Some of my favorite albums are live recordings, and I always wanted to release a live record with the right group in the right venue. The concept for "Blues at Alvas" was constantly evolving. We initially thought we might have two albums, one that was Patrice's record and one that was under my leadership. But as we prepared for the concerts, it became clear that Patrice wanted a different concept-- an actual studio recording, for one-- for her (future) debut release, and so things started to shift. The project was always about our unique relationships with each other, about the interactions among this particular group of players. As any musician will tell you, once one arrives at a place where everyone brings top-shelf skills to the musical table, the job really becomes to combine the right flavors.
As we were deep into the mixing process, it occurred to me that what we were making was really a vocal album, which, strangely, is not what it felt like when we rehearsed and performed, since the arrangements really feature the instrumentalists. So by the end, the concept had evolved into this "happening:" a musical narrative constructed in three chapters that could have only occurred with these players, on those days, in that space.
"Bradley's Nights" is a bebop line I wrote over the changes to "You and the Night and the Music." The title refers to the great, NYC jazz club "Bradley's," where I spent many a late night hearing Kenny Barron, John Hicks, Cedar Walton, Mike LeDonne, Tommy Flanagan, and many others.
"Maybe You Could Listen, Too" is a tune I wrote in the tradition of Mose Allison. I "cheated" and added a background vocal line in the studio, in case you were wondering if I doubled as some sort of ventriloquist! This ends the first chapter of the album.
Patrice begins chapter two with "Into the Mystic." Patrice brought this song to my attention a few years ago. Van Morrison's version is pure rock and roll, but in my arrangement, I wanted to get at something more haunting with hints of the groove from Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana."
I wrote the lyrics to Mike LeDonne's "Pra Voce," which is a gorgeous tune from his album: "Waltz for an Urbanite." Mike was my teacher for several years in New York, and I'm glad he let me have a crack at his tune.
"Halleluiah" was something we put together just a few weeks before the concerts. Patrice really wanted to do it, and I came up with our take on it. I am very proud of this track, of the way Patrice takes us so deep inside the story of the song, and the way the piano weaves around her, like a second, word-less voice in the song.
"Try a Little Tenderness" is a tune we've been doing on gigs for a while now and we left this one alone, just called it and played it down with no arrangement apart from what we all brought to it in the moment. This was the last thing Patrice sang on the Sunday concert, and then she ran off to another gig as we continued on. What a send off it was!
Patrice's father passed away several years ago, and her song "Astronaut," is dedicated to him, of course. She wrote the lyric over Sonny Rollins' tune "Doxy," and I wrote the arrangement and the horn lines (as on all the tracks). This track happens to be my older daughter's favorite on the album!
The funky groove at the top of "Old Devil Moon" takes us into chapter three. This is the one song I sing on the album that I didn't write, and I wanted to explore these different grooves within the song, as a way to highlight the swing.
I wrote "Was There a Time" as a reflection on our times, and as an open question. As dire as things seem now, people surely must have thought that the world was ending during the industrial revolution, when coal smoke blackened the skies. As a parent, you become more concerned with the lasting effects of the choices you make. Or, at least, one hopes that's what happens!
"Simply Stated" is a great tune by Jacques in 3/4 time, and Patrice's lyric fits it perfectly. Luckily, they were excited when I asked them if we could perform/record it. In keeping with the title, enough said!
Chapter three ends how chapter one began-- with an instrumental. "Blues at Alvas" follows the lead of Mike LeDonne"s "Soulmates" (and other similar tunes) in that it's a straight-up blues composition in that satisfying, slow tempo, but with a series of altered chords under the melody. Everyone gets a chance to blow, and I think you really hear all of our personalities on this one. This opened the Sunday concert, and before we went onstage, we were sitting upstairs and Trevor mused: "I'm looking forward to getting into that deep groove with Clayton. That DEEP groove."
The bonus track is "Timing Rules the World," which we attempted at Alvas but didn't quite come out right. I was checking out my friend Dori Amarillo's studio and decided to jump in there and record it, in as much a "live" fashion as possible. I'm glad I did that, because it was important to me that this composition of mine make it on to the album. I think "timing" is a much larger factor in our lives than any of us would like to admit.
As always in our busy, musical lives, we were under-rehearsed. And yet, things just came together, again and again. At one point during the Saturday concert, Allen turned to me in a kind of honest shock and said, "Damn! You are pulling this off like a mother____!"
This album would not be possible without the love and devotion of the musicians involved and the friends, family and fans who funded the endeavor. I hope you enjoy it.
This album is dedicated to the memory of my aunt, Marguerite Wildner, who was a true connoisseur of the arts, a great lover of music, and one of my biggest fans.
"It was good to hear that Peter Smith has a new album “Blues at Alvas”. I’ve been following Peter’s career these past few years. He’s a fine pianist and singer. He surprised me as I didn’t know he sings. The arrangements on his new record are original. This new recording is backed by one of my favorite rhythm sections in LA, Clayton Cameron and Trevor Ware. Bravo!" -John Beasley, acclaimed, grammy-nominated Jazz pianist.