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Paul Nash: Avant Noir Jazz Cycles
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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There are millions of musical stories in the naked city. This is one of them. This is not the story of contrived tragedy, the sad story of the life of a facile celebrity, created the way interest in nearly everything is created in the current culture - through hype and marketing. Though the lines between substantive art and commerce-entertainment are often blurred, there are still artists who are committed to exploration and emotional, spiritual and mental uplift. Paul Nash - a jazz guitarist, a composer who worked in various styles of jazz and classical music, and a music educator - is such an artist and this is his story. It is a story of facing sickness and death due to a brain tumor and deciding to define his life's legacy through music. It is also the story of Julia Reinhart, a great second, a dedicated collaborator, and the caretaker of his legacy.

Paul Nash grew up in the Bronx, New York in a musical family. His mother played classical piano, so the apartment frequently resounded with Bach, Schumann, Chopin, and Brahms. His sister was an avid collector of jazz records in high school, so he heard Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Yusef Lateef, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans and many others. After attending Berklee School of Music, he went to California and earned degrees in jazz composition and classical composition at Mills College. While there, he created the 10-piece Paul Nash Ensemble in 1977. Later, he helped to organize the Bay Area Jazz Composers Orchestra, a jazz ensemble that explored the merging of jazz and classical music. In 1990, he moved to New York City and founded the Manhattan New Music Project.

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Ms. Reinhart started out as an aspiring musician. She studied formally at the Winterthur Music Conservatory in her native Switzerland. She started with classical harp lessons at age six and went on to study guitar and saxophone. Later she added piano and singing to the mix. She performed in bands - mostly rock bands - semi-professionally all the way through college where she studied Electrical Engineering, focusing on acoustics and digital signal processing.

After college, she decided to try her hand at dealing with corporate America to learn about business. She discovered in this process that all she really cared about was music, so she decided to merge business and music by getting a degree in Music Management at New York University. "Here in New York, I met so many artists who were far more talented as performers than me, but really struggled to wrap their head around the business end of matters. I felt I could make a bigger impact on the music scene as a manager then by swelling the ranks of hopeful performers."

[Kirby] When did you start working with Paul Nash?

[Julia Reinhart] I met Paul in early 2002, when he was looking for someone to help him get more engagements for his jazz orchestra at the Manhattan New Music Project (MNMP). I worked with him until his death in January 2005 and have since taken over his organization to continue his work. Paul's CDs were the first full-length CD projects that I worked on over here in America. Paul used to be his own producer but by the time he got into the studio to record Jazz Cycles and Avant Noir, (because of his brain tumor) he couldn't read his own music anymore and struggled to express his thoughts to the musicians. So, he asked me to help him out.

[Kirby] What was it about him and his music that drew you to him?

[Julia Reinhart] I love jazz of all kinds and have a lot of respect for artists who are trying to find their own way to push the boundaries of what they do and the genre they work in. Too many people just try to be the next so-and-so instead of trying to develop a deep understanding of their own creative inspiration and trying to define their own artistic identity from their own creative output. Paul had a very strong vision of who he was and what he was trying to do as an artist and that deeply impressed me.

[Kirby] Mr. Nash's well-digested influences and subsequent originality shine through on all the compositions on these two records. Jazz Cycles consists of thematically linked pieces that comprise a whole unified musical work, which takes the listener on Nash's personal odyssey through the various styles and schools of jazz he explored over a period of thirty years. Avant Noir is a collection of pieces that highlight his penchant for '60's "New Thing" jazz. As he said in an interview in the publication All About Jazz, "My music has a more obvious debt to Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, lgor Stravinsky, Carla Bley and other innovators with a reverence for complexity and collage. In terms of jazz... I have always loved the dense, concerted harmonies (in) Gil Evans' horn arranging. Perhaps more importantly, I have incorporated the larger encompassing statements of Charles Mingus who, among other things, integrated several tunes (and) tempi... within a single composition. All of my substantial jazz pieces integrate longer, multidimensional compositional forms and strategically incorporate free form improvisational elements."

Describe the journey from the initial decision to record these works to the release of the CDs.

[Julia Reinhart] It really started when Paul began to realize in 2004 that he most likely wouldn't survive his brain tumor. He had been busy writing music for a few months when he told me he wanted to go ahead and record as much as he could. "I really need this for my own mental sanity," he said at the time. I fully understood, since he had been throwing himself into work as a way to cope with his illness ever since he had received the initial diagnosis. Within a week of his first diagnosis he was operated upon to remove the first tumor. Three days after being released from the hospital he came back to the office, eager to do things. So, when he mentioned the recording projects to me, I asked him to show me what he had to record. So we went over the pieces he was working on and picked a bunch of works he felt were already in good shape to get started on recording. I then rounded up the band, set up the studio, and off we went. This was in April of 2004. The first record we worked on was what later took the name of Avant Noir.

[Kirby] The songs on Avant Noir are filled with signature moments that highlight the best in Nash's music. "Ballad for Bill Evans" recalls the slinky structural formalism of Evans' compositions, and the emotional lushness of Gil Evans' work with Miles Davis. Nash, however, has a distinctive soulfulness and jazzy cool that, in keeping with the theme of the album, recalls smoky bars in the circa 1958 New York of John Cassavetes' Johnny Staccato or the noir televison show Naked City, especially in the tenor saxophone solo work by Adam Kolker. The cut "L.I.Q." has the sly intensity of early '70's detective shows, with more of the dynamic stateliness found in, for instance, Duke Ellington's soundtrack for Otto Preminger's dark thriller Anatomy of a Murder. This song features blazing solos by trumpeter Jack Walrath and Kolker on soprano sax. Grisha Alexiev provides driving drum statements throughout the piece. Though highly composed, this song, like most of the pieces here, leave ample room for individual virtuosity, i.e., the cats get to blow, daddy-o.

The drums really get to have their say on the cut "What the Drum Said" which is a sly homage to Ellington's "The Drum is a Woman." Alexiev starts out with a rhythmic statement that is answered by the horn section and fuzzed out guitar by Vic Juris. Saxophone, trumpets, flutes and piano pick up on the rhythmic motifs of the drums and enhance and develop them, all the while supporting and cajoling Alexiev's drumming. This early section runs like a sonic river that empties out into pool with floating solos by Juris and soprano sax, courtesy of Bruce Williamson and Chris Komer's French Horn.

"Time and Motion" combines Nash's interests in Western classical and modernist music and jazz. The opening theme, played on horns and supported by piano, a dancing bass and smoothly swinging drums, is jazz-like in its use of the blues. The rhythmic shift in the piece's second section, along with the ascending, bright harmonics of the piano, reminds one Zappa's jazz period in the early seventies. This textural swirl provides the sonic bedding for another fine alto sax solo by Bruce Williamson. Though loose and improvised-sounding when first heard, the interlocking horn, piano, bass and drum patterns repeat with the intricacy of a classical fugue or Ellingtonian jazz, providing the perfect setting for Walrath's trumpet solo. The ending cadenza is a slower, more stately variation of the opening theme, with less blues emphasis and more controlled dissonance.

[Julia Reinhart] (Though live sounding) Avant Noir has extensive overdubbing. The original takes were done live all in the same room, with the bass and percussion in a booth. However, since Paul needed to work through his own creative process to finish the pieces while we were recording them, we had to do several overdubs, especially for the solos.

[Kirby] Was this also the case with the development and recording of Jazz Cycles?

