Moon Hotel Lounge Project, Into the Ojalá
(Frosty Cordial Records; Release date: January 11, 2011)
What happens when someone who’s long been known as a music critic and journalist steps from behind the desk and begins to make some noise of his own?
One answer awaits on Into the Ojala, the debut recording from Moon Hotel Lounge Project. The album is the brainchild of award-winning music critic Tom Moon – contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered and the author of the New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die. It features nine original Moon compositions and a cover of the gospel standard “Rock of Ages.”
“I’ve always thought about music as a lifelong pursuit, kinda like yoga,” says Moon, whose professional experience as a saxophonist includes a year on the road with jazz legend Maynard Ferguson. “In music, there’s no point of absolute mastery, you just keep trying to learn. You strive for the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell talks about, try to get better any way you can. For a long time I worked at it on my own, doing the home studio thing and playing jam sessions. And then I sorta realized that in order to grow I needed to get out of the attic, so to speak.”
In the spring of 2009, Moon began to workshop his compositions with several Philadelphia jazz luminaries, calling people whose music he’d written about years before. In at least one case, he didn’t expect a return call. “I kept thinking about Kevin Hanson,” Moon recalls, “and one day I just impulsively picked up the phone.” Hanson – the guitarist and frontman of the Philly band The Fractals, who produced Into the Ojala – was in the pop band Huffamoose years before, and though Moon had written several positive pieces on the band, his review of its final album was scathing.
“I fully expected Kevin to tell me to get lost,” Moon says. “He didn’t. He checked out my demos and when we got together, the tunes just instantly took off. Same thing happened at the first rehearsal….In a way, this is one of those crazy stories where the challenge of creating new music triumphs over old animosities – it was an absolute thrill to play with this rhythm section I’d written about bunches of times, to hear them really digging deeply into these little tunes, taking them places I would never have found on my own. I’ll always remember how they were incredibly patient with me, considering I hadn’t operated on any kind of professional level as a musician in twenty years.”
Into the Ojala was recorded over four days, with seven musicians – Moon on tenor saxophone, Behn Gillece on vibes, Mike Frank on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes electric (often at the same time), Hanson on guitar, Jim Stager on bass, Erik Johnson on drums, Josh Robinson on percussion – playing all together, live. The idea, Moon says, was to foster an atmosphere of in-the-moment creation reminiscent of an earlier jazz era – with the emphasis on melody and group interaction.
In other words, music that could thrive in those sleek marble-and-glass palaces found inside lots of hotels. “Doing the book tour for 1000 Recordings, I spent lots of time in hotel lounges,” Moon explains. "In the last decade there’s really been a revolution there – thanks to the boutiques and the Ian Shrager properties, the hotel industry has been rethinking the look and feel of the lounge. These are transitory places, almost blank slates: Most of the clientele is away from home, and they’re looking for a neutral space with few demands, a place to pause before beginning a meeting or setting out for an electric evening. In the best of these rooms, there’s a great sense of possibility, and that’s been accentuated as these spaces have been overhauled. If there’s a conceptual overlay to this project – and these days doesn’t every project need a meta-concept? – it was to create some sounds that could work in these spaces. The music had to operate on several levels: as a pleasant background wash, something you’d hear from a distance in the hotel bar of Lost in Translation, and also as music for reflection that rewards closer listening. Something heartfelt and real, something wistful.”
In the course of the project, Moon got an education in the new indie ethos of the music business – from the wonders of computer-based recording to mastering to developing a “brand” on the internet to gigging. “People talk about this being a great level playing field for music, with low entry-level costs and the chance to put what you do out there relatively inexpensively. That’s true, but there’s tremendous work involved. As a critic, going through each step has been the best possible learning experience, knowing what bands encounter when they start knocking on doors with a sound and really nothing else.”
Moon knows that this empathy won’t get him far: Even though it’s easy for anyone to create releasable music, it’s still relatively rare to see a critic or journalist “change hats” to share original work. This did not deter him. “We had Chinese takeout on the second day of recording, before we really had any sense of what this could be. My fortune was: “Fear is a downpayment on a debt you may not owe.” Love that. And I took it as a signal. I mean, look, it would be far easier to not share this stuff, to sorta stay in a certain box and participate in the ongoing discussion about music from the critic’s perch. I’ve done that for many years, and right now, it seems like it’s time to bring what I believe in, and contribute something original. When you’re a critic, you always have a target on your back. I know I just made the target bigger by doing this, but that’s cool. I welcome whatever comes, and look forward to, among other things, some rousing conversations about the aesthetics of music.”
A saxophonist whose professional credits include tours with the Maynard Ferguson orchestra, Moon graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Music in 1983. For nearly twenty years, he covered pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and world music as a music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he's covered a similar range of music as a contributor to NPR’s “All Things Considered” since 1994. In addition to 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Moon’s work appears in several other books, including The New Rolling Stone Album Guide and The Final Four of Everything. He’s written for Rolling Stone, GQ, Blender, Spin, Vibe, and has won several awards, including two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Music Journalism awards.
For more information, please contact Krista Williams, Joe Cohen or Carla Sacks at Sacks & Co., 212.741.1000.