Sometimes it is just a matter of timing and proximity that makes attractive collaborations possible. For years, singer/songwriter Rebecca Martin knew that she wanted to work with pianist/vocalist/composer Guillermo Klein. Klein’s recent relocation to upstate New York, where Martin had made her home, made the opportunity of making music together possible. The beautiful results of their work can be heard on their new recording, The Upstate Project.
Martin is well known for her elegant songwriting and performance, commingling jazz and folk music. Aside from her solo work, she has regularly collaborated with a coterie of celebrated musicians, including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Paul Motian and Tillery, the celebrated vocal trio featuring Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato. Always community minded, Martin has become an advocate of sorts for collaboration in her musical and social endeavors, most notably in her adopted home of Kingston, New York.
For his part, Klein has become a celebrated songwriter and composer, utilizing elements of jazz, modern classical, rock and Argentinean folkloric music. He had spent more than a decade living outside of the United States, both in Spain and Argentina, before returning and settling in Beacon, New York, a short distance from Martin.
The two musicians knew and appreciated each other and their art since the early 1990s when they were both involved in the influential scene centered around Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village in New York City. The vibrant Smalls scene helped establish some of the music’s most influential artists and their ensembles, including those of Brad Mehldau, Rosenwinkel and Klein’s own Los Guachos.
After years of making music together, the denizens of this enclave seemingly scattered around the globe. Martin was excited to hear of Klein’s return, especially since he was only a short distance away and with a burgeoning family. Martin was happy to hear Klein’s enthusiasm to collaborate when she reached out to him.
Their ensuing collaboration was never rigidly structured, allowing both musicians to experiment and try new things. Martin was able to adopt Klein’s more dark and masculine esthetic, quite an enjoyable and liberating experience for her. Together they developed a wide-ranging repertoire, including pieces from peers made into some amazing, bilingual art songs. As she wrote the lyrics, Martin didn’t understand the Spanish lyrics provided by Klein but was surprised to find out that they had similar meanings even if the story was different, adding another dimension to the songs they developed.
Martin and Klein fleshed out The Upstate Project as a star-studded quartet with Martin’s husband, bassist Larry Grenadier, and the fantastic drummer, Jeff Ballard. The group then went to Brooklyn Recording, where The Upstate Project was recorded with the guidance of engineer Pete Rende. It was then expertly mixed by James Farber and mastered by Mark Wilder.
The program begins with an adaptation of Klein’s “Ahi Viene El Tren,” entitled “Just As In Spring,” which uses the example of the dangerous Argentinean train system as an allegory on how to soften the transition between life and death. Mehldau’s “Ode” is transformed into “To Make The Most of Today,” a wistful love song with a poignant melody that has the makings of a standard. Martin’s engaging “On A Sunday Morning” has an important message about civic engagement and keeping vigilant at all times because the worst occurs when attention isn’t paid. Klein’s thoughtful story of competing brothers seeking attention in “Hora Libre” becomes “Thrones and Believers,” which broadens the message to look without of one’s self to be satisfied with the simple things in life.
The plaintive “Later On They’ll Know” is a tune written by Martin and singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith speaking on Martin’s account of researching a slave cemetery and establishment of an African American history committee in Kingston, a moving and eye opening experience about the effects of racism across generations. The liltingly beautiful “When Things Like These Go Wrong” was written with Jesse Harris with the assistance of poet Frank Tedesso in 1992. Rosenwinkel’s tricky “Cycle 5” was the first song the duo adapted and became “Freedom Run,” an imploringly evocative piece about bombings in Palestine. Taking the exact sound structure of Klein’s lyrics to “Llorando Fuerte,” Martin’s lyrics to “Like Every Other Day” contain a completely different meaning but seem to find a glorious alignment.
Originally written for his student ensembles in Basel, Switzerland, Klein’s “Outside It Rains For Them” is a haunting tune, with Martin’s lyric about prostitution and the hope of finding love. The driving “In The Nick of Time” reinvents Grenadier’s difficult “State of the Union,” a piece Martin has long wanted to do, as a investigation of separation and coming back together. With the heart melting “Hold On,” Martin was able to do a rendition of Bill Frisell’s “Throughout,” a piece she had wanted to interpret for 20 years. The recording concludes with Martin’s “To Up and Go,” a stark piece about remaining present.
Remarkable things take shape when two distinctive musical voices come together for the first time. Rebecca Martin and Guillermo Klein meld their talents to assemble a work of tremendous poise and striking originality on their new recording, The Upstate Project.
released April 14, 2017
Rebecca Martin - guitar & vocals
Guillermo Klein - piano, keyboard & vocals
Larry Grenadier - acoustic bass
Jeff Ballard - drums & percussion