Liner notes for Change of Time

Cover of CHANGE OF TIME

"What is new and significant must always be connected with old roots, the truly vital roots that are chosen with great care from the ones that merely survive."  —Béla Bartók

As one of the 20th century's first ethnomusicologists, Béla Bartók understood transition.  In his own music, he turned away from the prevailing schools of Brahms and Richard Strauss and the "high art" serialists, instead infusing his compositions with the melodies, rhythms and modalities he encountered in the folk musics of Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Turkey and even North America (including — egad! — jazz).

Bartók was also a champion of the natural musical expression of children and the belief that children could absorb modalities and asymmetric rhythms more easily than adults.  Such is the genesis of his six volume series of 153 progressive piano pieces entitled Mikrokosmos, written between 1926 and 1939.

The origin of Change of Time was not as premeditated.  While waiting for a Godot-like drummer to show up for a jam session, Russ Lossing, Adam Kolker and John Hebert started noodling around with the music Russ had sitting on his piano.  "And it just kept evolving from there —different ways of playing that music," recounts Russ.  "They seem very simple if you just look at them but, if you really start to look at them carefully, they're fantastic."

The music was volumes four and five of Mikrokosmos, something Russ had played since he was a boy.  Though the actual pieces were new to Adam and John, their scopious musical backgrounds made them appreciators of Bartók's innovative music.  Considering the formidable trio assembled, it is not surprising that the music almost immediately took on a life of its own, the uncommon études becoming springboards for mesmerizing improvisation.

Russ Lossing, who shares the pianist-composer axis with Bartók, began classical piano training at age six and was composing, improvising and playing jazz by his early teens.  He has composed over 200 jazz and classical pieces and has been commissioned for chamber and solo chamber works.  A world class improviser, he is featured on over twenty CDs and has performed with musicians Dave Liebman, Paul Motian, Mark Dresser, Bob Moses, Bobby Previte and many others.  He has composed thirteen film scores for avant-garde shorts, documentaries for PBS and the BBC, and full length dramatic features.

Adam Kolker, who holds a master's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, has received composition grants from the Meet the Composer Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and performs regularly with Ray Barretto and New World Spirit, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and Bobby Previte's Horse.  Adam has worked with the Woody Herman Orchestra, The Story, Gunther Schuller's Jazz Repertory Orchestra, OrangeThenBlue (which he co-founded) and Boston Musica Viva.  As an educator, he holds the position of Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts.

John Hebert (pronounced "ey-bear"), born in New Orleans, began playing bass in high school and continued his jazz education from 1990 to 1992 at Loyola University in New Orleans, performing with many of that city's top musicians.  In 1992, John moved to the New York City area, completing his formal studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey with a BM in Jazz Performance in 1994.  He is an in-demand bassist and has worked with Maria Schneider, Greg Osby, Gary Thomas, Garry Dial, Uri Caine and others.  John has toured extensively internationally and can be heard on recordings by Peter Herborn, Andrew Rathbun, Barbara Sfraga, Pete McCann and the Friedrich-Hebert-Moreno collective.

Though the original pieces are evocative vignettes, Change of Time makes them miniature tone poems, little episodic travelogues.  Moments of order become disorder.  Clouds of notes, filled with Brownian motion, congeal into drops of melody, harmony —a primordial soup brimming with the building blocks of life and the enchantment of life itself.

We had played a lot before, so there was a lot of material we had done before to draw upon," explains Adam.  "But the level of adherence to the printed music was varied greatly from piece to piece.  And we didn't prioritize that at all.  If we felt that that was important...well, in other words, there were no rules at this session."

Some pieces are, at heart, quite evocative of their source.  For example, "Kidsong" uses intervallic motives, initiated at various times by each instrumentalist, then launching into extended lines; the inspiration, a simple piece intended to be performed in 1 minute, 5 seconds, becomes a five minute improvisation.  "Lunation" has John carrying the left-hand triplet arpeggios and Adam playing the long-line right-hand musical lilts.

Some pieces are distilled, extracting specific characteristics or musical strata.  For example, "Brume" evokes the of fog and mist of the original, while "Nodal," filled with harmonic intervals characteristic of modern jazz (flatted thirds, fifths and sevenths), yields a sort of Tristanoesque bop for the new millennium.

"Java" finds Russ rooting around in the piano's box, eventually moving to keyboard explorations of two of the original's motific germs, complemented by impressionistic swashes from Adam and John.  And threading through the set of collective improvisations, "Cells," a near-koan, becomes a series of musical pivot points, each time interpreted freely as a solo opportunity for one of the trio members.

Thus it is appropriate that "Change of Time," with its Frühlingstimmen-like awakenings performed freely and simply, becomes both the name of the album and the group, because it best represents the descendant nature of the pieces.  On the continuum from energy to matter, the essential ingredient is time and its permutations.  Seen or unseen, felt or unperceived, it is part and parcel of us all.  In his work as a musical emissary, Bartók recognized and tapped into that continuum so that future generations —including three musicians waiting around for a rehearsal to start, and now us as listeners of Change of Time —can enjoy.

—Frank Tafuri

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