This group's first show was in a castle in Vic, Spain where we were lucky to play for an amazing audience. Instantly bonded by the experience, we booked a studio in Barcelona on a whim and made this album.
In improvised music, where most of the notes are composed in the moment of performance, the focus of the audience actually shapes the outcome. If the band knows that one person in the club that is hanging on every note, the bar is raised and there is no excuse for self-indulgent abstractions or attention-seeking dramatics. If the whole room listens with open ears, the notes fly off the page and there is nothing to be understood, only the immediate and obvious reality of human beings in a room communicating with closed mouths.
This is the experience that keeps musicians playing music, and audiences coming back to hear it. Without a set of ears, music is a bunch of weird waves with no purpose.
Music needs you.
The music on this album is the product of nine short handwritten sketches. Each musician sees the same chart, but deduces their part from it in a different way. Each piece sets a new tone for the improvised solos, which are the real focus of the music. Some pieces were inspired by specific places or experiences, others by musicians, or musical ideas. While music speaks its own language and should be interpreted first through the ears, I have included some of my thoughts here for your amusement.
Winter Melt is a portrait of a sunny February morning through a coffee shop window. The mercury rises and the neighborhood begins to shovel away at the sidewalk's snowy lining, pushing it into the street for the buses to crush. The early thaw usually triggers relief and the happy anticipation of spring, but this year has a different feeling. After such a mild, unfulfilled winter the sudden warmth seems out of place and somehow unjust.
Climbing a mountain, we reach the point where physical exhaustion begins to silence the brain's chatter. The highway noise becomes replaced with birdcalls and wind, and we are drawn out of ourselves into the world around us. In the city we experience the opposite when we sink into the underground subway. The bustle and flow of strangers creates a jumbled wash of noise, and the brain retreats into a dreamlike state, spinning on an overheard melody or conversation. Sketched out in the subway and finished at home, Thinning Air portrays the descent into the underground world of strangers, and the ascent into the realm of the imagination.
Written with Albert’s two-handed melodies in mind, Music Needs You presents a rhythmic dilemma. The alto saxophone and guitar play a slow melody in whole and half notes while piano and bass play an unrelated, upside-down sounding line in quarter and eighth note triplets. The drums groove away in an impartial double-time swing, which becomes the medium for the solos.
Barceloneta is a seaside neighborhood of Barcelona where the light barely pierces through the narrow streets and balconies. It retains some of the old coastal town feeling in the middle of a gigantic city. The melody is urban and cerebral, but still ebbs and flows.
Liberty is a musical collage whose divergent pieces are glued together with a rock beat. The first hints at a corrupted counterpoint- a single melody split into two voices, with an ominous gravity. The second is a vagrant riff, modulating recklessly yet stuck in the groove of too many repetitions. The third is an interpretation of the first, this time harmonized in call and response phrases. It leaves a hopeful question unanswered, segueing into the groove-based solo section.
I wrote this piece under the strange circumstance of being snowed in at a stranger's house near Liberty, New York where I took a job cat-sitting what to all appearances was just a neighborhood stray. The cat would disappear for days and come back weary to scarf down meal after meal. I think the cat's reckless wanderlust (and my own) contributed to the song's unusual form.
You Can Talk During This and Tired House were written when I was living in Copenhagen. They both capture the feeling of being holed up in a tiny wintry apartment with only a few hours of sun each day. In the outskirts of the city, the nights are completely silent except the echoed sound of someone smoking in the courtyard or shutting a window. The phrases float, linger, overlap, and mimic each other over mostly-diatonic chord progressions.
Wrong Turns was an experiment in what could happen if a song made a critical mistake right at the very beginning. I wrote the first bar on piano as kind of a classical ‘air’ and realized that it couldn't continue much further that way. I changed its direction entirely with a grace note down to the bluesy minor sub-dominant region to create a conflict of interests and let it find its way back to the center through all kinds of different paths. Despite moments of major buoyancy, the melody keeps turning to minor as if torn between extremes.
Pete’s tune, the Quiet Space Left Behind, is a "hook-based tune, anchored in 16-bar sections, with deceptively un-diatonic chord changes." Other than being an incredible melody, I think it creates a distinct ambience that complements the other tunes, some of which were directly influenced by Pete’s writing.
The musicians on this album are all composers and have brought the music to life through their generous interpretations. I hope you enjoy their spirit and artistry as much as I do, and continue to keep the music alive with your minds and ears open.
Ryan Blotnick, October 15, 2007