Rowe Quartet - Denali Pass
In the summer
of 2004 I was incredibly fortunate to be part of a successful expedition
to the summit of Mt. McKinley, or Denali, as it is known to native Alaskans
and the climbing community at large. As I write these notes I am still
processing the experience. I know that much of what occurred on the
mountain has a direct correlation with music-making: the team is everything
and the whole is more than the sum of the individual parts. This is
never more evident than in a small jazz group, where the members interact
to produce a musical whole that is so much greater than what they could
have imagined possible when they played the fi rst notes. I am constantly
in awe ofthe forces that allow this serendipity to occur and am always
grateful for the opportunities I have to be a part of this kind of experience,
whether it be on the side of a mountain or sitting behind a piano.
As it turns
out, all of the original music on this
album, with the exception of Charlies Tune, was written
in a mountain setting. The melody and chords of the Journey section
of Denali Pass were composed in my tent at the 14,000 ft. camp
and written down on a piece of manuscript paper that I had tucked in
an outer pocket of my pack. Puja, the introduction, is the prayer ceremony
that the Sherpas take part in before Himalayan climbs. The celebrants
ask the gods to allow them safe passage up the mountain and to help
them open their hearts and minds to receive the wisdom of the gods.
This practice is also designed to activate the levels of concentration
and awareness that are necessary for a successful trip. I love the humility
and respect for nature that the Buddhist Sherpa culture embraces; no
matter how physically prepared you may be for such a trip, the outcome
may be out of your hands, decided instead by the vagaries of weather
or team dynamics. The celebratory final section of Denali Pass
reflects the feelings of joy and relief at arriving safely back at base
camp after the climb.
the majority of music that the quartet
plays is original material of mine, we all love the
standards of the repertoire and are always trying to find creative ways
to present them. I brought Time After Time to rehearsal with
the Afro-Cuban groove and substitute harmonies in place but other elements
of the form were arrived at by group consensus. Lullaby was written
during a recent residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in the Canadian
Rockies. I had previously composed Charlies Tune to celebrate
the birth of Pete and Stephanie Siers first child and didnt
want to slight subsequent band member progeny, so dedicated Lullaby
to Andrews to Andrews new children, Oliver and Linden and
Petes latest arrival, Neva. Although lullabies are traditionally
sweet and pretty throughout, I wanted this one to reflect the more complex
range of emotions that children experience at night and the sense of
comfort and security that their parents provide. 12 Ton Blues
is a quirky blues based on a twelve tone row that comes from the pen
of one of my favorite peoplebassist, vibraphonist and pianist
Don Thompson. Don composed this during a Banff Centre Summer Jazz Workshop
and it is a testament to both his musical genius and his wonderful sense
of humor. We use it as a vehicle for more free form improvisation and
try to retain a certain element of quirkiness each time we perform it.
This version was recorded for Jazz Set at the San Jose Jazz
Festival by National Public Radio and we thank them for allowing us
to use it here.
Tune gave us the chance to collaborate
with another marvelous friend and musician, vocalist Sunny Wilkinson.
In addition to her gifts as a singer, she is a fine lyricist and honored
me by providing the perfect words for the piece. We are thrilled to
have her performing with us and look forward to future collaborations.
Solstice is another paean to nature
and was also written at Banff. It has had several
incarnations, the most recent being a lovely
arrangement for jazz choir by Larry Lapin at the
University of Miami. Andrew and I also composed
some charming lyrics of our own for it that we are
happy to provide for the asking. Home, another
Banff-inspired composition, is a tune that pays
tribute to some of my earliest musical influences,
James Taylor and Carole King. I love the fact that the quartet enjoys
playing music of disparate genres as my inspiration continues to come
from a wide variety of sources.
tune composed during my residency at The Banff Centre is Third Dimension.
While attempting to parse the harmonic vocabulary of a Michael Brecker
solo, I became enamored of the intervals of the minor and major third
and decided to compose a tune that would allow me to play around with
them a bit. It also allows us to indulge in what is commonly referred
to in pedagogical circles as crashing and bashing.
track, Benediction, is a reincarnation
of the Puja melody from track 2. It reflects the
reality that although my Denali team received its
safe passage up and down, other climbers on the mountain
were not so fortunate. A member of a team that passed us on their way
down was tragically killed by rockfall 1,000 feet below us and I dedicate
this piece to his memory.
check out the Ellen Rowe CD "Sylvan