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I miss the joy of getting a new album, putting the music on, and jumping into the artist's world. I wondered how I could recreate this experience in today's digital world and decided to do something about it. Welcome to the Let's Get Tropical Digital Booklet. The music is here for you to listen to and download. There's exclusive liner notes, photos, and videos. And if you like what you see here, purchase a copy of the album so I get started on the next one asap. Enjoy and Let's Get Tropical!
LGT Booklet: Welcome
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LGT Booklet: Music
Since his 2014 debut album, Short History, Paul Jones has typically employed one of two strategies in bringing his music to the album format. The first has been to assemble a well-rehearsed group of his closest musical allies in a professional recording environment, to efficiently and accurately document his latest original compositions. In addition to Short History, Paul’s body of work in this mode includes Clean (2017) and The Process (2019). The second finds him in his home studio, self-engineering an ad hoc trio session, featuring an exploratory mix of group originals, standards, and free improvisations. This DIY approach has led to the release of with Leon Boykins and Rajiv Jayaweera (2017), with Leo Sherman and Jake Robinson (2018), and Glacier Lake (2019).
For Let’s Get Tropical, Paul worked outside of these comfortable frameworks. The band here is not one of his working ensembles, but his dream team rhythm section: Phil Markowitz, a pianist whose music Paul studied at Berklee College of Music and later studied with at Manhattan School of Music; Clarence Penn, an all-star drummer he befriended while bartending at Manhattan’s Cornelia Street Cafe; and Linda Oh, a bassist he had never met, but whose playing he admired. If the brand new line-up wasn’t enough of a change, he reversed a standard order of operations by scheduling the recording session before engaging in the writing process.
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That Paul sees elements of the recording process as active variables to be deployed and combined creatively underscores the fact that his engagement with the jazz tradition does not begin and end with the study of musical content. His growing interest in how recordings were made, in terms of technique and circumstance, is proving to be valuable in its own right. It’s worth noting that while the circumstances surrounding the creation of this particular album are not particularly common today, many classic recordings have been made with a similar approach. For instance, while bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones never performed publicly together, they recorded together as sidemen several times as members of ensembles assembled specifically for a recording, including Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil in 1964 and McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy in 1967.
Paul’s bandleading style is rooted in empathy. His ongoing work as a sideman, audiovisual engineer, and multi-instrumentalist guarantees some amount of shared experience with every member of the team, and a nuanced appreciation of what each has to offer. With only one day to rehearse and another to record a brand new band, this is a valuable asset.
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Paul’s original tunes incorporate a variety of influences and compositional approaches. They can be organized into three categories: three archival works that have been repurposed for this ensemble; three new pieces written with Paul’s algorithmic method that explore themes ranging from the personal to the political; and the title track, a new composition written at the piano that introduces a new influence and direction for Paul’s music. Benny Golson’s Stablemates rounds out the set.
The archival pieces come from two sources. Trio #3 is from a series of pieces Paul wrote for his monthly trio gig at Bar Next Door in Manhattan. (Another tune from this repertoire, Trio, was repurposed in a similar way for his sophomore album, Clean.) Trio #3 incorporates the influence of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, whose music Paul discovered through the Boston Afrobeat scene during his time at Berklee. MR 4 and MR 2 are from Paul’s currently unfinished four-movement work for jazz quartet based on the music of Maurice Ravel. MR 4 draws from the final movement of Ravel’s String Quartet. MR 2, appearing later in the album, was inspired by the second movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.
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During the brief writing period before the recording, Paul turned to his “algorithm,” a compositional tool he developed that converts words and phrases into musical content. Significantly, this provides Paul the opportunity to begin the writing process with a title, an inverse of what has become common practice for instrumental music. In pop songwriter Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting, he says that when a songwriter says they have an idea for a song, what is really meant is that they have a unique title that can inspire the music and lyrics as well as draw in the listener. To write Glacier Lake, Mental Self Defensive Fitness, and Straight Talk, Paul began with a title or catch-words related to a theme, and used the algorithm-generated material to kick off the compositional process. That the results are so varied speaks to the flexibility of this approach. Glacier Lake was conceived as a chromatic ballad to feature Markowitz. Mental Self Defensive Fitness derives its title from Public Enemy’s Fight The Power, and shares its political theme. This tune also serves as a bass feature for Oh, who solos at the top of the track and joins Paul for the melody statements. Straight Talk features a bouncy rhythmic hook and an interpersonal theme.
The title track, Let’s Get Tropical, is the most straightforward composition on the album yet warrants the most in-depth discussion. In essence, it’s easy listening by design. Written at the piano, sans algorithm, it reflects Paul’s growing interest in the music of composer and arranger Les Baxter and his acolytes. Paul’s colleagues Frank LoCrasto and J.B. Flatt first introduced him to Baxter’s music. The album title comes from a conversation Paul had with LoCrasto about his own Baxter-influenced music, which inspired Paul to explore this area in his own music.
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Compared to contemporaries like Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle, Les Baxter’s work as a jazz-influenced composer and arranger in Hollywood has been mostly ignored by contemporary jazz musicians. As such, some context may be helpful in understanding his appeal to a musician like Paul. Baxter is best known for his work in the 1950s in coining a style of orchestral pop music that combined the music of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky with Afro-Cuban jazz and the latest studio technology. While these same influences are in play in bebop, the orchestral context, space-age production values, and lack of improvised solos obscure the fact that Baxter tracks like 1951’s “Quiet Village” represents a bridge between “Caravan” and “A Night In Tunisia” to Sun Ra’s “Ancient Aiethopia” and Yusef Lateef’s “Jungle Fantasy”. Baxter’s music and jazz share much of the same musical DNA, but it achieves a completely different result that has plenty to offer a jazz composer looking to broaden their palette.
The success of the present recording lies in Paul’s ability to prioritize his personal aesthetic while working with a set of eclectic influences, multiple compositional strategies, and diverse themes. Even with these varied sources of inspiration, the music here always sounds like Paul Jones.
Liner notes by Noah Berman
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