Thursday, January 15, 2009

CD of the Day - "Saltman Knowles: Return of the Composer"

CD of the Day
Saltman Knowles: "Return of the Composer" (Pacific Coast Jazz) 2009

Release Date: February 10, 2009
Featuring: William Knowles (piano), Mark Saltman (bass), Lori Williams-Chisholm (vocals), Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson (drums), Rob Landham (alto sax) and Alvin Trask (trumpet)

The Saltman Knowles Quintet is a shining example of the tradition in jazz for long-term artist collaborations. This Washington DC group is known for serving up melodically alluring while rhythmically infectious music with a sincere and emotional collection of songs. Bassist Mark Saltman and pianist William Knowles, the leaders of this seamless blending of sounds,met while attending the composition program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and created a musical bond with similar affections for the music of Billy Strayhorn, Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and Charles Mingus.

The new release, "Return of the Composer" exemplifies the cohesive unit created with a strong underlying foundation, interesting melodic lines, spirited rhythms and superlative musicianship. With four CDs under their belt the group decided to continue their journey into creative musical explorations by including the soulful sounds of vocalist Lori Williams-Chisholm in a more unconventional way. The use of the voice as an instrumental texture executing complex melodies while avoiding the cliché of standard vocal presentations is the icing on the cake of this delicious voyage of musical expression. The compelling clarity of Lori's vocals add to the rich spirit of this CD that includes drummer Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson, alto sax player Rob Landham and trumpeter Alvin Trask who provide a lush array of musical brilliance to this solid mix.
According to Saltman Knowles: "What makes this record different sound-wise is the use of vocalese (using the voice as another instrument). We're lucky in the sense that we can have both an instrumental sound like a straight swinging quintet as well as a vocal sound. The music we write is melodic, harmonically dense, and swinging. Often our music is a sketch of personal situations in our lives or of those friends who are close to us. Music is our way of commenting about life."

Although bassist Mark Saltman has not been diagnosed with synaesthetic experiences, his compositions are written using color theory, sense perception and intuition. "I came up with my system based on how I hear tonalities," Mark offered in a recent interview, "for example the brightest tonalities match the brightest colors just like on the color wheel. The difference between others and mine is that I equate 'c' (the key with no sharps and flats) to yellow, the brightest color, and 'Gb or F#' (the key with the most sharps and flats) to the darkest color or dark purple. This also corresponds with black and white keys on the piano."

On "Return Of The Composer" Mark uses this color sensory system in writing his original songs in collaboration with pianist William Knowles. The idea of composers looking at sounds in terms of colors is not new and in fact many past musicians have alluded to this concept including; Duke Ellington, Franz Liszt and Oliver Messiaen. According to medical studies these uncommon sensory experiences are examples of synesthesia, when two or more senses cooperate in perception. Once dismissed as imagination or delusion, metaphor or drug-induced hallucination, the experience of synesthesia has now been documented by scans of synesthetes' brains that show "crosstalk" between areas of the brain that do not normally communicate. However, not everyone agrees on what colors correspond to what pitches which leaves the research open for debate.

Mark Saltman says his songs are "related to traditional color theory" and he uses the same relationships on the color wheel when composing. "I also believe that my own color/music theory can be related to Eastern Philosophy where it is believed that certain colors are associated with channels and lines that exist around all of us." An example of how Mark uses this method can best be heard in his compositions from "Return Of The Composer", "Homeland" and "Shalom and Salaam."

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