“Soul of the City” is a music project, fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, presenting original contemporary jazz compositions about life in New York City. The jazz is a blend of sophisticated grooves, gritty sound and complex improvisation, a very urban soundscape that perfectly captures the spirit of the big city. The goal of the project is to provide a unique musical experience via a full-length Concept CD.
The target audiences are New Yorkers (who can relate to the stories/songs), contemporary jazz aficionados, bass players, and those interested in the process of creating a concept CD. The hope also is to give non-New Yorkers a taste of life in the city through a musical interpretation. The compositions were performed publicly before being recorded in front of a live studio audience at the Manhattan Studios in New York City. The CD contains a booklet describing the various songs and the scenes they represent.
The band consists of electric bass, drums, guitar, keyboards and tenor sax. The musicians are all members of the band PHX (formerly “Phoenix”) and have performed and recorded together for the past twenty years. The compositions, which will include a brief description, are as follows:
Track 1 - Juba Muktananda
He skips! Like the Little Tramp in Charlie Chaplin’s most famous role, Juba Muktananda skips whenever he’s overflowing with joie de vivre. He gives you a sly little tight-lipped grin when he feels you’re just about to get what he’s trying to tell you…and he can hardly contain himself when it’s time to show you his favorite trick, collecting paper money and trading it for a treat. Cuddling involves throwing his entire body, all fourteen pounds of dog, sideways against your thigh as you’re resting on the chaise lounge. He may be little, but he’s always eager to share his big heart and boundless spirit with anyone willing to notice him…and who wouldn’t?!
Track 2 - Hydrant Dance
In the heat of summer, New York City’s younger residents resort to a unique counter-measure to the oppressive heat…they open fire hydrants to let out a steady spray of water that is much like a (rather forceful) garden sprinkler, and they soak themselves in the refreshingly cold water, clothes and all. The air is filled with the sound of children and young adults surrendering to relief, joy and happiness, in reckless abandon. Just make sure your car window is up as you drive by.
Track 3 - Love at First Sight
It was a beautiful day in the summer of ’90. I was walking back to the studio where I worked, clad in my usual business attire of jeans and T-shirt, when I spied the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen sitting in a van by the curb, looking at me. I felt my face involuntarily light up, grateful to experience this moment of complete bliss. Nothing else mattered. This moment was complete and perfect. Unable to take my eyes off this amazing being, I ran into a parking meter…I came, I saw, I was conquered…and I’ve loved every moment since.
Track 4 - Snail Trail
Anxious eyes steal glances at rearview mirrors, gripping the steering wheel. But not me. I lie in wait, stealthy. Bundled-up drivers, fighting bleary-eyed fatigue, afraid they’ll nod off at just the wrong moment…only to be awakened by the deep rumble, the angry horn and the familiar white hulking form that is blocking out any view to the back, mere inches away. But not me. I wait…and watch, until I see the telltale sign. There! There it is…the wet streak along the curb, the snail trail, wet and slimy…and cleaner than the rest of the street. I see cars moving helter skelter into the street, out of the path of the white monster and its angry horn, its insistent swish of steel-bristled brushes. I see the panic on faces, as they feebly attempt to salvage even a shred of dignity…to no avail. Not me…I slide smoothly into a spot, right on top of the snail trail, that wet streak that tells me the street cleaner, that white monster, has been here already. I am safe, it never comes twice. I close my eyes and allow a satisfied grin to tug at the corners of my mouth…and wait until I can leave my car.
Track 5 - Kalahari Sunrise
“Same sun,” the man thinks to himself, as the first rays peek above the horizon. He draws his worn coat closer against the crisp morning air. His eyes are bleary from lack of sleep. He scratches his gray-speckled beard. His skin is dark, almost black and he wears his hair in dreadlocks. He yawns, he’ll wait for hours for his turn to work. Around him others stir in their identical taxicabs, eyeing nature’s spectacle with a mixture of awe and indifference, their thoughts on the throng of commuters arriving at JFK to hail them for a ride into the city. “Same sun as at home,” the man murmurs, wondering why he ever left Africa to come to New York for a better life. He stretches his arms and arches his back, settling in to wait his turn.
Track 6 - X2 Funk
The air is thick with exhaust and the noise overwhelming with the mingling of engines, car horns, sirens and a multitude of voices in dozens of languages. From the walls of the buildings the electronic billboards are hawking products and events, turning night into day. Huge double-decker buses throw dark shadows across intersections, imperiously straddling the cross-street so that nothing may pass…except for countless pedestrians hurrying along like an entire colony of worker ants released from one duty and headed for the next. You feel the energy along your skin, standing your hairs on end. You feel the onslaught of the sheer volume of humanity beginning to overwhelm you, the way your senses are already overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Times Square. No choice but to move with the masses…any masses, there are so many. Turn a corner and suddenly you’re out of the vortex…and feel the urge to dive back in and be a part of it all again.
