Pianist / composer McDermott and singer / reed wizard Nealand released a new duo — with friends — CD in 2015. It should be well-known for its imaginative reach, its willingness to experiment without being self-conscious. When I first began to listen to it, I thought, “Wow, that’s alive! And that’s unusual,” both compliments. I also realized that it was dense music — each track a small composed world of sounds and feelings — unlike many CDs now produced which nestle nicely in the listener’s hand. So it’s taken me some time to write this, because one doesn’t absorb CITY OF TIMBRES all at once. Any CD that begins with a brief, haunting interlude for piano and overdubbed wordless vocals is surely not going to be more-of-the-same . . . but for those easily scared-off, it soon modulates into a wonderfully idiomatic duet on MOANIN’ LOW . . . Hoagy’s NEW ORLEANS with French lyrics, a musing solo piano etude in 3/4, Aurora’s contemporary opus, MEMORY MADE AND MISTOOK, choro, blues, a nod to Bechet’s Haitian recordings, and more. It can’t be summarized easily, but the overall result is an engaging mixture of soaring reed eloquence, wry and compelling singing, rollicking or pensive piano . . . all combined in sharp, savory, unpredictable ways. And those web-searchers who want their music in quarter-teaspoon “sound samples” might search in vain. Buy the disc / take a risk!
Here are Tom’s comments on the music, from his website.
My CD with Aurora Nealand, “City of Timbres” will be out this week, and I am thrilled. As promised in the liner notes, here is info on each of the songs. Thanks for reading and listening!
1) Aleman Remixeada. This piece began its life as a slow habanera -”Tango Aleman”- on the CD, “The Crave,” and a souped-up disklavier version was used on the same disc as a hidden track. I took this disklavier version to Aurora and she enthusiastically agreed to sing a new melody I wrote on top, very slow-moving as a counterweight to the frenzied piano. The result is spooky. Written originally for my good friend Gabriela Aleman, it translates in Spanish and Portuguese as “Remixed German”!
2) Moanin’ Low. A minor jazz standard that’s been done by Billie Holiday and others. This piece perfectly shows off the duality of Aurora’s vocals: whispery soft one minute and howling like a banshee, or Ethel Merman, or perhaps both, the next. We get to play lots of fun rhythmic games too; the slow stride feel gives us plenty of space for that.
3) Make Me a Pallet on the Floor. Also called “Atlanta Blues,” this is one of two New Orleans standard on the disc. I do my best James Booker 8-to-the-bar impersonation, and Aurora puts some Pres Hall clarinet on top of it. And sings with that verve of hers.
4) La Nouvelle Orleans. I had recorded this as a duet with singer Sarah Quintana, and done nothing with it. Pulled it off the shelf, added a little accordion dust from Aurora and voila! A little side trip to the other side of the water, and a different take on the great Hoagy Carmichael.
5) Casa Denise. Aurora and I both have the Brazilian choro bug. This is one of my originals, first recorded on the “Choro do Norte” CD with six players from New Orleans and Rio, then reprised on my Van Dyke Parks McD best-of compilation, “Bamboula.” Michael Skinkus, used elsewhere for Cuban spice, plays the Brazilian pandeiro here.
6) A Valsa Entre Quartos. Another original, and the only piano solo here. Originally called “iPhone Waltz,” since I recorded and transmitted it that way initially, it begins in C minor and ends in C# Minor. ”Waltz in Two Keys” or “Bitonal Waltz” were too dry for potential titles. So I came up with the metaphor, “A Waltz Between Rooms.” Then it occurred to me that this could qualify as a Valsa Brasileira, a Brazilian Waltz, so I sent it to my friend and Brazilian music scholar Alexandre Dias who pronounced it indeed a Valsa Brasileira, but not a choro valsa: an MPB valsa a la Chico Buarque or Tom Jobim. I’ll take it.
This title was created around the time my mother passed; and as I think of passing as moving from one space to another, I think my Mom may have helped me with this—I’m not good with metaphors!
7) Memory Made and Mistook. We follow my only solo with Aurora’s only solo: an original sonic extravaganza that builds from a vocal-with-accordion riff to a huge pop/rock climax. She had this in her recorded-but-not-released bag of tracks and I’m really happy to have it here.
8) Picture in a Frame. A Tom Waits tune from his fantastic CD, “Mule Variations.” That disc’s combination of savagery followed by beautiful sentimentality has made a big impact on me. Aurora in whispery mode mainly; she was going to add accordion but had to hit the road so I filled the void with a synthesized pad and things worked out fine.
9) Tropical Mood. Also known as Tropical Moon, (and we spell it both ways on the album), this is a driving instrumental from Sidney Bechet’s early jazz-caribbean fusion LP “Haitian Moods.” Michael Skinkus on several instruments here.
10) Opulence. A French waltz that Aurora and I recorded initially on my cd “New Orleans Duets.” It has the multi- thematic form I love in choros, rags, marches, musettes: AABBACCA or some variation thereof.
11) La Ultima Noche Que Pase Contigo. A song I first heard when the Jesuits played it for me circa 1974. A Cuban tune made famous by a Mexican bolero group, Los Panchos, with Eydie Gorme. I haven’t sung on disc since the LP era; this is the Spanish vocal debut for both Aurora and I.
12) Four Hands are Louder Than Two. Aurora laid down the piano choruses, then I went to work with cowbell, toy piano, cinquillo vs tresillo, boat whistle and a lot of synthesizer. Deep fun for me.
13) Mississippi Dreamboat. Track 12 ends with a boat whistle, and here the boat comes in. It was Aurora’s idea for me to play the slow movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata as accompaniment. Fender Rhodes added for the solo.
14) Visions of Saint Lucia. This is my first attempt at writing a French West Indies tune, in this case a mazurk, the Creolized mazurka. Once again, I like the ambiguity of the title; I put it out there to help me get to that part of the world quicker.
20 seconds after the final notes, there’s a snippet from a 1944 private 78 my Mom recorded: a few seconds of a piano reduction of the Grieg Piano Concerto. So the album begins with the habanera, the root rhythm of New Orleans music, and ends with my mom, the root rhythm of moi.
I hope this helps! Take care, McD
Details about ordering CITY OF TIMBRES or Tom’s other recordings, here.
May your happiness increase!