As a 25-year veteran of pushing the boundaries of modern composition, prolific musician Joe Garrison is getting set to introduce his most adventurous project yet.
Releasing April 7, The People Upstairs is the follow-up to 2013’s Veranda, which the San Diego Troubadour favorably compared to the ground-breaking work of Oliver Nelson while also landing in NBC San Diego’s Top 10 jazz releases that year. Listen here
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Lori Bell, the new opus consists of 5 movements, with each of the first four featuring a different horn (flute, flugelhorn, clarinet, bass trombone), while the last highlights the entire ensemble. The music moves back and forth between tightly composed and radically improvised. Garrison explains, “In my mind I envisioned the instruments being personifications of a family, or group of people who have moved in upstairs. Somehow a cat, a bird and a kite are involved. They probably have been living here for a long time, but they’re definitely observing the proceedings. I like to think that The People Upstairsturn out to be the musicians – and beyond that, anybody who hears the recording.”
“Moving Day” jump-starts the wild and wondrous action before side-shifting through the space time continuum on “The Balcony, 3am.” Elsewhere “The Cat, the Bird and the Kite” elegantly explores an ethereal dimension, providing an emotional counterpoint to the dizzying ascension of “2nd Floor Man.” The final step up the Stairs is to behold the elegiac beauty of “The Two Stars,” which is based on a poem Garrison wrote about what happens in a relationship when one of the members dies. Profoundly moving, “The Two Stars” represents the sole track Joe performs on.
Clocking in at 41 minutes, the intricate and visceral compositions on The People Upstairs recall the eclectic veracity of John Cage, who decreed “All music is music when you let it flow.” It’s a mindset Garrison has championed throughout career, fusing jazz, classical, rock, Indian, Indonesian Gamelan, Japanese, stride, medieval, and minimalism into his amalgamations, so it’s only natural that his music doesn’t really fit in, yet, unequivocally, draws you in.
Commissioned by local music event, Rusefest, in 1989, Night People’s sole ongoing purpose has been playing original, creative, modern jazz, usually in large ensembles, using instruments not normally associated with jazz, such as oboe, French horn, flute, and bass clarinet. While the collective expanded to 19 members at a KSDS Jazz Live concert in 2015, The People Upstairs is configured as a septet throughout the main suite before increasing to nine on closer “The Two Stars.” Joining Garrison on this vast musical journeyare acclaimed jazz and classical musicians, Lori Bell (flute), Dr. Ariana Warren (clarinet, bass clarinet), Derek Cannon (flugelhorn), Brian O’Donnell (bass trombone), Melonie Grinnell (piano), Tim McNalley (electric bass), Michael Hayes (drums) and New York French horn player Nicolee Kuester, who commissioned Garrison to compose the project.
Receiving classical training at UCSD, CSU Fullerton (BM), and University of Colorado at Boulder (MM), where he gained expertise in music composition emphasizing indeterminate and minimalist approaches, Garrison’s compositional process draws from the entirety of his life experience and traditional study. Having participated in many styles of music, from tightly composed to freely improvised, he has found a middle ground. Improvisation and through-composition are employed as structural elements serving his musical forms, thus opening up space to provide contrast and distort time while maintaining forward motion.
In addition to the works of Cage, Garrison has been influenced by innovators from all eras, including Leonin and Perotin, Claudio Monteverdi, Hector Berlioz, Igor Stravinsky, Harry Partch, Terry Riley, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis. When pressed for a reflective Garrison comparison, he suggests, “Stravinsky with a rhythm section.”
During his illustrious career, Garrison has played keyboards with the the likes of Tambau’s International Orchestra, Ruse Collective, Ira Liss’ Big Band Jazz Machine, Bob McMahon’s Real Band, Koko Pelli, and Immediate Freedom Latin Jazz Ensemble.
He has also performed with Daniel Jackson, Gilbert Castellanos, Rob Thorsen, Ben Schachter, Derek Canon, Tim McMahon, Tambau, Bill Caballero, Burnett Anderson, Gene Perry, Mark Lamson, Kevin Delgado, Gunnar Biggs, Kim Kimmery, Steve Feierabend, Larry De La Cruz, Dave Millard, and Kamau Kenyatta, who won a Grammy for producing Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit.
JOE GARRISON and NIGHT PEOPLE The People Upstairs
1.Moving Day (flute feature)
2. The Balcony, 3am (flugelhorn feature)
3. The Cat, the Bird and the Kite (clarinet feature)