has extended from the standard songbook through experimentation on the fringes of jazz, classical, and unclassifiable cross-genre explorations. And while all of these elements feed into Conversations, the results reach toward informed listeners as well as all who would sense a song in the play of their children, the wisdom of their parents, and the time shared with their loved ones. I started writing music for people in my life when I met Susan, my wife," Garson explains. I was 16 at the time. Then, when our older daughter was born, I wrote 'Jenny's Waltz.' For our next daughter, I wrote 'Miracle of Love.' And as time passed, I began expanding with 'Longings, 'Yearnings,' 'The Mystery and the Awe' - pieces with a more global vision of the family, which I felt could apply to everyone."
After Garson joined the Resonance Records roster, he and Klabin conceived the idea of presenting these compositions together as an album. Because of their diversity, though, Klabin proposed that they might best be integrated through use of small interludes, which would function as segues. Garson agreed and wrote these brief instrumental moments, each one haunting in its own way and all of them critical in channeling the larger performances into a conceptual flow.
Garson pursued this goal in part by utilizing a technique he'd never embraced on any of his previous jazz sessions: He and his rhythm section recorded to a click track. But he had a reason for going outside the rules. When George and I decided to bring Kuno in to do arrangements based on sounds he'd acquired from the Vienna Symphonic Sample Library, I realized that keeping the tempo steady would make his job easier," Garson says. When Kuno and I spoke on the phone for the first time, we clicked. It was actually like magic. He is a very good pianist himself and a tremendous orchestrator, so I decided to not interfere with his work at all. Instead, I sent him my charts and let him do his thing. I trusted him completely, and consequently he found the essence of this music on his own."
They do so by following Garson's example in taking creative risks. Rather than adhere to the usual practice of tailoring arrangements tightly to the structure of the tune, Schmid reflects on the music more freely, at times creating an impression of almost random placement of figures, motifs, and chords. Yet as the core trio digs into the changes on The Child Within," for example, Schmid floats clusters of flute and muted trumpet, or flurries of strings, into the space around the groove, more like whispers of invisible muses than mere reflections of what's being played. Kuno is one of the top two or three people in the world for working with orchestral samples," says Klabin. It's one thing to have these sounds at your disposal and another to use them creatively, as he proves throughout Conversations."
Conversations with My Family ranks at the top of any list of recent musical endeavors that set and then achieve high goals. It also heralds Garson's ascendance as an artist, fully merited and long overdue. More than that, it also provides an auspicious launch for Resonance Records, whose mandate is as ambitious as the work slated to fill its catalog through upcoming releases.
We're not just another record label," Klabin sums up. Our motto is 'Creating Jazz Legacies,' but even more fundamental is the fact that whatever we do, it will be first and foremost about the music. Whether releasing previously unheard music by major artists through our Heirloom series or introducing young talent that will change the world in their own way, that's our commitment."
Mike Garson Conversations with My Family Resonance Records RCD-1004