Jim Beard is an accomplished composer, arranger and producer who has demonstrated a knack for studio craft in presiding over recordings by the likes of Michael and Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Victor Bailey, Bill Evans, Bob Berg and Eliane Elias, Beard invariably reserves his most idiosyncratic and compelling work for his own projects. "Most of it is a reaction to what I´m experiencing and seeing," says Beard, "whether it´s reacting to the music world in general or even reacting to my own solo projects." "Advocate", he explains, "is in some ways a reaction to his more tightly orchestrated offerings like 1991´s Song Of The Sun, 1995´s Lost At The Carnival or 1997´s Truly. "A lot of my tendencies before have been to put a lot more weight into the craft and the arrangement, details with orchestration and that whole world, which has always been important to me but tends to squeeze out the real blowing. Generally speaking, there’s more playing on this records. I was trying to keep it open and have the musicians‘ personalities contribute more to the music."
That freewheeling aesthetic can be heard on the surging opener "Fever" and on the buoyant, Weather Report-ish "Hope", both of which feature Jim stretching heroically on synthesizer in the stellar company of bassist Matthew Garrison, drummer Gene Lake, percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan and reedman Bob Malach. He digs into his Fender Rhodes electric piano with abandon, à la mid ´70s Herbie Hancock, on the warm, grooving vehicle "Mirrors" and on the kicking closer "Trip." And on two tunes, the funky mambo "Princess" and the subtly Latin-flavored "Jambolay", he solos and comps brilliantly on grand piano. Fiercely uncompromising, Advocate is Beard´s next bold move in a career devoted to highly individualistic statements. "It really isn´t contrived, it´s really just what I feel," says the gifted artist who has toured and recorded with the likes of Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, John Scofield and Pat Metheny. "There was never a little voice in the back of my mind saying, `Well, this song might be too long for radio or it´s getting a little bit too wild for this format or I wonder if this group of people would be slightly offended by this certain tune?´ If that voice ever started to show it´s little head I would whack it down and say, `Go away!´I don´t want to hear that little voice at all. So with this record in particular, there really was no check system in place at all. Obviously, that´s never been a strong shaping factor in any of my music, but lot of times in the past I would kind of tip my hat to certain musical modes or styles. I don´t really feel like I was doing much hat-tipping on this one."
On a couple of tunes, like the funky "Princess" or the warm, romantic "Mirrors," Beard did allow some of his earliest musical influences to seep through, namely War and Stevie Wonder. "I´ve really come to realize how much the music that surrounded me in high school – ‘70s AM radio music - is still with me," he says. "Even though I studied classical music and studied with David Baker at Indiana University and also studied privately with George Shearing, it´s almost like ´70s AM radio music had more effect on me than what I thought I was taking seriously. And I think now I´m just relaxing and letting go of all the constraints and the norms that can be so prominent in music. Although Jim consciously decided to avoid any strict jazz connotations by not using saxophone as a melodic voice on Advocate – a continuation of his stance on Truly... – he affects a jazzy aesthetic with his vibes sample on "Relief," a tune that conjures up George Shearing´s mellow sound from the early 60s with the Montgomery brothers. In a devilish bit of irony, he titles one of the more twisted pieces on the album "Jazz," which juxtaposes a myriad of elements into a swirling cornucopia of sound.
"I´m always feel challenged to combine unseeming elements together," says the upstart composer. "Normally you´d think they didn´t belong together but I try to make it seem as if they do belong together. You hear that on ´Jazz´ and you also get that feeling on ´Hope,´ where the melody is in more of an ´up´ positive vibe but then there are these sections that are kind of darker and sinister sounding. I like that idea swinging freely between sinister and positive, good and evil."
Easily the wackiest song on Advocate, "At The Glee Club" is a comic collaboration with the members of Blüth, the absurdist ensemble featuring bassist Lefebvre and drummer Danziger and whose lead singer Pete Davenport has carved out his own unique niche as a frontman. "This is my reaction to the ‘guest vocalist on jazz records‘ phenomenon, such as David Sanborn having Sting singing `Ain´t No Sunshine When She´s Gone´" says Beard with a smirk. "Everybody´s gotta have Sting singing something on their jazz record. So I thought, `OK, here´s my guest vocalist Pete Davenport from Blüth.´ And you know, for a few months I was questioning whether or not I should put this on the album. Here was that little voice again that popped up and said, ´Well, this might offend some people or you´ll lose half your audience here...some people are going to think it´s too outrageous.´ And as soon as that voice started talking, it was like, ´Well, of course I have to put in on the record. That answers the question for me.
Beard continues his ongoing musical relationship with Wayne Shorter, whom he began playing with in 1986, around the time of Shorter´s Phantom Navigator. Says Jim of the iconic composer and saxophonist, "As an improviser, his playing transcends the saxophone. As a composer, he´s a master and he´s getting better with the age. The stuff he is writing now is on such a high level. And yet offstage, just hanging out with him in an airport or whereever, he maintains a kind of childlike playfulness."
While he has absorbed invaluable lessons for his long association with Shorter, Jim continues to thumb his nose at convention on his own‘ upstart projects. "Musically, in someways, I feel like I´m the little four year old kid who is not getting the kind of attention he wants, starts picking up his plates and flinging them on the kitchen floor. It feels like a joyful rage and reaction to my loathing of smooth jazz but also my loathing of this macho, chest-beating, look-at-me-play jazz musician, who couldn’t care less about what material he’s playing as long as he gets a 15 minute solo. I loathe them equally. Which is why some have labeled Beard ´the bad boy of jazz.´ It´s a tag he wears with pride.
Jim Beard is best known as a performer, writer and producer who has had long standing working relationships with artists like Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Jon Herington, Mike Stern, Pat Metheny and Bill Evans.