"There are too few composer-drummers, and on this evidence, Eric Starr is an extremely welcome new addition to the club. His musicianly writing and playing do him great credit. Plus, he has an ex-Earthworker-Iain Ballamy-on tenor saxophone. Irresistible." - Bill Bruford, Legendary Drummer
“One cannot help but be impressed by this music. The musicianship is top-notch, the performances unpredictable and full of surprises, and Eric Starr’s writing is consistently inventive.” - Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic and Author
"Everything is fresh about this disc…Nothing gets in the way of this music's freshness and charm." - Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
After a long hiatus, the Eric Starr Group is back with a brand new album entitled Such is Life. The album includes 10 new tracks by Eric and features Nelson Starr on vocals, piano, and guitar, Iain Ballamy on tenor saxophone, Ike Sturm on bass, and Eric on drums, vibes, and percussion. Also, special guests ETHEL (string ensemble) appear on five tracks. All of the songs, lyrics, and orchestrations are by Eric.
At its core, the Eric Starr Group (ESG) is a collaboration between brothers, Eric and Nelson Starr. Third-generation musicians from Western New York, the Starr brothers have performed together professionally since childhood. In 2003, the pair formed ESG as a showcase for Eric’s adventurous jazz compositions and for Nelson’s arresting tenor vocals.
Eric and Nelson Starr are both multi-talented artists. Eric grew up as a wunderkind on drums, but quickly proved himself as a skilled percussionist, pianist and composer. Nelson is also a triple threat; he is an accomplished pianist, guitar player and vocalist. Moreover, he is a gifted mix engineer whose talented ear provided ESG’s new album with its gorgeous, full sound.
As the leader of ESG, Eric is featured as both a stable rhythm player and versatile soloist, while always maintaining the position of sole composer-in-residence. In addition to his work with ESG, Eric has been commissioned to write works for classical piano and chamber ensembles. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including three Meet the Composer grants and he is currently finishing work on a four-movement symphony.
As a drummer, Eric’s playing draws from both jazz and rock stylists. “I’ve always been interested in genre bending. I am not a purist of any kind,” revealed Eric. As such, you may hear hints of such disparate players as Joe Morello, Steve Gadd, Bill Bruford, Elvin Jones, Paul Wertico, and even John Bonham in Eric’s drumming.
Nelson brings an inventive vocal approach to ESG. His tone is closer to such distinctive pop and rock singers as Jeff Buckley, Sting and Graham Nash than to most contemporary jazz vocalists. Nelson says that his singing style ultimately stems from “wanting to sound more like a horn player.” (Eric and Nelson’s father is a professional trumpeter.) Nelson’s trumpet-like singing is especially evident on the song “In the Spirit.”
The Story of SUCH IS LIFE:
Recently, Eric completed work on a new batch of material. Culling elements of jazz, classical, and bossa nova, this new songbook was begging for the kind of powerful, precise, treatment that only ESG could provide. “I reassembled the group specifically to record these new works,” explained Eric. “The idea was to record a jazz quartet live in the studio, then add orchestral arrangements later on.”
“Usually musicians are responding to previously composed orchestrations. In this case, the orchestra answers the players,” added Eric. This recording approach, while unorthodox, proved a perfect fit for Eric’s new material, which is a combination of carefully crafted melodies and spontaneous improvisation.
Such Is Life takes listeners on a musical journey to both recognized and unchartered territories. For example, “Can Spring Be Far Behind” recalls the glory days of bebop while “The Conjuror” is a seductive bossa nova with vocal. The most ambitious piece on the album, a two-part composition called “Dream Me,” starts out as a Jobim- style number before morphing into a rocking vamp with lush orchestrations and a searing violin solo.
The innovative string ensemble ETHEL deftly performed Starr’s involved arrangements on the recording. “When I asked [ETHEL'S 1st violinist] Cornelius Dufallo to play the complex solo I had composed for “Dream Me, Part II” he made the impossible possible. Few violinists could have played this solo quite as skillfully,” extolled Eric.
In all, Such Is Life is a grand amalgam of jazz styles and compositional elements pulled off with just the right amount of cool, experimentation, compelling execution, and poise. Each track bristles with deep purpose and inspiration.