Jan 29 2019
On previous occasions, I’ve referenced the AllAboutJazz forum (RIP), and specifically a discussion thread that was a spark that got me fired up about the modern jazz scene. New Releases Only was begun by a few of us interested in exploring albums released in the present day, and we agreed to post about the stuff we were finding, no matter how we felt about it, just as a communal effort to see what was out there. One of the early discoveries that had a bunch of us raving was the double-debut release from Steven Lugerner. His albums Narratives and These Are The Words were quite different from one another- the former a melodically-focused, dreamy type of sound; the latter edgy and avant-garde- but reflected a lyricism that wasn’t wielded so much as unleashed. From a music discovery standpoint, it was pretty damn rewarding, and it was emblematic of the thrills we kept experiencing as we continued exploring the modern landscape.
Those early discoveries resulting from the New Releases Only forum thread always had a special place in my heart. Many of those musicians have continued to release new recordings, and though that AllAboutJazz forum is no more, obviously I’ve found other outlets to write about them. Albums by Marcin Wasilewski, Azure, Benjamin Koppel, and Diego Barber are a few to come to mind. So, too, with the music of Steven Lugerner. Over the last handful of years, the multi-instrumentalist has put out an impressive array of music, letting his personal lyricism emerge in a wide spectrum of expressionism. It’s been no less rewarding to follow that creative arc than it was first discovering his music.
I had the opportunity to interview Lugerner for The Bandcamp Daily. Ultimately, the published interview focused on his new album, An Eight Out Of Nine, and touched upon a couple of his earlier albums that I felt influenced his newest. But it was a very long interview. A lot got left on the cutting room floor, but it was just too good to let go. As such, I’m going to occasionally post some of the interview that didn’t make it onto the Bandcamp site. Today’s installment will feature (what would have been) the opening scenes… starting, naturally, at the beginning. There will be potentially three more installments of the interview following this one. In some instances, I’ll have added content that wasn’t part of the original submission. Also, for the sake of coherency, I’ll be reprinting small bits of the interview that did post on The Bandcamp Daily, but only where absolutely necessary. It was all very fun.
Steven Lugerner is back home, and the Bay area native is busy setting down new roots. He runs the Stanford Jazz Workshop. His Slow & Steady Records label was set in motion to document the music of the West Coast. And the latest outgrowth of the multi-instrumentalist’s return is the debut of his new SLUGish Ensemble and their 2018 release An Eight Out Of Nine.
The album is wildly lyrical, and embraces the heady juxtaposition of a simply-stated melody revealing complex systems of expansions and deviations. That Lugerner is able to harness this capacity with such aplomb is no shocking development. His background is comprised of a wide array of influences and motivations, of collaborators and teachers, and his recorded output is a reflection of those experiences. An Eight Out Of Nine, however, is the culmination of it all coming together in the same breath. And it’s all happening back where it first began.
Steven Lugerner was away from California for seven years, but in some very essential ways, it was as if he had never left.
“I’ve known Matt [Wohl} and Max [Jaffe] since I was a kid. When Matt started playing saxophone in the third grade, I thought that was so cool.”
A decade would have to pass and a trip to the opposite coast before the Chives trio blinked into existence, but for all intents and purposes, it happened at Burlingame Intermedia School. “We grew up together in school. But more importantly, we all grew up together in band class.”
Their love of the music wasn’t relegated to the school grounds.
“We would host these shows at the rec center and charge admission to our friends. Max would print out a thousand of these fliers and the high school floors would be littered with them.”
The camaraderie between bandmates extended to other high school bands and the community that supported them all. The experience was bigger than the formation of Lugerner’s first band… it shaped his worldview and gave his passion a sense of direction.
“I would say that moment solidified for all three of us that we wanted to keep with music and that music is almost the only good thing in this life. It was the one thing we all found solace in and we could all escape and do our thing through music. There was an incredibly tight community of different bands. It was an incredible moment.”
It’s not unusual for cracks to form upon the friendships of high school seniors as they transition to new lives in new towns as college freshmen. But as it so happened, these three friends going their separate ways was only a precursor to ending up in the same place.
“It was funny that after all those years of playing together and growing up in the same town, we all ended up in the same Brooklyn apartment years later. And that’s when we put our first two records together.”
If life were measured in albums, then 2010’s For Brian Wilson signified one birthday candle to the name of Chives. The trio’s quirky brand of modern jazz is post-bop with a sense of humor. But the trend toward catchiness and passages with the sole purpose of eliciting a head bop or a foot tap isn’t a stab at irony. The intent is genuine, and a reflection of the cross-genre friendships between childhood bands from the early days at the Burlingame Rec Center.
“We approach the Chives project as a way to build improvisation around songwriting structures, and reel the listener in as opposed to getting more abstract. We wanted to hear qualities as if we were making a pop album.”
The concept of home becomes even fuzzier when viewed in the continuum of the Chives trio of recordings. What began as a venture in their new life in Brooklyn circled back to California.
“For the last record, we happened to be in the Bay Area for the holidays, so I just decided, hey, we’re all in town, we’ll do two or three rehearsals, and we’ll bring whatever songs we’ve got. We’ll get the music together, and we’ll have an EPs worth of stuff. There’s no reason why this band can’t be doing stuff. We still like to make music together. We still have a connection. Let’s do this shit. Let’s still be a thing.”
The thing ultimately became their third album, Yeaux.
“Chives is the project that is grounding for me. That band is closest to my heart and spiritually. I hope we’ll be putting out records when we’re dads… fifty year old disgruntled dads.”
Read more about Chives recording Dads on Bird is the Worm.
You can listen to more of the music of Chives on Bandcamp.