By the time my band Tumble released our first album, “Music for Trio”, in February of 2017, Tumble was already a quartet. We had the good fortune of adding bass player Bill Douglass as a full time member in 2016. Bill is a master musician and improviser who has played with so many musical greats including Paul McCandless, Mark Isham, Art Lande, Mose Allison, Tom Waits and many others. For Randy, Sean and I, Bill was a musical mentor and we learned so much from the opportunities we had to play with him. We were often encouraged by Bill to leave more space in the sound. During the time we played with him, the band developed a deeper sense of listening into our ensemble playing and group improvisations.
In May 2017, three months after the release of our first album, Tumble returned to the studio to begin work on our second album titled “Waves.” Just like on our first record, we tracked all songs live. We again recorded at Blue Whale Recording with our friend Bruce Wheelock. Bruce runs a very warm and homey studio and he excels at making the artists feel comfortable. This was the perfect environment for us to create and explore!
The centerpiece of the album is Sean’s magnum opus “The Nuthatch.” It is a 3-part suite that was inspired by the namesake bird. This piece covers vast musical terrain including odd time signature grooves, free-form group improvisation, a solo guitar cadenza, and a samba inspired ending. At the heart and center of this piece is a beautifully expressive midsection featuring Bill’s inspired bass improvisations. He takes a lyrical approach over Sean’s descending chord progression. We chose “The Nuthatch” as the opening piece on the record. The album is quite eclectic musically, and we initially had difficulty decided where to start regarding song order. “The Nuthatch” covers so much ground through diverse textures and thus seemed to be a microcosm for the whole record. On the morning that the album was released, I looked out of my kitchen window to see a Nuthatch perching on our bird feeder. I thought it was an auspicious sign!
For me, working on “Unsuitable” was also a highlight. In the early 80s, I was introduced to artists who were creating ultra short pieces of music. During that period, highly creative groups like The Residents and The Minutemen were routinely producing songs that were under 2 minutes. This is so much shorter than is necessary to create a proper pop song, but in the realm of “art music” it can work quite well. Around the same time that I was exploring these groups, I was also studying classical piano. I was playing the 2 and 3 part inventions from Bach which are similarly short, concise and musically dense. This esthetic of short pieces is in some ways the opposite of what Tumble is well known for – long extended jams. I came to the composition for “Unsuitable” with the explicit desire to create something that could work for Tumble but still be short and concise. It was also fun to record my daughter Mei Lin on this piece playing some pizzicato violin which makes a counterpoint with the mbira part quite nicely. I am proud of the 1:20 time mark on this piece.
Bill brought Monk’s “Misterioso” into the group. For Bill, Thenonius Monk was an artistic high priest supreme. Something about the alternating octaves that I often play on mbira made him think of this iconic Monk melody. He suggested that Tumble try playing “Misterioso”. He suggested to me that I play an mbira solo on this song. I had never before taken this role in Tumble and I was initially quite reticent to say the least. Randy, Sean and Bill are all such fine soloists and so the prospect of taking a solo break was initially not appealing to me. Bill was quite encouraging though and I think he had a vision of just how cool an mbira break could sound. With his encouragement, I found my way and I really appreciate the support and patience of the whole band during the process of finding my voice in this musical context. I really enjoy the quirky Tumble version of this tune and think of Bill every time I hear it.
Randy brought in his fun Ornette Coleman-influenced tune “Much Happy”. This was the first time that Tumble played a completely free piece in terms of having no time signature. The tune has an amazing blend and balance of quirky humor and sensitive listening. The group improvisation on this tune was a highlight of this recording process for me. It is an example of a tune that really grew in scope and approach through the process of recording in the studio. Early on during the recording sessions, we brought in several special guest musicians for an expanded group approach on this tune. I think we recorded more versions of this song than any other. In the end, we chose a quartet version for inclusion on the record.
On this album, we had the opportunity to mix with Mikail Graham. This was also a fun collaboration. I had worked with Mikail several years previously on my solo album “Soft Sea Creatures”. We spent many sessions mixing that album and I greatly appreciated the sense of musicality and artistry that he brought to the process. Sean and I spent many nights at Mikail’s “Other Studio” in Nevada City working on the mix for Waves. On several tunes, Mikail brought in extra layers of treatment on the instruments to enhance the emotional tone of each piece. Sean and I really enjoyed working with Mikail on this process and I feel that he helped bring these tracks to the next level.
Tumble had the good fortune of playing a couple of house concerts at Bill’s friend Ellen Reynard’s home in Nevada City. She had a beautiful intimate space for us to perform in. The walls were adorned with some incredible art. I later found out that the art in the space were original paintings from her late husband Paul Reynard. Paul’s art covered a vast array of artistic territory throughout the six decades of his work. We were quite taken by his painting “The Orient” and Ellen graciously allowed us to use tis image for the album cover. We felt that the imagery of this piece provides a nice counterpoint to the sonic elements of “Waves”. As on our first record, we again worked with graphic artist Julia VBH on the CD graphics and layout.
Just as “Music for Trio” was already a document of a past stage of the band by the time it was released, so again Tumble has moved on since the time that we recorded “Waves”. We are currently thrilled to be playing as a quartet with bassist/percussionist Rob Holland and our music is moving in some new and exciting directions. “Waves” captures the band as it was during a special time when we were a quartet with Bill Douglass. I am really glad to have this musical statement out in the world to share with others.