Latest Music

Kimbrough

Various Artists

Released: 2021 Genre: Jazz

Frank's Tunes: I like to imagine Frank sitting on a bench in the little park by his apartment in Queens, or perhaps strolling through Central Park. Maybe it’s 1996 and he’s got that ponytail, or maybe it’s 2016 and he’s got his Juilliard-professor-look going. Either way, it’s about 11:00 PM, he’s got that half smile on his face that he was a little infamous for, one arm draped over the back rest, or slightly swinging at his sides and he’s catching a melody.

There’s something insubstantial about a jazz composition. Often just one page long, single notated lines over chord symbols — little translucent scraps of melody and harmony, a lens to see the world through — an opening. I struggle sometimes with the juxtaposition of process and import. Supposedly, Duke Ellington wrote “Solitude” in 20 minutes because his band needed one more tune for a record date. Wayne Shorter is one of the most remarkable musicians of the 20th century, but you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in saying his greatest achievement was the morning he spent writing the 16 measures of “Nefertiti.” What a thought!

Frank didn’t so much compose songs as discover them. He wrote almost all of them while wandering through the city. I want to call him a nocturnal lepidopterist, out with his butterfly net in the odd corners of the city but that’s not really it. He wasn’t precious about it, he didn’t catalog his tunes, and he wasn’t thirsting for any kind of rare discovery. Frank wrote music the same way he improvised, less the Nabokovian madman with the net and more like that lady in Washington Square Park who feeds all the squirrels. The music came to him.

As a student of Frank’s I used to marvel at his ability to hear music away from the piano. He had perfect pitch and a preternatural ability to hear polyphony in his head. He could hear these huge nine-note chords spelled out, not unheard of amongst professional musicians, but Frank brought a certain effortlessness to it. It felt superhuman to me, like he had some kind of supercomputer in his brain doing double-time computations. But Frank was also the man famous for the “hang.” He was the guy you had three hour dinners with, or went on five hour walks with. Frank’s approach wasn’t about feats of uncanny ear training. He didn’t practice music away from the piano just because he could, he did it because that’s where the music was. The music is not in the practice room, and it’s not on the cell phone (which Frank never owned, a remarkable achievement for a freelancing musician reliant on getting called for gigs). You have to go out in the world and be present for it. The music is the city, the parks, and the quiet of a nighttime stroll, but mostly, the music is other people. It’s the connections you build that make you the musician that you are. I never realized this until after Frank died, but for me he came closest to marrying the spirit of musical improvisation to the way he lived. Frank’s genius was profoundly human.

You only have to listen to a couple of these songs to hear how much Frank was loved in this community. During the session, there was a lot of awkward elbow/fist-bump-Covid handshakes and a general feeling of surreality just to be sharing space with other humans. But then the music would start and it was absolutely thrilling, as if all of this kinetic energy had been stored up over the past 14 months just looking for an outlet. There are 67 musicians on this record and we recorded 61 tracks in three and half days. I felt like I was floating in air through most of it. It was a very ambitious project that somehow ran ahead of schedule. We even captured 7 extra songs that we didn’t plan on as people flipped through Frank’s tunes asking, “Hey, can the four of us try this one?” Most of the ensembles had at least two people that had never played together. Some musicians were reuniting to play together for the first time in decades. There are at least four generations of musicians represented on this record, students, colleagues, friends and bandmates of Frank, all wanting to pay tribute. And of course, maybe the biggest tribute was to have Frank pull us all together, for one big hang, after this god-awful year.

But I keep coming back to these tunes. When I envisioned this project, I had about 15 charts of Frank’s and I figured I could rustle up a couple more. When I got in touch with Ron Horton, he offered to scan and send over what he had from Frank’s files and his own archives. He sent me 90 tunes. I’ve spent the last couple of months playing these tunes, both at the piano and as I wander my own environment. Some I knew, many I never heard, many have never been recorded. I was struck by their integrity and consistency. Frank knew exactly what he was about even back in 1979. He never wrote something just to try out a new style or a concept. They are strikingly specific in their shape, as far as I can tell he had to essentially create his own harmonic vocabulary just to capture what he was hearing, and yet they are wide open in the particulars. That reminds me of Monk and Wayne Shorter. Duke too. Frank would argue strenuously to the contrary, but I’m comfortable putting Frank in the conversation with any of the great jazz composers. There’s so much life in this music and it makes me miss Frank too god-damned much.

