Visual art and music have been sympathetic forces for generations, as evidenced by Cage and Rauschenburg, Granados and Goya, Rachmaninoff and Bosklin, Corea and Picasso. The work of M.C. Escher seemed naturally appealing; his pieces all contain a unique awareness of the world that reflect his intellect and imagination. Escher seems to build an imaginary universe that is wondrous yet somehow real; I knew that research through his catalogue would yield some inspiring musical challenges.
As in “AMERICANVAS”, the works of “RELATIVITY” follow the idea of composing to the concept of the artwork. Tessellations, polyhedrons, infinite drawings, and impossible structures definitely push the imagination into alternative directions.
"Three Spheres", the 1946 lithograph, depicts the perspectives of three different globes. The left sphere is transparent with the image of refracted light cast through it towards the viewer and onto the flat surface. The sphere in the center is cheval glass and reflects Escher himself drawing the three spheres. The sphere on the right is opaque, neither reflective nor transparent. Since the lithograph did not particularly evoke any melodic suggestions, the piece “Three Spheres” was composed entirely as an exercise in the number “3”. It is 33 measure long and focuses on 3 keys, C major, Eb major, and Gb major; three keys separated by a harmonic 3rd and whose key signatures total 9 accidentals. All keys are represented equally, with 15 major, 15 minor, and 15 dominant chords, all chords of the progression ii7-V7-I7, but almost never together in the same tonality. The melody consists of 30 three note motives, most of which either outline a harmonic triad or melodic third.
Escher’s "Waterfall", the 1961 lithograph, reveals an image in which water from the base of a cascade appears to run downhill before reaching the top. Escher uses these conflicting proportions to create a visual paradox. The challenge of a similar aural dichotomy in the composition "Waterfall" presents a melody (and later an imitative countermelody) that continually descends, while its harmonic movement pushes infinitely upward, finally meeting on a solitary “F#”.
Of "Three Worlds", Noah Kellman writes, "When I was first introduced to Escher I was stricken by the characteristic cleverness of his art. It seemed that every picture he created had some sort of visionary catch. The great majority of his work also seemed to portray dark, mysterious imagery. After spending a great deal of time trying to chose a piece to write a composition about, I finally came upon 'Three Worlds.' This creation seemed different from the others. While the 1955 lithograph follows the trend of a clever visual illusion of sorts, it also has a tenderness that much of Escher’s other work doesn’t seem to have—the image of a wide eyed fish, peacefully floating underneath the surface of a body of water, the outline of which can be seen because of the leaves floating upon it; the leaves having come off the empty trees that can be seen in the reflection. The nature-like beauty of 'Three Worlds' called for music that was simple and honest, and that portrayed the three worlds surrounding a small fish: the forest above, the surface in between, and the water below."
"Smaller and Smaller", the 1956 wood engraving, is an infinite world in an enclosed plane in which tessellated reptiles appear in a repeated and ever shrinking 4-leaf clover shape. The point of infinity in this image is the center. Musically, the twelve reptiles are represented by a 12 tone row—first played over 32 measures for the tenor, then gradually diminishing to 24 measures for the trumpet, 14 measures for bass, 8 measures for piano, followed by 6 measures, three 3 measure phrases, 1 measure, and finally sinking low into the bass ostinato, with the horns frantically stirring the row above in a vicious dodecacyclone and on into infinity.
"Covered Alley" portrays two alleys, one on each side of the painting. One alley has a staircase that ascends, and one alley has a staircase the descends. This inspired Chad to write a melody with an upward melodic contour and bass root motion with a downward melodic contour. Then, he switched the roles of the melody and root motion and added a contrapuntal line for the piano and sax to play in unison, thus capturing the essence of the drawing.
"Encounter" (1944 lithograph). Out from the gray surface of a back wall there develops a complex pattern of light and dark figures of little men. Some of the men appear content to live out their existence in a tessellation on the wall, but others break free on to a dance floor with a circular opening in the center. In this way they are forced, not only to walk in a ring, but also to meet each other in the foreground: a white optimist and a black pessimist shaking hands with one another. The groove of "Encounter" is established for the men to forge in a funky parade. Gradually the beat and the accompanying melody begin to deviate from each other in a world of simultaneous but opposing steps, staying together only in a polyrhythmic twist. Finally, the two camps meet again on the final chord (as in the lithograph), the shimmering electric piano radiating the synergy of the pessimists and optimists reconnected.
