Bill Banfield Band
2. Losing Absalom
3. She Made It
4. Free Me*
5. The Thumb (W.
7. Follow the
Melody of Your Soul*
8. Free You*
9. Free Us*
songs form the Free
commissioned by Zeitgeist New Music Ensemble with support from the Jerome
Foundation, recorded live at Studio Z.
Blues Suite is
dedicated in loving memory of my brother Duvaughn Douglas Banfield (1948-2008),
and my mother who gave – and inspired in me – the gift of music,
Anna Lue Banfield (1925-2008)
Bill Banfield Band:
Burns: bass (tracks 1,4,5,8,9)
Aquo: bass (tracks 2,3,6)
McCutchen: electric piano (tracks 1,2,3)
Hill: conga, percussion (tracks 2,4,5)
Zeitgeist: (tracks 1,8,9)
O’Keefe: bass clarinet, clarinet, soprano sax
Barringer: xylophone, marimba, percussion
Cudd: vibraphone, percussion
by Bill Banfield for BMagic Music (The Jazz Urbane).
by Norton Llewellyn at Tracks Records.
engineer, Colin McArdell, Master Mix Studios, Minneapolis, MN.
by Jonathan Wyner, MWorks Studios, Cambridge, MA.
Photography by Tobechi Tobechukwu.
Special thanks to Cynthia Gehrig at the Jerome Foundation.
is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Blackburn, director, design
Campbell, operations manager
The Free Blues Suite is an important
experiment in American music on several levels. Banfield’s understanding of
composition as it relates to form and architecture is immediately apparent and
serves as the strongest thread to tie the collective works together. What makes
Banfield’s work so special is its sense of immediacy. The musicians communicate with a single purpose and intense
commitment to every song; a contemporary view of blues
if we could spring forward out of the reach and ruin of the marketing marking
madness of the music industry, the pressure to get on a “play list”?
interested in a movement among musicians, of discussions relating to the
creation of musical ideas, focused on songs, melodies, freedom of expression,
music made for and connected with people for them to enjoy, “ sing with” and be
moved by and lifted: An interest in the spirit of the songs, melodies, an
individual’s artistic voice, and the spirit of the communal—not the trend
or commercial matters of music. Music needs always to envibe and inspire people—connect
to people—and that is a spiritual idea that is embraced by the principal
players in the industry: the artists. …To write musically, not produced-driven
music, but music we hoped people would like to listen to us play. That’s a way
to think about the musical experience; Do the artists
feel great when they are creating? What would it be like again for our
listeners if musicians could be allowed to just jam? And that be the music we
loved to play and record, and people could hear that too?
what this particular recording project was intended to be like. We hung some
mics in an artist studio, we had a few friends at some tables, and we played some
songs, jams, favorites, and a connected composition or two. Eric Dolphy’s, Out To Lunch, or Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, Ornette’s Free Jazz, the Mingus workshops or even Zappa’s
aesthetic come to mind. Bands again—group communal “art making identities”,
musicians making music. Just inviting people into music made by musicians
playing with each other and for people: What could that be like..? We ought to Spring Forward again.
It is all well and good
to celebrate the blurring of genres, the crossing of musical borders, and other
signs of a post-stylistic or pan-stylistic era in which supposed dichotomies
dissolve and the only distinctions that matter are those of quality. To realize the goal is another matter,
yet within the purview of those both comfortable and persuasive inhabiting such
expansive terrain. Bill Banfield
has the musical wingspan, and is confident in both concert hall and jam
session, at home and ease whether committing his inspiration to manuscript or
expressing it in the moment.
Banfield draws upon the
rich heritage of his native Detroit’s, as manifested specifically in the
legendary musical spawning ground that is the first and hardly least of his
alma maters, Cass Technical High School.