[Julia Reinhart] With Jazz Cycles things were rather different. He had finished that piece in early 2002 and then done some final retouching while we were working on Avant Noir. Also, after we ended working on Avant Noir, Paul's health took a sudden and significant turn for the worse. He was in and out of the hospital several times, had one more operation and rounds of chemotherapy that weakened him significantly. So, it was only in early December 2004, that he felt strong enough to go back to the studio and start working. He still wasn't doing very well, but I felt he really needed to finish this project and wanted to be there when it was recorded. So, I hired the band for that recording, led most of the rehearsals and then also the recording session. I knew we didn't have much time left, so I suggested to the band and (recording engineer) Mitch Yuspeh that we would attempt a live recording in the studio. The band really went for that and pulled together in working out any questions they had about the score. Paul had a challenging way of notating his music, both rhythmically and harmonically. So, before we entered the studio, the band sat together and worked out chord by chord what everyone would be playing. They understood Paul was in bad shape by then and wanted to give him a great recording.

[Kirby] This process was aided greatly by the presence of hand-picked musicians who had worked with Mr. Nash in the Manhattan New Music Project or on other projects. The players were all seasoned music veterans with vast experience working with jazz big bands, including Charles Mingus', the Village Vanguard Orchestra, Buddy Rich Big Band and Count Basie. The opening cut of Jazz Cycles, "Passaglia," starts out with guitar and bass - Juris and Jay Anderson respectively - stating a vamp which is also one of the main musical themes of the entire Jazz Cycles. Drums kick in, then the horns - Shane Endsley on trumpet, Bruce Williamson on alto and soprano sax and tenor saxophonist Tim Ries - state the theme, an angular melody which is both stately like one written by Zappa or Carla Bley, but off-kilter like something Thelonius Monk would do.

This melds into the next section of the piece, a tune entitled "Night Flight," which takes the same rhythmic action and melodic riffs from "Passaglia" and puts it to a funky drum beat. This section ends and goes into the beginning of "Desire." This ballad-like piece starts out quietly, lush, bluesy and sophisticated. This then turns into the avant garde exploration of the next section called "Wind Over the Lake." This piece starts with a brief statement of a few notes, then goes into some free form drumming while the soprano sax plays smoothly against the percussive frenzy; then it morphs into a driving section reminiscent of some moments on Avant Noir. A bass solo interlude flows into the loping swing of "Strange Rite." With drummer Alexiev and bassist Anderson playing with power and grace and pianist Jim Ridl dancing in the pocket, as the saxophones and guitar improvise demented-sounding skronking lines that move into a focus of the piece's theme coming in at the end.

This goes immediately into "Outside In," which brings back the theme in the style of freedom jazz, with the type of hard bop/funk groove found on a Horace Silver record. Trumpeter Endsley plays a blazing solo. Juris and Williamson have shining moments as well. Nash's love of Mingus comes through on "It's Only a Dream." The hard driving swing of the melody, Reis's wailing tenor and Ridl's solo evoke this school of jazz in all it's heartfelt intensity. On each of the songs on this CD, some aspect of Nash's journey through the music is at once highlighted and interconnected to the piece and the jazz continuum, like sap running from the roots to the branches of a tree.

[Julia Reinhart] The recording session was one of the easiest I had ever been involved in. Six hours, one rehearsal run through, two takes, end of story. Paul was in the studio during that session, but mostly sat quietly in a corner, resting or dozing. However, I could see from his facial expression that he was happy with what he heard. The next day, Paul, Mitch and I went back to the studio for mixing. Mitch and I worked out the mix and then ran it by Paul. He had been wrestling with an infection those past few days and really looked bad, so that we brought him back to the hospital after the mixing session. He refused to leave before we were done mixing, so we only could get him medical help that night. He never got out of the hospital again and was gone six weeks later. Mitch and I did some retouches to the mix during those weeks which Paul was hospitalized, but he never could get back to the studio.

[Kirby] What did he feel was the most important part of his legacy?

[Julia Reinhart] Shortly before he died, Paul asked me to keep the Manhattan New Music Project going, to get his recordings released and to find ways to keep his music getting performed. While his music obviously stood at the center of how he saw his impact on the world, I do think that he also considered this organization he built as a very important achievement.

[Kirby] Paul Nash's legacy can be found in these two CDs which are chock full of some of the finest jazz one could ever hear anywhere.

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