Steve Weist - Out of the New - Arabesque AJO 189
Where does the jazz repertoire come from, all those songs that serve as raw material for the very essence of the music, that process of spontaneous composition called "jazz improvisation?" Very often the musicians write their own tunes, or play tunes written by other jazz artists. But traditionally a huge portion of the music that jazz artists perform, interpret, and ultimately make their own is drawn from The Great American Songbook, forty years (more or less) worth of tunes created in the publishing houses of Tin Pan Alley, the musicals of Broadway, and the films of Hollywood.
These great old songs are known as standards. Yes, they are great, but they also are old. And many of them are a bit worn. How many times has the average jazz listener heard "Satin Doll," "Just Friends," and "Stella by Starlight?" And maybe the bigger question is how many more times do you need to hear "Satin Doll," "Just Friends," and "Stella by Starlight?" Many musicians understand this dilemma and so, have dug deep into the Songbook in search of fresh, unused material. Think of Miles Davis' unlikely, and now classic, treatment of the essential showtune, "The Surry with the Fringe on Top." Or Sonny Rollins' delightful forays into vintage operetta, not to mention his eccentrically clever treatments of some of Al Jolson's greatest hits.
But there is another way to go. Instead of searching for new old tunes, why not look for new new tunes? Rahsaan Roland Kirk did that in the 1960s and 1970s, even recording a full album of R&B and soul hits (Blacknuss). In the 1980s and 1990s Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy built an eclectic repertoire that included works by Puccini and Paul Anka, Willie Nelson and Marilyn Manson. Even Miles Davis, on one of his last recordings, played "Time After Time" - not the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn standard, but the Cyndi Lauper pop hit. And in recent years a similar path has been taken by pianists Herbie Hancock (The New Standard) and David Hazeltine (Modern Standards). And that brings us to trombonist-composer Steve Wiest and Out of the New.
"The idea behind this project," Steve explains, "was to find unusual modern source material - the more unusual the better, I suppose - with the idea that modern pop music and modern rock music, and songs from Broadway and TV, can also be good material for jazz. I then wanted to approach these new tunes in the same way that jazz musicians have been rewriting and recomposing the old standards for years: often going in completely different directions from the original for the sake of creative variation (such as taking 'Green Dolphin Street,' which was originally a slow hypnotic ballad and turning it into an up-tempo exciting samba/straight ahead vehicle). While the Great American Songbook is by no means tapped out, I had a great time finding new directions and fresh formats with this new material.
Admittedly Steve, hardcore jazz cat that he is, was not all that familiar with the recent world of contemporary rock and popular music. Luckily, he had a couple of "resident experts" in the field close at hand. "One is my daughter, Amber," he points out, "who just turned eighteen. I told her, 'Just make a playlist of some of your favorite pop artists, the more obscure (to jazz-folk) the better, people that you really enjoy and that your friends dig as well.' And I also talked to Stockton Helbing, a great jazz drummer who's my producer on this album, who I knew was connected to that kind of music.
"Between the two of them they put together this killer list, and there were some common denominators, like Maroon 5, Green Day, Coldplay, and Foo Fighters. I listened to the tunes that were on their lists, and then I looked up their most recent recordings and listened to the title track of each one. So I was off and running."
But there was a good bit of work to be done in order to transform this non-jazz material into jazz vehicles. "It was pretty easy to transcribe them," Steve continues, "because even though the tunes were sophisticated rhythmically and contained very hip lyrics, they were fairly simple harmonically. But the forms were kind of different. So as I was transcribing I was getting all these crazy ideas for rewriting and recomposing. And a couple of them, like 'X & Y' and 'In Your Honor' became compete recompositions, where basically the only thing that still exists from the original are parts of the form.
"The tough thing, and maybe the challenging and fun thing, was that harmonically a lot of these tunes make use of basic triads. When I put jazz voicings on them they just caught fire. Even with something more sophisticated like Sting's 'Seven Days,' on the bridge it's just first inversion chords, very classical sounding. So when I put in some alterations it suddenly became this hip, esoteric progression that I would have never come up with myself. So it led me in some directions that were really new and challenging." In fact, Steve transformed and recomposed many of the originals so completely that, as you soon will discover, he is virtually a collaborator or co-writer of these new versions. And in so doing, he has created a most original and highly imaginative showcase for his formidable talents as a jazz improviser.
The opener, Coldplay's X & Y, gains an infectious Latin groove, illustrating Steve's overall approach to this unique project. "I guess the question should be," he jokes, "'X and why did I do what I did?' because the original was kind of a Beatle-esque, trance-like tune. At that point I was thinking, 'I don't have anything with a Latin vibe for the album yet, so maybe I should do this one in kind of a rocked-out Latin feel.' Then I messed with the form a little bit and soon it was this really funky, almost Santana-jazz kind of thing that took on a whole new persona from the original. And that is exactly what I'm looking to do with these tunes, in the same way that ballads become straight-ahead fast grooving things or Afro-Cuban, etc., just like we've done with other standards. So this tune sets the stage for what I had in mind for the project."
Steve, drawing upon his composer's expertise, crafts his improvisation using motifs and variations on those motifs, constructing a fully realized musical statement that is both spontaneous and coherent. An authoritative solo by Fred Hamilton on guitar lead into a dense wave of sound and texture revved up by the cohesive rhythm team. "The cool thing about the guys that I'm working with on this recording," Steve observes, "is that they are so musical that they can take on the personality of any composition and get the most out of it. And in the case of this one it morphed into a little bit more of a harder, darker edge than I had in mind. I really enjoyed how this one turned out."
One of the most accomplished musicians in popular music, Sting goes swing in Steve's treatment of his composition, Seven Days. "Ten Summoner's Tales is one of my favorite pop records of all-time," he notes, "so it was just a matter of which tune I should pick from it. Sting is close to jazz anyway and he's such a poet that it's a pleasure to listen to his music. So I chose the one that has some of my favorite lyrics on it, 'Seven Days,' otherwise known as 'The Procrastination Tune.' I thought it would be a lot of fun to go completely straight-ahead and change the melody up a little bit, and see what would happen on that beautiful ascending bridge that he wrote when I put in some jazz alterations."
Solos by Fred, Steve, and pianist Stefan Karlsson, employing some lush Garner-esque touches, are followed by a brief series of three-way trades. These quickly evolve into the inspired collective interplay over Ed Soph's churning drums and Lynn Seaton's rock-solid bass that eventually concludes the track. "We were going to do a board fade on the end," Steve reveals, "but we got into such a creative vibe that we went ahead and let it end naturally. It was like the ultimate freedom to start taking things out and communicating, and we decided to just leave it as is."
It's a safe bet that many jazz listeners are familiar with the Aerosmith mega-hit Walk This Way, but rest assured that Steve's treatment is very different from theirs. "It's incredibly different," he emphasizes. "I challenged myself to pick something that seemed to have nothing at all to do with jazz and see what I could do with it. So I thought this would be the most outrageous one to turn into a jazz tune. Aerosmith had a big hit on this one with Run-DMC so it's kind of a rap tune, and that was the tough thing when it came to the recomposition.
"Steve Tyler did this rap thing that's real rhythmic and fun and energetic," he continues, "so I thought, 'Man, what do I do with that melodically?' At the time my students at North Texas and I were working on triad pairs, so I wrote this angular line that has some difficult triad pairs in it - and I almost wrote something we couldn't play! Then it seemed natural to go into a fast minor blues. This is one tune where the form set the stage for some ideas I wouldn't have done, like a blues with a bridge. The hook on 'Walk This Way' is the sharp-9 section, so that lent itself to a nice interlude between the blues sections."
Stefan displays a light touch and a solid sense of swing, and Steve's brief, yet satisfying, statement shows off his formidable chops and facility, employed here and throughout this CD not for their own sake, but rather as means to his musically expressive end. And don't miss the astounding bowed solo by Lynn Seaton, one of the eminent bassists of our time. "He does some stuff that'll just scare you to death," Steve agrees. "Who would have figured? On a monster fast blues tune he does this arco solo and it's just killer!"
