· By Nicholas Stevens
In Conversation: Lynne Arriale on Give Us These Days
Whether as a soloist or leader of an ensemble, Lynne Arriale's artistry and influence are profound and have elevated her stature as a composer, arranger, and performer to a renown shared by few other jazz musicians. Her 2018 trio release Give Us These Days is ambitious in its conception and its unbridled sense of wonder, containing six original tunes and three inventive cover arrangements. ArkivJazz spoke with Arriale about the album and the inspiration for each song.
ArkivJazz: Lynne, I’ve really enjoyed this new album. Is this is your 14th or 15th CD?
Lynne Arriale: It's my 14th CD as leader.
AJ: I haven't heard all of them yet, but I am familiar with the Motéma releases. You started with the DMP label, right?
AJ: Lucky Challenge.
LA: Yeah, lucky me!
AJ: So, tell me first about your trio. You guys are really tight, and you can feel it on the disc. You also have two Jaspers playing, I see…
LA: Yes, it was not easy to find two guys who were so good that both had the same first name, but we managed to do it [laughs]. Jasper Somsen is an extraordinary bassist…he’s also my co-producer, and he really did a phenomenal job on this album. Jasper Van Hulten is a young drummer who was great to work with. We did a lot of preparation for the recording, and they were both very receptive during rehearsals. The vibe was excellent in the studio. This was all new material and we had not played together before so that in itself was an interesting experience for me. I've never had that kind of experience with earlier recordings, but I had heard each of them play, chose them to work with, and they were great.
AJ: Well, that's kind of the magic of jazz in some ways, isn't it? You get three people together and if you click, you click…and obviously you clicked because there's a great tightness on this disc. You can feel it all the way through.
LA: Thank you, that's good to hear.
AJ: I was really amused and interested to see that you would start off with a Joni Mitchell tune. ”Woodstock” is maybe her best-known song and you took something that was quite simple, rose to the challenge and filled it out.
LA: Yes, it’s a very different arrangement than what you may expect with that tune. I always look at a tune, really feel its essence, and think about different directions that the music could go. It tells a story to me, and my arrangement is very intense emotionally. It’s not meant to be a demure version of Woodstock...it was meant to be intense.
AJ: Obviously, this is one of Mitchell's signature tunes, but you really put a fire underneath it. Moving forward to “Appassionata" - that’s a tune with a nice Spanish feel to it.
LA: Yeah, I wanted to have the rhythmic and energized feeling of the flamenco dancers when they are stomping. I specifically asked Jasper (Van Hulten) to play the “clickety-clack,” rhythm for that track. Now, I had played this tune with many different drummers, and they tended to play that rhythm for a little while, then go back to playing their entire drum kit. I always said that I really want them to stay with that feel throughout the entire tune and maintain the persistence of that groove. I wanted each tune on an album to have a particular feel and different kind of nuance than the other tunes, so I wanted this one to stand out in terms of the flamenco influence and the rhythmic and interactive energy between the piano and the drums.
AJ: There's certainly a kind of electricity that you can feel going back and forth.
LA: Thank you, that's what I was looking for. I had spoken with the guys about that, where I would play a phrase and they would answer so that there was a real conversation going on.
AJ: That song’s also a great lead-in to "Finding Home," which is kind of a great straight-ahead 4/4 uptempo tune.
LA: “Finding Home” has a very lyrical melody, and has what we call an “open 8th,” or “straight 8th” feel. I wanted to convey the feeling of peace and what home represents to me. The idea isn’t just a physical home, but home in our relationships and in our lives, and feeling comfortable with ourselves as well. Finding that is a lifelong journey and I thought it was an appropriate theme for the album.
AJ: It’s great to go from that nice upbeat 4/4 to "Give Us These Days," which is the title tune. Which, I did a little digging to find Jim Schley's "Devotional", which is just a beautiful, warm poem about his daughter.
LA: Yes, it's very poignant. I went to high school with Jim and we reconnected years ago. I was being interviewed by NPR and he was listening and thought, "that sounds like Lynne." So, he tracked me down and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. I read his poem and was just struck with this feeling of deep appreciation of life and for every moment of life, especially when he speaks about his 13-year old daughter. He writes about one day when he was folding and putting away her linens, and he said even the fragrance of the linens just moved him. I read it and called to tell him how touched I was by the poem, and that I’d like to write a song that's influenced by this whole sentiment. I asked if I could use those words for the song and for the album title, and that really shaped the theme for the entire CD.
AJ: It's truly the center of the CD emotionally.
