Further into the Woods

It has been nearly two years since Trees recorded the second live session for the album Heart of Oak at Hawthbush Farm. In that time, I have written a lot of new music, some of which has been rehearsed and/or performed at gigs, but has not yet been recorded. New music has also been written by Paul Nieman and Greg Maddocks. 


Among these new pieces are 'Dakar', ' No Wind', 'Muito Obrigado' and 'S/Pulse/S'. I have also reworked an older piece called 'Palimpsest', which was the title track of an album I recorded in 2009 with Mark Edwards, Enzo Zirilli, Bobby Wellins, James McMillan and other friends.


'Dakar' is a tune inspired by music I heard during a trip to Senegal a few years ago. This is a very simple piece in terms of its harmony and remains in one key throughout. It is a heavy 12/8 groove, driven by a number of interlocking riffs in the bass, guitar, keys and horns, with a 'call and answer' motif as its melodic content. It has a long open section at its heart in which the musicians are free to explore possibilities based on the groove and other rhythmic, melodic and harmonic content.


'No Wind' is a piece written by Greg Maddocks, arranged by Greg and myself and orchestrated by me. It's based on a quirky drum pattern in 3/4 (6/8?) that came to Greg as he was sitting on the beach waiting for enough wind to go windsurfing. The pice changes key a number of times, starting in D minor, it changes to Eb in the middle for another long open improvised section and goes through D major, F major and E major during its second half.


'Muito Obrigado' is based on a 5/4 bass riff using the sound of E Phrygian (the 3rd mode of the C major scale) and was inspired by the music of Letieres Leite and his wonderful Orchestra Rumpilezza from Bahia in Northern Brasil. The bass riff is played in unison by the fretless electric bass and the bass trombone, and these are joined at times by the tuba, the other trombones, the acoustic bass, the baritone saxophone, the bass clarinet and the left hand of the piano. The first melody is a very simple counterpoint to the bass line, but uses the sound of F major instead of C major, creating some harmonic tension. 


The second section begins with a fairly rapid exchange between by the woodwind sections, piano and mallet percussion before the opening theme is recapitulated in the brass, and the bass riff returns, leading the band to the first improvised section. This is open again for the percussionists (and others) to explore the material freely. The third section is a contrapuntal exchange between the reeds and strings, and then the whole band, leading to another open section for improvisation, which is followed by a piano solo based on the chord sequence of an older piece called 'Sette Sorelle' which was recorded on the album 'Sawdust and Spangles' by The Cloggz a couple of years ago. The piano solo is followed by a reworking of the 'Sette Sorelle' theme in 5/4 for unison trombone and flugelhorn and the rest of the band. The finale is a recap of the first two themes. 


'S/Pulse/S' is a medley of two older pieces: 'S' by Mark Edwards and my tune 'Pulse'. Mark's piece is based on a tone row in 3/4 and a dark, slow moving melody which is full of harmonic tension and which refuses to settle in any one key. This theme is played twice by the ensemble before dissolving into 'Pulse': a slow 4/4 bass riff in D minor overlaid with another dark melody played by the soprano saxophone. It reflects my obsession with John Coltrane and echoes pieces like 'Equinox' and 'Africa Brass'. The theme is followed by an open bass solo and a trombone duet, leading to a new section driven by a bass riff in 12/8 and a recapitulation of both 'S' and 'Pulse'. The finale is a return to the main theme from 's' in a slow 4/4 and new key(s).


'Palimpsest' is an overlaying of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ideas, based on a chord sequence originated by Frederic Chopin and borrowed by Antonio Carlos Jobim for his beautiful piece 'Insensatez'. It starts with a 'shimmer' played by the band over a double tempo drum groove, yet to be decided(!). The shimmer is improvised and is never the same from one performance to the next. A bass riff (in D minor, of course) enters and is repeated several times before the first them enters: slow moving, contrapuntal lines over the chord sequence. After an interlude, the chord sequence is repeated twice over an obstinate tumbao figure in the bass, with the introduction of a new melodic idea in the second half of the sequence. The next repeat develops this new idea, which is played by the whole group. The last repeat recaps the first melody with variations, and the piece ends with an open improvisation over the bass riff.