The cover to The People Upstairs looks like it was drawn and colored by a child. The lines are simple, with washes and splotches of color. A very displeased kitty cat is looking up at a bird in a tree with a kite overhead. The bird smirks. Did the bird snatch the kite from the kitty? Or is there another explanation? Either way the cover made me laugh out loud. It is wonderfully simple and, even better, it’s playful, a perfect visual summary for the music of the disk.
Joe Garrison made the cover artwork; he is also the composer of the five-piece suite comprising The People Upstairs. With titles such as “Moving Day” and “2nd Floor Man,” there is some hint of a story here, probably about some folks who live upstairs, but as with the cat, bird, and kite, the listener is left to guess as to what that story might be.
And, as with the artwork, the music has a playful quality. It is not boisterous, child-like, or silly. It is playful, and playful in a sort of toying way. Themes and motifs jump in and abruptly stop. Motifs play out against each other. There is some of the reflection that I heard on Garrison’s Book of Gratitude, his suite that his jazz orchestra, Night People, performed two years ago, but it often gives way to lighter moments. There is no irony, self-reflective or otherwise, as you hear in ragtime music. I got the sense that Garrison was playing around with all the notes, playing around with the musicians, and also playing around with his listeners. This playfulness really got the creative juices flowing; this may be Garrison’s best disk yet.
The different parts of the suite are separated not so much by compositional contrasts as they are by a featured musical instrument. There is a movement highlighting flute, flugelhorn, clarinet, and bass trombone. The fifth movement features the ensemble. The last movement features French horn, flute, and piano.
I reviewed the previous Night People CD, which had different musicians on it. Maybe on this recording it is the Tuesday Night People as opposed to the Thursday Night People? No matter, the folks on this record are tops. All the musicians, as ensemble players as well as the featured performers, shine. Saying that, I’d like to mention in particular the performance of flutist Lori Bell. She produces a powerful and rich sound from her flute. Everything else is there, too: intonation, fluidity, presence, etc.
Bell produced the CD, with engineering by Daniel Ross and Richard James. Tripp Sprague did all the mixing and mastering. All did great work. I could hear all the instruments distinctly. As a composer, Garrison loves to work with timbre, and it’s all there, from the richness on the bass clarinet to the clarity and splash of the flute and drums.
If you’re interested in hearing a composer grow and develop, as well as a top-notch recording of great musicians, give a listen to The People Upstairs.
CD release for The People Upstairs happens on Saturday, April 8, at Dizzy’s,
located in Arias Hall, Musicians Association Bldg., 1717 Morena Blvd. www.nightpeoplejazz.com/