LA: Yes, it’s really a feeling of gratitude. I could have written a tune that was sweet and pretty and in a major key, but there are some slights to this song that work. There are definitely some moments that feel a little jarring. When I play this for an audience I always say that these chords represent to me the challenges we have in life, where sometimes we are blindsided and we don't know what to do. Sometimes we just have to breathe and be present, and we can figure out what to do step by step. When we're rehearsing this song, I specifically tell the drummer that I want mallets, but when we hit the chords, I ask him to let the mallets ring and let him know that I may or may not interrupt the decay of the sound. I want people to follow that sound out as they're listening and just breathe. In a sense when you're listening to music and there is a chord such as those I'm mentioning in this tune, we almost instinctively breathe. We don't know what's going to come next, and we're just following this decaying sound. I think on a physical level it really affects us, so I wanted people to have that experience...the experience of breathing in this tune.
AJ: I think you captured it perfectly with the suspended lines and the notes, and the way it carries through. That tune is followed by something that is really a nice counterbalance, which is “Slightly Off-Center,” which is also a good description of the tune, as it has kind of a "Monkish" or "Herbie Nichols" feel to it.
LA: Yes, it does, it does. When I wrote that I was thinking of how people always talk about getting centered in their lives, and I'd like to meet these people because life is always throwing things your way that we don't expect. So often people say "Oh, I love the unpredictability of life". Well frankly, it's really challenging. Some surprises are good, and others are ones that we're challenged by. When I think of my own life, I would say that I could describe it as slightly off-center, if not more than slightly at times. I'm just trying to take it a day at a time and handle whatever comes up.
AJ: Another strong tune follows, which is "Another Sky." That's a marvelous tune and also a great setup for “Let It Be,” which you really play so simply and beautifully. It doesn't stray far from the original in the chords and is almost hymnlike. It’s something that fits perfectly under the album title of Give Us These Days.
LA: Thank you. “Let it Be” came to me just a few weeks before we recorded the album, and I'm really glad it did. I played it over and over again and decided to re-harmonize it just enough so that there are a few moments where it goes in a slightly different direction. It's a well-known tune and I want listeners to feel the message through the words, even though I'm not singing them.
AJ: I’m sure that anyone who hears it, internally, if not externally, is going to be singing along with you because it's such a basic and fundamental tune. That brings us to “Over and Out,” which is a great tune...
LA: “Over and Out” is a humorous take on the impermanence of life, and how we never know when our time is going to come. We wanted to do it in a “see you later” playful sort of way. This could've been a regular calypso, but I told the guys that I didn't want it to sound exactly like that. I wanted it to be free and a little wacky, so we ran down the tune once, and then I said that we have to get out of the box. So, we played free, with no chord changes for about ten minutes while keeping the tempo and the groove. We did that, and then I said, NOW we'll record it. That’s what came out, and in order to get that energy we jumped out of the box, and hopefully stayed out of the box.
AJ: That brings us to the last song “Take it With Me.” That’s a really inspired choice from The Mule Variations, one of the most interesting and some people say, best records that Tom Waits ever did. It's a brilliant choice and a really off-kilter tune. Are you a Waits fan?
LA: Yes, I am now. I didn't know his work sadly, and years ago I was driving somewhere and I heard “Take it With Me” on the radio, and I thought “who is this?” It sounded like someone who was at the end of their life, having gone through many of life’s huge challenges. I heard a deep earth quality in his voice, and maybe some suffering as well. When I read about the origins of this tune, apparently he and his wife (lyricist Kathleen Brennan) didn't like the idea of people saying “you can’t take it with you.” They thought, well, we can take things with us. We take the memories and all the little things that we remember going back to childhood. I thought that I just couldn't play this as an instrumental, and decided that I had to have a vocalist do this. I thought of Kate McGarry first, because she's always really touched me and the quality of her voice is so real. She really projects authenticity in every way, and I was thrilled when she was available and willing to do this.
AJ: Yeah, it's a marvelous, beautiful end. So many people can't get beyond Waits' voice and his persona, but when you strip it down and just get to the music, he is one of the most profound writers of pop music we've had in a long time. To take that lyric, then add a voice like Kate McGarry's, it really brings out the essence and beauty of the tune. It’s an excellent choice and a great epilogue for the album.
LA: Kate did a beautiful job and her voice is just golden as far as I'm concerned.
AJ: Well, it really, really works. The album is just a marvelously laid-out, played and produced album - top to bottom. Are you doing more with the label?
LA: Yes, I'm going to be recording another CD with the label next year, and we're working on getting all those details together.
AJ: Well, we certainly look forward to it.
Give Us These Days is available via Challenge Records