>> write // chris trinidad's certain times: liner notes
Chris Trinidad: bass guitar
Charlie Gurke: baritone saxophone
Alex Conde: piano
Aaron Kierbel: drum set
Produced and Mixed by Chris Trinidad at Elemental MusicWorks, Pinole, CA
Recorded by Jeremy Goody on 30 June and 1 July 2014 at Megasonic Sound, Oakland, CA
Mastered by Andro Ernst on 10 October 2014 at Art of Ears Studios, Hayward, CA
Layout, Design, and Band Photos by Alisha Justine Cabrera
Cover Photo by Chris Trinidad
I resolved to hit the reset button on my life by moving from Metro Vancouver to the San Francisco Bay Area in the Summer of 2008 to see how life might unfold in a new environment. In the past, change and transition helped to unlock me from certain ways of thinking, doing, and being. My hope was that meeting new people, playing with new musicians, undertaking formal studies in new academic areas, and opening myself to new thoughts and theories would, among other things, give me a deep source from which I could draw new musical ideas.
The San Francisco Bay Area has a kind of creative energy that is born out of cultural diversity and countercultural interplay. From the Beat poetry of the fifties, to the free love of hippie Haight Ashbury and the free speech of Telegraph and Bancroft in the sixties, and to the technological evolution-revolution of Silicon Valley in the seventies and eighties to today, this region of the world is rich with confluence.
I arrived in the United States at a particularly noteworthy time in history. After a month in country, I observed what would later be called the Great Recession and I saw how the financial crisis affected people and communities first-hand. A few months later, I witnessed the election of the first African-American president. Because I grew up Filipino-Canadian in a country where multiculturalism is celebrated, I did not really recognize the significance of that historic moment. It was also only a matter of time until I was able to absorb and synthesize, if only through osmosis and perhaps only indirectly, all of these interesting influences and to produce some sort of musical response to what I was experiencing.
After five years in my new adopted country, I had accumulated a series of little sketches, grooves, riffs, and melodies that were yearning to be filled out into full compositions. It had been at least ten years since I last had an opportunity to write jazz music. Those were the days when I worked as a cruise ship musician and free time, then, was abundant and affordable. These days, time is an expensive premium. Having a dual vocation as a school teacher and as a session musician does not give me ample time to focus on music composition. So, I float between the daily responsibilities of chronos and of quantified and calculated time, while carefree kairos lurks in the background waiting for the perfect opportunity to engulf me into a state of artistic presence and creative focus.
On the first day of winter break in 2013, I took out my notebook and began the process of fleshing out my collection of germinal ideas. All of the tunes ended up being written in the span of a single week, at a rate of one song per night. I had just put the finishing touches on my home recording studio, and the environment was conducive to creativity. Variations to themes seemingly wrote themselves, and arrangements allowed themselves to appear. The famed guitarist and pedagogue Robert Fripp has often said that “music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice.” In the case of this suite of music, it could very well be that I was an unlikely character to begin with, but somehow I think that it was because the conditions were so optimal that this music found a way to be given voice.
I ended up calling this suite of music Certain Times both to acknowledge the sacred time in which this music was completed, but also to remember the period that begat most of these initial ideas and sketches. In my own personal life, this time was marked by a renewed sense of purpose, of positivity, and of possibilities. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that I finished the last song of the suite on the evening of winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year. Perhaps there was a reason why the rush of creativity engulfed me during the Advent season, that time in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar that anticipates the Christmas season. The traditional Advent themes of Peace, Joy, Hope, and Love evoke a sense of promise and of anticipation. To this end, I picked the most positive of titles from a master list of playful phrases that I collect and keep, and I proceeded to christen each of the compositions in the suite.
I recall feeling a sense of catharsis as I set the pen down and completed the last piece in the suite. Today, the idea folder is clean once again awaiting the next time new sketches appear.
Around this time, I was getting more and more freelance calls to play drum set gigs in addition to my usual steady gigs on bass guitar or piano. During my practice sessions, and for general inspiration, I began to listen to the work of some of my favorite drummers including Bill Bruford and Jack DeJohnette, among many others. I think that drummers have a unique approach to writing music and orchestrating and arranging their compositions. Certainly, this is the case with both Bruford and DeJohnette.
Bass guitarist Jeff Berlin got his start playing with Bill Bruford, and he recounted a story of Bruford sitting at the piano one day where he played a chord with several clashing notes. It was the type of chord, Berlin remarked, that would not pass muster at an institution like Berklee College of Music where Berlin was once a student. In response, Bruford said, "But I like the sound of it!" It was something of a revelation for Berlin as he was quoted some years later saying in reply, "... music doesn't have to be academically correct to sound good.” Owing to Bruford's history in progressive rock, and his own unfettered imagination, he is unencumbered by conventional mainstream writing.
Jack DeJohnette labels his own music and his drumming as multi-directional. As a gifted piano player in addition to being a tremendously influential drummer, DeJohnette's music indeed draws from a broad palette of genres and styles. DeJohnette is godfather to bass guitarist Matthew Garrison. Garrison is quoted as saying that DeJohnette is "the kind of musician who'll play anything, anytime, anyhow for the right reasons. That's his take on life—to mix it up."
There is a sense of liberation and freedom in Bruford's and Dejohnette's music to go where it may. I tried to harness some of that same open spirit with Certain Times.
