As 2006 progressed, I was very uncertain as to if, or when, I might ever record again. At a certain point, I realized that I still had two unreleased tracks, which just could not fit, due to time constraints, on "THE GREEN FIELD." Those tunes were "Blues for Ball"(McCoy Tyner) and, the beautiful ballad "Dreamsville"(Mancini-Evans-Livingston). And so, after giving it some thought, I decided to, at the very least, return to the studio with engineer, Malcolm Pollack, and do final mixes of those tracks. As these mixes rounded into form, I began to become attached to those performances with: John Patitucci(Acoustic Bass); Jack DeJohnette(Drums); and Manolo Badrena(Percussion), and, I did not want to see them laying around in a dormant state for years and years. And so, this served as a great inspiration to formulate a plan to complete a new recording around those players, and those two tracks.
In a sense, the unifying theme of the recording would be that I would try to finish and present music on which I had been working, or thinking about for a long, long time. The other thread that would run through much of the music would again be in expressing my admiration, and appreciation for Latin music, and all its glorious traditions. John, Jack and I, alongside Ralph Irizarry(Timbal) and Roberto Quintero(Conga) had rehearsed my arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" while preparing for "THE GREEN FIELD." But, the complexities of the arrangement caused me to abandon the tune at the session. We never even tried to record it then. This time however, I tried to better prepare everything. Now, you can hear the results of all that hard work, in addition to everyone's spectacular playing. This quintet would also interpret another favorite tune of mine, also composed by McCoy Tyner, titled "Hymn Song." Both of these Tyner classics appeared on his recording "SUPER TRIOS" which featured Eddie Gomez(Ac. Bass) and, you guessed it, Jack DeJohnette.
As I knew that all these players would now be gathered together, I decided that I wanted to try to finally record an older composition of mine, which had actually been written as part of my graduation composition at U.C.L.A. As I had taken many classes in ethnomusicology there, which included studies of the music of: India; Bali; México; Japan; and other countries. The piece, "El Faquir" now aspires to incorporate multi-cultural elements from Indian music, Latin music, and Jazz. This was not its original title. After moving to New York in 1970, one of my first bands was called "Future Shock" and included Don Grolnick, and Randy and Michael Brecker. And, we used to play this tune. When I decided to give it 'another life,' other than the basic bass ostinato, I essentially rewrote all the melodic material. As a small tribute to those three great players who have had such a profound impact on my life, there are various references contained within. Don Grolnick's sense of order and 'composing while improvising' were noted in several places. So, to best execute this piece, I enlisted the musical help of tabla master, Badal Roy and my good friend for many, many years, the brilliant Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet. It was hard to know just how this would be realized, considering that we could only have one rehearsal, and John Patitucci, Badal, and Bob were all unable to attend. So, much of what you now hear had to be formulated in the studio, and then, improvised for better or worse.
The final tracks also represent pieces of music which I have always wanted to do something with, but I was very uncertain as to just how I could present them on a recording of my own. Both "Face Value" and my arrangement of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" owe a great deal to my studies of the wondrous harmonies of keyboard giant, Clare Fischer. For fun, I had done a 'demo' of the "Miss Jones?" arrangement while in Caracas, Venezuela with help of my dear friend, Rafael Greco. Each chord voicing in the arrangement owes something to Clare Fischer, and I knew that, in order to record it, I would need someone who shares this great love for harmony, and someone with the excellence in musicianship to perform what I had written. This, without hesitation, led me directly to another frequent collaborator, Rob Mounsey. "Face Value" had originally been composed for a Caribbean Jazz Project CD, but I had quit the band before it could be recorded. Other than having another artist record it, I couldn't see how it would fit on one of my recordings. But, this was going to be the moment. I needed a 'voice' to play the Fischer-inspired [B] sections, and fate led me to another old and dear friend, Randy Brecker, who decided to perform both tunes on flügelhorn. As things have played out, it was very special to be reunited with Randy during this period of our lives.
The last piece of the puzzle, that is this recording, was going to be the rhythm section, because I wanted these tunes to have a feeling much closer to contemporary Salsa. And when I speak of "Salsa," I mean Salsa as it has been played here in New York! And so, I was able to assemble three of the most fantastic players in the idiom, and they are: Rubén Rodríguez(Baby Bass & Elec. Bass); Marc Quiñones(Timbal); and Bobby Allende(Conga and Bongo). As it turned out, Marc and Rubén had performed beautifully on another track from the recent past which, I had never been able to fully complete. It was an arrangement I had done of the Alec Wilder classic, "Moon and Sand" for a girlfriend from the past, which she never sang on. Even though this song had been recorded during the '40s by Xavier Cugat, the haunting lyrics for this very sad love song were sung in English. Again I enlisted the aid of Rafael Greco, this time to write an interpretation in Spanish.
Initially, I had hoped that perhaps Gabriela Anders might want to sing the song, and then, use the track for a CD of her own. But, at that time, in 2002, she just wasn't interested in doing it. As this project neared, I tried to contact her again, and this time, the stars were properly aligned, and she came in to sing. Gaby lends her own special mixture, with the feeling Brazilian 'breathiness' blended into the Latin bolero. Randy Brecker again contributes his expressive flügelhorn to a little 'coro' section that I had written as the piece fades away. That little moment is actually an off-handed tribute to a small portion of the string arrangement that Claus Ogerman wrote for Wes Montgomery's "Bumpin' on Sunset." I don't know that anyone would readily connect these two things.
And so, the two sessions, which fundmentally make up this recording, took place spaced greatly apart. One on November 27th, 2006 in Avatar's Studio 'C' and, the second and final date took place in Avatar Studio 'A' on January 9th, 2007. Everything was engineered with great care and love by Malcolm Pollack. When taken as a whole, this was, without question, the most difficult and stressful of any project I've ever attempted, but, sitting here now, I feel very proud of the results, and pleased that, once again, I took the huge risk to make it happen.
Photos in collage: John Patitucci, Steve, Bob Mintzer and Jack DeJohnette