Diggin’ Bones -notes

Diggin’ Bones: CD Notes

“Frankly” – is a tune that embodies the sound of what I’m trying to do with the Coolerators: to combine the sound of funky organ combo jazz with more modernist compositional ideas. One of the main things I love about playing with the Coolerators is these musicians’ comfort level with a wide variety of styles, which is both suitable and absolutely necessary for this music. Their combination of superb musicianship and ever-surprising unique personal styles makes thrilling collaborators. Alister Spence’s organ solo is a standout here.

What Is Real?” – This is a tune that I originally used to play with my band Phillip Johnston’s Idea when we played around the wonderfully diverse rock scene in New York in the 1980s. This was an amazing time to be in New York: where an incredible richness of variety flowered in the New York club scene. PJ’s Idea was a very improvisational counterpoint to The Public Servants, the more compositionally-oriented No-Wave band I co-led with vocalist Shelley Hirsch from 1980-1982. Most of the Idea tunes were simple funky riffs that we used as vehicles for improvisation – and we did this in rock clubs! It was a great time.

Diggin’ Bones” – Two tunes on this recording were originally recorded on the duo CD I made with Guy Klucevsek, Tales From The Cryptic (Winter & Winter). I have subsequently played this one in a number of different settings, varying the soloing from a modal groove to completely free. The Coolerators reinvent it every time we play. It’s been called a klezmer tune, but I don’t really hear it that way. I don’t know what it is, maybe a bitonal multi-world music dance number.

Temporary Blindness” –  is a new tune that I wrote specifically for this recording; it and “Ducket” (see trk 10) represent most accurately where a certain facet of my writing is at today. For better or worse, like “Pipeline” on the Transparent Quartet CD, I feel that these are tunes that only I could have and would have written.

Later” – I originally invented the main melody here as something to play when I used to play on the street solo on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco in the mid-70s while I waited for my girlfriend to get off work at a jewellery store for tourists. Later I struggled off and on for decades trying to figure out how to make it into a complete tune. This current version, like others from this CD, is one that I’ve found a way to play in different settings.

The Revenant” (Hurley) – “The Revenant” is a tune by Michael Hurley, a folk musician and visual artist whose music I have loved since I discovered his LPs Arm Chair Boogie and Hi Fi Snock Uptown in a used record store in the early 70s. This spooky ballad hails from the record Wolfways and has chilling and melancholy lyrics. I try to do it justice to it by translating into a modified ska tune. Lloyd’s beautiful bass solo evokes the spirit of the tale beautifully I think. The version is dedicated to Anna Volska who always loved our version of this song.

“Legs Yet” – Is another tune that originated in Phillip Johnston’s Idea. There’s almost nothing to it, yet is has a specific sound, rooted in its combination of blues and whole tone scales. That small seed gives rise to a very particular kind of improvisation, which nevertheless is always different in the hands of these creative musicians.

Trial By Error” – While I love the version I recorded with Guy (see trk3), this tune always wanted to be played by a band as well. Guy and I were in part brought together by our mutual love of counterpoint, which is reflected in this tune, but Nic Cecire’s great drumming adds a new level of rhythm to it.

Regrets #17” – This is a tune that I previously recorded with my 90s band The Transparent Quartet. One of my favorite things about the Coolerators is the freedom and spontaneity of our group improvisations, which is why you see that in a number of tunes played here like “What Is Real?” and “Legs Yet”. This is where the excitement of a live gig is captured on recording.

Ducket Got A Whole In It” – I end with another tune written specifically for this recording. Why would someone write a tune like this? I will answer by saying that I try to write tunes that have the necessity of motivic improvisation built into them, and I think that you will hear that all of the tunes on this record have improvisations that are very closely linked to the tunes themselves and that it could not be otherwise. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway.