Brooklyn-based Red Piano Records is proud to announce the release of Variations by Steve Grover, a drummer and composer from Maine. This album features a stellar ensemble of jazz musicians from the New York City, Boston and Maine jazz scenes: Steve Grover (drums & compositions), Frank Carlberg (piano), Sean Farias (bass), Christine Correa (voice), Andrew Rathbun, George Garzone and Duncan Hardy (saxophones), and Chris Klaxton (trumpet). Variations is a song cycle largely dedicated to excerpts from The Monk Variations, a longer work by the poet and scholar Anthony Walton. Grover describes how he came to work with this piece by saying that, "It is a continuation of my interest in working with text, primarily poetry, and underscores a continuing fascination with how the interplay of text and music can affect the destiny of the composing process."
Grover's entry into the world of jazz composition began in 1985, when he composed Blackbird Suite, a song cycle based on the Wallace Stevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird. In 1994 Grover won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz/BMI Jazz Composers Competition for Blackbird Suite. After a performance at the Kennedy Center in November, 1994, Grover recorded a CD of the music which was released in 1997 to excellent reviews.
The songs on Variations use developmental excerpts from the larger, more complete Walton poem. Grover explains, "At the time Anthony sent me these excerpts, he was still working on the piece. We independently developed our creations, and so his much more complete finished piece elaborates on the textual excerpts that I used as the basis of the songs completed for Variations. I think it is an opportunity for the listener and reader to experience how two artists from two different disciplines can come to arrive at separate but compatible artistic conclusions."
The songs on Variations reflect a variety of musical perspectives. Here is a description of the music contained within:
Prelude is a medium-up tempo 'freebop' melody in two-part harmony that hints at, but never fully suggests, an underlying chord structure. The vibrant opening solos and free interplay help to introduce the listener to the musicians on the CD.
Darkness With Light begins a series of eight songs drawn from the text. After a moody, descending chromatic bass and piano line, Christine Correa sings the melody, its chromatic movement moving in the opposite, ascending direction, expanding into wider intervals. Increasingly intense improvising over the swinging form by Rathbun and Carlberg helps to stimulate some rhythm section interplay.
Let There Be Darkness follows, with a brooding, slightly latin straight 8th groove underlying a minor key melody sung by Correa. The shifting modalities of the song help to stimulate strong improvising from Rathbun, Carlberg and Farias, with an animated contribution from Grover's drumming helping to provide the group with shifting dynamics over its eight minute journey.
Illumination is a jazz waltz with an ambiguous melodic and harmonic scheme and a surprising elision at the end of the form. Following the introduction, Correa comes in with the wide-ranging melody. Correa also participates in the group interplay over the groove, which ends with Carlberg intoning the opening vamp. Saxophonist George Garzone's sensitivity on this piece displays another aspect of his musicality. Trumpeter Chris Klaxton also plays with a high level of grace and maturity.
Seeing This has two melodies: the first is an instrumental introduction played by Klaxton and alto saxophonist Duncan Hardy, and the second is the poem melody sung by Correa over the same form. The medium tempo rock feel is loose and allows for an energetic discussion between the participants.
In The Undivided Darkness begins with a haunting free improvisation by Carlberg before he plays the chromatic introduction, cueing the vocal by Correa. The melody takes a swift turn to underscore the lyric, moving into a jazz ballad section. After a return to the top, there is a brief free improvisation before the recapitulation and a repeated coda.
Space is a swinging, medium tempo jazz form that mirrors the playfulness of the text. Correa gets a chance to freely interpret the melody with her deft rhythmic phrasing and expressive gift, while the rest of the song is highlighted by some chorus-trading by Carlberg and Grover before the out-head. Also, the young alto saxophonist Duncan Hardy displays his maturing jazz intelligence and swinging, creative approach.
As A Dark Star is the most open and free of the pieces on Variations. It is initially characterized by a rubato rhythmic landscape and a repeating bassline, over which the melody emerges, first with Correa's vocal, then joined by Klaxton and Garzone. A languid collective improvisation ensues over the vamp, followed by a declamatory line signaling a second, more intense free section. A separate nine note horn line eventually brings us back to the original vocal melody, and the piece closes on the vamp.
As In Night suggests, in its sensitive introduction, a more lyrical respite from the preceding composition. Correa sings the melodic line with an appropriate balance of expression and restraint, and Garzone follows with the melody again on saxophone, followed by a beautiful solo in the classic tenor tradition. The melody returns before the simple ending on this spacious, sensitive ballad.
Scales is a medium jazz waltz. Following the introduction, a melody emerges comprised of a series of notes and their intervallic variations. The piece climaxes with a two-horn duet and a motivated rhythm section before the return to the vocal and the coda.
Postlude concludes Variations.It is a straight eighth piece in 6/4 time. Although the structure is a conventional AABA form, the open fifths of the melody help to create an ambiguous tonal framework, paving the way for a concise free section before returning to the melody and an improvised fade.