The Khan·Mounsey Saga
Some 10 years have passed since "LOCAL COLOR"(Denon) was recorded in 1987. In the intervening years, Rob has recorded and released three solo CDs: "DIG"('89); "BACK IN THE POOL"('93); and, "MANGO THEORY"('95). He got married and now has two more children in addition to son Alex. For me, those same years saw six solo CDs: "HELPING HAND"('88); "PUBLIC ACCESS"('89); "LET'S CALL THIS"('91); "HEADLINE"('92); "CROSSINGS"('94); and "GOT MY MENTAL"('97). I was also married, and divorced. In January of '93, my father, Sammy Cahn passed away.
As Rob and I were recording "LOCAL COLOR," I always felt that we would someday make another CD together. I just felt that it would be sooner than 10 years! We spoke of the possibility many, many times...and, in the past three to four years, these talks, and the lack of action which followed, had become pretty comical. It seemed that as each calendar year began, we would get together for lunch and a meeting. We would always discuss our musical concepts(a musical 'wish list' of sorts) and some simple business arrangements in principle. We were always in close agreement on virtually all the significant points and issues...but, each year, the weeks and months would come and go and we would have gone no further!
1997 was to be a different story! Of course, we did have our annual lunch & meeting. It was after this particular meeting that I made a 'bet' with my manager and dear friend, Christine Martin (also the Executive Producer of "LOCAL COLOR") that if "tape didn't roll" by February, another year would pass! When Rob phoned shortly after our meeting, I even described our pattern to him and told him of the bet with Christine. We both laughed and vowed not to allow the year to pass us by. It wasn't long after that Rob called again and said that he had made some "percussion loops" and was sending them to me on a DAT to see what I heard. We agreed that he would not provide me with any specifics about the meters involved, but, I know from our past work that Rob loves to work with rhythms involving pulses in three. So, I was on the alert for this.
Shortly after the DAT arrived, Rob faxed me a melodic fragment for one of the loops....the only loop which was in 4/4. It was this theme which would become the letter [A] for "Fazendeiro"("The Farmer" in Portuguese). Almost within an instant of hearing this theme, I could hear an answer to it and faxed Rob a "rejoinder"...and, the process of composition by collaboration had begun.
Rob is, to this point, the only individual with whom I can work in this manner, though, during the '80s, I enjoyed a similar process with Anthony Jackson, Steve Jordan, and Manolo Badrena from which we created music for four CDs. Rob's musical sensibilities are the perfect compliment to mine, and to my mind, this recording represents our best work together. I am very, VERY proud of what we've composed and recorded.
From the remaining four loops, three other pieces were created, "Clafouti" began for me with an ostinato bass line. "Peanut Soup" evolved in a similar fashion. Both of these compositions feature rolling rhythms in variations of pulses and even sub-pulses in three. Beyond this, the loops and the sounds of the percussion samples create an atmosphere which leads one to hear the music of other nations and cultures. "Platanos Maduros" was actually created from a mistake I made while listening to one of Rob's loops (which was also in three), but, from another room. All I heard was the quarter-note pulse of the finger cymbal, and so I began to write some fragments which were all in 4/4. As the piece developed, Rob just adjusted the loop to accommodate my 'error.' In our talks, we had discussed the idea of trying to create a slow, funereal dirge which could feature an insistent pulse with a staggered and seemingly random bass drum pattern. From this simple notion, we created a new basic loop and "Pallbearers" was born. Again, it seemed that Rob immediately heard our [A] theme to which I added an extension.
During our earliest meetings, we agreed that again we would each contribute one ballad. On "LOCAL COLOR" Rob composed "Mahana" and I brought in "The Blue Rose." Here we have Rob's beautiful composition "Still Life with Mockingbird" and my piece, "Anhelante." For me, the latter has become one of the best things I've ever written. The music on "YOU ARE HERE" is rounded out by the one outside composition, Manolo Badrena's "Viajar y Viajar" ("Travel and Travel"...or as Manolo interprets it, "To Wander and Wonder"). I have had Manolo's beautiful, though primitive, homemade demo sitting around the house for some 15 years, just waiting for the right situation to record it. Its haunting beauty is obvious and when I submitted it to Rob, he agreed that this song would fit-in and make our recording a better one. I only wish I could write songs like this!