The composition "Snow", based on the 1936 lithograph, begins with a portrayal of serenity and remembrance, reflections of a solitary cabin in a distant winter timberland. The doors open, a refrain unfolds and begins to thaw the frosty niche. Outside, the winter flurries coil and curl, low branches creak in a sunken bass clarinet. Slowly, the flare of daylight cracks the heavens and gleams upon the cabin, warming our recollection of easeful days captive in the cold and sunshine. The refrain returns, but with a deep and tender gate, revealing feelings found, learned, and lost. The snow returns, whisking and wafting, and wandering into infinity.
Escher's "Day and Night" is a drawing of white birds flying above a night landscape, and black birds flying above a morning landscape. The birds morph from the middle, less clear part of the drawing, out to each of their outer, more clear parts of the drawing. The transition, from the middle to the outer edges of the drawing, is very smooth and gradual. Chad tried to capture this effect of connected variation by using major and minor chords that are often connected with dominant chords throughout the piece. Because the drawing is so serene, Chad wrote the piece with a relaxed, Brazilian inspired groove and melodic structure.
In "Sky and Water", the 1938 woodcut is divided between birds and fish. In the transitional center of the print, they fit into each other like the pieces of a puzzle, alternately foreground or background. The animals take on an increasingly three-dimensional quality as they ascend (birds) or descend (fish). The piece begins with Sky, an upwardly floating phrase in Bb minor. The phrase is gradually shortened and flattened, falling to the horizon in a swirling, repetitive strain. As the piece transitions to Water, the melody gradually and gracefully sinks, pushing the phrase to the depths of B minor.
"Dewdrop", inspired by the 1948 Mezzotint, is an attempt to distill a brief lifetime of music into a single, tiny drop, while at the same time magnifying the succulent supporting structures and reflecting the world beyond.
Of "Ascending and Descending" (his iconic 1960 Lithograph implementation of the paradoxical Penrose stairs) Escher wrote: “...we imagine we are ascending; every step is about ten inches high, terribly tiring—and where does it all get us? Nowhere; we don’t get a step further or higher.” This musical rendition instead finds a certain ecstasy in the repetition, perhaps helped by the introduction of an elevated kinetic bebop energy. Jazz monks have long mastered the art of circular repetition of song forms and have discovered through trial, error and artistry, the joy of the infinite loop.
Joe Gilman- piano and Rhodes Electric Piano
Executive Producer; Thomas Burns
Recorded May 2, 2010 (Fantasy Recording Studios)
Engineer; Ron Davis
Dewdrop, and Ascending and Descending, composed by Scott Collard.
All songs published by Capri Records except for Dewdrop and Ascending and Descending by Scott Collard (Tokiwa Music, BMI).
Special thanks to Tom and all the folks at Capri, my family, The Brubeck Institute, American River College, Capital Jazz Project, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop.
CriticalJazz.com, October 23. 2012
"Joe Gilman is certainly one of the greatest pianists I've ever heard." - Dave Brubeck.
It would appear anything I could possibly say would border on pointless but occasionally I do get a little wood on the ball. Relativity is the follow up to the critically acclaimed Americanvas which is the sonic interpretation of work by American artists of the 20th century. Relativity is the conceptualized interpretation of one of the most eclectic of artists of the century, M.C. Escher.
For the uninitiated, the works of Escher are highly cerebral in nature creating or reminding us of the world around us and the impact on his own intellect and imagination. Gilman decided to take on the work of Escher in an attempt to make that musical leap of faith and at the same time build that sonic bridge of connectivity between the two art forms while building his own imaginary universe. To portray the complexities of the work of Escher is certainly a daunting task but in doing so the possibly untapped potential of Gilman seems to spring forth from an even deeper artist soul than Gilman may have been aware of. Naturally taste is subjective but pushing the work of Brubeck or Stevie Wonder as had been done in previous works is something entirely different than a musical adaptation of polyhedrons, infinite drawings and impossible structures into an alternate universe as is the case with Relativity.
A great deal of Escher's work had a distinct cleverness yet at times a prevailing dark synergy of numeric patterns which seems to be the epicenter of Gillman's work. Smaller and Smaller is a 1956 wood engraving represents an infinite world in an enclosed plane in which twelve reptiles reptiles are repeated in an ever shrinking four leaf clover pattern or shape thus the idea of the twelve tone row representing the reptiles. Without leaping off into the technical abysses without a parachute, the musical patterns shrink in mathematical proportion as does Escher's work. The 1961 lithograph Waterfall is the image in which water from the base of a cascade appears to run downhill before reaching the top. Escher's creation of a visual paradox is transformed by Gillman by using a melody and an imitative counter melody that descends, while its harmonic movement pushes infinitely upward creating this most unique dynamic tension. The compositions "Snow" is a recreation of the 1936 lithograph that is a most life like depiction of a solitary cabin in a distant winter timberland. Gillman does a masterful job of capturing the subtle nuances of such minute detail such as the creaking of low dried out branches thanks to the weight of the snow by the use of the bass clarinet.
One need not be familiar with the work of Escher or even Gillman to appreciate this hybridization of two art forms. The most amazing aspect of this work is that Gillman leaves us with a more open ended possibility of interpretation for work that is so inherently cerebral in nature yet wildly accessible.
From a compositional point of view, Gillman is a master at his craft but sometimes the simplest words are the best if in this case perhaps the most accurate, "Joe Gillman is certainly one of the greatest pianists I've ever heard." - Dave Brubeck.
Tracks: Three Spheres; Waterfall; Three Worlds; Smaller and Smaller; Covered Alley; Encounter; Snow; Day And Night: Sky And Water; Dewdrop; Ascending and Descending.
Personnel: Joe Gillman: piano & rhodes, electric piano; Nick Frenay: trumpet & flugelhorn; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone & bass clarinet; Zach Brown: bass; Corey Fonville: drums.
Joe Gilman: Relativity (2012)
M.C. Escher captured the imagination of the world with his perspective-altering artwork. Escher's mind's eye and eye's mind challenged people to see things differently, and pianist Joe Gilman has found inspiration in his brilliant work. Gilman, who previously delved into the music-inspired-by-art realm on Americanvas ( Capri, 2010), uses Escher's creations as inspirational seeds and guiding forces for this music. He takes a good, hard look at eleven of Escher's pieces, with music written to capture what he saw. Gilman's constructs reflect Escher's unique outlook on life, but they're not all about fun house mirrors, oddities and upside down observances. Gilman is just as likely to throw in a burner ("Smaller And Smaller") or a calm wintery suggestion ("Snow") as he is to include a number built on different forms of evolutionary alteration or sleight of hand ("Three Worlds"). Interweaving lines that are oppositional, yet complementary come into play on occasion ("Covered Alley"), but these musicians also know how to band together and move in lockstep fashion ("Three Spheres"). The quintet featured on this date acts a single, well-oiled unit, willing to do what's necessary for the music: capable of touching down in Brazil without fully committing to its climate ("Day And Night"), letting things get fun, funky and fusion-eque ("Encounter"), and driving with the pedal to the metal and quickly shifting gears to open up some space ("Ascending And Descending"). Trumpeter Nick Frenay blends and balances well with saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown when his flugelhorn is in hand, but shines even brighter with his muted trumpet ("Encounter"). Drummer Corey Fonville controls the growth and development of "Waterfall," building new scaffolding behind each performer, while bassist Zach Brown acts as stabilizing force or counterweight when required by the music. Gilman's music, like Escher's art, is all about the eye of the beholder. The pianist does a fine job here, bringing Escher's work into the realm of the audible while also creating music that can stand on its own. Track Listing: Three Spheres; Waterfall; Three Worlds; Smaller And Smaller; Covered Alley; Encounter; Snow; Day And Night; Sky And Water; Dewdrop; Ascending And Descending.
Personnel: Joe Gilman: piano, Fender Rhodes; Nick Frenay: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chad-Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Zach Brown: bass; Corey Fonville: drums.
JOE GILMAN: "RELATIVITY" ( Capri 74119)
In his previous albums, Joe Gilman has re-interpreted the music of Dave Brubeck and Stevie Wonder, and created musical impressions of 20th century visual art. For his latest recording, "Relativity", Gilman takes on the brilliant and bizarre artworks of M.C. Escher. The cover of the album reproduces Escher's lithograph of the same name, and the mixture of detailed realism and gravity-defying structures aptly describes the music on the CD. The compositions work within the established framework of the bebop jazz quintet (trumpet, sax, piano, bass and drums) but add shrinking phrase lengths, tone rows, odd meters and unusual colors to evoke the bizarre happenings in Escher's imaginary world. Pieces inspired by Escher's nature-inspired works "Three Worlds" and "Snow" offer momentary respites from the exploratory nature of the album. Gilman wrote six of the album's eleven pieces, with the remainder composed by pianist Scott Collard, associate producer Noah Kellman and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. Gilman plays piano throughout, and is the main soloist on the album. The rest of the quintet members are Gilman's students at the Brubeck Institute, and they (trumpeter Nick Frenay, Lefkowitz-Brown, bassist Zach Brown and drummer Corey Fonville) do a superb job of realizing these sometimes complex compositions. Gilman's liner notes give descriptions of the original art works and detailed information on the musical structures. "Relativity" is an album that will challenge and enlighten all who hear it.