Green Day's Wake Me Up When September Ends, from their 2004 Grammy-winning album, American Idiot, "was one that Stockton Helbing turned me on to," Steve recalls. "This was a very popular rock anthem that was build around a dramatic story about love lost. Since this song was also a very popular video, the challenge became how to translate the tune without lyrics or imagery. So I added a couple of chords and some substitutions, intensifying the changes a little bit. Then I put it into 3/4 time and found that it still had the poignancy of the original, but suddenly it also became a hip jazz waltz." Quite true - at times it brings to mind Freddie Hubbard's delicate jazz standard, "Up Jumped Spring."
"I also put a bridge on it," he continues, "to match the feeling of the new 'A' progression I was devising. So with my additions it ended up sounding like 'La Fiesta' in places. And as we were playing it Ed started doing this out-of-time feel on the bridge, and we jumped on that." By the way, Steve achieves that lovely J.J. Johnson timbre on this track by using a metal bucket mute.
Shiver, by Maroon5, recast in an exotic mold, was something of a revelation for Steve. "This was one of the first tunes I listened to that I wasn't aware of," he remembers, "that I hadn't heard before, and I was like, 'Wow, these guys are great singers and the groove was killer.' It was almost something that we could have improvised over as is. But I decided to change the groove and add some voicings in a couple of chords to personalize it, and to focus on the harmonic minor sound that made a hip 'Middle Eastern' jazz thing happen. This was another of the ones where the form was so different and it was a blast to play on it. It was an opportunity to take a couple things up an octave, too, which is always a lot of fun."
It's You I Like has a relaxed, easygoing feel, as gentle and genuine as the man who created it, every kid's favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers. "Fred Rogers has always been one of my heroes," Steve notes. "Anytime my kids wanted to watch Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, I was all for it - that was the 'safe zone.' And he wrote all those tunes that his pianist Johnny Costa played so well on the show. His stuff is kind of Tin Pan Alley-format - it's almost jazz. When I started getting into it, I was, like, 'Man, this is a beautiful form. This is Cole Porter-level.' So on the surface it might seem like a weird place to go for a jazz tune, but in fact, it was the easiest one to arrange. I used lots of left-hand piano locked up with bass, and some interesting and unusual substitutions, a lot of hybrid chords."
Steve's solo "sings" in an appropriately warm and friendly manner, and Ed Soph's brushwork "dances" with ease. "The arrangement kind of morphed with Ed's approach," Steve says with appreciation. "I had put in my favorite groove in the world, Afro-Cuban, but when he switched it to brushes it became a whole different thing, this charming little vehicle."
Defying Gravity comes from the recent hit musical, Wicked. "I think my daughter would have sent me to prison if I didn't put something from Wicked on this CD," Steve says with a laugh. "She's very much into the theater scene, and at the time I was putting this together that was the popular Broadway show for people who are into rock-opera. It has interesting writing, the kind of writing that, at first listen, I wasn't catching a lot of the melodies and didn't really feel what was going on. But the more I listened to some of the tunes, the more they started to speak to me."
Still, this tune went through some considerable reshaping before it was ready for a jazz treatment à la Wiest. "I had decided early-on in this project not to use the original grooves from any of the tunes - to stay away from a 'cover' approach. So I thought 'What would be a fun and different direction that I could take on this one? How about a ballad?' I started playing it as a ballad on the piano and it had a lot of potential. But then I thought, 'What if I took the B section and started with that?' And I started to think, 'OK, an old ballad that is a jazz standard almost always has a cool verse.' In the Stephen Schwartz original there was this recitative section before the tune started, so I took that and made a pseudo-verse/introduction out of it, which is what you hear Stefan and me playing as a duet in the beginning. So in taking a dramatic fast rock anthem and putting it in a slow setting, I ended up with the reverse of what is often done with a jazz standard, where we usually take a slow tune and make it into an up-tempo one."
Steve returns to the muted sound - this time employing a Harmon - on Foo Fighters' In Your Honor, which, he muses, "may be even a more outrageous recomposition than 'X & Y,' because the original by Foo Fighters features Dave Grohl's screaming vocals with emotional lyrics that get into this heavy love and death story. I chose to turn it around and make it a nice bossa nova to see how the overt drama and excitement of the original would translate into a subtle setting. Much of the original fit nicely into a Jobim kind of thing, sort of like 'Corcovado.'
