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Thanks for taking the musical journey with us. It’s a journey without a road map, where the road takes us wherever it wants to go. The destination? There is none. It’s the trip that counts. We strive to intuit the direction upon which the road takes us without imposing our ego’s on the music, to play, as Jeff Johnson says, without intention. Dave Liebman calls this “playing in the zone,” defined scientifically as a “dissociative“ mental state. Most of us have experienced this state of mind at one time or another. For example: You’ve finished work, got in your car to drive home. The next thing you know you’re driving up your driveway without remembering anything that happened in between. Yet, you stopped for every light, didn’t hit the pregnant lady or run over the cat, and made every correct turn. You’re doing two things at the same time, driving the car (playing the tune) without thinking about it while thinking about something else (soloing). In this recording, after playing together for six years, I’m proud to say, the trio achieved our goal of playing without intention. When we finished the recording none of us could remember what we played. It was only after we played the master of the recording we realized what we did!
We are still joyfully exploring the different ways Rubato playing can encompass the tradition and, at this point, the options appear to be unlimited. Tune choice is critical to the success of our Rubato style as the tunes we select must have strong harmonic structures. It is the harmony that allows us to keep our place together, allowing us to “stretch” the time we spend on any chord. The challenge is to find different ways to apply the style to the tradition to give the music a foundation from which to depart without making every song sound the same. For our purposes the formats we’re using in “Airegin Revisited“ are short forms, long forms and vamps.
I‘ve have always had a penchant for composing short songs that are cyclical in nature as in my composition “Waiting For Chet.” Cyclic forms force us to find a new way to play each iteration of a cycle differently by changing its color, its rhythmic style or level of activity. Long Forms, as are usually found in standards, challenge us to build drama for each iteration to maintain listener interest as the tradition demands. Vamps, as in Modal playing, offers the trio the most open way of playing where the soloist can impose any kind of form at any time by superimposing tempos, playing polyphonic, or playing without any structure at all.
For the most part we’re trying to play “free” on structures, a way of playing developed during my six-year apprenticeship with Sam Rivers (as evidenced in the quartet‘s Blue Note recording “A New Conception.”) This quartet, with Phil Morrison on bass and Tony Williams on drums (later replaced by Steve Ellington when Tony joined Miles’s band) was playing free on tunes (structures), a concept that Tony brought into Miles Davis All-Star Tribute famous quintet.
This album is dedicated to my like-minded friend and mentor Sam Rivers.
1. Embraceable You: We’ve had this tune in our repertoire since my trio in the 90’s but never had the chance to record it before this. A long-form tune that holds the listener as we change the color, superimposing tempos (while still maintaining the basic beat) of each chorus. The way John Bishop colors each chorus, especially during the block chord section of my solo is stunning.
2. Ascendant: I’m blessed to be with a rhythm team that has been playing together for twenty years. Jeff & John are what we call “mated” players. Check out the interactive dialog Jeff and John display throughout, this, a true rhythm section feature. John’s response time and ability to split or parse the beat always amazes me. Throughout this recording I’ve made Homages to the many musicians that have influenced my playing over the years. The beginning melody of my solo is a paraphrase of Lennie Tristano’s opening phrase on his classic recording of “Line Up.” It wasn’t until I heard this track back that I remembered what I was thinking at the time but had in mind Wayne Shorter’s solo on “On Green Dolphin Street” on Miles’s live quintet recording “Live At The Plugged Nickel”. Another little Homage.
3. One Step Closer: I’ve been researching Brazilian harmony for the last few years. Been trying to figure out how they do it as I find their style of harmonic motion perfect for Rubato playing. This cyclical song is one of the many experiments I’ve made in that format. This track clearly demonstrates our approach to short form playing. Can you find my “Homage“ to Errol Garner towards the end of my solo?
4. Ambleside: This original long form song by the excellent English pianist John Taylor is named after his home town. Jeff and John having recorded this tune with others have been patiently waiting to record this until I got it together, which I more or less accomplished. Particularly attractive to me is it’s wandering but strong harmonic progression and the fact that it is 3/4. The interesting thing about 3/4 is that it offers more rhythmic subdivisions than 4/4. On this take we’re looking for as many of them as we can find.
5. Melancholia: Another Homage, this Sam Rivers original has been in my “Good Tune Book” for over forty years. The confluence of Sam’s passing and our Rubato style made me hear this tune in a different way than when we played it in Sam’s band. We’ve purposely played slower to evoke the way I feel the loss of his passing. Sam had a major influence on my musical conception. Playing with him was my postgraduate training after leaving leaving Berklee. He consistently expanded the parameters of the music, breaking the rules wherever he could.
6. Conception: This is an Homage to George Shearing. His quintet was the first jazz record I heard, becoming my original inspiration to be a jazz musician. Long considered a tour-de-force for musicians who‘ve mastered “playing the changes,” like “Cherokee” and most recently Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps,” these songs have been the tunes musicians used to challenge one’s expertise. A recent intuitive choice I’m not even sure why I picked it. I know there is something there for us but don’t need to know what it is as I trust my intuition to lead me on the right path. I suspect it might be that I’ve been long enamored of an effect I noticed Coltrane had that can be especially noticed on his recordings of “One up, One down.” At a certain point in his solo there’s a feeling like the music is moving ahead and standing still at the same time, an effect I’d much like to emulate and may have been going for here. Whether we achieved it I leave up to the listener decide.
7. Airegin: My final Homage, is to the “Godfather“ Ahmad Jamall and Sonny Rollins, both major influences. My apologies to Sonny for what we did to his tune but I hope he’ll understand. Another tune we had in the trio book in the 90’s, I couldn’t find a way to put our own cyclical stamp on it until recently. This being in an ABAC song form, taking the lead from Ahmad, we only played on the “A” and “B” sections while repeating the “B” section as many times as we felt like playing it at any particular iteration, finally playing the “C” section only to close out the song. This is the first time Jeff used a bow in the trio. It was surprising how appropriately it fit into our style. It opened a new can of musical worms for us and can expect to be using it more it in the future. Of particular interest is the accompanied drum solo following Jeff’s startling solo and the 35 seconds duration of the last note of the track.
I love jazz because it is a pure American music and can be expressed in different ways depending upon the artist.
I was first exposed to jazz while as a teenager I listened to Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong, on a jazz
radio station in New York City.