>> write // chris trinidad's common themes iii: liner notes

chris trinidad: bass guitars
len aruliah: saxophones
jared burrows: guitar
stan taylor: drum set

produced and mixed by chris trinidad for elementalmusicworks.com

recorded by william benavides for somos music and jared burrows for third rail music
with chris trinidad for elementalmusicworks.com on 27 june and 28 june 2006
at elementalmusicworks, burnaby, bc, canada

mastered by allan bacani on 21 march 2007
at dogwood sound, vancouver, bc, canada

layout and design by jonathan bongato

Common Themes III actually came together very quickly. I had received a call from guitarist Jared Burrows to sub on a gig for which Vancouver bassist Clyde Reed was unavailable. I knew about Jared and I admired his work as a musician, teacher, and scholar, particularly since I am engaged in the same fields of work. As I would get to know later, he and I share similar approaches to art and craft, to theory and praxis, and to balancing life and vocation.

The gig that he called me for would include and feature England-based, Vancouver-ex-patriate saxophonist Len Aruliah, and Stan 'Steamer' Taylor on drum set. Jared and Len played together during the early Nineties in Vancouver before Len left for his birth home of England. Len was in town for a couple of months to attend his brother's wedding and to participate as a teacher-mentor in the South Delta Jazz Workshop, a community-oriented, educational initiative of Jared's. He had also set up a session to record his music. Len also booked a number of gigs to get the music ready for the session. I was the lucky duck that had the opportunity to play his music on this one such gig.

I had seen Stan play the drum set only once before. He was playing at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre with a favourite band of mine called Out of the Woods, a group dedicated to playing the music of Ralph Towner and Oregon. I was impressed with Stan's musicality and dynamic range. I can tell that his touch, tone, and time are the products of a studious approach to the drum set, coupled with an open mind and a big heart. His playing is at once supportive, encouraging, and suggestive, traits that would make any bass player immediately comfortable. Jared told me later that Stan is the only drummer he calls for creative or improvised music gigs.

After Jared and I had set up the time and place for the gig's rehearsal, I became weary because I was unsure of whether this group of players would accept my sound and playing approach to the bass guitar. Jared reassured me that my axe of choice would be most acceptable and that he, in fact, preferred the sound of bass guitar to the double bass. With this vote of confidence, we rehearsed and did the gig. Everybody felt very comfortable, very quickly.

In addition to being creative music makers and improvisers of the highest order, Jared, Len, and Stan are the best of friends. Their friendship was visible in the way that they joked with each other on a personal level, and it was audible in the way that they interacted on a musical level. When I was completing my undergraduate degree in jazz studies at Capilano College, I had the fortune of studying with another Vancouver great, drummer Dylan Vander Schyff. Dylan taught me that it was important to play with musicians who are giving and selfless. He values his friendship with the people he plays with and the resulting music making, in his opinion, is much more satisfying. For me, creative, improvised, ensemble music making is about listening, giving, and cooperation. Jared, Len, and Stan exhibit all of these virtues.

I yearned for another opportunity to play with these guys. I emailed Jared and inquired about the recording session he had setup for Len's music and wondered if he had a bass player lined up for the session. It turned out that Jared's good friend, bassist Rob Kohler, whom he had met as a graduate student at the University of Oregon, was driving north on I-5 to participate in the session. Undeterred, I offered to engineer their session at my recording space. I hoped that there would be a chance in the near future that we could record together. To my surprise, my hope quickly became reality when the trio agreed to help me with my project.

I had for some time wished to complete the Common Themes trilogy so that I could continue onto other projects. Because of my commitments to teaching and scholarship, the first two Common Themes projects, recorded in 2004, were left sitting idle on my hard drive, waiting to be mixed. The occasion to work with Jared, who is also an experienced producer and audio engineer, provided me with the impetus to learn how to record and mix myself after years of observing real producers and audio engineers do the work. In fact, learning about microphone placement, equalization, compression, bussing, and other audio engineering jargon and production techniques from Jared has brought me closer to understanding music from another perspective.

I realized that learning about audio engineering allowed me the opportunity to present a more complete artistic vision. The coined adage, "If you want anything done right, then do it yourself" rings true for me. My partial perfectionist tendencies [if such a descriptor exists] would be sufficient in driving any audio engineer mad. So, rather than dealing with the fits of frustrations of others, I switch hats as necessary and enjoy the mixing process. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions and patience of Allan Bacani, my old schoolmate, who not only mastered the Common Themes series but also provided invaluable advice to me, a novice audio engineer.

