Friday, July 14, 2017

Simon Millerd's Lessons and Fairy Tales, Featuring the Pablo Held Trio, to be Released on Songlines on August 4

Debut Album from  Montreal-Based Trumpeter Features the Pablo Held Trio

Young Montreal trumpeter-composer Simon Millerd has been playing serious jazz trumpet since his teens, but Lessons and Fairytales, which will be released by Songlines on August 4, is his first recording under his own name.

Millerd first performed with Germany’s acclaimed Pablo Held Trio in 2011.That performance greatly inspired the direction of Millerd’s own music going forward, but it was not until 2016 that they had the opportunity to play together again. The results are full of feeling and an authenticity that comes straight from the heart. Lessons and Fairy Tales is is the first documentation of their collaborative, evocative music-making, 

“The trio has been a major inspiration for my own musical direction," says Simon. They are so free, adventurous, interactive, united…I have applied some of their concepts to my own bands, for example they don’t play with a set list but instead have all their music memorized and can jump from any point in any piece to any other point at the drop of a hat. It keeps the music fresh, keeps you on your toes!”

When he learned that the trio was booked for a concert at the German Consulate in New York in the fall of 2016, Simon arranged for them to come to Montreal, where they joined him in the studio for his recording debut. Also featured on some tracks are the mostly wordless vocals of Montreal folk-jazz singer Emma Frank.

Lessons and Fairytales is a very personal record, both in its content and its production. Almost every track includes one or more guest artists who are longtime friends and co-leaders with Simon of the Montreal band Nomad. And like Simon they are all graduates of the jazz program at McGill University and former students of Chris McCann, who Simon credits with reorienting his playing and his life. Simon notes that “Chris was my first teacher to talk at length about the importance of developing as a person, not just as a musician. Music became about the expression of emotion, the illustration of the complexity of how we feel. His lessons were life lessons, philosophy, inquiries into truth. He had a lot of practical advice too, how to practice very efficiently and ‘go deep’ by playing very slowly, how to avoid injury etc. My closest friends were almost all private students of his as well. There was a group of us that really took his stuff to heart. Some of us lived together and formed different bands – Nomad, Isis Giraldo’s Poetry Project, Chronicle Infinitas, Brilliant Ally and others.”

The sad, lovely “Quiet Now,” the first single off the album, was inspired by Simon and vocalist Emma Frank’s relationship and breakup after three years together. Simon muses: “I was just thinking about the double meaning of the title, how it’s quiet after all the fighting of a breakup (it’s quiet now), but it’s also an encouragement to relax or meditate (be quiet now).”

One way or another, all the pieces on the record reference a quest that began for Simon in his early 20s: “I stopped playing for three years after high school because I became very depressed and lost interest in everything. That experience led me to spirituality and the search for a meaning to all the suffering in the world. My music inevitably has become an expression of that, instead of this quest to be the best, impress people.”

“Coltrane and Wayne Shorter are definitely among my biggest influences [others include Icelandic bassist and electronic musician Skuli Sverrisson and Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen]. It’s to Wayne and Trane that I go for relief. Their music is so powerful that it literally can take away my physical pain. It is interesting that they accomplish this in very different ways. Coltrane is very direct in his song titles and is almost always pointing towards the spiritual realm. With Wayne the song titles refer more to adventure, myths and so forth, only rarely alluding to his Buddhist roots.”

“Innocence is a big theme throughout this music, yes…We can look at another’s harmful actions and remember that they just don’t know that they’re doing something wrong and are under the influence of powerful delusions and illusions. A Course in Miracles refers to it more often as our sinlessness. We are forgiven when we realize that there is nothing to forgive. These kinds of ideas are expanded on emotionally, subconsciously informing the music.

The lessons seem to part the clouds for inspiration to come through, and the fairytales are more like little sparks igniting a collective movie that the band is creating together. Free improv is incorporated into these songs as a contrast. It’s a relief from the organized structure, and a chance for everyone to build something collectively. It takes a lot of trust and a lot of imagination and I think it brings out a lot of character and unity in the band, especially in the fairytales such as ‘Gnome Home’ and ‘Jonas and the Dragon’.”