Decades of friendship and the crossing of paths in the music industry does not necessarily guarantee opportunities for intimate, meaningful collaboration. Professional musicians know that the balance between making a living and pursuing dream projects usually tilts toward whatever keeps a roof over one’s head. But every so often, the chance to get a project together that is musically and emotionally rewarding comes about. Such opportunities must be grabbed.
The collaborative recording, Say It Quiet, by longtime friends John Ellis, Adam Levy, and Glenn Patscha is the result of taking advantage of such an opportunity. These three brilliant, busy musicians take the time to put together a gorgeously crafted collection of songs chosen to showcase their sympathetic personalities and musical approaches.
The Canadian born and Nova Scotia based Patscha was already working professionally before relocating to New Orleans to study with the late, great Ellis Marsalis. Patscha became one of the stalwart jazz pianists on the scene, where he met the future woodwind ace, John Ellis, who came from North Carolina. It wasn’t long before Patscha looked to the world of rock and pop music to make a living, leaving the jazz scene to record and tour with the likes of Marianne Faithful, Levon Helm, Sheryl Crow, and Bonnie Raitt.
In the meantime, Ellis established himself as one of the most in demand woodwind players in New York in the fields of jazz and pop music. Through an introduction by Charlie Hunter, Ellis met guitarist and Californian Adam Levy, who has toured and recorded with both Norah Jones and with Tracy Chapman. At the same time, Patscha had created his band Ollabelle and would cross paths with Levy at Jones’s beloved Living Room residency in New York City or the Carriage House in Boston, striking up a friendly bond.
Regular contact allowed the three to consider possible musical alliances, but it was a chance performance with Patscha as a part of Ellis’s Double Wide band that led to a revelation for the keyboardist. Having just beaten cancer, Patscha reexamined what his musical goals were and reunited with aspirations in jazz and instrumental music, having missed playing in such an open fashion with Ellis. Levy was a natural choice to be included in the project, as their musical styles and affiliations crossed over in many ways, though the three had never previously recorded all together. It was apparent to them that they would have infinite abilities to explore the possibilities in the music but it was their capacity to squeeze the soul out of the music that made the teaming so essential.
Once the three united, they decided to bring together material in a sort of potluck dinner style, with each member suggesting music they would like to play. Because of their strong pop and jazz roots, they were not overly concerned with labels for the music. The group knew that they wanted to remain instrumental only, allowing their instruments to be their voices and define the textures of the music.
In a perfect world, the group would have found a way to have a residency in a local venue and develop material as members brought new pieces in from week to week. Levy was in Los Angeles at the time and much of their initial brainstorming came from text conversations, proposing tunes and ways to arrange them. Their book kept growing and growing until a recording was inevitable.
Ellis, Levy, and Patscha convened together with bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Dan Rieser during May 2019 at Brooklyn Recording. They brought in an eclectic collection of originals and choice cuts from some favorite composers. Using their studio time to their advantage, the group put their producing chops, honed from decades of studio time, to work, putting elements into songs that called for it, whether through layering of parts or through overdubbing. The studio’s wealth of instruments and Ellis’s own arsenal of woodwinds, including saxophones, clarinets, and flute, provided a vast palette of sounds for the ensemble to construct their own aural world from.
The recording begins with Patscha’s “Bahia,” a homage to legendary singer Milton Nascimento that shows the depth of the keyboardist’s appreciation for Brazilian music from his early forays to ultimately performing at the well-known Bourbon Street club in Sao Paulo. Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” was arranged by Ellis, whose melancholy clarinet, combined with Levy’s acoustic guitar, find beauty in the song’s simplicity. Levy brought in Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Barakaat,” a piece with intriguing movement that slowly reveals itself over the steadiness of Morrissey and Rieser’s beat. Patscha and Ellis brought in a favorite of their mentor, Ellis Marsalis, the brilliant James Black written blues, “Magnolia Triangle.”
Patscha wrote “Eleanor” for his dearly departed mother, a woman who was restless but quiet, an essence he captured in the piece and heightened by the warm but constant sound of his Oberheim synthesizer. Inspired by Grant Green and Herbie Hancock’s tension building rendition, Levy suggested “Motherless Child” to provide an opportunity for the group to set their teeth into one of Rieser’s propulsive grooves. The group comes together perfectly on Randy Newman’s “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield,” a simple tune that Patscha had always loved.
Ellis’s glorious “Better Angels” takes its name from a line from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, a gospel-tinged musical reminder of how relevant that message remains today. Ellis’s bittersweet “Dogwood” was a tune he could never find a home for but with this ensemble, and guest Stefan Bauer’s lush vibes work, the piece truly blossoms. The recording concludes with Patscha’s “Portage La Prairie,” a sauntering blues that takes its name from a Manitoba town where Patscha had one of his first (and most harrowing) professional gigs.
Recording together for the first time, John Ellis, Adam Levy, and Glenn Patscha have created a singular recording with Say It Quiet, a record that utilizes the trio’s full musical potential across genres to create an unassuming, instrumental album of pure music.
released August 13, 2021
John Ellis - tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet & alto flute
Adam Levy - electric & acoustic guitars
Glenn Patscha - piano, organ & keyboards
Chris Morrissey - bass
Dan Rieser - drums
Stefan Bauer - vibraphone (2, 9, 10)
Erin Donovan - vibraphone (1)