Track 7 - Blue LuLu
LuLu was not impressed when I entered her life in the form of Lisa’s new boyfriend. In fact, she chewed through three phone wires to prevent “her Mommy” from being wooed by this oversized, mostly hairless creature…but she came around eventually. Lisa and I loved that kitty. She was a source of joy, with attitude…very New York, which made sense since she was found as a scared, small kitten on the Bronx River Bridge. Up to this point I’d had a lot of experience with dogs, none with cats, so I treated her like a dog. LuLu was allowed on the bed only if the blue comforter was on it. One day I glanced over and saw her expertly balancing on the blue side of the half-uncovered comforter, never touching the white of the sheets…Blue LuLu. When it came time for LuLu to move on, she left us with a beautiful thought. Not surprisingly, owing to “her Mommy,” it had to do with love: “I need to tell [Lisa and Patrick] about love, about its impermanence. It can be like smoke, getting thinner and thinner and then drifting away. Then it gathers together again in a new place…it’s very elusive. When you try to grab it, it disappears…very strong, but very fragile.” Fragile, but very strong!
Track 8 - Tar Beach
I became a New-York-City-High-Rise-Dweller during the month of February and simply enjoyed the view into the distance…the East River, the Empire State Building, Roosevelt Island, Queens…you get the idea. It wasn’t until the warm summer months of June and July that I became aware of a new sight. Immediately below my twenty-fifth-story window I discovered that an entire new community had emerged, like caterpillars from a cocoon: Scantily clad females lying on beach towels, glistening with sunscreen lotion and fawned over by muscle-shirted males wearing reverse baseball caps, plastic drinking cups in hand…on the rooftops of the collection of brownstones a mere five stories up (or twenty stories below me, however you want to picture it). Everything was there to ensure a perfect day at the beach…Tar Beach, that is.
Track 9 - Skidding into Yoga
You feel a rippling of the crowd as the runaway karma-train winds its way through the parting masses. Nothing will stand in its way. Nothing that won’t be intimidated into submission, by the rolled-up yoga mats so proudly displayed, slung over shoulders like a badge of honor. There is real purpose and determination in their stride…determination to make it to yoga class on time. Out of the way, mere mortals. Here comes dogma on a mission! Determined not to be left on the platform when that karma-train leaves for Nirvana, they seize almost-occupied cabs, hold open almost-closed doors of subway cars and buses, and run almost-red traffic lights to make it to that coveted hour of…peace and tranquility.
Track 10 - Flight of the Phoenix
I feel the torch being passed
And I can’t help but wonder
Will it burn as brightly
I tower over my father
And yet I wonder
How I will measure up
I feel something coming to a close
And still I wonder
Will I finish as gracefully
…and then I realize
He has given me all the tools I need
To forge my own path
…and I wonder no more.
Track 11 - Jaco Medley
My personal bass hero is Jaco Pastorius, a resident of New York City during the rise (as well as the decline) of his illustrious career. This medley is a tribute filled with gratitude toward this man who threw open the gates of bass playing for the rest of us to walk through. From the lyrical Continuum to the crisp and funky Teen Town, from the fluid Donna Lee to the R&B-flavored Chicken, and finally to the contemplative Amerika (which is also an ode to my adoptive country and its magnificent people), Jaco combined commanding technical ability with beautiful melodies and an unmistakable underlying funk attitude. He gave everything.
Track 12 - Marjorie
The life of a musician, particularly of a composer, is fascinating. We find ourselves always in tune with everything around us, on many different levels, always listening for that bit of inspiration that sets us off in a new direction, into a new melody, a fresh groove, a new song. The trick is to be conscious enough to listen despite all the distractions we face living in a place like New York City. There are times, not often, when our soul is stunned and our inner voice is silenced. This happened to me when Marjorie, Lisa’s mom, whom I adored, passed away, and my entire being was shocked into an all-encompassing silence. Then, in this stillness I heard a melody…and harmony…and all the parts. It was a complete composition, all I had to do was listen. They say if you want to hear God, be silent and you will. I heard God play bass…and Marjorie sing.
The first part of the project, a live performance of the album in its entirety, was completed on Saturday, April 12th, 2014, at the Cutting Room in New York City. The second part was the live recording, completed at the Manhattan Center Studios in NYC on Sunday, September 7th, 2014. Mixing and mastering of the album was completed at the end of November 2014. The stories were edited in the spring of 2015 and the packaging and layout was designed winter 2015 through spring 2016 with a preview concert at “Pink’s” in NYC in April of 2016. The CD was pressed at National Media Services in Virginia. and released on October 8th, 2016 with another concert at Pink’s in New York City.
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