The romantic dream of many aspiring jazz musicians is to sail into New York City, drawn by the magnetism of the metropolis, and to seek an apprenticeship amongst the heroes and legends of the music. It isn’t often that these dreams come true, but for saxophonist/clarinetist/composer Mike McGinnis they did in his friendship and collaboration, with jazz legends Art Lande and Steve Swallow, showcased on the trio’s Recurring Dream.
Originally from Maine, McGinnis grew up focusing on classical saxophone, leading him to the Eastman School of Music, where pianist Michael Cain introduced him to a coterie of musicians who experimented in melding jazz and classical musical concepts, including what was called Third Stream music in the 1950s and 1960s. Cain also led McGinnis to the music of pianist Art Lande, whose remarkable playing is beyond category on his own far reaching projects and those by his early band, Rubisa Patrol. Both musical conceptions had a big impact on McGinnis.
It wasn’t long before McGinnis met Lande at a friend’s wedding, where the intimidated McGinnis jammed with the pianist. There was an immediate creative spark between the two and they began to correspond, becoming close friends and collaborators for the next 15 years.
It was WNYC host David Garland who suggested the work of clarinet legend Jimmy Giuffre to McGinnis, who had begun his serious study of the clarinet once he moved to New York and began to hear Chris Speed, Ben Goldberg and Marty Ehrlich regularly. Already having been an acolyte of similar approaches to jazz and improvisation, McGinnis became obsessed with Giuffre’s music. It wasn’t long before he was savoring the recordings of Giuffre’s incredible trio that featured pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow.
McGinnis had seen Swallow’s name tagged to tunes with bizarre titles in the Real Book but it took until this time and really hearing the bassist’s incredible playing for McGinnis to study his expansive oeuvre. In 2006, Ohad Talmor asked McGinnis to sub in his chamber ensemble for a European tour, where, remarkably, Swallow was the featured composer and in the bass chair. McGinnis took quick advantage to develop a relationship with Swallow, savoring his stories, witticisms and generous spirit.
On the eve of the tour, McGinnis was surprised to discover that Lande and Swallow had been involved in the flourishing jazz scene of the Bay Area in the 1960s, including as members of the same jazz rock band with saxophonist Mel Martin and trumpeter Tom Harrell. Since that time, they had only played once together at a festival in Europe. The seed was planted.
For the past 10 years, McGinnis has maintained a deep friendship with both musicians. His musical connection between the two grew exponentially, making them two of his most inspired and satisfying collaborators. McGinnis’s dream to record with the two was waylaid by finances and his own need to be “ready technically” for such an endeavor. It was after the great Paul Bley’s passing that McGinnis knew that he was going to have to shake any concerns he had and get the recording done.
McGinnis was able to finally realize his dream in 2016 as he invited Lande and Swallow to Brooklyn for a weekend of performing and recording. The trio recorded nearly three hours of music at Systems Two Recording Studios, which was winnowed down to the program on the arresting Recurring Dream.
The recording begins with Mel Martin’s “Mel’s Drive In,” a funky piece sans drums that features McGinnis on soprano sax and represents the beginning of Lande and Swallow’s musical relationship. The freely played “Circle Dance” introduces McGinnis’s clarinet dramatically into the sound world of these two legends. McGinnis’s “The Rising” is adapted from one of his concertos and is played rhapsodically by the trio. Written for this trio, “Hearth” is a newer piece by McGinnis and a tribute to his wife and the feeling of wellbeing she has bestowed upon him.
Lande’s “Constantinople” provides a wonderful example of the pianist’s gifts as a composer and harmonic thinker. The playful “Bend Over Backwards” is a perfect spotlight on Swallow’s gregarious and quirky personality, musically and otherwise. Swallow’s lovely “Amazing” perfectly encapsulates the fantastic way Swallow composes, highlighting his fantastic voice leading and colorful harmonies. “Drat Recurring Dream” is a Lande “de-rangement” of “Darn That Dream” which imaginatively exploits parts of the song that are rarely utilized, like lyrical elements apart from the main theme.
Mike McGinnis has been fortunate to see some of his fantasies come to fruition. He was able to meet, befriend, and gain knowledge from some incredible musicians, specifically his trio mates Art Lande and Steve Swallow. Then, together, they were able to arrange and compose a fantastic document of what friendship and being musically simpatico sound like, Recurring Dream.
released April 21, 2017
Mike McGinnis - soprano saxophone & clarinet
Art Lande - piano
Steve Swallow - bass guitar