In keeping with the Common Themes concept, I invited Jared, Len, and Stan to submit compositions for the project. I chose two of Jared's compositions and three of Len's. Stan respectfully declined, but his brilliant orchestrations on the drum set are compositions in their own right.

Oceanography [Len Aruliah]. As with the other Common Themes projects, we start off with a nice medium tempo track to get things started. This tune is based on the changes of Irving Berlin's composition "How Deep is the Ocean." Len wanted to emulate the linear approach of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Warne Marsh in writing this tune. Music making on luxury liners is something that Len and I share, though strangely, we never crossed paths aboard ship. He dedicates Oceanography to all the shipmates from his cruise ship days.

Essence of the Intention [CT]. This track was written in 2001 onboard the Explorer of the Seas while listening intensely to the Brad Turner Quartet's album There and Back. I fit some chords around a rhythmic motif for the introduction. I fit a melody into those chords for the main theme and expanded those chords over two measures for the improvising section. At some point, a bridge section was yearning to be written and it came to be. My favourite part is listening to the interaction between Stan and Jared, particularly during the guitar solo. It is as though they phrase and breathe together so effortlessly.

Secrets and Mysteries [Len Aruliah]. This tune is the penultimate part of Len's five part suite and I can hear the influence of Kenny Wheeler [with whom, incidentally, Len has studied]. Set in a slow 5/4, both Jared and Len take their time in developing themes during the solo sections and the results, to me, are simply amazing.

Quiet Power [Jared Burrows]. After being inspired by Len's suite, Jared decided to write his own, and this track was dedicated to Kenny Wheeler on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. Jared wanted the bass part to remain in two, and I had great fun playing as contrapuntally and interactively as I could.

Arrive to Reason [CT]. The chords and melody for this ballad came together fairly quickly one afternoon onboard the Voyager of the Seas in 2002. I'm all about the motivic development in this piece. The title refers to that "point of seeing" where thoughts, feelings, and emotions converge and make way for reasoned thinking.

Estrellita [Len Aruliah]. Another of Len's "re-melodizations." This time, he takes the changes to "Stella by Starlight" in the original key of G major and comes up with a brilliant [no pun intended] new melody. Estrellita was inspired by Chucho Valdes' great writing for Grupo Irakere, but Len is quick to point out that that he doesn't pretend that his tune sounds anything like them! It was premiered at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in 1994 as a flamboyant, upbeat latin jazz/salsa tune. Jared comps in a bossa nova style, and Stan's "four on the stick" rhythm suggested that I should take a different straight-eighth note style approach. I opted to draw on my experiences in coming up with bass lines for cha cha chas. So, here is a "bossa cha" or perhaps it is a "cha cha nova." Len likes the laidback approach, since it is a reminder of how compositions can evolve and the relationship that he has with his own tunes change over time.

October Song [Jared Burrows]. Written as a bass feature, I first heard this tune on a recording entitled "Plan on Stan" that featured Jared, Stan, and bassist Rob Kohler. Apparently, this song started as a latin tune but saw new life as a slow waltz. Jared felt that there were not enough tunes written in E minor and that he wanted to make use of more open strings. Charlie Haden has been a huge influence on both my playing and approach to music making and I tried to play my solo with the same quality of intention and spirit as he does.

Principles of Causality [CT]. The seed for this tune came about while holed up in a Capilano College practice room preparing for a class piano exam in the fall of 1997. Conceived as a "straight-three" rather than a "waltz-three" my good friend and multi-instrumentalist, Neelamjit Singh Dhillon, convinced me to write this out as a "double-time six." I modified the B section melody and chords slightly a few days before recording this tune. This tune features Stan "Steamer" Taylor unleashing a relentless solo.

Essentially Considered Settled [CT]. The second to last of a batch of compositions written on the Voyager of the Seas during my stint aboard ship in 2002. The composition is in 7/4 with a melody that struck between a typical bebop trip followed by a pentatonic riff. Following the head, the improvising section was written as "open," but the band opted to stick to the strong groove.

Old Sun in Spirit [CT]. The last tune written for the Common Themes project. It is somewhat fitting that it should end the album as well. A loosely connected "partner song" to New Moon in Mind, this composition was inspired by listening to Richard Bona's music. The melody is meant to be sing-able and folk-like with shifting harmonies underneath. The "second-line" inspired groove that the Steamer plays just cooks!


Common Themes III Cover

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