So, what is our process, our method for creating the compositions and arrangements? As I have previously stated, on this CD we began with Rob's rhythm loops, and both of us sought to hear things, at times, faxing fragments back and forth in preparation for actually getting together. When we felt we had enough to begin, we got together for our first improvisational session. That was on May 19th, 1997. Basically, we just let the digital tape roll on Rob's DA-88 and we improvised to the loops, at times with the bass lines we had agreed upon. These improvisations would often times go on for as long as fifteen minutes per piece. Then, after each performance, we would listen to see if there were any moments of melody, rhythm, or just mood which had enough substance to have staying power in the piece. I would also take home a DAT copy of the improvs and continue the search. At times, the smallest passage heard by one of us as substantial could lead to a full-blown section of the composition you now hear. I know of several instances where Rob plucked-out something which I had improvised and had actually ignored as the tape played back. But, Rob insisted that there was, in fact, something there worth expanding upon. I am immediately reminded of sections I created for "Clafouti" and "Pallbearers." In a process such as this, one must really remain fearless about the very real possibility of playing something stupid on the chance that somewhere within the ten minutes of improvising you may well come-up with at least one moment which may endure. For that alone, all the effort and energy is well worth it! After months of these sessions (and please understand that weeks could pass in between them) and the scrutiny which followed, we were ready to finally record with Richard Alderson at the controls. It was on September 25th that we recorded "Viajar y Viajar," "Anhelante," and "Still Life." "Clafouti," and "Platanos Maduros" were recorded on October 8th. "Peanut Soup," "Fazendeiro," and "Pallbearers" were done on November 14th.
Though I would hardly be the one to discuss all the technological advances in private studio recording since 1987...I'll leave that for Rob! I can say that, to me, it is staggering to view just what is now possible. It is truly a miracle, and, in the hands of a brilliant musician like Rob Mounsey, what can now be done, gets done! That said, I would like to go back to our earliest meetings. One thing I lobbied hardest for was that, at the very least, we would use a "real" percussionist on whichever pieces needed it most. Rob agreed to give it a try. As the character and scope of the music took shape I knew that there was one such musician for the task at hand.
In the past two years, I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with percussionist Marc Quiñones, truly one of the greatest musicians I know on any instrument and in any style or genre of music. We have played together on several projects and I knew that, given the world music flavor of the recording, Marc would be the absolute best person to supply the kind of attitude and muscle needed. Coupled with a wide range of dynamics, Marc brought his talents to five of the pieces. I just can't say enough about what he added to the music. Marc's singularly brilliant contributions were recorded at the Flying Monkey Studio on November 25th.
With Marc's performances now recorded, Rob and I entered the next phase. We carefully worked to put each piece into its final form, making certain that all the essential elements were present and that there was no excess IF possible. In a sense, this process actually continued right up until the final moments. Once this was done and we were in agreement, I left Rob alone to explore...to use his wondrous sensibilities to add any additional melodic or orchestral colors which he felt might best suit each piece. After a tremendous amount of hard work and stunning usage of the available technologies, Rob and I reconvened at Flying Monkey on Sunday, March 1st and he played me what he had done. What I heard was better than I could have ever imagined. I was, and am, at a loss for words of enough praise. I don't know that one recording can capture all of Rob's awesome musicianship and imagination, but, I am honored and thrilled by what I know he has brought to our recording, "YOU ARE HERE." Rob is truly a sensational talent!
The recording was mixed from March 2nd through March 11th with engineer Malcolm Pollack behind the console. The end result represents the interactions of Rob, myself, and Malcolm. Three perspectives joined in a common effort to bring out the best in each tune. It was quite an effort as each piece presented different problems to be solved. I believe that, for each of us, the music is presented with power, clarity, sheen, and dynamic sensitivity. For the moment, I can say that it represents our best work. I hope that you enjoy being "HERE" with us.
- Steve Khan, New York City, 1998
ADDENDUM: Suddenly, nearly 25 years have come and gone, and yet the Khan·Mounsey Saga endures, grows and, in its way changes. Just because Rob Mounsey and I have not recorded another album as co-leaders, it doesn't mean that we haven't been involved in each other's lives and music. From 2005's "THE GREEN FIELD" (Tone Center) to the present, Rob has been an integral part of some 10+ albums of mine and special one-song projects as well. I could not have done any of them without Rob's input and musical and technical contributions. As I have always been, I remain eternally grateful for our friendship: personal and musical.
In 2022, our Saga took a fortuitous turn as Wounded Bird Records president, Terry Wachsmuth, after the reissue release of "EVIDENCE" on his label, took it upon himself to explore my recorded catalog, and somehow came upon "YOU ARE HERE"(1998) which was the follow-up to "LOCAL COLOR"(1987) - some 10 years later. Terry loved the recording and asked me if he could reissue it. I told him that I would have to consult with Rob, as the two of us now co-own this recording. And that is a story in itself.
After Rob and I had recorded "YOU ARE HERE" in 1998, we tried to place it with all the usual Jazz and Jazz-related labels that one could think of. As the music seems to defy categorization, we were turned away by every reputable label. At that time, Mike Landy, who had been the chief engineer for GRP Records and who I had known for a long, long time - and worked for/with as well, wanted to branch out from his role and function @ GRP and start his own label. As SIAM Records was born around that time, Mike heard "YOU ARE HERE" and immediately wanted it for his label. This was risky for all sides - but perhaps especially for Rob and me. But, we were not left with any other options and so, we cast our lot with Mike and SIAM. Many of the important elements were done in a First Class way, including mastering @ Sterling Sound with the great Ted Jensen and Rob's own beautiful album cover designs became a part of the package. Things seemed to be looking bright for us. But no!!! Between 2 weeks to one month after the release, all of sudden, SIAM's funds dried up and we were told that the label was going out-of-business. It was heartbreaking and a disaster - a wonderful album, a beautiful album was lost - just like that.