"And of course I was looking, selfishly, for a way to have this rhythm section play a bossa nova. I knew that those guys would just kill it, and they did." Steve's heartfelt solo exudes that odd combination of joy and melancholy that always seems to lie just beneath the surface of the bossa nova. Then Fred picks up his acoustic guitar to invoke the perfect rhythmic groove and solo texture, and the rest of the guys are right in line, as Steve notes, with pleasure. "Stefan's touch is amazing, Ed on a bossa nova is to die for, and Lynn just ties it all together."
But what's up with that crazy coda? "It's the only thing on the whole album that goes into a straight-ahead rock feel. Everybody was up for it, and I wanted to do just a little touch of what it would sound like if this jazz group actually did go into a rock thing. First of all, Ed just came out of nowhere with an unbelievable groove - he sounds like John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. Then Fred easily went into 'power-chord mode.' And rock with an acoustic bass and piano ostinato is a very hip sound. So what I decided to do was double track the trombone sound like Jimmy Pankow with Chicago. And suddenly we had this unexpected texture that made for a very different direction - to go into this rock vibe at the end of a bossa nova. It was a fun way to close the album."
A respected lead and jazz trombonist, Steve Wiest also is a dedicated jazz educator and clinician, and a Grammy-nominated arranger. From 1981 to 1986 he was the featured trombonist with the band of trumpet legend Maynard Ferguson, who recorded many of Steve's compositions and arrangements, and in 2006 Steve performed on Ferguson's final CD. Steve's previous Arabesque Jazz release, Excalibur (AJ0 180), a 2006 big band date, was met with widespread critical acclaim. The group that Steve assembled for this unique project consists entirely of colleagues of his on the faculty of the University of North Texas, one of the world's leading institutions in the field of jazz education. More than that, they all are accomplished and renowned jazz artists in their own right.
Steve's trombone is joined in a unique frontline by the guitar of Fred Hamilton. "His was the sound that I wanted to go for on this thing," Steve maintains, "to have a different effect than the usual quintet with two horns. Fred came up with some really great sounds that would blend in different ways with the trombone, and he brought many different guitars to the session to achieve those colors. He didn't often do it with pedals. Mostly he used different instruments for the effects with some minor pedal enhancements."
Swedish-born pianist Stefan Karlsson and Steve were students together at North Texas in the early and mid 1980s, where they played in its famed One O'clock Band. "Stefan does amazing things. For instance, on 'Defying Gravity' I had just a bare sketch of what I wanted that verse to be. We got together in his office and not even looking at the keyboard, just talking to me, he was, 'Here are a couple ways we can go. Maybe you'd like the inner voice moving like this? Maybe you'd like some Bill Evans things like this?' And with every suggestion he had, I was, like, 'Yeah, that's perfect! Man, that's great! That's even better!' His resources are so deep, he's a treat to play with."
How many ways can you say it? Bassist Lynn Seaton is "one of the modern jazz virtuosos. He can swing on everything from a very simple line to a groove with monster technique as well as anyone who has ever lived. Plus he gets all these different sounds out of the instrument. I love rhythm section players who are capable of many textures and many different colors, and on the bass he is one of the best and deepest of the people who can do that."
For many years musicians and attentive jazz audiences have recognized Ed Soph as a drummer's drummer. "I first heard him on Bill Watrous' Manhattan Wildlife Refuge album that freaked out all the trombonists in the early '70s - myself included! What really struck me then was Ed's work on cymbals, especially on bossa novas. He's one of the best 'conversationalists' on the drums. When you listen to this album you'll hear him either throw a lick back at somebody, or else have the perfect commentary for what somebody else has said. And his brushes, man! He's one of the modern masters of brush work."
A FINAL WORD
It's clear that Steve's roots in the world of jazz go very deep. Still, did working on this project open his eyes and ears to the value of some modern pop music? "Absolutely," he admits. "In the '80s, after I left Maynard Ferguson's band, I was listening to pop music and incorporating that into kind of a fusion with jazz, which was popular in those days. But then I purposely left that and went only acoustic, studying bebop roots and things of that sort. I really wasn't all that familiar with what was going on in pop music after those years.
