Concourse in Atmosphere

Clifford Brown III and I reconnected somehow. We played together in high school and my first year in college. I left home, he left home, we never stayed in touch. He found me back in 2010. I played briefly in his quartet and we parted ways for a while until he reached out again for me to play on some of his remixes. Cliff remixes all kinds of different music, usually for contests on Indaba; he’s really good at it. He’d call me up, have me over, plug in my midi keyboard, assign it to a virtual instrument, press record and say, “Go.”

It’s challenging coming up music without hearing the other parts before pressing record. Cliff knows this is difficult, but he thrives on the fresh ideas that manifest from these sessions. I was first concerned how a lack of preparation could hamper the music, but doing it week after week for an entire summer, I found I no longer minded. Cliff was making great music this way. He was taking my vulnerable, sometimes formless improvisations, and crafting them into parts that worked seamlessly with all the other parts regardless of recording order.

For Concourse, Cliff brought in musicians to collaborate from across the globe. A musician in Italy would lay down a part and send it to Cliff, and Cliff would manipulate it or leave it intact to send off to another musician elsewhere. Sometimes the music traveled through half a dozen home studios before it reached me. Sometimes I was the first one to lay down a part. I’d surrender a musical idea that I’d been experimenting with or practicing, usually with a general guess as to where it could lead, only to find that Cliff and his musicians put a wonderful twist on my idea, taking it somewhere I didn’t imagine. The result is very much birthed in acid jazz, and leads to a lot of great minimalist jams by some of the best musicians around.

Concourse is a diverse mix of music, understandably so, considering that the personnel spans through several different countries and specializes in several different musical styles. The horn players are jazz musicians, the singer is classically trained, the violinist plays New Music, the bassist can rock out with the best of them. Cliff intuitively understood this and found a great solution to ensure the album worked as one piece of music, binding it together with an unassuming, meditative female chant. The chant itself is gorgeous, and it’s the link that makes everything work so well. You’ll also hear an urban soundscape thread the tracks together. Cliff’s always full of great ideas.

In this music, I play the Rhodes and piano mostly. Sometimes you hear me lay down a synth bass line. My favorite contribution is my harmonic progression for Nocturno. The Italian singer Cliff found for this song is amazing. Her lyrics are beautiful. The drum track underneath is gritty, a little crushed, but pairs so well with the delicate chord changes. I also find myself listening to my solo on Water Rising a year or more later and thinking, “Whoa, did I play that…?” I’m overly critical of my playing. It’s great to know I can accept it after putting a year of distance between myself and my music.

One of my other favorite tracks is the nebulous Drought (Coffee and Laptops). I imagine a cool New York basement in a 70’s summer–shag rug, tacky couch, haze of smoke in the air. My favorite part is Cliff’s improvisation right around 2:30. That major third over the minor chord shows you just how much attitude Cliff has hidden underneath his unshakable, laid back persona.

Kudos to you, Cliff. I’ll let the music do the rest of the talking. Be sure to check out Cliff and Mike Olmos’ solos on Rush.