I feel like I have discussed this tune’s origin frequently over the years, but that may just be because it is the oldest piece on the album, by a significant margin. Debuting way back in 2010, ‘Mornings in Feudal Japan’ went through an extensive retooling process over the years, as I worked to hone the arrangement. There were times when we didn’t play it for a long while, but I kept coming back to it. This is unusual for me; while I generally do another small edit of my pieces after the (debut performance, if a piece requires an extensive structural overhaul, I am more likely to just move on to something else. Not that this is a great practice, but it’s what comes from having more music than gigs and being impatient by nature. I’m glad I stuck with this one though, and pleased with where we landed with the arrangement.
As for the background/inspiration of the tune, I’ll run through this quick since, if you’re reading this, you may well have seen this info on a program note or something over the years: during my freshman year at UCSC, I signed up for an 8 AM Japanese Cinema course during the perpetually rainy winter quarter. I was already a fan of a few of the more basic classics of Japanese cinema (thanks, UC Theater, 1976-2001!), but there was something particularly hypnotic and indelible about being submerged in classic Japanese films (Kurosawa, Kobayashi, Ozu, Ichikawa, Seijun Suzuki, etc) in this environment, accompanied by lots and lots of coffee (Santa Cruz Roasting Company’s Sweet Italian, please). This is also when I started accepting my destiny as a morning person; incidentally, a very sizable percentage of Clevenger Group music has been written between the hours of 6 and 10 AM. The blaring horns alternating with the misty textural improv that opens the tune is intended to represent the fight with the alarm clock and coming in and out of consciousness. Musically, there is nothing particularly Japanese about the tune, because that would be annoying, to my way of thinking. But hopefully it paints a picture nonetheless, whether you’re picturing a cinematic rendering of Kyoto or dodging spun-out hippie unicyclists in the early morning rain while walking from Crown College to the classroom units by the Science Library.
The tune’s main guitar/bass theme exemplifies the type of groove-starting-on-an-unexpected off-beat that I was talking about way back in the ‘Difficult Clocks’ liner notes. I’ve had a couple people tell me that moments in the opening harmonized saxophone line remind them of the music of the brilliant Ethiopian jazz musician Mulatu Astatke, which, while unintended, I could certainly only take as a compliment. Following the theme, there is a duet solo by Cory Wright and yours truly, followed by an interlude in which I, as always, indulge my stubborn insistence in using slide guitar in a jazz ensemble context.
The second solo sees clarinetist Rachel Condry taking the lead. I first heard Rae playing with Crystal Pascucci (who returns on cello for this tune) and was immediately taken with her incredibly deep and beautiful tone on the bass clarinet and her expansive improvisational language. When Aaron Novik left town, Rachel was an obvious choice for the chair. She is a fearlessly game player and it’s been thrilling hearing her voice integrate with the band. Rachel’s solo on ‘Mornings in Feudal Japan’ is focused and beautifully phrased, with Tim DeCillis joining in throughout.
One last thing/shameless gushing: I absolutely love the drum duet on this take. We did one other take of this tune in which the drum solo was extremely intense and full-on. Honestly, I really enjoyed that take too (even at extreme dynamics, you’re at no risk of getting tasteless with Jon Arkin and Jason Levis), but the atmospheric approach, with each drummer utilizing all manner of small percussion instruments, on the master take was a clear winner. This is another moment where the quality of the engineering helps out a great deal. Engineer John Finkbeiner really shows what a virtuoso he is throughout Stateless. 8 musicians recording at once, with limited separation (all of us were in the main room at New, Improved Recording, with the exception of Lisa Mezzacappa and her bass and Tim DeCillis on vibes, each of whom were in isolation booths with sight lines on the main room. (The only overdubs on the album were Crystal’s cello tracks, a few keyboard/mallets from me, and a couple percussion details from Tim.) The proximity was essential for executing this music, but it certainly created challenges for the conscientious engineer! Finkbeiner did an incredible job throughout (he mixed the album as well) and I am grateful for his ear and creativity. The master Myles Boisen mastered the abum and is also a big contributor to the overall sound. I never master a project with anyone other than Mr. Boisen, if I can help it.
And with that, I’m signing off. You know where to reach me if you have any questions and, more importantly, I hope you will consider buying a copy of the album, Bandcamp streaming or CD (link below!). Making records with professional musicians, engineers, studios, and contributing visual artists is an extremely expensive business, and one that I really think should survive. At the risk of sounding like a ‘sad jazz pedant’, we all vote with our wallets when it comes to the culture we would like to support, and I hope you’ll hear something on Stateless that encourages you to, if you will, vote for us.
Thank you for reading and, much better, listening.