I get great comfort from hearing a miniature reflection of Frank’s life in this record. All those relationships that Frank fostered bouncing off each other – an afterglow of all the love Frank put out in the world. Our legacies live, not in the monuments we leave behind, but in the way things spin forward from us. So, despite the inspiration I feel in holding Frank’s book of music in my hands, I know that these musical haikus don’t encapsulate a life. But when I flip through these songs, and hear clumsily in my head what Frank heard in brilliant color, what comes to mind is a roadmap for how one man can sit on a park bench in Queens and change the world.

By Elan Mehler

Artists:

Piano: Addison Frei, Fred Hersch, Sean Mason, Elan Mehler, Samora Pinderhughes, Ben Rosenblum, Jacob Sacks, Scott Spivak, Helen Sung, Craig Taborn, Isaiah J. Thompson, Dan Tepfer, Micah Thomas, Gary Versace, Elio Villafranca, Joel Wenhardt, Glenn Zaleski

Bass: Ben Allison, Jay Anderson, Alexis Cuadrado, Dezron Douglas, Michael Formanek, John Hébert, Marty Jaffe, Rob Jost, Rufus Reid, Tony Scherr, Martin Wind, Ben Wolfe

Guitar: Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, Todd Neufeld

Drums: Jeff Cosgrove, Billy Drummond, Jeff Hirshfield, Tim Horner, Douglas Marriner, Allan Mednard, Francisco Mela, Tony Moreno, Clarence Penn, Rich Rosenzweig, Satoshi Takeishi, Dave Treut, Jeff Williams, Matt Wilson

Clarinet: Ted Nash

Alto Saxophone: Allan Chase, Patrick Cornelius, Alexa Tarantino, Immanuel Wilkins, Steve Wilson

Baritone Saxophone: Allan Chase

Soprano Saxophone: Steve Wilson

Tenor Saxophone: Michael Blake, Evan Harris, Joe Lovano, Donny McCaslin, Ted Nash, Rich Perry, Noah Preminger, Scott Robinson

Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Noah Halpern, Ron Horton, Kirk Knuffke, Riley Mulherkar, Jesse Neuman

Trombone: Ryan Keberle

Vocals: Olivia Chindamo

Arrangement (on "Waltz for Lee" and "Svengali"): Ryan Truesdell

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Pallet On Your Floor

Becca Stevens and Elan Mehler

Released: 2020 Genre: Jazz Folk

Becca Stevens and Elan Mehler find a moment of respite in hard times with their new album, Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor.

GRAMMY(c)-nominated vocalist and guitarist Becca Stevens and acclaimed pianist and composer Elan Mehler have a friendship that stretches back over a decade. The pair first began playing together in 2009 for Mehler’s record The After Suite (Brownswood), and toured the U.S. and Europe. During this period Becca guested a couple of times at Elan’s residency in the Swiss Alps. It was a concentrated musical experience--during their stays they would play often for two weeks, 4 sets a night.

“The music I was writing at the time was harmonically pretty dense, and it was a privilege working with Becca on that material because her range and her ears are so incredible. But it was during these nights in Switzerland that I first heard what a unique and powerful interpreter of standards she was.” says Mehler of their time together.

Reuniting nearly a decade later, Stevens and Mehler’s Make Me A Pallet on Your Floor, (out December 18th, 2020) is a collection of first and second takes--immediate, raw and stripped down versions of these weathered songs.

The material is standards and folk tunes, each song starting from a clean palette and unfolding at its own pace. In their cover of Gershwin’s, “Our Love is Here to Stay,” the duo play the tune dirt slow. It’s a change that gives the track a bit of a skeptical undertone, giving it a dark and playful interpretation that’s emblematic of the album. Both Becca and Elan are huge fans of Gillian Welch and the duo beautifully cover the Welch track “Elvis Presley Blues” as well as Welch’s version of the title track, “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor.” Originating in the 19th century, “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” has been interpreted by hundreds of artists in a variety of styles and with a variety of lyrics. Welch’s version is notable for its deviation in tone from the ribald to a search for sanctuary. Bringing life to the lyrics, “Man I’m broke and I got no place to go,” Stevens channels this tone and captures the feelings of crashing on a friend’s floor when things seem hopeless.

