It’s my debut trio album, with Chris Infusino on drums, Linda Oh on bass, and me playing both a nine-foot Yamaha grand piano and a distorted Nord Electro 3HP running through a Leslie speaker — often at the same time. The music draws from straight-ahead jazz, blues, funk, grunge rock, tango, classical. Nine of the tunes are original compositions, including two solo piano pieces, and one is a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Go.” On an emotional level, I wanted to make something that had beauty and dirt at the same time, an album that had both a big heart and sharp teeth. I also wanted to do something that would push me out of my comfort zone, and synthesize the lessons I’d learned as a music journalist myself, interviewing players, composers, and producers for the last ten years or so. Shaping the sound of the recording itself was a very cool and somewhat experimental process. Rachel Rossos, who is my wife and co-producer on the album, and I wanted to end up with a sound that was big and aggressive where it needed to be, but didn’t sound squashed when it came to dynamics, especially during the more tender or lithe moments, like on the track “Cornelia Street Tango.” So many big rock albums are compressed to the point where they don’t breathe and feel violent rather than musical. Even with the album’s rock influences, that’s not what we wanted at all. We worked with a recording and mixing engineer named Mario J McNulty, who has done a lot of work with David Bowie. Mario was brilliant. From the way that he miked the drums to how he mixed the piano to sound so clear and heartbreaking in the track “Problem With The Game,” we both feel like he just nailed it.
The drummer on the recording Chris has apparently moved on, musical nomads are certainly the norm and not the exception in the Big Apple. How do you go about finding the right voices to make up your trio which seems to capture the New York spirit as well
as any trio recording I've heard in some time?
Yes, Chris got an opportunity to join a rock band called The Vim Dicta and move to Los Angeles. I miss having him here, though it sounds like a great opportunity for him and I’m excited to see where it goes. I was in Los Angeles on tour on 9/11 and got to play with him again at Blue Whale. We really get each other as players, and it was great to reunite with him for that gig.
Thank you for the very kind words, and I’m happy to hear that some of the city’s flavor made it into the recording! I’ve heard other producers say that half of their job is that of casting director for any recording session, so we spent a lot of time thinking about the right personnel for this record. It came down to two things — who did I know who could really straddle the worlds of jazz and full-on rock, and who were the most virtuosic, accomplished, and gutsy players who I could get. I couldn’t have been happier with the team I ended up with.
In terms of getting your voice known if not heard...Can you explain how hard it is for an artist that is more on the independent side of the equation and just how important do you think independent writers might be in helping you put your message out so
other larger publications may latch on at some point?
It can be really tough. Especially in New York, there are just so many talented players out there, and so many indie artists who are hungry for a break, that it can be hard to have your individual voice rise out of the noise. Bloggers, indie writers, indie DJs – anybody who can hear merit and originality in what you do and give you just that first stepping stone can help a great deal. Once you have that quote or bit of airplay, it’s that much easier to leverage it to get the next bit of visibility. I worked as an editor at Keyboard magazine myself for about five years, so I have no illusions when it comes to the challenges of getting coverage. Nobody is going to go from obscurity to the cover of Down Beat overnight. Even artists who may seem like overnight sensations most likely have years of hard experience pushing the boulder up the hill.
Completely has deep rich harmonics that literally dance off the disc. Who are your influences and how might they have played a part in your compositions for the new record?
I grew up outside Washington, DC listening to classical music, Broadway show tunes, military bands, barbershop quartets, all sorts of things my parents used to play for me, and concerts they used to take me to. The first CD I ever owned was Pearl Jam’s “Ten” and that made a huge impression – the raw power and builds and releases of those songs were amazing, and Pearl Jam’s second album is my favorite rock disc to date. So all of that is in there.
I started playing jazz in my early teens, thanks to a new piano teacher – the Maria Rodriguez for whom the song “The Real Maria” was written. She taught me to play the blues, improvise, and actively use the spaces in between the notes as aggressively and strategically as the notes themselves. From there, I got into all sorts of things like Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Pat Metheney, Medeski Martin and Wood, Bill Evans, Wynton Marsalis, Larry Goldings, Mose Allison, Brad Mehldau, Joey DeFrancesco, Mike Stern. I also played in a trad jazz band in high school and got to play at Preservation Hall with them. There’s a definite love for New Orleans flavor and stride piano that touches everything I do. In relation to Completely, all of those influences played a part. It felt like a matter of channeling the power and rawness of groups like Pearl Jam through the sophistication, harmonies, and musical rigor of my jazz loves.