Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New CD: Marcel's Window available on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon

Marcel's Window
Neil Leonard Quartet
To purchase go to:

Over the previous two decades, I have collaborated with artists from a variety of disciplines to create music and sound for dance, theater, video/sculpture installation, experimental performance, and film. Many of these collaborations included local artists and materials to create dialogues about the history and geography of specific sites in Japan, China, Africa, Cuba, and Europe where the works were premiered. When I began composing the music for this CD, I expected that I would be writing for a homecoming jazz concert. Instead, using methods I learned from visual artists, I found myself creating site-specific compositions inspired by cultural landmarks in my own backyard.

I grew up in Philadelphia and played with fantastic musicians as a teenager, including Uri Caine, Robin and Kevin Eubanks, and many more. In 2007, I was invited to return to Philadelphia to perform a concert in the newly renovated Paul Robeson House. I needed a band, so I called Tom Lawton, whom I first played with when I was 16 years old, and we put together this quartet. We premiered "4951 Walnut Street," "Resounding Arc" and "Invisible Cities" at Paul Robeson's home at 4951 Walnut Street. As a young musician, I passed that building many times, not knowing that this distinguished singer-actor, forceful activist, and true Renaissance man was living on this unassuming block. "Resounding Arc" refers to the resonance of Robeson's work and the base of Robeson's rocking chair, one of the few pieces of original furniture in his home. "Invisible Cities" is a reflection on the multiple realities of urban life.

A concert in the Philadelphia Museum of Art the following year provided an opportunity to reassemble the quartet and expand its repertoire. "Alex in the Atrium" and "Marcel's Window" were premiered in the main atrium of the museum where Alexander Calder's "Untitled" mobile floats above visitors, facing capstone works by Calder père at Logan Circle and Calder’s grandfather on top of City Hall. "Marcel's Window" refers to the window cut into the museum's Parthenon-style facade to illuminate Marcel Duchamp's "The Bride Striped Bare by Her Bachelors," an architectural comment on Duchamp’s rupture with the western art canon.

"Mood for Merritt," a blues dedicated to pioneering Philadelphia bassist and composer Jymie Merritt rounds out the set. I admired Merritt's work on recordings with Art Blakey and Lee Morgan and played with him when I lived in Philly.

I am joined on this recording by three musicians with outstanding knowledge and ability. Pianist Tom Lawton plays my compositions as if he wrote them himself. Bassist Lee Smith backed up soul diva Roberta Flack, laid down Cuban mambos with Mongo Santamaria, and is as inventive and daring as anyone I've worked with. Drummer Craig McIver, who played with Max Roach's M-Boom percussion ensemble, builds fantastic grooves and uses ideas from all of us as he crafts subtleties of the form.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with these superb musicians, who’ve made me feel like the‘ve spent their lives training to make this music together.

Neil Leonard

Neil Leonard - alto and soprano saxophone
Tom Lawton - piano
Lee Smith - bass
Craig McIver - drums

All compositions by Neil Leonard (ASCAP)

Produced by Neil Leonard
Recorded January 28-29, 2009 by Matt Balitsaris at Maggie's Farm, Pipersville PA
Mixed summer/fall 2010 by Neil Leonard and John Hull, at GASP Studios, Boston MA
Mastered by Jonathan Wyner at M Works Studios, Cambridge MA

Graphic Design by Terrance K. O’Leary; Design concept and photo for silhouette by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons.

Special thanks to: George Massenberg for mixing guidance; Philagrafika and the Paul Robeson House for commissioning "4951 Walnut Street" "Resounding Arc" and "Invisible Cities"; Sara Moyan of the Philadelphia Art Museum for featuring the full collection of compositions at the Museum; Tom Lawton for logistical assistance and Tom's family for lending me my first saxophone; and to my wife Magdalena, son Arcadio, and extended family for supporting me every step of the way.

© Neil Leonard 2011
All Rights Reserved

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