In a time of extraordinary uncertainty, it feels especially poignant to hear two old friends explore what it means to find a place of quiet comfort in music.

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Recordings

If There Are Mountains

Dave Douglas and Elan Mehler

Released: 2019 Genre: Jazz Folk

I’ve been pitching Dave Douglas to come record for Newvelle Records since the label began, so it genuinely surprised me when Dave proposed recording a project together. Dave had set some haikus to music in the early 2000’s, and we had covered one of those songs — “Village of No Bells” — on a gig we played together in Denver. I loved the way Dave told an almost parallel story to these short lines from 17th century poet Basho, amplifying the message but also turning it on its head.

Village of No Bells - Text by Basho (Composition: Dave Douglas)

Village of no bells, Spring evenings, What’s to listen for?

Despite my lack of knowledge of Japanese poetry, I started reading haikus and searching for a “click” that would inspire some compositional ideas for me. It was rough going. I had expected this world of ancient Japanese poems to yield images and gestures that would be fertile ground for musical exploration. Haikus, to my uneducated ears, were often quotidian and startlingly matter of fact. But, inspired by Dave’s faith in me, I spent weeks reading through collections, feeling completely lost. Then, I found my spark:

Even a Nameless Stream - Text by Yosa Buson (Composition: Elan Mehler)

May rains, Even a nameless stream, Is a frightening thing

I heard those first two words, “May rains,” in an ascending interval of a fifth. A declaration and a harbinger and the rest of the song followed in minutes. I loved building these compositions out of such coded input. It felt like a key to a secret world. When I heard what Dave had been composing in our first rehearsal, it sent me reeling (and back to the drawing board on my own tunes). Dave is well-known in certain circles for his fastidious charts, but not in the way you would expect. There’s a movement in improvised music toward the overly elaborate composition. Mixed meter, thorough composition, elaborate counterpoint, and huge stylistic changes are all commonplace. In contrast, Dave’s compositions are generally very simple but also very precise. This rigor of attention is actually freeing for the musician, because the departure point is so clear. Something in Dave’s style has a clear consonance with the haiku form: “Start here. Jump.”

We Saw You Off- Text by Saigyo (Composition: Dave Douglas)

We saw you off, And returning through the fields, I thought, Morning dew had wet my sleeves, But it was tears

With Your Singing- Text by Basho (Composition: Dave Douglas)

With your singing make me lonelier than ever, You solitary bird, Cuckoo of the forest

What an incredible band we’ve pulled together for this record! John, Dominique, Simón and Dayeon have such unique perspectives and voices, and it was humbling to see how they threw themselves into these compositions. This band coalesced around the initial gig in Denver in 2018. Dave and Dominique had known each other for many years. I had just met Dominique at a Lee Konitz show, and we subsequently played a duo show. Dominique is a bit of a legend around Boston. She’s been a mentor and a teacher to many if not most of the outstanding vocalists of the last couple of decades, and her years of work with Ran Blake are a continual astonishment.

If There Are Mountains- Text by Santoka Taneda (Composition: Dave Douglas)

If there are mountains, I look at the mountains, On rainy days, I listen to the rain

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Tomorrow, too, will be good, Tonight, too, is good

The Spring Current- Text by Buson (Composition: Elan Mehler)

Wading through it, Her feet muddied, The spring current

Working on these pieces made me think of one of my favorite poets and song writers, Adam-McBride Smith. Adam has a real gift for evocative natural depictions. I had set to music a poem of his, “Here on the Plains,” for a project we released together in 2010. I knew it would be perfect for this band. OnceI started tinkering with it, I reached out to Adam about working on something new, and he wrote the astonishing lyrics to “Wolf Orchard.”

Wolf Orchard - Text by Adam McBride-Sm ith (Composition: Elan Mehler)

In orchard dreams, The hired man’s gone, And hounds lie low

How the gold grass climbs, In orchard dreams

In orchard dreams, How the cold frost limes, The wire bound cross, And foxglove crowns, The fruitless beams

Now the cold keeps time, Disordered scenes, And bootless dreams

Man’s gone now, And wolves lie down, In Orchard dreams

Here on the Plains - Text by Adam McBride-Smith (Composition: Elan Mehler)

Through the window, We watch the wind blow, Silver breakers through the summer fields, Storm-clouds’ shadows, Swallow silos, Homes and hedgerows, Man the harpoons!

