From the start, this project has received tremendous support from so many people and institutions in Baltimore, but especially our terrific local arts reporters. Check out our press page for entertaining and sharply focused interviews with Sandy or ellen or both, from radio personalities Aaron Henkin, Tom Hall, and Sam Sessa, and magazine writer John Lewis. It’s incredibly gratifying to have so many cultural trend-watchers express their genuine enthusiasm for this project!
I met Kathy Fahey at a little coffee shop in Hampden that we were both supporting by volunteering, several years ago. I had seen the posters and artwork that she had created for Caleb Stine and other amazing musicians around Baltimore and loved her style, sensitivity and of course, her use of birds. She was starting explore paper-cut and also a special paper-cut style of shadow puppetry called a “crankie” (and hand cranked 47 foot long piece of Tyvek, with papercut affixed to it.) I commissioned a crankie for my song “Pickett’s Charge” and it turned out so beautifully. You can view it here (and remember, this is one, long, live take).
By working on this project together, I got to know Kathy pretty well and appreciated her “made by hand” artist’s philosophy. Yes, her works take time–sometimes lots of time, but they are made by hand and with an incredible amount of heart.
Fast forward to this project, our Mobtown Moon. Sandy and I were planning a fundraising show at the Creative Alliance in September 2012 and I had the idea that we could bring in some visual artists in our community by asking them to allow us to auction off a few of their works in the lobby during the show. We have been committed, from the beginning, to make this an artist-sustaining enterprise and my thinking was that I would have the artists tell me what they needed to earn from the piece they were giving us. Then I would start the silent auction bidding around $15-20 above that. Once that first bid was placed, the artist would be able to receive their fee and then anything else would be considered funds raised to support Mobtown Moon. Everybody wins!
Kathy donated three of her prints to us for the auction and all the proceeds from the winning bids went to support our project. (And three lucky bidders got to go home with beautiful, home grown artwork for their walls!) Please learn more about her work at her website: www.katherinefahey.com
As the self-named “visual alchemist” (props to Molly Ross at Nana Projects for letting me borrow her words), for Mobtown Moon, I’ve been having a blast letting my imagination go wild and learning a lot about the visuals associated with Pink Floyd material, as we continue to build this project to epic proportions.
Let’s face it: the iconic, stark-yet-emotional, completely mesmerizing image created by Storm Thorgerson for the original cover of “Dark Side of the Moon” is untouchable and, in my humble opinion, now intimately related with that beautiful composition of music. I didn’t want simply an homage or update of this beautiful piece of artwork–I wanted something that would capture the unique approach that we were taking to this music. Both Sandy and I wanted it to be clear that this is not simply a cover album, but a new interpretation of this music that truly highlights the majesty and power of the lyrics and melodies. I needed to find a Baltimore City based artist that could capture all this, AND create an iconic image of our own.
I started looking at local artists online and asking my visual artist friends for recommendations. Of course, I was buried in amazing images created by the hard working painters and sculptors here in our Charm City. One day while I was working on this, I just happened to be listening to two of our musicians, Femi and David (The 5thL), solo albums, “In Late Bloom” and “The Clown with No Circus”. I took a break from the computer screen and noticed the cover art on both these albums was dramatic, emotional and beautiful. I emailed Femi and he wrote back that the artist was his good friend, Sylvia Ortiz.
I made contact with Sylvia, and we quickly met and discussed my vision for the cover: something that paid homage to the original image with color, but emphasized the idea of “moon” and (like the recording) be uniquely our own. I sent her a few tracks that weren’t finished yet to listen to, so she could get the vibe of the record. From this tiny amount of information, Sylvia was able to sketch out a few ideas and even seeing just a paper and pencil version of the image was enough to convince me that we had found our cover artist!
A few weeks later, Sylvia sent me a photo of two versions she had created using watercolors and acrylic paint. I have trouble describing how excited I was to see it–just to know that we suddenly had something–almost like an “identity” or “face” for this music that we had all been working so hard on, for such a long time. And now, for your viewing pleasure, for the first time ANYWHERE, is the cover artwork for our upcoming cd.
I strongly feel that Sylvia captured the collaborative spirit of our project and frankly, I can’t wait to see this thing on t-shirts, walking around–EVERYWHERE!
