Album of the Year (2011): Storms/Nocturnes – “VIA”


Storms/Nocturnes is the trio project of vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Geoffrey Keezer and saxophonist Tim Garland.  Seven years since their last collaboration as a trio outfit, they’ve come together to create an alluring album of uncompromising beauty.  With the concept in mind of building song themes around the geographical locations that were the inspiration of their respective muses, they have created a sonic tour guide of the music’s source while simultaneously mapping it out with the finality of recorded pieces.

VIA is Bird is the Worm‘s pick for the 2011 Album of the Year.  Let me tell you why…

A characteristic shared by most all of my favorite albums is that an overarching sound is established in the opening notes and carried for the entirety of the recording, and that the individual songs develop that sound theme even while they deviate from it.  In fact, I kind of insist that some songs deviate from the overall sound theme of the album.  Flaws can enhance beauty, dissonance can elevate peacefulness, that Which Is Not, can illustrate That Which Is, and even though VIA is an album that has a sound theme of sublime and mysterious serenity, if it weren’t for those compositions of a frenetic pace and clamoring vitality, I don’t know that the peaceful tunes would have had the same profound impact.

About that music…

The opening notes:  Tim Garland’s sax both inviting, yet possessing a mysterious element that should keep the listener wary.  Vibes and piano inflate both the intrigue and the spookiness.  There is a sense of birds with intertwining flight patterns going up up up, then a sudden dip back towards the earth, before starting all over again.  The song is called “Tiger Lily’s DIY Paradise.”  It was inspired by Keezer’s backyard studio and garden, designed and built by his wife, that acts as his creative retreat and source of inspiration and comfort.

Second track “Her Sanctuary” (the first embedded tune above) begins with Keezer’s opening notes as icicles slowly melting.  The drip of Locke’s vibes joins in, a complementary rhythm pattern that shades the edges of Keezer’s piano lines.  When Garland enters with the deep moan of bass clarinet, it’s the like the clouds parting and moonlight shining down on all that ice and pools of water.  There is a slow build into some frenetic playing; it comes on so slow that by the time it’s noticed, it’s right on top of everything.  And then suddenly its gone, with a return to that beautiful opening melody.

After the uptempo piece “Ripertoli”, things get laid back with “Lake of Weathers”.  The trio takes turns giving voice to their expressions of serenity.  The interplay between trio members is outstanding; they display a simpatico relationship, feeding off each other’s sounds while simultaneously building the whole of the song into something more than back and forth interactions.

“Daly Avenue” is Joe Locke running wind sprints on the vibes while Keezer and Garland clear the path by warning people to stay the hell out of Locke’s way.  The excitement in both the players and the composition is palpable.

“Snowfall in Central Park” (embedded just below) is probably my favorite on the album.  It has all the elegance of snow falling over trees, of stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia before coming to learn of either lions or witches, of the welcome hush that snowfall envelops a massive city with, of the magic that a new snowfall brings and how it gives everything mundane around us a sense of mystery and excitement and newness and purity, a renewal of life and hope for better things.

“Ambleside Nights” is a hopscotch lesson.  Quick jerky movements that dart back and forth while giving the impression of vertical motion.

“A Big Wavy Thing” is a soundtrack for a cemetery where the ghosts only come out in the daylight and the nighttime hours are passed by owls playing games of Texas Hold ’em.  There’s a spookiness to the song, but the fun kind, not the kind that ends in horror movie bloodshed.

“Infinite Blue” is a brief interlude, like watching the seagulls fluttery across your field of vision before returning to a conversation.  In this metaphor, the trio plays the role of the seagulls.

“Miramar” ends the album in the same way it began.  Like a reflection in the water of opening track “Tiger Lily,” it opens with inviting notes on vibes, with piano joining in next.  Garland’s opening notes on this tune are on sax (as opposed to bass clarinet on the first track).  And if the opening track was a cloudy day full of rain, then “Mirimar” is the appearance of the sun to give the album a bright send-off.

Back to the album theme and that of the individual tunes… In the liner notes, there is a photograph that corresponds to each song and an explanation from the artist who wrote the composition of what the photo represents and how it’s reflected in the song itself.  They range from spots at home to venues on the tour road to the homes of friends and loved ones… those places that provided both a refuge and a source of creativity, which they then reflect in the music itself.  There’s no doubt that this attracted me to VIA.

I don’t have the best memory, a fact which become more evident with the accumulation of time.  But there are memories that are so strong that it gives me the sense of time traveling, of being there in that moment.  Almost without exception, those memories are attached to music and they’re attached to some moment of inspiration and creativity of my own… watching the snow fall over a city street after staying up all night writing my novel, some random thoughts in a pocketbook on the side of a hiking trail, frantic attempts to scribble down bits of wedding vows in between shots at my bachelor party; so many memories and I can recall the music playing during each one of them, what the temperature was, the glow of moonlight or the heat of the sun or the sparkle of neon, the battery of city sounds or the gentle hum of the forest, the way I felt about life and the future and the past… everything that comprises that setting for that particular moment in time, I remember it all and there is always music that accompanies that memory.  And now here come three excellent jazz musicians giving tribute to the settings that inspired them… well, that’s right up my alley.  That’s something I can relate to and admire.

VIA is an album that transcends any of my listening routines and proclivities.  I can listen to VIA any time of day, regardless of what kind of day I’ve had or what mood I’m in.  These are three musicians that are respected in jazz circles, who display the characteristics of quality musicianship, improvisational technique during their interactions with one another and in relation to the compositions they went into the studio with, and the ability to translate their creative vision into something that engages and elicits all types of emotion.  It’s an album that’s a lesson in artistic technique, but which can be connected with on an elemental level that requires nothing more than an openness to beautiful music.  Just outstanding.

Your album personnel:  Joe Locke (vibraphone), Geoffrey Keezer (piano), and Tim Garland (saxes, bass clarinet).

Released on the Origin/OA2 label.

Listen to more of the album at the artist’s Bandcamp page.

Available at:  Bandcamp | Amazon | eMusic