A description of each of the 10 compositions in the suite:
1. You Echo So
This first track, You Echo So, was originally written as a dedication to Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra. While studying at Cal Arts, Charlie showed me a ballad called “Why Did I Choose You” (by Micheal Leonard) and I wrote this piece while I was working on that tune and learning the music for Charlie’s Cal Arts version of the Liberation Music Orchestra. I was inspired by Charlie’s writting, the message being a social/political one and not merely music as a form of self expression. Many of the songs we played (from both the “Ballad of the Fallen”, and “Not In Our Name” albums) where dedications to historical revolutionary figures (Sandino for Augusto Sandino the Nicaraguan revolutionary; Che for Che Guevara the Cuban Revolutionary; La Passionaria for Dolores Gomez, the Spanish revolutionary, to name a few). This song “You Echo So”, an anagram of “You Choose,” was inspired by both the Liberation Music Orchestra and the idea that artists and their music can be both critical of social structures and a force for change.
I wrote the progression first, taking nearly all the chords from the harmonization of an Eb harmonic major scale (major with a b13), except the last chord (Emaj7#11). The melody, and bass line are also mainly from Eb harmonic major with a few exceptions. I wrote the bass line and second counterpoint melody on the bridge last and then made a simple arrangement. Dave Carpenter (Martin acoustic bass guitar) came up with the bass introduction on his own, so you’ll hear that played before the written bass line begins. The track also includes Mark Ferber on drums and Leonard Thompson on keys. Like most of the material on this album, I was trying to write a sort of instrumental folk music, where the melody is lyrical even if complex and the chords and meter create a nice colorful environment.
2. Paris Commune
In France, 1871, Louis Bonaparte, who had begun a war with Otto Von Bismarck the Minister of Prussia, had just abdicated and replaced by August Thiers. The workers of Paris, who had been fighting the Prussian army for months, became frustrated when Thiers began talking about conditions of French surrender with Bismarck. The workers, many members of the French national guard, seized Paris and set up a democratically run Central Committee, the first workers’ government in human history. The Commune controlled production and distribution for over two months in Paris before both Thiers and Bismarck agreed to suspend war in order to deal with the Communards. Thiers broke the Commune’s barricades on May 21st, and a week later had crushed the commune and killed between 20,000 and 30,000 Communards.
The first unison line between the guitar and sax outlines the scale I used for the first theme (and the ending theme), it’s a Eb major scale with a b9 and a b13 (hungarian minor) and both melodic lines; the harmony and bass part all come from that scale. The next section, with the main melody, I wrote at the piano, humming melodies and playing chords until I was content with the material. In the third section I expanded a bit on the first theme mostly by adding a few more notes to the basic scale I was working from (I added natural 9 and sharp nine).
This track also includes Jason Harnell on drums who solos over the ending material, Storm Nilson on Guitar and David J. Carpenter on acoustic bass guitar.
Unfortunately the final arrangement of the piece never got recorded, which had developed during live performances and rehearsals over the year after the recording. The pdf of the score shows the changes that where made.
Enigma was partially inspired by the Theo Bleckman album “Origami”. A few of the compositions from that album have a beautiful open quality, the voice adding a transparency to the melodic material which I find very captivating. On Enigma, Sara Gazarek sang the melody in unison with me. She has a very pure and gentle voice which blends nicely with the saxophone.
This piece moves through several three part voicings arpeggiated by the group. The melody on the second section breaks away from the voicing and was written freely by ear over the same bass and guitar part. The solo section is over an Eb pedal. Sara improvises after the melody while Dave plays a drone and chords simultaneously.
This piece also features Jason Harnell on drums and Joel Peloquin on guitar.
Tenebrous was written while in New York for a band called Hibiscus. Originally the band consisted of either Anthony Pinciotti or Diego Voglino on drums, Bennie Lackner on Keys, Andrew Emmer on Bass and myself on tenor. We had a steady run at both the Tap Bar (Knitting Factory) and Butterfly ( in Brooklyn) and we played this tune and others written by myself, Andrew and Bennie. It is a simple song, with only two chords.
The piece goes between I maj and vi minor with a short bit of two part counter point during the into/interlude between the bass and the sax/guitar melody… I wrote the melody by ear after coming up with the two chords, trying to work from mostly triplets.
This track includes Jason Harnell on drums, Leonard Thompson on keys, Joel Peloquin on Guitar and David J. Carpenter on acoustic bass guitar.
The Inspiration and the Composition:
Tumbleweed was loosely inspired by the music of Lennie Tristano who wrote many wonderful melodies over standard harmonic progressions. I enjoy working out contrafacts over standards and I wrote this 8th note melody over one of my older songs (which has now become the slow moving bridge melody). Originally I wrote the song for a trio I was playing with briefly in New York, comprised of Matt Jorganson on drums and Gary Versace on organ; James Mahone also joined us a few times on alto sax as well. The song was one of my first attempts to write something in 5/4; in the late 90′s I began working on meters other than 3/4 and 4/4 being influenced by all the great odd meter composing going on in the city. Hearing composers like Eric Rasmussen helped me realize how interesting it sounded to get away from common meters like 4/4 and 3/4. I’ve yet to write anything as metrically complex as Eric’s music, as I’m usually content staying in just one or two meters per song. The eight note melody incorporates the use of some triads and approach notes that are not found in the melodic minor scales commonly associated with the chords.
