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Josh Ginsburg, Zembla Variations

Brooklyn-based bassist and composer Josh Ginsburg is one of the most sought-after players on the New York jazz scene. He has performed and recorded across Europe, Asia, and the Americas with some of the greatest musicians of our time. Throughout Josh’s bass playing with many different artists, certain qualities emerge as constants: a beautiful tone, a powerful rhythmic sensibility, a mastery of the musical language, and the open-hearted spirit of a true improviser.

In addition to his international career as a sideman, Josh is also an emerging force as a bandleader and composer. Along those lines, Josh is proud to announce the release of his debut recording of all original compositions, Zembla Variations, featuring the amazing band of Eli Degibri on saxophone, George Colligan on piano, and Rudy Royston on drums. The album will be released by Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records on February 7, 2012. On this stunning recording Josh seeks new areas of unexplored musicality, yet he also brings to his music a deep love for our shared musical traditions of melody and song, rhythm, and drama.

January 12 @ The Jazz Gallery, NYC, CD Release Party!
Sets at 9 & 10:30 PM, tkts $15/10 members (1st set), $10/5 members (2nd set), jazzgallery
Featuring Josh Ginsburg – bass/compositions, Eli Degibri– saxophones, Danny Grissett– piano & Rudy Royston-drums

Josh Ginsburg

January 14 @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD, CD Release Party!
Sets at 8 & 9:30 PM, tkts $20, $10 students, http://www.andiemusiklive.com
Featuring Josh Ginsburg – bass/compositions, Eli Degibri- saxophones, Danny Grissett- piano & Rudy Royston-drums

Josh Ginsburg on Zembla Variations:
I have lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn for the past five years. Aside from “Push Bar”, all of the songs on this album were written in this period. In Red Hook there was, until recently, a small furniture company called Nova Zembla. In Nabokov’s “Pale Fire”, Zembla is a distant land that becomes less and less real (and more bizarre) as we learn more about it. It seemed obvious that the “new” Zembla must be Red Hook. This little neighborhood just across the water from Manhattan is also pretty unreal; a midwestern-like village with a view of the Statue of Liberty.

“Zembla Variations” was originally written as a chorale; it was composed as four independent voices without any preconception of the vertical harmonies. I think sometimes modern jazz can get preoccupied with static vertical harmonies, sometimes we forget that most of the great jazz is actually polyphonic. It’s the individual voices – the melodic bass lines, the solo lines, the inner piano voices, even the drums, that move in, and out of, harmony in a constant flux that makes the music so compelling and alive.

The song is structured as a steadily building crescendo. This dictates the solo order- bass, piano, saxophone, with each variation adding greater intensity and denser orchestration. The final variation is Eli improvising over an additional melody that is doubled by piano and bass. With the bass dropping out of it’s usual supportive role, this section becomes a twist on the “battling” saxophone and drum duos you often hear at the end of tenor solos. Eli really goes for it here, making it as big as possible before joining the melody at the very last second to finish the song.

Zembla is a great example of how Rudy really shapes these songs as a whole. Here the drums are liberated from the role as timekeeper – everyone can keep their own time! Instead, Rudy ensures that we don’t get lost in the forest of musical detail, and points everything towards the overall musical shape.

“Push Bar” is the oldest of the songs on this recording. After September 11, 2001, I think most New Yorkers were a bit nervous about riding the subways; even more so after new doors were installed with an ominous notice- Push Bar for Emergency Exit. It turned out that pushing the bar only set off a wimpy little siren, so it didn’t take long before most passengers just opened the door with the bar. The siren is now just another part of the constant drone of subway traffic.

In the song, the alarm siren is the repeating tone, first played by the bass and later the piano. The other instruments then float around this tone- it has lost all its alarming qualities. The solo bassline then sets up what John Ellis calls, “New York City angst- jazz” i.e. disorienting rhythms, crunchy dissonant harmonies, odd phrase lengths, and an overall aggressive (though funky) feel. Ironically when the “alarm” returns, it is a relief from the intensity of the middle section, and the two section balance each other by their extreme contrast.

George takes a pretty amazing first solo – these chord changes are not easy! George is one of the masters of jazz “maximalism.” It seems to be trendy to be minimalist and understated, which can be beautiful, but often it can seem like empty posturing. And does minimalism and understatement represent the world most of us live in? Regardless, with George there is no posturing at all, you get tons of ideas, almost to the point of overwhelming you, but still everything develops towards a greater sense of form. Eli’s solo here is really happening, he floats over the complexity and picks his spots to dig in. On the head out Rudy really reminds everyone that a song like this is really all about the drums.

“10,000 Leagues” is a stubborn melody over the harmonies from Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean?” This song works well without any chordal instrument, and it’s always nice to have the extra harmonic freedom in that setting. But I wanted to keep George in on this, so after a few run-throughs where I felt the piano was too constricting, I asked him to play “other.” At the time I had no more than a vague idea of what that actually meant, but George seemed to grasp it immediately. His chords here are also stubborn. They never follow the obvious ‘comping strategies; they relate more tangentially to the harmonies and rhythms.

Eli’s solo develops perfectly as an extension of the melody. Eli is a great improviser- he rarely relies on licks, when he plays something familiar (like his quote of Surrey with the Fringe On Top on the previous track) it is always a choice, not necessity. There is something refreshingly straightforward about Eli’s playing- a big dark sound, logical melodies that illuminate the harmonies, and a great sense of form and drama. Everything he plays really supports the music, and at the same time is instantly identifiable as Eli. He really hooks up with Rudy here, they are pushing each other to another level.