We were so excited to have a select choir (9 young singers chosen by audition) and their excellent conductor, Dion Cunningham, to join us on our arrangement of “Eclipse,” the last track of the album. OrchKids is a groundbreaking school music program founded by a young, visionary musician named Dan Trahey. Dan was heavily inspired by the famous Venezuelan music education system, El Sistema, which considers music to be a fundamental community-building activity and which emphasizes ensemble playing and peer learning over individual private lessons.
These elementary school musicians from Lockerman-Bundy Elementary Middle School commit to twenty-five hours of instrumental and vocal music rehearsal/instruction, and boast an impressive schedule of public concerts. In summer 2012, OrchKids were asked to provide a group young singers to join Roger Waters on stage at the Verizon Center for his performance of The Wall. Several of those who sang with Waters have now also sung with us.
At the rehearsal before recording, some of the girls who’d been involved in the Verizon Center show asked me, “Is Pink Floyd going to be there?”–there meaning the studio for our project.
I had to laugh. “No, kids. As a matter of fact, you all have the advantage of already knowing Roger Waters. We haven’t met him yet. You’ll have to introduce us!”
The kids came in from 4 to 6 on a Tuesday evening and really worked hard. One challenge for them was tuning up properly in an acoustically dry environment. They’re used to the booming resonances of school gym, classrooms, and cafeteria where they rehearse. But between their excellent skills and a little digital tweaking from our engineer, we captured a really cool vocal performance for our final song.
We’ve noticed that many of our early supporters and listeners want to apply the label “jazz” to our arrangements. It’s true that as chief arranger, I have a tendency to complicate chords and navigate song arrangements in a style befitting my jazz background. But the reality is, Mobtown Moon contains a lot of different grooves and musical ideas smashed together willy nilly…rock, gospel, choral music, chamber music, and yes, jazz. If there’s a certain something, a certain vibe, running through tunes like “Breathe” or “Money,” it’s the kind of vibe that only rock/pop listeners would call jazz. These tracks don’t display the improvisational approach that generally qualifies something as straight-ahead jazz.
We do, however, have one tune on the album that was arranged specifically for jazz combo treatment: “Any Colour You Like.” Essentially a two-chord improvisational guitar/synth jam to begin with, my new version was written specifically for four of Baltimore’s finest improvisers, Russell Kirk on alto saxophone, Todd Marcus on bass clarinet, Jeff Reed on acoustic bass, and Eric Kennedy on drums. These four gentlemen have played together and with other local heavyweights for many years, and each man also boasts significant performance and recording credits with regionally, nationally, and internationally known jazz masters and young lions.
On September 28, they came into The Wood & Stone Room to record the track live. This is the only track on the whole record where we have employed absolutely no overdubs. It’s also one of the sparest, simplest tracks: a kind of sonic rest period between the thicker, more complicated arrangements on either side of it. What you’ll hear on the record is exactly what they played that day (we chose one “take” out of the five they did that day). I was proud and excited to showcase some of what they do best–improvising collectively, listening deeply to each other, interacting from a place of pure (though highly trained) intuition, and creating a complex conversation out of simple melodic and harmonic elements.
David (Native Son) Ross and Femi (the DriFish) Lawal are the brilliant, charismatic spoken word duo known as The 5th L. We were excited to have them come into the studio and record their original rap, an homage/extension we are tacking onto the ending of the song “Money.” Later that same day, Cris Jacobs came in to put down his vocal and guitar tracks. Mike Gambone, Jake Leckie, and I had already lain down drums, bass, and piano about a week earlier. Still, the resulting mix is sounding incredibly “live,” as if we were all performing on stage together.
Brian Simms is an awesome vocalist on top of being a great keyboardist. Last night at rehearsal, seeing him leap to action with drummer Christian Stengel and bassist Matthew Everhart (hiding outside the frame of this photo), I realized the arrangement details for “Time” would be in good hands if Brian and his dudes took over completely. So I quieted my inner control freak and stepped back into a supervisory role for this one.
This, by the way, is ellen cherry’s living room and her beautiful Wurlitzer grand piano, a very recent arrival from her parents’ home in Texas!