Thanks to all those who’ve wanted to know more about the background to my album Grand & Union.
Here it is …
There are two influences running through it. One comes out of a project I have been doing for a while now with a NYC colleague, and which we call the Stravinsky Jazz Project. We’ve been touring it around the world, up until the pandemic hit. For this project we each produced a set of original compositions, informed in various ways by the music of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. You see, Igor’s early ballet scores had a huge influence not only on classical music but on western music more generally. Jazz, for example, fell under their spell almost immediately. And certainly by the time of Bird, jazz was taking from Igor in all sorts of ways.
In the Stravinsky Jazz Project I’ve been especially interested in Igor’s thinking about rhythm. The Rite of Spring uses a radical rhythmic approach; that’s what made this music infamous. It came about because the drama of the ballet—the actual fantasy it enacts on stage—is set in human prehistory. Igor was asked to imagine a sound and a rhythm for a primitive, prehistoric fertility ritual. Letting his imagination run wild, he came up with intense, disjointed, pulses that were heavily planted in a (prehistoric) ground.
But what happens when we take the ballet’s imagined “ground”, and reimagine it as the “street”? What if we hear Igor’s groove as a rhythm of the street, before we had streets! In other words, I wanted to see how Igor’s rhythmical ideas would stand up if they were transplanted from the make-believe, mystico-babble, street scene of the original ballet, to a contemporary street scene — from a fictional rhythm to a real one — to wit, hip hop. And so, the tunes “Grand & Union” and “The Rite Stuff” use a groove coming out of hip hop. I think Igor’s ideas stand up great in this setting.
If you want a bit more background on the Stravinsky Jazz Project, check out https://studio.youtube.com/video/8XAIGsbAyXw/edit .
The second influence on the album is more personal and autobiographical. This is the tune “Ruby Mei”, which is played both as a duo and a quartet. Why the personal touch? Because Grand & Union is an Andy Sugg Group album, not a Stravinsky Jazz Project album (that will come at a later date).
I recorded Grand & Union in NYC in 2019 with some powerful young New York musicians who I’ve known for a while. The pianist/keyboardist, Brett Williams, has been in Marcus Miller’s band for many years. The drummer, Jonathan Barber, has toured with Pat Metheny and bassist, Alex Claffy, has toured extensively with Kurt Rosenwinkel. So, it’s a wonderful band; the guys got into the zone of the music straight away and dug in deep.And finally, a word about the artwork, which was designed by AlisaTanaka-King, the granddaughter of Inga King. Inga, of course, was one of Australia’s most important sculptors; a child of German Expressionism, Inge was born there two years after The Riteof Spring was first performed. As an artist, Alisa follows in her grandmother’s footsteps. My brief for Alisa was simple: listen to the music and capture visually what it captures in sound: that like the raw grunginess of Igor’s prehistoric “ground”, so too is our “street” a grungy place. Alisa has envisioned the grunginess of Grand & Union perfectly.