Here on the plains we wake, To find the air grown salty, Our talk saltier still, Interlaced with courtly pleasantries,, And perilous dipthongs from old world tongues, Our hands would almost, Mistake the plow handle for keel, And we go sailing off, Into the endless waves of grass

The overwhelming emotion I get out of listening again to the record, almost a year after we got out of the studio, is gratitude. I’m writing these notes in June 2020, and the world feels VERY unbalanced and frightening. It’s such a balm to feel thankful. To feel connected—with these poets, these amazing musicians, the music, the Newvelle Community, Marc Urselli and our home at East Side Sound, the visual artists who lend us their work every year… It all spins out into something larger and it alights on an evening like this, like an enormous gift.

– Elan Mehler, Newvelle Records

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Piano Noir

Elan Mehler

Released: 2018 Genre: Jazz

Newvelle Records is proud to present “Piano Noir” an album written and recorded to illustrate and accompany a brand new Douglas Kennedy short story.

At Newvelle, our members are fascinated with the larger canvas that vinyl music affords--the depth of a groove, the breadth of a sound wave, the frame of a photograph, the stroke of a paintbrush, the expanse of a story.

Newvelle cofounder, Elan Mehler, reached out to Douglas after reading this New York Times Profile. Douglas responded almost immediately and by the end of the week, after a quick breakfast meeting, Douglas agreed to write an original work for Newvelle. When Newvelle cofounder Jean-Christophe Morisseau read the resulting story he knew that this piece required its own frame of original compositions… Flash forward ten months and Elan brought a stellar band to our regular studio in the Lower East Side to record an original set of music inspired by the story, featuring Michael Blake, Jason Palmer, Simón Willson and Dor Herskovits. With artwork designed by our Season 3 collaborators Case Simmons and Austin Lynch, we are very excited to present this collaboration to the world.

Piano Noir - by Douglas Kennedy

“She was a bike messenger. I met her because, on that December night, it was she who delivered weed to my apartment. Her name was Shelley. A name which the ageing hipster in me always responded to, as it conjured up an earlier girlfriend who shared the same faux-poetic name. I met the first Shelley around the time we were about to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. She dressed in long-flowing diaphanous skirts and India-pilgrimage white linen shirts. She dreamed of being an ‘abstract expressionist choreographer’ - whatever that was - and fulfilled all those longings I had back then for the ethereal bohemian girl of my dreams. Last I heard she was a divorced accountant living in that capital of depressed mundanity: Hartford, Connecticut. Such is the way of life when you decide you have no choice but to play the American conformist game.

I should talk. Once upon a time I was going to play jazz piano and become the next Bill Evans...”

Artists:

Michael Blake Jason Palmer Elan Mehler Simón Willson Dor Herskovits Featuring on vocals: Michael Mayo

Side A

Christopher's Place (Piano Noir Theme) 0:53 How to Be Alone 3:49
L'Amour Fraternel 3:27 Call Your Own 3:22 Ms. Pedantic - 2:58 Rabbit & Bear 4:04

Side B

Oscar's Hideaway 4:14 Crazy Ivan 4:10 Waltz for Shelley 4:23 Any Place But Here 3:52 Christopher's Place (Piano Noir Theme) 3:11

Recorded: June 20th 2017

Cover artwork by: Case Simmons Story by Douglas Kennedy

All songs written and arranged by Elan Mehler / © BMI EXCEPT: Any Place But Here written by Elan Mehler/ © BMI lyrics by Adam McBride-Smith © ASCAP Recorded by Marc Urselli June 20th 2017 at East Side Sound NYC, New York.  Mixed by Marc Urselli Mastered by Alex DeTurk, New-York. Produced by John Caulkins, Elan Mehler and Jean-Christophe Morisseau | Story by Douglas Kennedy | Graphic work: Têté á Têté, GR8! Design, Autrement le design, | Newvelle Records would like to thank: Douglas Kennedy, Yann Diologent, All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying, reproduction, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting prohibited. Made in the E.U.

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