Mike McGinnis realized his dream of recording and releasing an album with two of his musical heroes in 2017. The recording, Recurring Dream, featured the saxophonist/clarinetist/composer alongside two legends of jazz and creative music (also his mentors and friends), pianist Art Lande and electric bassist Steve Swallow. Both Lande and Swallow are well known for their compositional expertise, so McGinnis made sure to include original compositions from them both.
The three musicians also have a penchant for thoughtful and eclectic approaches toward improvisation. McGinnis wanted to capture the both sides of this trio, the formal compositional and the more free, but equally focused, improvisational identities. The trio’s new recording Singular Awakening was culled from the same session as the original recording but features eight brilliant improvised pieces bookended by compositions written by either Lande or Swallow.
McGinnis’s own musical aspirations began within the jazz tradition; he then moved on to classical saxophone, which led him toward more experimental music. In graduate school, he was introduced to the remarkable music of the Third Stream of the 1950s and 1960s, which blended classical and jazz repertoire. From there, the connections were made with two other musicians of similar temperament who helped McGinnis bridge that divide in his own music, namely, Lande and Swallow. McGinnis was able to get the former collaborators together for a weekend of performing and recording in Brooklyn in 2016.
Each musician in the trio has a wide breadth of musical interests and knowledge. Their strengths in a variety of genres also have enabled them to make music that goes beyond category. Lande has long provided an ethos of openness and willingness to play anything that McGinnis has witnessed from the pianist and his protégés. Swallow’s career has spanned from the Benny Goodman Orchestra to the avant-garde to fusion via many paths. The range and rapport of the trio is a function of their histories together and apart.
Going into the session, McGinnis knew that he wanted to begin with some improvisations to get the creative juices flowing. He decided to roll tape through the entire process, which included the free playing to test the room and the eschewing of monitor headphones. Because of each musician’s talent at compositional development, the improvisations took form in a way that many listeners probably wouldn’t be able to tell if the tracks were composed or not.
The aim was to let each musician play whatever he wanted and the rest would try to make something of it, a freeing process that allows for extreme reaches of creativity and problem solving. The music that came out was inspired and highly listenable, highlighting the purest element of the trio’s identity: creativity. The group played as if they were of one mind and many pieces came out as if they were written.
The recording begins with a couple of composed pieces from Swallow and Lande to get the program off and running. Swallow’s “Here Comes Everybody” is a compact, jazzy piece that is fun and challenging to play, while Lande’s “Shining Lights” is a ruminating, folk-like piece that moves through sections and is dedicated to his students.
The eight improvisations each have their own personality and style, showing the vastness of the collective’s comfort level regardless of genre or character. “Insist on Something Sometimes” is a laid back piano led dialog. The quietly introspective “A First Memory” shows incredible restraint, while the slightly more insistent “Mini’s Can-Do Club” highlights a special low-key swagger. “PolterGinnis” has the trio at their most esoteric and captivating.
“O’Flaherty Decides to Play Jazz” has a slightly Celtic clarion clarinet and a winding rhythm section. Led by a pressing bass line, clarinet and piano weave around each other on the bluesy “Beau Nivea.” The appropriately named “Shockinawe” showcases the far ranges of McGinnis’s soprano saxophone and a pointillistic development. The singing tones of Swallow’s bass and floating piano are dramatic in their simplicity on “Slow Dance in a Whisper.”
The program concludes with two more composed pieces. Lande’s lovely “For Elise” is an elegy to a friend’s stillborn baby, which is composed of three counterpoint parts working off each other until they extinguish. Throwing down the gauntlet, Swallow’s tricky “Bite Your Grandmother” closes with a bang.
Mike McGinnis knew that he was putting something special together when he convened this trio with Art Lande and Steve Swallow. On their Singular Awakening, the trio shows their incredible capacity for fascinating, conversational group improvisation.
released April 27, 2018
Mike McGinnis - clarinet & soprano sax
Art Lande - piano
Steve Swallow - bass guitar