Writing Certain Times was something of a departure in style for me. Nevertheless, I hope that one can hear an organic connection in Certain Times with some of my earlier work on Common Themes. I typically write at the piano, but most of my collected sketches were grooves and riffs which, in some ways, is perhaps how some hip hop, rock and roll, or rhythm and blues songwriters and producers approach composition. I am never one to throw away a compositional idea, so each sketch was given a fair shot at evolving into a full fledged tune. There are thematic melodic and harmonic elements that reappear in different ways from piece to piece which I hope gives a sense of unity and cohesion to the whole work.
Most of the tunes have solo sections with few chords. I wanted the soloists to have plenty of time to develop their own themes and variations rather than deal with the gymnastics of navigating through tricky chord changes which are sometimes designed to trip up improvising musicians rather than facilitate true musical communication.
With close to seven and a half million people in the San Francisco Bay Area sooner or later I would bump into some fascinating characters and musicians.
I first met pianist Alex Conde while working with Lina Torio's Mestiza y La Ley, one of the first groups I joined upon moving to Northern California. He comes from the world of classical music, traditional flamenco, and mainstream jazz having studied at Jose Iturbi Conservatory of Music in Valencia and also at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I knew that I wanted a virtuosic voice at the piano, and Alex fit the bill.
Drummer Aaron Kierbel was a member of Aisha Fukushima's Raptivism project. I remember watching him live from the second floor of the now defunct Disco Volante in Oakland. I later joined the Raptivism project and had a chance to play with Aaron on a number of occasions. With each rehearsal and live gig we played together, it became more and more evident to me that Aaron was a deep listener. Coupled with his unique approach to rhythmic counterpoint and his fresh phrasing ideas I knew that he would be the right rhythmatician for the Certain Times project.
Because I had a lot of riffs in this set of music, I wanted a low woodwind sound to occasionally double my bass parts. That big robust sound was provided by Baritone Saxophonist Charlie Gurke whom I met while working with trumpeter Danny Cao's Du Uy project. Charlie graduated from the famed San Francisco School of the Arts and the UC Berkeley Young Musician's Program. After some time in New York at the New School, Charlie moved back to the Bay Area and completed his degree at California State University East Bay. He also earned a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Oregon. Aside from these outstanding credentials, Charlie was the perfect foil for Alex's fireworks and Aaron's sophistication.
Each of these players brought a sense of openness to my music. Alex and Charlie also took the time to write a composition each for the sessions. All three helped me with some of the arranging and orchestration, made invaluable suggestions, and were very charitable with their time and expertise. Listening to the recording reveals an instant chemistry that was evident the moment we all got into a room and started playing. There were moments in rehearsal and on this recording when true dialogue was taking place, where one musician would suggest a motif, and the other would pick up that idea and elaborate on it. We would ebb and flow between the foreground and the background as appropriate, taking supportive complementary roles, or instigating ideas and leading the charge as necessary. It was an honour to have players of their calibre work with and play my music.
We made the record at Megasonic Sound with Jeremy Goody at the controls. I prefer to work with audio engineers who are easy going, humble, and sincere. Jeremy has all of these attributes in abundance, but he also has amazing ears which have been tempered and tuned with many years of audio engineering experience. I had worked with Jeremy on another project of mine, Subla Neokulintang, and he also recorded me playing a number of bass guitar tracks for Carlos Xavier's debut album. At each of these sessions, Jeremy brought not only his audio engineering expertise but also his tremendous sense of humour.
I am finicky with my bass guitar sound. I prefer a transparent, clean, and crisp sound, and I have worked for years at trying to achieve this sound by using specific playing techniques, boutique bass guitars, and particular preamplifiers. For this project, I used a single bass guitar which happened to be the Trinidad Mollerup that was strung with the same old flatwound strings that I have not changed since that instrument was born. Truth be told, it is the only bass guitar I have used for every single bass guitar gig I have been hired for since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. And, with strings that old, you can be sure that all of that East Bay funk and grease also made its way unto my new bass guitar sound. We recorded through my trusty Eden Electronics preamplifier direct to tape. For good measure, Jeremy suggested that we mic the studio's vintage Traynor big stack bass amp with an old Beyerdynamic M380 and what you now hear on the record is a combination of those two sounds.
After two days tracking at Megasonic Sound, I took the recording to my home studio Elemental MusicWorks and spent time picking takes and mixing tracks. When it came time to master the project, I went to Andro Ernst at Art of Ears Studios who brought a new perspective to the recording. Andro has been a fixture on the San Francisco Bay Area punk and hip hop music scenes, but he has also mastered several world music recordings, including the Subla Neokulintang project. He knew exactly what Certain Times needed, and I am happy with the results.
The Cover Photo and Design
To be clear, I am not a professional photographer, but the cover photo is one that has particular sentimental value to me. Before deciding on making the permanent move to the San Francisco Bay Area, I visited the area several times. On one visit in November 2007, I bought a new simple digital camera and took a few test shots on the way back toward Oakland from Napa. The photo itself is a shot of the tall eucalyptus trees that line state highway 29 as it curves to become state highway 12. As the sun was setting, I wanted to capture the colours as they were dancing in the sky.
Alisha Justine Cabrera is an up and coming San Francisco Bay Area photographer and designer. She had worked with me on the Subla Neokulintang project, and I welcome her artistry and insight into this Certain Times project.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share my work and my music. I hope that these notes have given you, the listener and reader, some insight into the process of how a recording is born.