Professor Gilman's Jazz Lessons on Art, October 26, 2012
This review is from: Relativity (Audio CD)
The cross-disciplinary examination of paintings, drawings, and sculpture is typically the domain of classical composers. Recently Ted Nash of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra composed Portrait in Seven Shades, impressions of seven famous historical artists. Keyboardist, composer and arranger, and Northern California educator Joe Gilman focuses on but one artist, M. C. Escher and his mind-blogging illusional and sometime allegorical drawings. Eleven works are chosen for jazz impressions. The writing is well-crafted and matches the draftsmanship of the illustrations. The pieces have angularity and energy, fine sonority, lyricism in phrasing, and complexity. The quintet features, beside Gilman, Nick Frenay on horns, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on reeds, Zach Brown on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums. The band performs with kindred spirit and joy of the art, both musical and figurative. I particularly admired Frenay's trumpet work and Fonville's drum accents. When not instructing or accompanying vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson on tours, Gillman is Music Director of Brubeck Institute; he was 2004 Grand Prize Winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition. Many high-calibre, talented, but little-known jazz artists exist in America. You may want to acquaint yourself with Professor Gilman and receive an education in contemporary jazz composition and arranging. The album is simply a delight, full of richness and rhythm, cleverness and beauty. The package notes are commentary on the music and the drawings. 64 minutes of solid, interesting jazz. I will be blunt: I love this album.
MODERN HARD BOP- Joe Gilman: Relativity, Felipe Salles: Departure
January 24, 2013
Always loved it, always will: hard bop, small group style. Best with the combo of piano, bass, drums and a front line of tenor and trumpet, but I can slum it and have variations and even an extra instrument. The mix of bop, soul, gospel with catchy melodies with solos that go just long enough without jumping off a cliff make this my go-to music whenever I’m not sure what to play. Here are two recent releases by modern gents who got my attention.
Pianist Joe Gilman leads a snappy little team of Nick Frenay/tp, Chad Lefkowitz/ts-bc, Zach Brown/b and Corey Fonville/dr through a collection of originals that keep the bop flame burning but add extra textures and rabbit trails. Classic toe tappers like “Three Spheres” feature the warm brass provided by Frenay as well as the groove-oriented rhythm section. Gilman displays his lyricism on a couple of solo pieces like “Dewdrop,” while other tunes such as “Sky and Water” and “Three Worlds” have some intriguing harmonies, accents and sidebars that keep you paying attention. Lefkowitz’s tenor is firm and muscular, with the veins popping on “Ascending and Descending.” Put this one right alongside your Jazz Messengers catalogue!
Joe Gilman - Relativity
Joe Gilman loves art-or maybe he’s just engaged by multi-layered pieces of expression. The pianist’s last disc, 2010′s Americanvas, used 20th Century paintings as objects of inspiration. With Relativity, he’s focused on artist M.C. Escher, paying tribute to his works by building intricate, geometric compositions. “Waterfall,” the second track on the disc, uses the complex geometric construct from the beginning, as Gilman creates a space where the lone trumpet of Nick Frenay moves into quasi-fugue, a dissonant entanglement with the superb tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. The entire time, as the tension rises, Gilman is a calming presence with lush chords, occasionally echoing the melody of added support. In fact, Gilman exudes this subtle power throughout most of the disc, providing a grounding force for the horns when needed. On the fragile ballad “Three Worlds” Relativity turns into almost a trio, with Lefkowitz-Brown only providing counterpoint on clarinet toward the end. In notes to the composition, Gilman explains that the piece revolves around the number three, a guiding principle for everything from length (33 measures) to the harmonic approach. For that much complexity, the tune is a gentle respite for the puzzles about to come – up-tempo, frenzied exercises that have all the musicians playing at full bore.
