Week 3 at IAR: The Casual Sextet

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Since 2000 I’ve written a number of pieces that aren’t the usual “lead sheet” type of jazz tune.  I formed The Casual Sextet to perform these compositions.  We’ve been playing off and on for about 10 years, and it’s always been with different personnel and instrumentation.  I’m finally going in a more concrete direction with the group, and back in March I organized a show for The Casual Sextet at Fat Cat that included myself on alto saxophone, Natalie John on vocals, Brad Mason on trumpet, Yoshi Waki on bass, Mike Eckroth on piano, and Brian Fishler on drums.  It was the first gig in 3 years with this band, with an almost completely different lineup of musicians, and it felt good to revisit these somewhat unusual works in the Travis lexicon. By the way…my first arrangement of a Bjork song was “Army of Me’ for the Casual Sextet, and it served as a prototype for the Bjorkestra arrangement!

It was a no-brainer then to bring this band into the studio to record for the IAR series. Yoshi wasn’t able to do it, but my friend and amazing bass player Sam Minaie (who also recorded the quartet stuff a couple of weeks prior) came it and tore it up!

In keeping with tradition, here are a few of the rough mixes:

Like Hermeto: This is dedicated to Hermeto Pascoal, one of my musical idols.  The chromatic eighth note line is inspired my his music.

Dreaming in Teflon: One of the first songs I wrote for The Casual Sextet, features a 7/8 ostinato figure, a chromatic melody, a blowing section, and a gospelly vocal solo.

Tyranny in Paradise: This is another extended composition that has an intro for saxophone and voice duet, which gives way to a more sinister melody (the tyranny, maybe?), followed by a more hopeful tune.

enjoy!

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Bjorkestra: The Lost Banff Tracks

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I attended the Banff Jazz Workshop for Improvised Music in spring 2008, and had the amazing opportunity to have my Bjorkestra arrangements performed and recorded by several of the students taking part in the workshop.  It’s been awhile, so I don’t exactly remember the names of everyone that took part in recording these tracks, but I do remember a few: Natalie John, vocals; Mark Nelson, drums; Chris van Voorst van Beest, bass; Dan Gassin, piano; Stan Killian, tenor sax (solo on “Pluto”).

The cool thing about these recordings is that none of these tunes have been recorded in the studio previously or since.  Everyone did an excellent job, pulling it together in just a couple of rehearsals, and everyone’s enthusiasm in making this music happen was absolutely special and beautiful!

Big Time Sensuality – This arrangement was inspired by Bjork’s live version on “Post Live” from her “Live Box” collection.  The intro and outro has a classic Ellingtonian vibe, and fully exploits the energy and impact of jazz big band with an intense slow shuffle feel. 

All is Full of Love – One of the few instrumental arrangements for The Bjorkestra, this arrangement is an alto saxophone feature that I wrote for myself to perform as the soloist with the band.  It has a Gershwin-esque introduction that gives way to a jazz ballad.  The saxophone solo section goes into double time for a medium swing feel, and there’s a nice (if I may say so myself) saxophone cadenza at the end. 

Pluto – This is one of my favorite arrangements for The Bjorkestra, because of the distinct contrast between it and the original version on Bjork’s “Homogenic.”  I had the idea from the first lyric of the song, “Excuse me, but I just have to explode” to contain the energy of the arrangement into a re-harmonized and sensuous bossa-nova that has a real inner tension and pathos.  The energy and tension slowly builds to the end, where the music “explodes” into a collective free improvisation.