Tuesday, January 23, 2018

John Esposito - Lyra (SUNJUMP RECORDS 2018)

It certainly took me a long time to get around to recording these 17 compositions! They were composed in the 80’s while I was working in the great multi instrumentalist Arthur Rhames’ band. They reflect my thoughts on the work required to survive being on the bandstand with Arthur.

Arthur played a combination of Bebop perennials like Cherokee, modulating every chorus down in minor thirds but starting at the bridge so that the last ‘A’ and first 16 bars would be in the new key until the next modulation at the bridge. We played his teacher Gigi Gryce’s Minority, up in minor 3rds, and I Got Rhythm, up in 4ths. He also employed American Songbook tunes like I’m An Old Cowhand and Swinging On A Star, both reharmonized drastically. We played Coltrane compositions like Giant Steps, through keys and reharmonized; Mr PC, up in 4ths; and Impressions, also up in 4ths. Some of Arthur’s most emotionally intense work involved Negro Spirituals like I Want Jesus To Walk With Me and Soon I’ll Be Done With The Troubles Of This World. We also played a number of his highly structured originals.

Playing that music with Arthur steadily for three years and sporadically for several years after that raised my technical abilities as a pianist. It also got me thinking about many things like the relationship between form and content, making melodies with harmonic clarity, playing with rhythmic drive, extended solos with emotional intensity and reinterpreting the Blues.

During the first half of the decade I composed extensively, experimenting in my own way with what I had learned. I worked with the tensions between symmetry and asymmetry, explored chord sequences and their emotional meaning, and devised new relationships between the melodies and the chords. I also started to play drums to better understand what I was hearing in phrasing.

I didn’t record much during that time but continued to work the ideas out on gigs, especially with Second Sight in the second half of the decade.

In the summer of 2014 I workshopped these pieces and a number of others in order to revisit some of these ideas and find out what they meant to me so many years after they were written.

I also did this because old friends kept requesting that we play them. By that point I was having trouble remembering the tunes they were referring to.

So after going through the archives and relearning and making a few edits, we spent two days in NRS Studios recording and subsequently played some concerts. It was an interesting walk through the past but it also.

My thanks to Arthur Rhames who, although he has moved on to another plane, is always present in my thoughts and music. Thanks to the musicians for their enthusiasm and commitment to the work, to Scott Petito for his impeccable engineering and to my partner Laura Steele for her design work and her endless support and inspiration. I dedicate this music to her and our three year old daughter Lyra who is an inspiration to both of us and I thank Lyra for her album art. 

John Esposito

1. Always Present 9:08
2. King of Kings 11:00
3. Sacrifice 9:19
4. Lyra 7:48
5. Forsaken 5:49
6. A Minor Setback 7:08
7. The Invisible 8:05
8. Phineas Returns 6:50
9. Pursuit 11:52
10. A Backward Glance 10:16
11. Arthur Rhames 8:10
12. Soulmates 11:55
13. Cerulean 5:11
14. World of Mirrors 6:45
15. Its the Upward Path 5:15
16. Speak Memory 6:45
17. Victory Blues 6:50
18. Always Present II 8:51

Greg Glassman, trumpet
Stacy Dillard, saxophones
Ira Coleman, bass
Peter O'Brien, drums