Reviewed by, Jon Ross, DownBeat.com, 3 Stars. (February 2013)
Joe Gilman: Relativity (2013)
By EDWARD BLANCO, Published: January 27, 2013
The concept of interpreting art and other visual works into a piece of music, is probably not an easy thing to realize, yet on Americanvas (Capri, 2010), pianist Joe Gilman successfully accomplished this feat, drawing his inspiration from the art world using paintings as vehicles for jazz improvisation. Relativity follows the same theme, this time focusing on the works of Dutch graphic artist Maurtis Cornelis Escher better known as M.C. Escher where Dr. Gilman, music Director of the Brubeck Institute's Fellowship Program, offers eleven original compositions for this concept recording.Saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter Nick Frenay play pronounced roles in a brilliant quintet that fires on all cylinders evident right from the opening salvo "Three Spheres." Escher's 1961 lithograph "Waterfall" serves as the inspiration for the lighter mid-tempo piece of the same name featuring Gilman's handy work. The beautiful "Three Worlds" possesses a darker yet simpler texture, showcasing the pianist in a softer mode with drummer Corey Fonville providing the accompaniment. In stark contrast, "Smaller and Smaller" comes out in steamy fashion, one of the disc's better burners.Bassist Zach Brown's strong chords introduce "Encounter," perhaps the set's departure tune as it's funky and even bluesy style distinguishes it from the other themed tunes. Gilman returns to the core of the project with another balladic piece, sharing the stage with Frenay's flugelhorn voice and the drummer's crashing cymbal accents with the graceful "Snow." The unquestioned center-piece of the album is the melody-rich "Day and Night" complete with brisk solos and a warm Brazilian flair carrying the day."Sky and Water" and "Ascending and Descending" round out the set, leaving an impression that's relatively easy to ascertain: musical scores of a challenging, entertaining and enjoyable nature. Relativity marks another successful musical interpretation of another art form, something in which Gilman is becoming more prolific. What jazz melodies Gilman might pen from the inspiration of Roman, Gothic or even ancient Greek sculptures? Track Listing: Three Spheres; Waterfall; Three Worlds; Smaller And Smaller; Covered Alley; Encounter; Snow; Day And Night; Sky And Water; Dewdrop; Ascending And Descending. Personnel: Joe Gilman: piano, Fender Rhodes; Nick Frenay: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chad-Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Zach Brown: bass; Corey Fonville: drums.
Joe Gilman: Relativity
By Brent Faulkner 1 February 2013
Dr. Joe Gilman, a jazz musician with numerous accolades, is both a gifted pianist and composer. In addition to being a recording artist, Gilman is a music professor. 2012 release Relativity serves as a tone poem based upon the twentieth century artwork of M.C. Escher. Relativity, released via Capri, Gilman’s second foray into interpretative music based upon art, follows acclaimed 2010 effort Americanvas. Relativity superbly synthesizes Gilman’s classical and jazz background into an album that never concedes creativity or consistency. Gilman receives talented assistance from saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, trumpeter Nick Frenay, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Corey Fonville.
Opener “Three Spheres” instantly captures attention with its snappy tempo. Trumpet and tenor saxophone work in tandem to produce an angular bop-like melody, buttressed by the rhythm of bass and drums. After the head, exceptional solos proceed by Lefkowitz-Brown and Frenay, concluding with Gilman. Gilman’s piano mastery shines, with his right hand melodic improvisations agilely contrasting sparser, punchier comps in the left. Ending on a spectacular fading vamp, “Three Spheres”, tightly centered around ‘three’ key schemes, exemplifies cerebral.
“Waterfall” contrasts opening with Nick Frenay opting for the warmer sound of the flugelhorn. Leftkowitz-Brown enters in timely fashion to complement Frenay in skillful melodic interplay. When Gilman solos, his focus lies most on melodic treble ideas as opposed to left-hand comping. Gilman’s activity evolves as his solo progresses with saxophone and trumpet re-entering the mix as he continues to solo. “Waterfall”, stays true to Relativity‘s ‘soundtrack’ concept.
“Three Worlds”, which opens with piano on a repetitive Ab, eventually surrounded by low-register chords, possesses an air of mysteriousness epitomizing the abstract, artistic sentiment. Drums eventually enter using subtler brushes while the bass plays to standard jazz fare. Never lacking poise, quiet energy underlies “Three Worlds” with its best moment coming towards the end where bass clarinet (Leftkowitz-Brown) left-hand piano, and bass blend lovely in unison.