For the bass solo it’s obvious George and I have played together a lot. He immediately catches my harmonic variations and vice versa. More importantly, he gets the feeling I am going for. Some musicians (like audiences!) can space out during bass solos, not here.

It was important to me that this track is really swinging. The swing feeling is such a great feeling in music, which unfortunately some seem to think is old-fashioned or even backwards. There is nothing old-fashioned here, it swings hard but not in the way of the 50’s, 60’s, or even 2000’s. This feeling is alive and still changing all the time. Nothing is contradictory about modern, forward looking, swinging music.

“Koan” is a simple melody based primarily on one harmonic minor scale. My music often balances out – complex meters usually end up with simpler harmonies and melodies, and vice versa. In this one the meters change quite a bit; the primary change is between 3/2 and 3/4. The 3/2 is spacious and relaxed, while the 3/4 is busy and driving. Making this transition so quickly feels like a huge mental shift, especially at first. That’s the idea of it being a “Koan”, the first time you play (or hear) it, it’s seems like a riddle, but once you feel it in your bones, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

George begins with a great solo, immediately devouring the rhythmic material. Eli’s solo starts with a pause, giving everyone time to breathe, and then takes the song in a more muscular direction. I then take a bowed bass solo which leads into the head out. Rudy unleashes an pretty amazing display of virtuosity over the vamp near the end.
Speaking the modern jazz language on the bowed bass is a pretty huge challenge, which is probably why it isn’t heard too often. The bow can be a really nice change in orchestration, though. I’m pretty happy with how this came out.

Gently” is a serpentine melody over a slow groove in 7/4 time. Each melodic phrase is meant to be one full breath long. Unlike most feels in seven, this is felt as 3+4 for the first section, and 5+2 for the bridge. While this is pretty unusual, it’s more important to me that it feels natural and unaffected. The tenor and Rhodes share the melody, and the bass and drums keep it “in the pocket.” Over all I think of this as a pop song…maybe a pop song from another planet. The title is really a reminder to the musicians of the feeling- sometimes we see complexity on the page and think that must equal intensity. This song proves that is not always the case.

The bass solo, the longest on the album, comes next. Bass solos sometimes get a bad rap, I have always felt that good musical ideas with a strong tone is always happening, regardless of the instrument playing. I hope you agree.

Oxygen” is based around a recurring three bar phrase. The melody was originally written for the voice; I would like to write lyrics for it someday. Like “Gently”, the melodic phrases are meant to be one breath long. The three bar phrase implies a relaxed breath, with a longer exhale than inhale.

Red Giant” was one of those rare songs that writes itself, I sat down at the piano and when I got up, it was finished. It is based around two transposed piano voicings, though the bass does not follow the movement of these voicings. Around the time of writing this, I saw the Darren Arnofsky film “The Fountain” on an airplane. In it, the main character is traveling on an asteroid towards a exploding star (intentionally!), known as a Red Giant. Why he was doing this, well, I’m not really sure exactly (I think I fell asleep for that part) but the imagery stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

On a less esoteric note, I think this song is a great vehicle for improvisation. After so many complex forms its nice to have something where we just “lay it all out”. The churning feeling comes from the constant interaction of the rhythm section. When you play with less familiar musicians, it can be better to play it “straight.” But not here, the whole band becomes a living, breathing animal. There are so many subtle things going on, I think you could listen 1,000 times and always hear something new. And the drum solo alone is worth the price of admission.

Jakewalk” is an extended blues. The bassline stumbles through the changes, like someone stumbling home after a few too many- that is the “Jakewalk”. No bass solo here, I am just enjoying laying down the carpet, so to speak. The rhythms are strange, maybe a little absurd actually, but I think it still feels great. At the end, as the music fades, we finally make it home.

More on Josh Ginsburg:
Josh began playing professionally in his hometown, Baltimore, MD, a city with a rich jazz history and a continued jazz presence. He studied with jazz legends Jackie McLean and Buster Williams. After 12 years spent purely as a performer, he currently is studying again at the City College of New York with Grammy award-winning bassist, John Patitucci, and Pulitzer Prize-winning “classical” composer, David Del Tredici.

As a sideman, Josh has performed and/or recorded with countless jazz luminaries: Tom Harrell, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Barron, Bobby Watson, Billy Hart, Lennie White, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Ralph Peterson, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Myron Walden, Eric Harland, Marcus and E.J. Strickland, Robert Glasper, Helen Sung, Vanessa Rubin, John Ellis, Tom Guarna, Aaron Parks, Jeremy Pelt, Jaleel Shaw, and many others. He is a regular member of the George Colligan Trio and the JazzReach Performing Arts Foundation/Metta Quintet.

In addition to his private bass students, Josh has given university and professional-level master classes and workshops across the United States with the JazzReach Performing Arts Foundation. He is currently coaching undergraduate ensembles at City College of New York, and has been a resident performer/clinician at the Seminario de Jazz de Pontevedre (Spain) and the Guimarães Jazz Festival (Portugal).

Please visit – www.joshginsburg.com + www.bjurecords.com

..:: SOURCE: Red Cat Publicity ::..

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