I’m happy to finally share my newest album, Distant Places! This album has a very special meaning for me on many levels. For one, it comes on the heels of completing my Ph.D in composition, which was partially responsible for the delay in finishing production. Secondly, this album was made with some of my favorite musicians in the world. Some have been a part of The BQE Project for many years (playing live music to film) and others have been friends since my college days. Everyone on this album worked tirelessly to capture my original intentions for each track...and that they did!
The third reason for the albums significance is its representation of the best I can offer at this stage of my life. I tried to shape this album as a story....much in the way the Beatles structured Sgt. Pepper (not that I’m making any comparison musically). However, each piece contributes to a general arc of emotions, energy, tension and release. I thought it might be helpful to include background information on the writing concept and performance of each piece, as there are many stories within each track of the album.
To listen to Distant Places on Bandcamp (and to purchase), click below.
Cat and Mouse: This piece reflects the influence of J.S. Bach. I’ve always been fascinated with his inventions and fugues. The title suggests what the music does, which is to say one part is constantly chasing another (as in many 2-part inventions). Funny story about this piece: It was performed at Rowan University years ago. I was playing the udu part along with percussion students. My cousin was in the audience and overheard some young student quietly announce: “The cat and the mouse by Tom Nuzzola...who the F*&^k is Tom Nuzzola?” That’s when I knew I had arrived ;)
Over the Horizon:
This was written for Todd Reynolds – a musician I’ve known and admired since my college days. The following program notes convey what the piece is about: “Something liberating awaits us ahead….We can see it faintly in the distance, appearing as a simmering, maroon-like hue just above the horizon – always in view, yet not attainable. However, we are driven in its direction.” Over the Horizon expands upon a musical motive consisting of consecutive fourth intervals, as heard in the opening measures and serves as the basis for compositional development. The harmonic trajectory throughout represents a pushing and pulling towards an unattainable goal, represented in part by the contrasting use of the major and minor third interval within a triad.
Crossing the Line: In this piece I wanted to use the pandeiro in a less than traditional sense. Particularly, I was interested in incorporating rhythms that might be used with tabla or any hand drum in which fast rhythms could be executed. This was mostly possible due to the talents of Sergio Krakowski. When I showed him the part, he rose to the occasion and worked out these rhythms to perform them convincingly on the pandeiro as is heard in the opening measures and beyond. The guitar part serves to both present the tune and also set up an ostinato section for the pandeiro solo. The title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as it refers to the fact that the guitar part crosses the bar line at several points. Phrases are displaced rhythmically, changing the listener’s perspective on the line itself.
Composed for bass quartet, Bass Palmas explores the upright bass for its full potential as a melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic voice. I wanted this to be satisfying without other harmonic instruments and therefore, added only percussion. In terms of its structure, Bass Palmas is driven by an ostinato pattern (pizz) that ushers in floating, ambient textures and aggressive, high range solo lines. A rhythmic accompaniment of cajon and hand claps (palmas) assist the rhythmic drive and reinforce an unstoppable groove, which switches from pizz to arco and then back again. The piece culminates in an overlapping of patterns that cross over the bar line using a series of dominant seventh chord with added major / minor third inflections.
Red Sky: This piece sounds like its title. I envisioned a red sky in creating the guitar part. Other instruments were added in support of the feeling /color. A companion video can be found on youtube with various displays of a red sky.
Rochester Suite: This work is largely reminiscent of my days at the Eastman School of Music.....and of Rochester, NY. Throughout these movements I sought to communicate the experiences of being in Rochester and living within the Eastman community. I also wanted to provide a sense of time travel for my fellow alumni through highlighting certain experiences musically. Except for Fifth Floor Annex, I’ve made three videos to accompany these movements with photos spanning several decades (including images of Rochester from the early 20th century).
a.) Garbage Plate:
Anyone who has ever been to Rochester will be familiar with this meal, which is the main “plate” at Nick Tahous (home of the famous garbage plate). Almost all of the performers on this piece attended Eastman around the same time as me or slightly later. It was important to record with players who shared in this background. The overlapping lines and “rough and tumble background rhythms” are meant to convey the funk (as it were) of the food and experience of having a Garbage Plate at Nick Tahous...best enjoyed after a night of drinking and general debauchery.
b.) Sibley Tower: I’ve seen Sibley Tower a few times. However, the name itself inspired me to capture the somewhat melancholic atmosphere of downtown Rochester. In the accompanying video, I’ve included shots of the early trolley tracks, department store windows, and the Eastman School during its early construction—as well as concerts displayed on the marquis outside the Eastman Theater (now known as Kodak Hall). There is a dream-like atmosphere to this piece, which allows for a stream- of-consciousness effect.
c.) Fifth Floor Annex: The title refers to the percussion practice rooms on the fifth floor of the Eastman annex. Anyone who practiced on this floor, and was not a percussionist, would most likely complain about the noise. Occupying three rooms, the percussionists (including myself) have certainly driven others crazy with our “’round the clock drum set playing” and rudimental exercises. Created as a drum corps piece, Fifth Floor Annex is dedicated to Steve Gadd (who incidentally heard this piece and replied, “Sounds great!”).
d.) Going Home (long road back from Eastman): The suite concludes with a track that reflects that long journey back home each summer as well as the final year at Eastman. The guitar perfectly captures the sentiment of both the school and city of Rochester. The accompanying video includes many beloved figures whose presence spanned several decades at Eastman – namely Junior, Dean Paul Burgett, Chaplain Cyril Roberts, and John Beck.
Get the Point:
This piece reflects one of the principle teachings of Bob Moses (known today as Rakalam), focusing on a single recurring accent over two measures, while playing your instrument and improvising. Moses suggested singing the rhythms and either clapping or performing the recurring accent. Close friend, and wonderful musician, John Hollenbeck joins me on this track. I am singing the rhythms, which have been written out and translated on the drum set by John. This was a fun piece to record!
Although written for percussion, the intention was to make a percussion ensemble sound more like an orchestra. Themes, motives, and lines run through the ensemble—similar to how they might in an orchestral setting.
Just Passing through: I originally conceived of this as a piece to be performed with a looper. In fact, that is the way to approach this for future performances. Each bass line is played and then looped in preparation for the next event. Everything is performed to a percussion track, which helps the bass move from section to section.
Pablo’s Journey: I don’t know who Pablo is....it just seemed like a good title. Pablo’s Journey was originally intended for guitar and pandeiro. However, it made more sense with upright bass, which is what you’re hearing in this recording. The piece is a journey through several chords and harmonic perspectives on the main motive. Paul Livant did a stellar job of learning this guitar part.....not easy to play!
Velvet Carnival: The title came later. The feeling is that of a carnival going a bit out of control – at times dreamy and other times, erratic and wild. Velvet describes the general texture of the piece...especially the main motive following the introductory statement.
Golem Overture: I wanted to conclude the album in a dramatic way and this seemed fitting. The overture consists of several themes from a commissioned score for the silent film “The Golem.” The piece travels through the various scenes and emotions encountered in this film including: Rage, love, fear, innocence, prayer, and rejoicing. I’d love to turn this into an opera some day.Hope you enjoy!