“Smaller and Smaller” returns a spryer tempo to Relativity, initiated by an aggressive, technical tenor sax solo by Lefkowitz-Brown. “Smaller and Smaller” exhibits freer jazz, with the head unpredictably proceeding Lefkowich-Brown’s angular solo as opposed to preceding it. Gilman’s pianistic agility continues and bassist Brown gets in on soloing as well, supported by light accompaniment from piano and drums. Always keeping time, Fonville also keeps things interesting with percussive instrumental choices and hits.
“Covered Alley” is brief, but the Lefkowitz-Brown composition continues to enhance Relativity. Straight-ahead with few frills from drummer Fonville, Nick Frenay executes the melody beautifully with simple accompaniment from Gilman. The ‘cherry on top’ is the classical approach taken by tenor sax and piano playing in tandem with one another melodically.
On “Encounter”, Gilman’s employment of Rhodes electric piano aids in cultivation of a more urbanized groove, a direct pipeline from the ‘70s fusion movement. The palette of sounds continues to impress, be it the combo of muted trumpet and tenor sax or left hand Rhodes and bass. Add to the mixture Fonville’s tension within the drums in which he rhythmically opposes the combo and “Encounter” is nothing short of an adventure.
“Snow” features biting bass clarinet from Lefkowitz-Brown as well as muted trumpet from Frenay. There is an abundance of musical ideas here, but above all, Gilman’s piano is pronounced within the mix. “Day and Night”, a second Lefkowitz-Brown conception, continues an air of consistency, keeping things interesting with harmonic progression quirks. Proceeding “Sky and Water”, composed by Gilman, continues to allure with the utmost consistency and few quibbles.
Scott Collard composes the final two cuts, “Dewdrop” and “Ascending and Descending”. “Dewdrop” packs a sound punch in under two minutes, closing with a cliché tenor saxophone at the end. Concluding cut “Ascending and Descending” is even better, adhering to a quick pace and more raucous style compared to the multitude. Additionally, “Ascending and Descending” yields the effort’s most adventurous harmonic work. The best part perhaps - Gilman delivers one of the album’s finest improvised solos.
Overall, Relativity is superbly conceived and executed. There is an absence of filler and misses, which is nothing short of a pro. Gilman confirms and epitomizes artistry expressing multiple facets of musicianship. His colleagues provide the utmost assistance adding greatly to the elite musicianship that distinguishes Relativity from other albums. A must for the jazz enthusiast.
Joe Gilman – Relativity – Capri Records
Joe Gilman – Relativity – Capri Records CAPRI 74119-2, 63:30 ***** (5 stars):
(Joe Gilman – piano, Fender Rhodes; Nick Frenay – trumpet, flugelhorn; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Zach Brown – bass; Corey Fonville – drums)
The connection between jazz and art has existed for decades. Corea/Picasso, Cage/ Rachmaninoff and Granados/Goya are examples of this synergy. In most cases, the underlying mathematical structures can translate into more abstract forms of expression. Certainly, Dutch graphic artist M.C. Esher would appear to be an ideal subject for jazz exploration. His complex drawings (and wood sculptures) of “impossible constructions” (also known as optical illusions) mirror some of the intriguing dynamics of this musical form. Pianist Joe Gilman is an accomplished musician and music professor. With a classical/jazz background, he is able to merge structure with improvisation. In 2010, he released an album of art-inspired music, Americanvas, which received critical acclaim.
Gilman’s latest venture, Relativity, is an ambitious endeavor to interpret the bold concepts of Esher. He is supported by talented creative players (Nick Frenay/trumpet; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown/ saxophone; Zach Brown/bass and Corey Fonville/drums). The resulting 11-track album is a creative tribute to a cultural pioneer. As the quintet opens in cohesive union (“Three Spheres”), the first portrait has a traditional jazz ambiance. Both Leftkowitz-Brown (tenor saxophone) and Frenay (trumpet) deliver potent solos. Gilman’s rhythmic, elegant piano maintains the up tempo bop cadence. Each cut has a different feel and the quintet is always synchronized. “Waterfall” is melodic, as the saxophone plays against a cascading piano. The music simply flows with finger-snapping undercurrents. Brown and Fonville are connected throughout the piece.
