An essential process in the creation of art is taking influences and refracting them prismatically into something new. The jazz canon has provided a wellspring of innovators and concepts that have continued to inspire new musicians in directions that at once honor tradition and branch from it.
Pianist Randy Ingram began with the historical figures of jazz music and connected them with contemporary styles and practices. On his new recording Sky/Lift, Ingram assembled a collection of seven original compositions and a piece written by one of his heroes, pianist Bill Evans. With a nod to Evans’s collaboration with guitarist Jim Hall, Ingram enlisted the fabulous guitarist Mike Moreno to be a melodic/harmonic foil to his piano on half of the recording’s tracks.
The Alaskan born, Laguna Beach, California raised pianist has become an integral part of the New York jazz scene since settling in Brooklyn after his graduation from both the University of Southern California and the New England Conservatory. Ingram has maintained a high profile, performing alongside a stunning assemblage of today’s most talented musicians, including Nikki Yanofsky, Billy Higgins, Noah Preminger and Ari Hoenig. He was awarded a 2007 ASCAP Jazz Composers Award and released the well-received The Road Ahead (BJU Records) in 2009. Ingram has also made his acting debut this year, depicting Bill Evans for the Swedish film Monica Z, a biopic about Monica Zetterlund.
The core of Ingram’s ensemble has been playing together for quite some time. Bassist Matt Clohesy was one of the first musicians Ingram met upon moving to New York nearly 10 years ago. Ingram felt an immediate connection with the bassist, as his economical yet memorable style complemented the pianist’s own style so well. Ingram first played with drummer Jochen Rueckert in 2008 and has made him his regular drummer because of Rueckert’s supportive playing.
Ingram had played with Moreno infrequently but had remained intrigued at the guitarist’s choice and abilities in performing alongside pianists. They began to play more and more frequently in a quartet setting as Ingram found appealing possibilities for melodic interplay and orchestration with piano and guitar.
The conceptualization of Sky/Lift took some time as Ingram composed, experimented and edited down pieces that he felt worthy of recording. His intent was to insure that the music was as strong as it could be. Most importantly, the compositions had to have strong melodies with some sort of meaning, connection and memorability. A handful of the pieces were written for Ingram’s Jazz Gallery debut in 2011.
Having put together a program of music, the trio and guest were set to record on Halloween of 2012 only to have the session cancelled by the Super Storm Sandy. All members of the ensemble being as busy as they were, the only other date that the group could convene was the following December 7th when they managed to record this moving collection.
The recording begins with the title track “Sky/Lift,” an ascendant composition with an inviting sense of openness, which highlights the simpatico between Moreno and Ingram, especially their melodic phrasing. Using some of the programmatic ethos of friend/composer Darcy James Argue as ready inspiration, Ingram’s nostalgic “Silent Cinema” is a moody piece for the trio of piano, bass and drums. “99” is written as a sort of musical poem in a commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement, illustrated by the harmonic tension and the overall energy of the piece.
A favorite of the leader, Bill Evans’s “Time Remembered” follows with an original arrangement by Ingram featuring heavy orchestration between the piano and bass. “St. Louis” is a warm, freely played composition written as an elegy to Midwestern culture shock. Conversely, the rollicking composition “The Sea” is an ode to its namesake’s overwhelming majesty and spirituality. The waltz-like “Late Romantic” takes the musical period as inspiration as Ingram conjures a sweeping, rhapsodic melody over the seemingly free ¾ rhythm. Dedicated to the great British session pianist Nicky Hopkins, who was featured on John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and the Rolling Stones’s “Loving Cup,” “Nicky” is an appropriately twangy mixture of blues-rock groove and modern jazz harmonic sensibilities.
In the end, Ingram summed up his intentions with Sky/Lift and his music in general best: “I think it’s really our responsibility as jazz musicians to keep innovating and keep creating, but to do so in a way that both honors what we love about this music and also conveys a strong sense of meaning.” He accomplished this with aplomb on his new recording, a wonderful meeting of the contemporary and the classic.
released 18 February 2014
Randy Ingram - piano
Mike Moreno - guitar
Matt Clohesy - bass
Jochen Rueckert - drums