"So to find out about some of this stuff was a wonderful reawakening. I knew about Sting and Aerosmith, but I wasn't aware of Maroon 5 and Coldplay and Foo Fighters and Green Day. So the more I listened to it the more I reconnected to the music and enjoyed discovering a new group of talented pop artists out there who write catchy hooks and intellectual, hip lyrics. While I still love the genius of Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, et al., it's nice to know that there are a new batch of great writers out there as well!"
|Complete CD Liner Notes Credits|
|Eric Alexander||Full Range||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Helio Alves||Portrait In Black and White||Reservoir Music|
|Anush Apoyan||A Dedication to Horace Silver||Black & Blue|
|Robert Bachner & Helmar Hill||Ein feiner Zug||ATS|
|Thomas Barber's Janus Bloc||Snow Road||D Clef|
|Carl Bartlett, Jr.||Hopeful|
|Count Basie||Chairman of the Board||Roulette Jazz|
|Roni Ben-Hur||Signature||Reservoir Music|
|Walter Blanding||The Olive Tree||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Don Braden||After Dark||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Bunnett||Cuban Odyssey||EMI Music Canada|
|Sharel Cassity||Relentless||Jazz Legacy Productions|
|Al Clausen||Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most||Sunny NoDak|
|Steve Davis||Vibe Up!||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Dena DeRose||Introducing Dena DeRose||Sharp Nine|
|Dena DeRose||United||High Note|
|Orrin Evans||Grown Folk Bizness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||No Nonsense||Reservoir Music|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||Up & Running||Reservoir Music|
|Carl Fontana||The Fifties||Uptown|
|Sayuri Goto||Flashback||Fever Pitch|
|Sayuri Goto||Prayer||Fever Pitch|
|Jimmy Greene||Introducing Jimmy Greene||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Coleman Hawkins||The Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]||Prestige|
|David Hazeltine||A World for Her||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Conrad Herwig||Heart of Darkness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Jarvis||Sagmo's Song||Faith|
|Jane Jarvis & Benny Powell||Two of a Kind||Faith|
|Ingrid Jensen||Here on Earth||Enja|
|Philly Joe Jones Dameronia||Look, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny Griffin||Uptown|
|David Kikoski||Almost Twilight||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Yuko Kimora||A Beautiful Friendship|
|Ryan Kisor||The Dream||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Marilyn Lerner||Birds Are Returning||Jazz Focus|
|Achilles Liarmakopolous||Trombone Atrivedo ||Opening Day|
|Gene Ludwig||The Groove ORGANization||Blues Leaf|
|Joe Magnarelli||Mr. Mags||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Virgina Mayhew||Nini Green||Chiaroscuro|
|Virginia Mayhew||No Walls||Foxhaven|
|Virginia Mayhew||Sandan Shuffle||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew||A Simple Thank You||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew|| Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years||Renma|
|Dave Panichi||Blues for McCoy||Spirit Song|
|Roberta Piket||Solo||Thirteenth Note|
|Roberta Piket||One for Marian||Thirteenth Note|
|Valery Ponomarev||Beyond the Obvious||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||The Messenger||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||Our Father Who Art Blakey||Zoho|
|Benny Powell||Coast 2 Coast||Faith|
|Benny Powell||The Gift of Love||Faith|
|Melvin Rhyne||Kojo||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Claudio Roditi||Double Standards||Reservoir Music|
|Claudio Roditi||Free Wheelin'||Reservoir Music|
|Adonis Rose||The Unity||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jim Rotundi||Reverence||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Harvie S & Sheryl Bailey||Plucky Strum||Whaling City Sound|
|Horace Silver||Paris Blues||Pablo|
|Gary Smulyan||High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine||Reservoir Music|
|Doug Talley||Night and Day||Serpentine|
|Uptown Five||Uptown Swing||Harlem|
|Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane||The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests||Prestige|
|Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil Trio||St. Thomas||Evidence Music|
|Walt Weiskopf||Anytown||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Steve Weist||Out of the New||Arabesque|
|Deborah Weisz||Breaking Up, Breaking Out||Vah Wa|
|Rich Willey||Gone with the Piggies||Consolidated Artists Productions|