Brooding classical intensity is interwoven with ruminative melodic form on “Three Worlds”. Gilman’s steady delicate touch is impressive as the darker and brighter themes mesh. This ensemble transitions stylishly with ease. “Smaller And Smaller” reverts to swing timing, but finds a spot for Brown to solo. Both trumpet and saxophone are capable of unified chorus and Gilman offers chord and notation combinations. They cook up some real funk with vampy syncopation, Flugelhorn and electric piano on “Encounter”. This is a reminder of jazz fusion influences of the 1970s. But with supple fluency, haunting, dream-like compositions (“Snow”) come to life with touches like a muted trumpet and bass clarinet. Gilman’s alternates pulsating chords and lyrical flourishes. Later, a Brazilian-infused jam, “Day And Night” employs a relaxed agility and lets the music glow with jazzy texture.
Each song is distinctive with unique accents. Frenay and Lefkowitz-Brown shine on “Sky And Water” with repetitive harmony. Then a shift to a piano trio alters the pace and sentiment. The final two pieces underscore the diverse musical representation. “Dewdrop” has a hard-bop punctuation (clocking in under two minutes), and “Ascending And Descending” explodes with raucous energy. Gilman’s solo is electrifying, and the quintet unites at the end with flair.
Relativity (which is also one of Esher’s most recognizable drawings) is a significant musical accomplishment that attempts a grand vision. The liner notes include notes detailing the relationship of the compositions to the work of Esher. This is jazz at its finest!
TrackList: Three Spheres; Waterfall; Three Worlds; Smaller And Smaller; Covered Alley; Encounter; Snow; Day And Night; Sky And Water; Dewdrop; Ascending And Descending
http://jazztimes.com/ community/articles/76073- relativity-joe-gilman
Pianist and educator Joe Gilman successfully translated the visual arts into jazz on his 2010 Americanvas CD, which presented compositions inspired by paintings of such artists as Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, Georgia O'Keefe, and Norman Rockwell. Now Gilman has done it again with his Relativity recording, this time focusing exclusively on selected lithographs, woodcuts, and Mezzotints by M.C. Escher. It's not necessary to be familiar with these Escher works to appreciate the music, although Gilman's detailed notes provide an enlightening guide to each track. Many of the compositions by Gilman, Scott Collard, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, and Noah Kellman have complex structures in response to the intricacies of Escher's art, but the music is not at all academic, and is always accessible and enticing. Gilman's piano is assisted by Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor and bass clarinet, Nick Frenay on trumpet and flugelhorn, Zach Brown on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums. After Gilman's distinctive tributes to Dave Brubeck and Stevie Wonder, and more recently his fascinating interpretations of the visual arts, one can hardly wait to see what he devises next.
"Three Spheres" is "composed entirely as an exercise in the number '3'," focusing on three keys, with a melody consisting of 30 three-note motives. That melody is a buoyant hard bop concoction as played by Lefkowitz-Brown's tenor and Frenay's trumpet. Both their solos are zestful and flowing, and Gilman's assured piano turn is lyrically attractive. "Waterfall" is written so that the melody descends as its harmonic movement rises. Frenay's rounded flugelhorn slowly reveals the poignant theme, with Lefkowitz-Brown entering midway with a complementary counter melody, while Fonville's bongo-like drum patterns produce a contrasting element. Lefkowitz-Brown and Frenay essay warm, heartfelt solos above Gilman's gushing affirmations. The leader's improv relies on a series of trickling single-note lines to make its mark. Tenor and trumpet reengage both in unison and opposition for an exciting finale, as the thrusting drum work of Fonville urges them along.
The music of "Three Worlds" attempts to simulate "the forest above, the surface in between, and the water below." Gilman's ringing single notes and sporadic chords create a rippling wave-like setting, as does his subsequent circular motif. Brown's bass takes up the "current" as Gilman rhapsodizes at length with profound feeling on the hopeful theme. Brown's emphatic arco pronouncement concludes this moving track. "Smaller and Smaller" represents 12 reptiles musically with a 12-tone row. Lefkowitz-Brown charges into a swinging, churning solo from the start, after which the easeful legato theme appears. Frenay's statement resembles the tenor's in its insistent, pulsating flow. Brown and Gilman maintain the relentless mindset in their excursions as well. The horns' passionate, contrapuntal out chorus only heightens the energy level. "Covered Alley" contains a melody with both upward and downward contours to go with the artwork's ascending and descending staircases. Frenay plays it with a mournful air as Gilman and Lefkowitz-Brown enter along the way with a counter melody that gives this 1:29 miniature the character of a fugue.
