The Open Road
I often think about jazz improvisation as moving from one place in a song to another via as beautiful and interesting a path as possible. Sometimes the path is clearly marked or unique; other times there are many possibilities. My concept of "The Open Road" is about having many choices -- about being able to go anywhere. And it is about having interesting improvisational territory upon which to exercise those choices. Consequently this recording, my seventh release as a leader (including one as a co-leader), represents a generally more open approach to the music than on my previous CDs. I was inspired to explore this direction because of some of the unique qualities of the rhythm section (Kenny Werner, Larry Grenadier, and Billy Hart), especially its ability to play loosely, but still swing. I chose or wrote the songs accordingly, then arranged them with various combinations of increased space (rhythmic and harmonic), pedal-point sections, or in some cases, I just had one or more of the rhythm section lay out, which automatically allowed more flexibility for open and freer expression.
This band is special for a number of reasons. In addition to each member's remarkable level of talent, skill, and experience, the rhythm section has performed together for over two years as part of the Tom Harrell Quintet. That is very significant since I am a member of that group as well. Not only have we played together regularly, which has greatly enhanced our interactions, but we have addressed a wide range of music, including some of Tom's very challenging material. Right before this recording session, the group completed a three week tour of Europe, and a week at Visiones Jazz Club, in New York.
The pianist Kenny Werner brings a tremendous harmonic intelligence to the group. He is a superb composer and arranger in his own right, and has an uncanny ability to perceive the logic behind unusual chord progressions. His unique and powerful rhythmic vocabulary adds spice to the rhythm section.
Billy Hart is a master drummer who has always been able to loosen up a musical situation, yet maintain the groove. He has tremendous dynamic range -- almost too much sometimes, he says, but this charges the music with tremendous contrast, which is crucial in any art form.
Grenadier has a great sound and feel, and really anchors the group when it
hits open territory. He is an excellent soloist, playing with
The producer (Jamey D. Aebersold) recommended Tim Hagans, a fiery trumpeter who has been around New York for quite a few years. Although we had rarely played together prior to this date, we immediately felt comfortable playing together. His experience with his own bands (I believe his latest is a piano-less quartet), with Joe Lovano, and with the Blue Note All-Stars proved invaluable, since all of these groups perform freer, more open music.
The songs contribute to and participate in the open road concept in various ways. On the most obvious level, most of the song titles themselves refer to different views of the "The Open Road" (for example: "Maiden Voyage", "Alone Together", "The Storm", etc.). For the arrangements of the standards, I modified them structurally (by adding measures to emphasize openness, or by modifying chords to add either harmonic spaciousness or improvisational curves), or texturally (by using different combinations of instruments). The originals have varying amounts of space composed into them, with the exception of "The Storm", which tends to emphasize the motion aspect of the open road idea.
The title track is a minor blues, with a unique set of chord changes. In many music genres, but especially in jazz, the blues form allows the improviser a great deal of freedom. The band approaches this tune with a sense of familiarity, yet, there are uncommon twists and turns that lead us into unexpected territory. To add another twist (and a little more space), I added a 16-bar pedal-point interlude right after the ensemble melody.
The next tune, "Sundown," is another original, but this one has a more contemplative feeling. I wrote it during an evening trip while on the April '96 European tour with Tom Harrell. I love this performance because it's emotionally charged and it swings so hard!
I arranged "April in Paris" specifically with the "open" approach in mind. The double-time feel of the rhythm section coupled with the reduced (and re-harmonized) chords, and the loosely interpreted melody, give this version a more unconfined feeling than the usual.
"I Thought About You" I dedicate to my wife, who often occupies my thoughts when I'm out on the road. The saxophone and bass duo scenario give it an almost sultry feeling. Also, the sounds of both Larry's bass and my saxophone are particularly well captured on this one.
Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" is a naturally expansive sounding tune with a lot of space in the melody. This version features a re-harmonized chord progression that introduces a modulation within the form. The band approaches this new arrangement with confidence and paints a beautiful improvisational portrait.
"The Storm" is a symbol of how so many of our road tours have begun: with that fast-paced feeling as we get prepared to enter another phase of life for a few weeks; or merely with turbulent weather (or both). There is a lot of motion in this tune; it happens to be the least open of this set.
"Alone Together" symbolizes the times when my wife and I are alone together on the open road. Naturally, there is a lot of passion and energy present. As it happens, the bass-drum-tenor combination is one of my favorite improvisational situations; and I really love the interaction between Billy Hart and myself.
I arranged "Someday My Prince Will Come" with Miles Davis in mind, partially because he is one of the masters of freer improvisation. The intro is a variation of the intro to "Tout De Suite" from his Filles De Kilimanjaro album (which is one of my favorite albums to listen to while driving), and Tim plays the melody in the same register as Miles did on his album Someday My Prince Will Come. I expanded the melody in some sections to add to the sensation of spaciousness, and modified the harmony somewhat. The result is a performance whose arrangement truly symbolizes the open road concept.
This version of Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From the Apple" is a clear example of how different a tune can sound without any chords. It is related to the way Ornette Coleman's groups of the sixties would play it.
I would like to have a "Lush Life" when I'm on the road, although it rarely happens. We perform this beautiful Strayhorn ballad in a duet setting, with only piano and saxophone. We did it in one take, without rehearsal, just to maintain the fresh feeling, and Kenny's harmonic genius really came out. This performance, especially by spontaneously being so different from any other version, represents the fact that in music, as in life, we have many choices.
Everyone involved in this recording contributed above and beyond the call of duty to make it a success, so please, enjoy the music!
July, 1996 All arrangements by Don Braden.