Jim Beard & V. Mendoza - Revolutions
Edition: CD - Hybrid CD / SACD
Order number: INT 34182
On his latest offering, an ambitious orchestral project entitled Revolutions, Beard revisits some of his older compositions with the Netherlands-based Metropole Orchestra, under the direction of conductor-arranger Vince Mendoza. These greatly expanded renditions of pieces like “Parsley Trees,” “Crossing Troll Bridge” and “Holodeck Waltz” (from Song of the Sun), “Holiday for Pete and Gladys” (from Lost at the Carnival), “In All Her Finery” (from Truly...) and “Hope” and “Trip” (from Advocate) reaffirm the depth of Beard’s compositonal prowess. And while he does reveal certain influences along the way - a touch of Aaron Copland, a bit of Burt Bacharach and a healthy dose of Joe Zawinul with occasional flashes of Igor Stravinksy - there is an undeniable individualism to his compositions, each of which travels in its own unique orbit.
As a sideman, keyboardist Jim Beard has racked up an impressive list of credits from touring and recording with the likes of Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Bill Evans, Bob Berg, Victor Bailey and the Brecker Brothers. But it is as a leader in his own right that the Philadelphia native and Indiana University graduate has distinguished himself as a gifted arranger, accomplished composer, in-demand producer and clever conceptualist.”
Over the course of four recordings as a leader - 1990’s Song of the Sun, 1994’s Lost at the Carnival, 1997’s Truly... and 1999’s The Advocate - Beard garnered attention from critics and fellow musicians alike for his harmonic sophistication and audacious musical instincts. VH1 proclaimed that his Lost at the Carnival suggested “a meeting of Groucho Marx and Miles Davis, or perhaps Errol Garner and Stravinsky.” Alto sax star David Sanborn said Beard has, “one of the freshest musical points of view around” while Pat Metheny called him, “one of the best examples that I can think of, of a young musician who is familiar and well-versed in the jazz language, but is also committed to the spirit of adventure and discovery that is essential for the form to keep moving.”
“This wasn’t originally planned to be a CD,” explains the composer, who moved to New York in 1985 and has been a Manhattan resident ever since. “It was originally scheduled and recorded for a European radio broadcast only. After we did the initial session in March of 2005, we decided to record more and make a full CD.” Beard adds that hearing his tunes enhanced with 21 violins, an assortment of cellos and contrabasses as well as harp, harpsichord and woodwinds was an invigorating experience. “It’s pretty wild to walk into a room full of people and hear them all practicing things that you wrote. It was a very odd and humbling sensation. I think the largest group I ever took out on the road was a sextet, and here I was in a room with 55 musicians.”
On his original recordings, Beard approximated orchestral arrangements with the savvy use of synthesizers (much in the way that Joe Zawinul did with Weather Report). As he explains, “I’ve always had a strong interest in arranging and realizing things a bit differently than the standard jazz instrumentation of piano trio plus one or two horns.
For example, on my first CD (Song of the Sun) I brought in Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet and Lenny Pickett on Sarrusophone and E flat clarinet to play supportive roles in the music and used a French horn section as well. And I don’t really use the synth primarily as a solo instrument. I think of it as something to orchestrate sound with. So in a way, I think a lot of my writing and arranging has been alluding to an orchestral expression. But this is the first time that it’s happened for real, and I’m completely addicted to it.”
Beard says that he’s always had an eclectic musical nature, going back to his formative years in Philly. “When my interest in jazz took seed, I had the usual passionate attractions to a lot of the great piano players. I had my Oscar Peterson phase when I was a teenager, then I had my phase where I really dug McCoy Tyner. And, of course, almost every piano player eventually gets to their Herbie Hancock worshipping period. But at the same time I was listening very closely to Weather Report and also to some of Chick Corea’s records from the late ‘70s like The Mad Hatter, which to me is some of Chick’s strongest work in terms of writing and arranging. He uses string quartet and brass ensembles along with synthesizers… lots of textures and color. He also uses voice, not just for lyrics but also color. He really was doing some wild and brilliant stuff on that record.”
On Revolutions, Beard engages in some wild stuff himself with the help of Mendoza, who previously applied his golden arranger’s touch to expanded renditions of Brecker Brothers tunes on 2005’s Some Skunk Funk and Joe Zawinul compositions on 2006’s Brown Street, both with the WDR Big Band of Cologne. Here he adds on strings and lush horn voicings to Beard’s quirky motifs and intricate, time-shifting compositions with thrilling results. The sessions were all recorded live in real time. As Jim mentions, “I was in the room with the orchestra the whole time. There was no overdubbing to a pre-recorded rhythm track. None of that prefab stuff. The feeling was; ‘OK, here we go...all together now.’”