Mike Landy was very kind and gave Rob and me the stock surplus of CDs and, in essence, over the the next 20+ years, Rob and I just gave them away to various friends, musicians, and industry people in hopes of keeping the music alive. Eventually, Mike Landy, in an act of incredible generosity just gave Rob and me the album - and suddenly, we owned "YOU ARE HERE"! Rob helped to take advantage of that and, managed to get the album up at iTunes where it has resided to this day. But, to the present, Terry Wachsmuth's offer to have Wounded Bird Records reissue the album gave Rob and me the opportunity to see the album get a 2nd chance at life - another change just to somehow be heard. Being heard now, as if it was the first time, its initial release. You never get a true 2nd chance - especially after nearly 25 years - but to have this album available as if it was the 1st time on CD is a truly wonderful gift. And Rob and I couldn't be more thrilled about anything.
In 1998, when Rob was designing various cover image concepts for "YOU ARE HERE," I thought that it might be nice, for the sake continuity (even after some 10 years) for our 2nd album to have another Doug West cover. And so, Rob designed a beautiful cover using Doug's painting, "The Tempest." But, Rob had other ideas and eventually came-up with a concept that he liked better, using various global images to communicate the sense that the music on the album had a very World Music feel to it. And so, we went with that cover concept. But, Rob and I made a gentleman's agreement that, IF "YOU ARE HERE" ever arrived at a 2nd printing, we would then use the Doug West version of our cover. Of course, that never happened - especially when all hope was lost and SIAM Records folded so quickly.
Fast forward to the now, and thanks to Terry's spirit of working with the artists, "YOU ARE HERE" has a fresh new look that honors its past and gazes into the future. As I wanted to be certain that all of the artwork would be handled in the best possible way, I asked Rob if he would contribute along with me and we would engage the great graphic designer Janet Perr to design our cover and the rest of the artwork package. Terry wanted to include the original cover designed by Rob as the back cover of the new CD booklet. So, this is what you now see.
Over the long years between 1998 and 2022, I have been asked any number of times, "What is the meaning of YOU ARE HERE?" Well, believe it or not, Rob Mounsey had to actually explain to me just where he came-up with that title. He reminded me that in just about every single New York City (all five boroughs) subway station, there are huge printed subway maps to help tourists, and the everyday plain, old lost citizens - and the help comes in the form of "YOU ARE HERE" being written within a circle on each map, so that you know exactly where you are standing, and, how you can move along to your next destination - quickly and safely. Though some might not know this, Rob Mounsey is blessed with a sea of artistic talents, and amongst them is a keen eye for design. He has designed all of the artwork packages for his own Flying Monkey Orchestra albums, and as we were preparing "YOU ARE HERE" for release, he presented me with a series of 3 test covers that he had designed. Each one, in its way, was really charming and wonderful - but we did not end-up using any of them. However, I saved Rob's print-outs, now for some 25 years, sitting within a pile of many, many ever-shifting music papers, etc. Recently, I unearthed them and immediately tried to make good scans of them. I did the best that I could, but I'm not really happy with what I was able to come-up with. So, with this reissue, it is a chance to share some other details, hitherto unknown to everyone, about this recording that really do mean something to me.
And that is the story!!! When you are now standing with your CD of the album, you can say that "you are here" with this wonderful collection of music that you will hopefully enjoy forever and always.
One of the most beautiful pieces on the album was written by percussionist, multi-instrumentalist Manolo Badrena and is titled, "Viajar y Viajar." I don't know exactly what year it was when Manolo first presented me with his original demo of this piece, but I had it sitting around for the longest time in a collection of cassettes, and as "YOU ARE HERE" was taking shape, I suddenly realized that THIS was the moment to interpret this wondrous song. And so, I sat down and transcribed the melody, all of the chords, and a rough format, and then presented a functional lead sheet to Rob Mounsey, who, in all of his brilliance, put together most of our arrangement. So, as a special treat, for those who care enough, you can now just click on the arrow above and hear Manolo's demo for the first time. It is possessed with incredible charm and great sentimentality - not to mention Manolo's special humanity as a songwriter. I remember him saying to me, 1/2-kidding, "This is from my Milton [Nascimento) period." Of course, Manolo performed on all of the instruments and the vocals.
In advance, I want to thank everyone for their love and good wishes, and most of all for all the kind words for the various singular projects that I've done in the past year. After all these years, this remains as very special. Thank you all so much!!! PLEASE STAY SAFE and BE HEALTHY!!! Peace & Love from this former and still pretty much a hippie.
- Steve Khan, New York City, 2022
Steve and his trusty güiro; Rob and his trusty shaker: Felicia Michael