"Encounter" concerns optimists and pessimists taking part in a funky dance, the theme delineated by trumpet and tenor with backing electric piano illuminations. Frenay's muted trumpet solo is tartly appealing, while Lefkowitz-Brown pontificates in a more extroverted manner. Gilman returns to acoustic for a rollicking improv prior to a riffing out chorus ultimately punctuated by his vibrating tones on the Rhodes. Tranquility abounds in "Snow," as Gilman first unveils his lustrous theme and then Lefkowitz-Brown's cavernous bass clarinet mingles with Frenay's pensive muted trumpet, the pianist's more forceful constructions, and Fonville's cymbal washes. Gilman reassesses the melody in a sensitive trio format at this point, before an assertive vamp brings this aural depiction of a winter wonderland to an end. For "Day and Night," Escher illustrated white birds flying at night and black birds flying at morning, and Lefkowitz-Brown's composition utilizes major and minor chords connected with dominant chords to try to musically capture the visual. The evocative theme is relaxed over a Brazilian beat, as convincingly performed by tenor and trumpet. Gilman's carefree solo is succeeded by the composer's purposeful take and Frenay's concise but beguiling input.
Escher's "Sky and Water" shows birds and fish in different alignments, and Gilman's piece alters a minor phrase to indicate either sky or water, the effect being riveting and revealing as the two horns develop it. Brown's bass solo is emotionally impactful, as is the pianist's exploration. Lefkowitz-Brown leaves restraint behind in his spirited, persistently building venture. "Dewdrop" is another miniature, this time 1:58, that has a regretful mien as harmonized by tenor, trumpet, and Gilman's Monkish accents, plus a last fleeting, anguished saxophone cry out. "Ascending and Descending" is about the futility of ascending but getting nowhere. This is a boisterous hard bop anthem by Scott Collard that generates high energy solos from Lefkowitz-Brown and Gilman, preceding a series of thematic variations atop Fonville's vigorous drumming.
CD Review: Joe Gilman - Relativity
Joe Gilman (pno/Rhodes); Nick Frenay (tpt/flug); Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (ten/bs clt); Zach Brown (bs); Corey Fonville (dms).
(Review by Lance.)
Not being familiar with the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher I viewed Relativity with some trepidation. Gilman points out that "Visual art and music have been sympathetic forces for generations as evidenced by Cage and Rauschenburg, Granados and Goya, Rachmaninoff and Boskin, Corea and Picasso." And so Gilman links up with the work of Eschner (1898-1972) for what turns out to be an absolute delight!
Hard bop swingers contrast with reflective explorations.
Eschner was said to paint from the mind rather than actual observations, although the Gilman group, I would suggest, blow from the heart!
Lefkowitz-Brown is a tenor player in the Hank Mobley mode - hard blowing and swinging yet tender and sensitive on bass clarinet. On trumpet/flugel, Frenay is cool and laid back.Bass and drums more than tick the boxes - they drive it along.
Leader Gilman - actually Dr. Gilman - is, among other positions, a full time professor of music at American River College, Sacramento. He is also musical director of the Brubeck Institute's Fellowship Program which may have influenced the late Dave Brubeck to say "Joe Gilman is certainly one of the greatest pianists I've ever heard." Maybe that is, perhaps, a slight over-statement but the fact remains that he is a very very good pianist and his playing and his compositions reveal him to be a top drawer composer too.
This could have been my record of the year if it wasn't for the fact it was actually released last year!
If nothing else, it introduced me to the work of M.C. Esher. The paintings I have seen are brilliant, albeit quite mathematically geometric - the music is much looser but they do complement each other. In fact I rather wished I had had one hanging above the PC as I listened to the CD.
Tracks: Three Spheres, Waterfall, Three worlds, Smaller and Smaller, Covered Alley, Encounter,Snow, Day and Night, Sky and Water, Dewdrop, Ascending and Descending.
Cadence Magazine; April 2013
“Does it sound good?” is the subjective question – and
although “good” is such a variable thing, pianist Gilman’s
RELATIVITY is a pleasure. I listened to it without looking
at the notes and heard late-Fifties onward hard bop
and exploratory music that painted lovely inquiring
pictures. The sounds here come from the largest
Jazz tradition but there is no sense that Gilman and
colleagues want to copy 1961 Blue Note or modern
classical or anything else. When I learned that each
of the original compositions was an evocation of an
M.C. Escher painting, I understood even more about
the sweet, probing music – winding, chiming, circling
lyricisms at some points, energetic, focused, vigorous
stomp at others. This would be a fascinating CD to play
for children while asking them to draw what they heard
in the music.