I was first captivated by Peter Ecklund’s music before there were compact discs. In 1987, his bright cornet sounds came leaping out of the speaker as soon as I began to play KEEPERS OF THE FLAME, a Marty Grosz record (Stomp Off). Then I bought and treasured PETER ECKLUND AND HIS MELODY MAKERS — now happily reissued on CD as HORN OF PLENTY (Classic Jazz).
But wait! There’s more. Let me break into this discography / memoir and add a soundtrack: click on http://www.peterecklundmusic.com/ for a charming musical background — Peter and friends playing his compositions and a few standard tunes.
That’s better, isn’t it?
Here’s something even more encouraging: a new Peter Ecklund CD, called BLUE SUITCASE. It’s available at CDBaby as a download or disc: (http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/PeterEcklund2) — for the ultimate musical experience, you can buy a copy from him at a gig.
Marianne Mangan, formerly a roving correspondent for JAZZ LIVES, wrote the pitch-perfect notes for BLUE SUITCASE:
Peter Ecklund is a conjurer, a creator of musical moods that span time, place and idioms. In this collection of jazz/pop eclectica, a combination of Ecklund originals and reinterpreted/rearranged standards, he evokes eras and emotions with a startling clairvoyance: you never heard it before, you never heard it THAT way before, but it feels exactly right.
And he does it with a unique methodology: the careful construct of skilled instrumentalists engineered to play as one with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files, all filtered through the operating system of an Apple computer. The result is BLUE SUITCASE—a technologically-assisted artistic vision, in every instance as musically astute as a dozen bands specific to their bookings.
Take these revamped staples of early jazz: the once-rollicking romp San is a moody retro-tech visit to the dark continent, returned to sunny refrain by way of ukulele and clarinet. Dinah is hot as ever in a cooler sort of way, and technically brilliant in the hands of Ecklund and Block. The Broadway stalwart This Can’t Be Love here becomes an accordion-accented fugue for engaging trumpet and flugelhorn choruses, a succession of muted and open-horn improvs.
On the lead-off non-original (but hardly un-original) in this set, secrets are exchanged between triangle, trumpet, accordion and ukulele. Old Madeira Waltz lulls with its laconic delivery and intrigues with its mysterious tone.
Now witness Ecklund the composer as time-traveler in Tail Fins—top-down breezy, at once sweet and bittersweet—and so perfectly 1950s that the millennial stress starts to seep from your pores. Watching the World Go By takes you to the ’60s as surely as these boots are made for walking (and those doomsday disco riffs preceding a cheerful trumpet lead and plaintive vocal are precisely the mixmaster magic so prevalent throughout).
Or timeless as a silver screen legend, when a well-played saw (yes, saw) evokes the angel-voiced end of a Warner Brothers’ melodrama with the propulsive melody of an Italian cinema score. Add a jazz-baby chorus, a vaguely yokel vocal incanting film star infatuation, and finish with a brassy Hollywood fanfare: a Love Sawng for the ages.
Finally, the ‘meter-medley’, a quartet of varied pleasures in celebrated
time signatures. For swingers…From gruff fiddle licks through jaunty conversational exchanges, the aptly named Texas Shuffle never loses its
irrepressible rhythmic bounce. For classicists…As the horns and accordion elaborate on Lazy Ragtime’s filigreed rhythms they are underpinned not by alternating bass notes and chords but arpeggiating strings. Of course.
For sweethearts…A lovely, questioning melody and orchestral
changes of venue turn the classic slow-slow-quick-quick into a folk
sonatina with every variation of strain and instrument: a courtyard in
England, a forest in Eastern Europe, a ballroom in New York.
Horn, accordion, Foxtrot. Romance. For everybody…The gentle thesis of Waltz for a Song is stated in muted brass, spun out open-voiced against a circular undercurrent, then returning home—as all good waltzes do—with straightforward yet intense exposition. BLUE SUITCASE meets the most iconic dance of all, and the benefits are mutual.
What more could anyone want? Peter Ecklund — on cornet, trumpet, fluegelhorn, ukulele, whistling (he’s a master), composing and creating just-right musical backgrounds. (And where many CDs labor under the weight of their creator’s narrowly intense artistic vision — where the result is seventy-five minutes of the same thing — this one is a tasting menu of surprises.)
And a word about that suitcase. If you’d asked me in other circumstances for my feelings about having a splendid jazz soloist accompanied by something technological, I would have become anxious. I’ve heard too many CDs where (perhaps for budgetary reasons) the “strings” come out of a box, and they bear the same relation to actual strings as dehydrated soup mix does to soup.
But Peter Ecklund’s imaginative efforts here aren’t an attempt to offer imitations at reduced prices. Rather, Peter’s backgrounds and melodies that come out of the Blue Suitcase are evocative additions, swirling around the human players and singers: this CD is a ticket inside his imaginations, and that’s a wonderful gift. Besides, it makes me think of a famous Louis Armstrong anecdote. Someone had asked him (off the record), “Louis, how do you stand playing with bands where the musicians are well below your level?” And he’s supposed to have replied, “You start relying on other musicians and it’s too bad for you!” Peter’s surrounded himself with first-rate players on this CD: among them Dan Block, Will Holshouser, Andrew Guterman, Joel Eckhaus, Melody Federer, Christine Balfa, Murray Wall, Gary Burke, Marty Laster, and Matt Munisteri. And the BLUE SUITCASE, a most magical piece of luggage, by Peter’s side for these wonderful journeys.
And — not incidentally — New Yorkers and intrepid travelers can now see Peter in person in a variety of settings: visit his site to see his current gigs, which include stints with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern, with Terry Waldo’s Gotham Jazz Band at Fat Cat, with the Stan Rubin trio featuring Herb Gardner at Charley O’s, with the Stan Rubin band at Swing 46, with the Gotham Jazzmen at the Greenwich Village Bistro. Peter, incidentally, is memorably inventive in person, even when his luggage is in his apartment.
To paraphrase Linus, “Happiness is a full gig calendar!” Details here: http://www.peterecklundmusic.com/?section=calendar — and you can join Peter’s email list to be kept up to date on these happenings.