Check out this week’s video featuring Billie Marten performing She Dances on McQsJazz.com
by Tom Moon
That liquid, crystalline tone; those airborne, searching melodies. They’ve been part of the jazz conversation for decades — ever since Pat Metheny’s debut appeared back in 1976, when he was just 22-years-old. He’s 65 now, an established star and the only recording artist in history to win a Grammy award in 10 different categories. On his latest album, From This Place, Metheny is pushing forward, still seeking breathtakingly new vistas.
In the notes he wrote to accompany the record, Metheny says he wanted to evoke the plush landscapes associated with American film music. To capture that cinematic sound, the album features both Metheny’s current working quartet and the Hollywood Studio Symphony.
Metheny calls his new project a “culmination”: It has the journeying spirit of the Pat Metheny Group and the fiery improvisational exchanges of his more recent jazz sessions. It’s also a stretch beyond those horizons into textures and atmospheres not often heard in jazz.
The project began with Metheny’s touring quartet, but rather than practice the new material on the road, as he’s done in the past, Metheny gathered the musicians in the studio. He recorded their first encounters with these intricate compositions — without rehearsals. — and then surrounded the band’s tracks with orchestral accompaniment. The result is something much more expansive than the typical soloist-with-strings kind of session. Running throughout, uniting everything, is the light, windswept lyricism that has always propelled Metheny’s music.
The release of an elaborate project like this is usually a joyous event for an artist. This one is tinged with sadness: It arrives right after the death of Lyle Mays, Metheny’s longtime keyboardist and collaborator. Its tranquil landscapes sometimes echo the work Metheny and Mays began decades ago, extending the spirit of that partnership into dazzling, new sonic realms.
How do you distill the spirit of the Monterey Jazz Festival into a single band? Considering the ethos of the annual event, the band was designed to be a celebration of diverse international talent, forward-thinking sensibilities and just plain killin’ performances. For artistic director Tim Jackson, that was the task at hand in 2018, marking the festival’s 60th anniversary.
The end result is The Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour. It’s a band of six individually acclaimed performers from the next generation of stars: Cécile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Bria Skonberg, trumpet, vocals; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Christian Sands, piano and musical director; Yasushi Nakamura, bass, and Jamison Ross, drums, vocals. The band toured through North America in March and April of 2019 and Jazz Night in America captured the band’s stop at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which features original tunes from different members of the band with new accents from project collaborators.
Cécile McLorin Salvant: voice; Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone; Bria Skonberg: trumpet and voice; Christian Sands: piano and musical director; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Jamison Ross: drums and voice
Producers: Justin Bias, Colin Marshall; Concert Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber; Concert Video Director: Joe Lucarro; Videographers: Hiram Becker, Andrew Trost, Brandon Smith; Editor: Jeremiah Rhodes; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producers: Colin Marshall, Katie Simon; Supervising Editors: Keith Jenkins, Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman, Amy Niles; Funded in Part By: The Argus Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, Wyncote Foundation
Nels Cline has earned his place as a guitar hero for our times, with a track record stretching back four decades and a marquee gig with Wilco. But if you mainly associate him with squalls of feedback, you’re missing a big part of the picture. “The Avant Romantic” is how Rolling Stone pegged him about a decade ago, in its list of Top 20 New Guitar Gods. And lately, Cline has been focusing his efforts, without pause or irony, on the romantic part of that equation.
Lovers, released on Blue Note in 2016, was Cline’s fond reclamation of “mood music” albums from midcentury, with his guitar in an earnest melodic role. It’s a suave collaboration with trumpeter Michael Leonhart, who wrote the orchestrations for a handful of versatile players like cellist Erik Friedlander and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. As Cline put it at the time in a conversation with NPR’s Fresh Air, Lovers was a project he’d been dreaming about for more than 25 years.
Lovers (for Philadelphia) didn’t require such a long gestation. Commissioned by the nonprofit Ars Nova Workshop, it was a sequel of sorts to Lovers intended to reflect a clear sense of place — the City of Brotherly Love, which of course has a great musical legacy not only as a jazz town but also an epicenter of soul. Cline made several trips to Philly for intensive research, visiting local institutions like the Curtis Institute of Music and the Germantown headquarters of the Sun Ra Arkestra. (He even helped create a Lovers saison at Tired Hands Brewing Company.)
The first and only performance of Lovers (for Philadelphia) took place at Union Transfer on June 2, and Jazz Night in America was there. See the video above for an up-close-and-personal view of the concert, and listen to our radio show for more insights on just how Cline and Leonhart made new tapestries of sound out of classic tunes like Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” McCoy Tyner’s “Aisha,” and The Delfonics’ “La-La (Means I Love You).”
“I wanted it to be sweet but I didn’t want it to be sugary,” Cline says of the Lovers project at large. He strikes that balance on this love letter to a musical city — which has now enfolded Cline in a reciprocal embrace.
Gotan Project is a musical group based in Paris, consisting of musicians Eduardo Makaroff, Philippe Cohen Solal and Christoph H. Müller.