The congratulatory group photo after the session's successful completion.

The congratulatory group photo after the session’s successful completion.

One of the problems with the digital era of music distribution is that the music comes with no packaging. Sometimes that might be a good thing. But when that music is part of a project like this one, that packaging serves as a context that brings all of the tracks together.

There is a common criticism against CDs that the “evil music industry” forces people to buy entire CDs of bad tunes, even though people only want the one hit that motivated them to purchase that CD in the first place. That sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory to me, but even if it was true, why assume that all CDs are like that.

Not everyone who makes a CD is part of the “evil music industry.” Not every CD is just a collection of random, unrelated songs. Some artists invest a lot of effort into making their CDs complete works of art. I have often said that CDs are often today’s equivalent of a romantic era symphony. It is a grand work of multiple movements, carefully designed and planned to deliver the greatest artistic impact.

A Not So Distant Pass is one of those kinds of CDs. It’s not just a collection of random tunes. The CD as a whole is a complete work of art, everything from the hiring of the musicians, the choice of music, the cover art to the actual recording itself. All of these make this CD a complete work of art.

That said, it helps the listener to know a little more about the tunes.

Track 1
End of the Road

This is a tune I originally wrote for my good friend, Calvin Owens (who used to be B.B. King’s music director). But in this context, I’m using it to make a statement. All of the teachers I had, and all of the other players in town (El Paso) who I looked up to, always made a big deal out of making music, not just playing notes. They almost didn’t care how good the playing was. If it didn’t connect to the listener, then it was for nothing.

Ricky Malichi was the band leader who hosted the very first jam sessions I ever went to. When I told Ricky that I was leaving El Paso, his response was “They can leave, but they always come back.” And in a musical sense, I feel that I have fulfilled his prophecy! I feel like I have become the music minded musician they trained me to be. So the title of this song is sort of a philosophical return to the ideals I was exposed to in El Paso. After having left El Paso and been on countless adventures (both musical and otherwise), The End of the Road says that I am back. No, I probably will never live in EL Paso again, but I have come full circle, back to the musical concepts they instilled into me over that period of nine years in the 1980’s. And this truly is the “End of the Road” for me. I know no other way to make music than the way I was taught in those early years of my music career.

Track 2
El Paso Reflection 1

This track is the first of five free improvisations on the CD. It is a freely improvised duo with Erik Unsworth on bass. This was actually my first time to play with Erik and I’m very glad to have worked with him. We clicked instantly in these duos.

Track 3
Someone’s Song

A bossa-nova in a more dated style, Someone’s Song is, like the rest of the CD, reminiscent of my days in El Paso. The melody hints of the many nameless people we see across the border from the University of Texas El Paso. I used to sit in the parking lot and look across at the people living in cardboard huts and makeshift houses. This song is for them.

By the way, Someone’s Song was originally recorded as a brass quintet piece on Texas Brass’ Sounds of the South CD.

Track 4
El Paso Reflection 2

Another freely improvised duo with bassist Erik Unsworth.

This track reminds me of Mesa St. where most of the jazz gigs happened while I was living in El Paso. My first jam sessions were with Ricky Malichi when he was working with his band called The Malichi Four.

Track 5
I Am Singing With the Lord

My most recent jazz composition, I Am Singing With the Lord is one of my “dream songs.” What makes this one unique is that I remembered almost the entire tune when I woke up. I went straight to my desk and wrote what I remembered from the dream. Usually my dream song tunes are based on the little snippets I can remember after I’ve woken. I write the melody and then write some descriptive text if the notes don’t accurately portray the feel of the music that I had in the dream. That way I can fill in the rest after the fact. This time, I had almost everything I needed when I woke.

I had that dream in early December (2013) and immediately decided to include it in the  upcoming recording session.

Track 6
El Paso Reflection 3

The final of three bass and trumpet duos, as I listen to the counterpoint, I see images of UTEP’s very unique Bhutan influenced architecture. I used to live not far from campus, in the back yard of Dr. Marsha Fountain’s house. She was the dean of the music department at that time and she often rented out her flat in the back yard to students.

I remember sometimes walking to the campus from her house, crossing Mesa into the campus. When you live there you don’t appreciate it as much, but it really is a beautiful campus. Well, it was even more beautiful back then. He he he… Last time I was there, a parking garage had been erected which obstructed much of the view. But my memories are intact.

Track 7
Living This Way

The original lyrics for Living This Way told a story about distant love and what it is like to live that way. Based on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Living This Way gives us an opportunity to get technical.

Track 8
Franklin Mountain Dreamscape 1

This is the first of two free improvisations with trumpet and piano duo. I often referred to the Franklin Mountains as “my mountain” because I clocked literally hundreds of miles up there.

This track conjures images of Cottonwood Springs, a location that Will Wilkins and I trekked to many times. Will was my hiking buddy and I miss those days when we could get away from the world and spend time exploring the mountains.

Imagine this… A mountain in the Chihuahuan Desert, hidden deep in the mountain is a spring with very tall cottonwood trees. You cannot see these trees from a distance because they are nestled within the rocks and crevasses of the mountains. This was one of our favorite spots to romp around in the mountain.

The sun shines through the leaves above. Water trickles over the rocks. There is a smell of stale smoke from a old campfire. The canopy overhead gives a slight break from the blistering heat we had to march through to get to this spot.

It’s peaceful. You cannot see the city from here. But there is life. Life everywhere. Under the rocks. In the shrubs. Scorpions, snakes, lots of lizards, jack rabbits, hawks soaring above, and if you are very lucky, you will surprise a mule dear that just happens to like this spot as much as you do.

Track 9
J.A.W.N. (Just Another Wild Night)

Jawn Glass was one of my best friends in high school and college. This Coltrane substitution altered blues shuffle is a tip of the hat to my good friend for all the crazy things we’ve done together. To protect the not so innocent, I have opted to not reveal the precise nature of those adventures. 🙂 But I can tell you we had a lot of laughs.

Jawn was and still is a great trumpet player. We used to play duets together in high school and played gigs together in college. We had a nice, friendly rivalry between the two of us that I look back on with very fond memories.

Track 10
Franklin Mountain Dreamscape 2

This last freely improvised duo on the CD reminds me of the night Will Wilkins and I meant to spend the night at the top of the peak. But when an electrical storm blew in, we knew we had to get down off the mountain and fast. We hiked through the night all the way back home…with the thunder and lightning following us the whole way.

The  mountain is a slightly dangerous place to be romping around at night. Most of the animals in the desert are nocturnal. This includes the rattle snakes. But there was no place safe for us to be in the middle of all that lightning. It was a very stressful hike back home because we could never be absolutely certain that we weren’t stepping on any snakes.

Track 11
Tiger’s Eye

Tiger’s Eye was composed for a concert for which I hired Ricky Malichi to join Living Rhythms here in Houston for a single performance. It was one of my earliest attempts to “compose” something on the free side of the jazz idiom.

It was such a pleasure to be able to record Tiger’s Eye with Ricky in El Paso, twenty years after that Houston performance. And he does a great job!

The piece has the bass and trumpet playing the melody only loosely together (sort of Ornette Coleman like) and in parallel fifths. This gives it something of a haunting sound which reminds me of the way I often feel when I think about the friends I left behind in EL Paso.

The Bible says that nostalgia is a bad thing. I try to avoid those thoughts before they have time to become genuine feelings. But I don’t think it is wrong to remember.