The opener, “Holiday For Pete and Gladys,” kicks off with a rollicking Professor Longhair piano riff before taking a hard left into some challenging musical terrain with the whole ensemble. “That’s most people’s favourite part of the song, that opening,” says Beard with a sense of mischievous pride. “It sort of feels like you’re slipping off a chair with that opening riff. But then I wanted to evoke a more specific mood, like those cool ‘50s records that feel so good. ‘Cha-Cha D’Amor’ is a tune that Dean Martin sang from those times with that feeling. I like the calm, sort of settled groove of the song, but I’m also looking for adventure and surprise to come out of the harmony.” There’s also a subtle mambo undercurrent here, along with allusions to Burt Bacharach’s period compositions from the ‘60s. “I love Bacharach’s music,” says Beard. “Tunes like ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose’ are incredible, so adventurous and unpredictable. And the amazing thing is that they were hits. You can’t find anything like that in today’s pop music. Today’s industry suits would never let that sort of thing off their desks.”
In the liner notes to Revolutions, guitarist and long-time Beard colleague Jon Herington refers to “a radical element that surfaces in some of Jim’s writing from time to time.” That quality is apparent in the very dense passages and dissonant crescendo on “Hope,” which arranger Mendoza nicknamed “the Stravinsky piece.” And despite the darkness that characterizes some of the piece, there is also an underlying sense of uplift and light, as the title implies. “Many times, hope has to rise out of complete darkness and madness,” says the composer. Jim’s synth solo here is particularly Zawinulesque. He also notes that on the original recording, percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian provided some wild wordless vocals for the piece. In this new orchestral rendition, Mendoza took Arto’s vocal part and arranged it for strings. “So there was a conscious attempt to capture or recreate some of the essence we had on the original recording,” says Beard, “with the orchestra instruments mimicking Arto’s voice and having the orchestral percussion recreate Arto’s groove.”
“Diana” opens with a repeating phrase that echoes the title of the tune itself. Named for a former girlfriend, it reflects the giddiness and optimism he felt during his first years in New York. It also features a brilliantly crafted Steely Dan-ish guitar solo by Herington. “He’s certainly a master,” says Beard. “It’s hard to find players who can do that. You can literally count them on one hand... guitarists who don’t have this need to get notey and busy all the time.”
“Lost at the Carnival” carries a montuno feel with some Middle Eastern lines mixed over the top. As Beard points out, it’s almost a duplicate version of the original recording from 1994. “On the original ‘Lost at the Carnival’ I used sampled strings and had some real woodwind background lines in addition to synth lines,” he explains. “I gave reductions of the piece to Matt Harris, who did the orchestration for this new rendition, and he was pretty faithful about assigning orchestra instruments to exactly what I had done before. So it really is a grand scale version of the original piece. In other words, this is what I would’ve like to have done if I could have afforded an orchestra at that time.”
“Princess” is based on a cha-cha rhythm while “In All Her Finery” mimes the same heartland vibe that Metheny triggered on early pieces like “Midwestern Night’s Dream” from his first ECM album, Bright Size Life. “It’s not a direct nod to Pat, although I’m a huge Metheny fan,” says Jim. “He’s another guy who truly enjoys the potential of the world of orchestration and realizing things on a grand scale, especially with his group projects with Lyle Mays.”
“Parsley Trees” contains a string quartet passage and a soaring soprano sax solo by Bill Evans (Wayne Shorter played on the original version). Says Beard, “‘Parsley Trees’ and ‘Holodeck Waltz’ were both written after I had just finished a full year tour with Wayne Shorter playing music from his Atlantis and Phantom Navigator albums. Wayne was really coming up with extraordinary music during that period and I was submerged in that world for a year straight. When I had some time off, ‘Parsely Trees’ and ‘Holodeck Waltz’ came out pretty quickly.”
“Trip” has probably undergone the most radical transformation of the bunch. Originally a trippy techno number recorded on Advocate with the drum ‘n’ bass tandem of Zach Danziger and Tim Levebre, Mendoza has rendered it here as an uptempo swinging Stan Kenton-ish big band vehicle full of intricate cross rhythms and reharmonization and underscored by insistently walking bass lines. “This was a surprise because I never expected Vince to want to work with that piece,” says Jim. “But when Vince heard it he said, ‘Yeah, I think I want to try to do a big band thing with it.’ And it turned out to be great. It definitely has his touch.”
The collection closes on a somewhat somber, evocative note with “Crossing Troll Bridge,” which couples a kind of military march with a Spanish tinge. “That’s from my first CD, Song of the Sun,” says Beard. “Toots Thielemans played on the original version. That first recording of mine was an attempt to do something different. I didn’t want to do your standard straight ahead jazz or fusion record, I wanted every piece to have a character, some sort of personality, something to make it stand apart.”
And he’s maintained that renegade stance on all of his recordings to date. Now Revolutions stands as the crowning achievement in Beard’s brilliant career.