Leonard Thompson plays a beautiful keyboard solo on this song which also features Jason Harnell on drums, David J. Carpenter on Bass, Joel Peloquin on Guitar and Matt Otto on tenor sax.
In Chile, in the late 1960s and early 1970′s, The Popular Unity government, under democratically elected “socialist” president Salvador Allende, was faced with a radical working class uprising (not unlike the workers uprising which lead to the Paris Commune 100 years earlier). The workers, acting in their own interest, and unhappy with how slowly social programs where being implemented by Allende, organized the Cordones Industriales and began to seize factories and mines in order to produce and distribute goods for free to the impoverished masses. This localized working class revolution, far from being embraced by the “socialist” government of Allende, was deemed unconstitutional. The ensuing class war between the workers, and the owners (which also included US investors and US capital) led to the destabilization of the Chilean power structure giving the CIA backed dictator general Augusto Pinochet (who was the head of the military under Allende) the opportunity to overthrow both the democratically elected Popular Unity government of Allende (who was assassinated) and the more radical socialist working class movement (including the Cordones Industriales) in a military coup. The ensuing dictatorship of Pinochet re instituted private production (in favor of US capital) and began purging the Cordones Industriales and all leftward leaning workers through execution, torture, exile and imprisonment. This short ballad is a tribute to the workers of the Cordones.
This piece started with the root motion which ascends and then descends chromatically. The melody comes mainly from Ab harmonic major although deviates with an occasional b7.
The track features Jason Harnell on drums, David J. Carpenter on bass, Joel Peloquin on guitar, and Matt Otto on tenor sax.
The Inspiration and Composition:
I originally wrote the main theme to this piece when I was living in New York after learning a George Shearing tune called “Conception”. I liked the chord motion in bar 3 where the piece moves from I major 7 to b7 minor 7. Manipulating that progression and came up with the basic melody and chord progression for “Intellection”, which uses the same chord motion starting on IV major, than I major, and then a similar motion harmonically going from vi minor and ii minor to relative major. Later,in Los Angeles, I added a contrafact over the main theme which became the interlude which we play as a unison line between the tenor and keyboard solo. The introduction and outro where written last, which were rhythmically influenced by Lennie Tristano (groupings of 7 over 5) while the melody and harmony are mostly using a major pentatonic. The 8th note part of the introduction/outro is grouped in 7s with one grouping of 6 thrown in for asymmetry which is all fairly clear in the score. Jason Harnell plays a brief drum solo over the 7 over 5 section in the outro. This song was also released earlier on the Los Angeles Jazz Collective Compilation Vol. 1 CD. The players include Leonard Thompson on keys, David J. Carpenter on bass and Matt Otto on tenor sax.
This composition is a tribute to revolutionary social transformation. Reformism, which works within the system to change its outward appearance but does not attempt to radically alter its basic structure is, at its root, complicit with the system; it does not work against its basic structure and rarely questions it. Capitalism, which is based on private ownership of the productive forces in society, prioritizes production for individual profit over production for collective human need. Trying to create change within this sort of system is like trying to create change within a slave based economy (Ancient Greece and Rome); it only leads to prolonging and supporting the basic problem, which in the case of Capitalism, is the private ownership of the productive forces of society and production for profit. The only way to end private production for private profit, and wage-slavery at its base, is through revolution. By transformation, I mean the historical movement, through an organized working class revolution, from Capitalism (and the exploitation of workers through wage-slavery) to true Socialism (where the global working class equally controls all of the global productive forces of society and wields them in their best interest).
The piece is fairly simple. I wrote the chord progression first using mostly triads over bass notes (ala Mick Goodrick) and then wrote a melody by ear over the chords. The track features Mark Ferber on drums, David J. Carpenter on acoustic bass guitar, Joel Peloquin on guitar and Matt Otto on tenor sax.
9. Storm Song
The Inspiration and Composition:
Storm Song was a composition I wrote for Storm Nilson, the guitar player heard on track 2, “Paris Commune”. He is a great person and and talented player; and was only 22 at the time he recorded on this album.
This piece started as a study in random composition. 12 notes were put into a hat and 7 drawn out to create a random scale. The entire theme is made just from those 7 notes in all 3 parts, the melody, harmony and bass. The chord changes for improvising were a close interpretation of the harmony from the main theme and the interlude was written over those interpreted chord changes.
10. End Class
This piece was inspired by the vision of a post class/post Capitalist society. Capitalism like Feudalism, is a system based on labor which is organized specifically along class lines. The main two classes found today are owners or the appropriating class (Capitalist who own and control the means of commodity production) and workers or the producing class (those who sell their labor to survive). The middle class is more of ideological illusion that a material reality, the “further reading” link below does a great job explaining the myth of the middle class. Although a classless society has not yet been successfully organized by humanity, at this point in history, humans have developed the productive forces globally to support and maintain such a society. As a human race, we now have the ability produce more than enough to feed, shelter, medicate and educate the entire world, but since the forces of production are controlled privately for profit, human needs are not being met.
I was influenced by Bach’s use of spread triads from the cello suites and incorporated them along with metric groupings going over the bar line. I wrote the harmonic progression first using only Major and Minor chords which can be ordered nearly randomly and still sound nice without being functional in a diatonic sense. This last track includes Jason Harnell on drums, Joel Peloquin on guitar, Leonard Thompson on keys, David J. Carpenter on acoustic bass guitar and Matt Otto on tenor sax.