From there, the inquisitive Banfield pursued music at the New England
Conservatory, theology at Boston University and composition at the University
of Michigan. He has taught at the
Universities of Indiana and St. Thomas, Minnesota (the latter in St. Paul),
currently teaches at the Berklee School of Music, led his own BMagic Orchestra
and contributed to the ongoing soundtrack of NPR, received commissions for
symphonies, operas, chamber and choral works. Banfield is also a guitar player who understands the power
of his instrument to create improvisational heat and lyrical glow, and a
bandleader who presents his partners with music that can be felt together. Spring Forward is Banfield making the parts cohere, showing us
something of all the things he is.
Among those things,
Banfield is a player who communicates.
Those known best for their writing are often disparaged when they pick
up an instrument, accused in jazz parlance of playing “arranger’s piano.” Banfield, in contrast, plays what we
might call composer’s guitar, an approach in which ideas with melodic content
and forward-springing suggestion trump self-contained technical exercises. He writes in a similar spirit, allowing
his themes to resonate and grow, while his arrangements allow every member of
the band to shine.
on jazz allows for stretching and grooving, and music by two of his idols, Wes Montgomery
and John Coltrane, fits snugly among his own creations while receiving distinct
interpretations. Montgomery, the
thumb-picking, octave-plucking guitar titan has clearly been one Banfield
source, though the present reading of “The Thumb” is more redolent of
Montgomery’s relaxed and affirmative spirit than his signature licks. Coltrane’s energy has clearly been a
model as well (check out especially “Free Me” and “Free Us”), but Coltrane’s
gift for melodic clarity and concision inspires a different direction on “Equinox,”
as well as a different take on the blues.
populist triumphs of Montgomery, George Benson and homeboy Earl Klugh,
guitarists who achieved success in collaboration with skilled arrangers, are
also celebrated by Banfield, albeit with the twist that Banfield can
generate both solos and charts (as if Montgomery and Don Sebesky, or Benson and
Claus Ogerman, had been united in a single person). “Losing Absalom” and “She Made It Crystal Clear” are
examples of this single-source conception at work, each orchestrated in a
manner than makes full use of the small group setting and elaborated through
solos that grow organically from the thematic material. This same unity can be detected in
Banfield’s unaccompanied “Follow the Melody of Your Soul,” a spontaneous
statement with logic and pacing that reveals a player determined to merge
feeling and thought.
vistas are viewed in the “Free Blues Suite,” an opus in five sections that
alternatively focus on rhythmic variety (“Spring Forward”), straight-ahead
swing (“Free Me”), lyricism (“Free You”) and free interchange (“Free Us”), with
“Follow the Melody…” serving as a cadenza/fulcrum. As energy and emotion changes from section to section, the
colors and themes provide narrative coherence, while the forms engender the necessary
Perhaps the most
impressive aspect of the suite is the success with which three of its sections
blend two separate ensembles, Banfield’s own band and the quartet
Zeitgeist. Writing music that
falls naturally into the orbit of one band is impressive enough; to write for
two simultaneously without audible seams in something else. Banfield clearly took the challenge as
an opportunity to paint from a new pallet in a manner that makes both the written
conjunctions more vivid and the final collage exhilarating in a manner that
recalls the music of another Banfield idol, Eric Dolphy.
It is indicative of
Banfield that, instead of presenting the suite in strict sequence, he has
opened it up by folding in the other tracks. The program that results becomes a commentary of sorts that
amplifies the moods of the extended work - the flow of “Absolom” and “Crystal” a response to “Spring
Forward,” the Montgomery and Coltrane pieces reinforcing in different ways the
swing underpinning “Free Me.” Much
like a Cubist portrait, the sequence provides multiple perspectives and reveals
highlights and shadows, without disrupting the integrity of the overall form.
Bill Banfield’s ideas
are too copious to allow any single program to serve as a “complete” self-portrait. Still, Spring Forward is a great starting point for those
unfamiliar with his work, perhaps an eye-opener for those who identify him with
the concert hall and the conductor’s podium, and a joy to all who appreciate
music that moves body, mind and spirit, that rides the myriad tributaries of
music before into the surging current of music to come.