Tuesday, June 12, 2018

San Diego Pianist Danny Green Spins Alluring Tales with his Trio Plus Strings on One Day It Will

Over the past decade, Danny Green has earned recognition as a bandleader possessing a lyrically charged vision and as a composer with a gift for spinning supple, absorbing narratives. The San Diego pianist's storytelling goes deeper than ever with his fifth album One Day It Will. Building on his acclaimed 2016 album Altered Narratives, which included several tracks pairing his longtime trio with strings, One Day It Will is a full chamber jazz melding of his working band and a highly responsive string quartet.

"All of the songs on this album were initially written for the trio and the strings parts were subsequently added," Green says. "The process for arranging each song began with my thinking about where the strings should take the lead melody, where they should play background lines or harmonies, and what else I could do to make the strings essential to the arrangement. Over time, each piece took on its own shape and in many cases, the process of arranging for strings resulted in adding entirely new sections to the compositions."

Like all of his previous recordings, One Day It Will flows from the quietly intense musical bonds uniting Green with bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm, two of Southern California's most sought after players. The expanded instrumentation seems to accentuate the responsive nature of the trio, which seamlessly flows from through-composed sections to improvised passages.

The album opens with the gorgeous "Time Lapse to Fall," a spritely piece that swings briskly in 4/4 with the ebullient buzz of a summer day then transitions into the minor key melancholy of autumn. Pizzicato strings introduce "As the Parrot Flies" followed by an insistent question and answer dialogue with Green's piano. The title track is an anthem about striving for hope in dark times, a piece that builds toward the striking string harmonies flowing around Green's shimmering lines.

Green takes us to church on "Lemon Avenue," a waltz with a gospel feel that features some of his sleekest string parts. An introspective journey, the thoughtful ballad "Sifting Through the Silence" reaches a similarly meditative space via a very different route. No piece better illustrates the way Green's writing for strings can transform a composition than "October Ballad," a sumptuous melody that he introduced with the trio on Altered Narratives.

The expanded orchestration is like adding a new character into a play who both comments on the action taking place and heightens the drama. The gently caressing "Snowy Day in Boston" picks up like the second movement of a suite, starting in the same key as "October Ballad" concludes. The album closes with "Down and Out," a bluesy jaunt that surges with infectious energy. One Day It Will comes across as a unified statement, programmatically, texturally and harmonically.

Like many jazz pianists, Green became enamored with the idea of combining piano trio and strings after hearing the classic 1966 Verve album Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra. But he's also inspired by more recent recordings, particularly Herbie Hancock's 1998 Verve project Gershwin's World, which features some breathtaking piano improvisation on Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major.

"Hearing the recordings of Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock with symphony orchestra was a major revelation to me," says Green. "I was immediately drawn to the sound, and I was intrigued by the possibilities of integrating classical harmony and form into the jazz context. While string quartet is a much more paired down configuration than a full orchestra, what I love about it is that it can sound lush when it needs to, and alternately, it can fit right into the pocket of the rhythm section with fast paced, syncopated lines."

The album's cohesive feel stems from the deeply interactive nature of the trio. Green introduced the combo with Grinnell on 2009's With You In Mind, which won the San Diego Music Award for Best Jazz Album. A bandleader in his own right who leads a quartet featuring the brilliant LA pianist Josh Nelson, Grinnell possesses a warm, woody tone and compelling sense of swing. Drummer Cantelm joined the trio on Green's second release, 2012's A Thousand Ways Home, a trio session with guest artists including Brazilian stars Claudia Villela (vocals) and Chico Pinheiro (guitar), Eva Scow (mandolin), Peter Sprague (guitar), Dusty Brough (guitar), and Tripp Sprague (saxophone).

Cantelm has carved out a niche as a drummer equally adept in jazz, Brazilian, Cuban, Balkan, funk, and rock styles of music. He has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe with his trio, Kelp Giant, which he co-leads with guitarist Dusty Brough. Cantelm has performed with notable artists including Geoffrey Keezer, Peter Sprague, Chico Pinheiro, Sheila E., and Pete Escovedo.

"One of the best aspects of playing together with Justin and Julien for so long is the friendship that we have developed," Green says. "We always have a great time together, both on and off the bandstand, and I think this plays a huge role in our sound as a trio. Justin is an extremely accomplished bass player. While he has plenty of chops to spare, he always puts the music first. As a result, he is able to realize that perfect balance between playing supportively and interactively. Julien is an incredibly musical drummer. He has so much finesse and facility on the drums, and he always seems to know exactly where I'm going with my solos. Having such a wide array of musical interests, Julien is able to come up with completely unique grooves that work perfectly for my music."

The string quartet features San Diego Symphony violinists Kate Hatmaker and Igor Pandurski, violist Travis Maril, and cellist Erica Erenyi. "I am so fortunate to have such highly talented string players on this album," comments Green. "Beyond capturing every detail in the music, they brought the music to life with their beautiful interpretation."

Born in San Diego in 1981, Green grew up in an academic family. Now retired, his mother was a longtime ESL teacher and his father was a professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego. He started piano lessons at age 5 and kept at it until 12, when he came under the sway of grunge rock. After two years teaching himself Nirvana tunes, Green got interested in ska and joined a band with some fellow friends. "Ska was my first exposure to music that featured improvisation, and I remember feeling so excited listening to the solos," Green recalls.

Green experienced something of an epiphany around the turn of the century when he caught The Buena Vista Social Club documentary, which sparked a passion for Cuban son. He delved into Latin music working in local salsa bands, while writing in the Latin jazz idiom. Green earned a B.A. in Piano Performance from UC San Diego, where he studied jazz piano with Grammy-winning producer Kamau Kenyatta (who played a key role in the rise of vocalist Gregory Porter), and classical piano with John Mark Harris and Luciane Cardassi.

A class on Brazilian music at UCSD turned his passion southwards. Looking for direct experience with Brazilian masters, he started attending California Brazil Camp in the redwoods of Cazadero in western Sonoma County. He credits legendary guitarist/composer Guinga, Marcos Silva, Chico Pinheiro, and drummers Edu Ribeiro and Marcio Bahia as particularly important influences. Green went on to earn a Master's Degree in Jazz Studies at San Diego State University, where he studied under Rick Helzer. He was awarded "Outstanding Graduate," and several years later, "Alumni to Watch."

In following his various musical interests, Green has carved out a singular niche as a bandleader and recording artist, honing a sound unlike anyone else on the scene. "As a composer, I always strive to tell stories through music," says Green. "Adding strings to my music provides new and exciting ways for me to expand on those stories and heighten the emotional impact."

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