Here is a preview of part of the first movement of "Hope", un-mastered, so crank it up!!!
The idea for “Hope” began almost a year ago today as I was finishing my bachelor's degree at The New School. I had already decided to spend another year living in Brooklyn composing and playing music, and prepared my first “tour” as a leader with the big band, with many uncertainties overshadowed by confidence. I had been asked by my father to join him for part of a bike ride across Canada with the “National Bank” in order to raise funds for “Free The Children”, a Canadian non-profit founded by Craig Kielburger. I immediately agreed and began thinking of ways I could contribute to the cause. After succeeding with the first tour, I realized that with a few months' planning and writing I could pull it off on a larger scale; I would write a piece based on the experience and take it on the road with my band speaking about FTC, record the piece and release it, donating part of every sale to “The Big Dreamer's Fund” (the program started by the National Bank to match fundraising efforts by Canadian children helping other children locally, nationally, and internationally). I'm thrilled to say that all of this has now happened, my expectations having been surpassed on every level.
My portion of the bike tour was spent in British Columbia from Victoria to Vernon over 6 days in September of 2011. I began collecting ideas that could potentially be used in the piece while on the trip, ranging from literal musical translations of my surroundings (i.e. the first 2 notes of the piece are B.C.) to more broad interpretations of the experience and how I could relate it to Craig's organization. On the third day of riding there was a climb from Hope to Manning Park, an intense 95 km ride with a total elevation of 4400 feet. I felt that the physical experience of riding solely uphill for hours from a small town called “Hope” engulfed by mountains had an abstract kinship with FTC's work. I got in contact with Craig and asked him if he would record himself speaking about his personal meaning of hope and his reflections on what it means to others around him. That speech became the 2nd movement (left unedited) as well as the major theme of the entire piece.
Early in the writing process, I had enlisted my great friend Austin Peralta to come play the tour. Knowing I had the potential to write with pianistic reckless abandon, I decided to make the piece a feature for Austin, using the piano as an extension of Craig's voice. The 1st movement reflects the struggle that often comes with hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. The 3rd movement contains more literal elements of the trip, such as the mountainous melody, the saxophone clashes representing the unfortunate crash I was responsible for (sorry again Pierre...), the “majestic” melody getting destroyed by the distorted guitars representing the beauty of the landscapes/enduring the climb, etc...
This collection of music consists of 5 tracks, the first 3 being “Hope” in movements that are all connected, and the other two are “Speak Slow” and “The FB Generation”. The latter were recorded on November 19th in New York at NYU's Clive Davis Studio with Vaughn Sulit running the session. “Hope” was recorded on December 3rd in Montreal at McGill's Studio A with Matt Baltrucki running the session. The mixing was done over several months with sporadic meetings at both of the engineers' homes/schools.
“Speak Slow” is the beginning of a song cycle I'm writing for singers and big band. Dan Ellis-Ferris is my favourite male vocalist to work with, hands down.
“The FB Generation” is a piece based on short-lived social gratifications. The piece moves in short sections that change frequently and constantly return from whence they came...
RHYTHM SECTION: Dominic Mekky – piano, Matt Rousseau – bass, Arthur Hnatek – drums, Michael Valeanu – guitar, Douglas Marriner – secondary drum set, Eric Read – percussion
TRUMPETS: Derek Ganong, Ari Bragi Karason, Sam Neufeld, Francesco Fratini, Cody Rowlands
TROMBONES: Andy Sharkey (bs), Chris Stover, Andy Clausen, Alfredo Marques
WOODWINDS: Yacine Boulares (tn, sop), Levon Henry (tn,cl), Ilia Skibinsky (al, sop), Dillon Baiocchi (al, fl), Sami Bronowski (bari)
CONDUCTOR: Dean Buck
SINGER: Dan Ellis-Ferris
RHYTHM SECTION: Austin Peralta – piano, Matt Rousseau – bass, Arthur Hnatek – drums, Michael Valeanu – guitar, Colin Fairbank – keyboards
TRUMPETS: Ari Bragi Karason, Sam Neufeld, Cody Rowlands, Simon Millerd, Carou Johnson
TROMBONES: Gabriel Gagnon, Kurtis Muller, Raymond Carruthers, Felix Del Tredici (bs)
WOODWINDS: Yacine Boulares (tn, sop), Levon Henry (tn, cl), Ilia Skibinsky (al, sop), Dillon Baiocchi (al, fl), Sayre Schultz (bari)
CONDUCTOR: Franky Rousseau
SOUND DESIGN: Dominic Mekky
“Hope” solos in order: Austin Peralta, Levon Henry, Yacine Boulares, Dillon Baiocchi, Ilia Skibinsky, Michael Valeanu
“The FB Generation” solos in order: Levon Henry, Dominic Mekky
The NYU session was recorded with full takes of the band, overdubbing after. For “Speak Slow”, vocals, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar fills were added immediately after the session. For “The FB Generation”, the flutes were overdubbed immediately after the session, while Levon Henry's tenor sax solo was recorded months later in Queens, NY.
The McGill session was recorded in sections due to limited size of the studio, as well as interest in recording with a layering process. The rhythm section tracked first. Second were the trumpets. Third were the woodwinds. Fourth were the overdubs; Michael Valeanu's guitar solo, many of Colin Fairbanks' parts, and Austin Peralta's piano interludes (the solo in the first movement was recorded live).
The highest honour and privilege of my life has been to work with the musicians involved on this project. The band is nearly 2 years old (it's birthplace was Montreal), and exists solely on generosity, friendship, co-operation, and the will to play music.
A lot of thanks are in order, as it takes a large village to tame a big band... I apologize for the long list, I'm sure I'll eventually chalk it up to youthful indiscretion. My biggest thanks go to my family for having been behind every insane musical decision I've ever come up with. Eddy, Flo, Mom, Dad.
Anyone that's ever been a part of or helped me with the band, whether it's been grabbing gear, lending a car, lending beds, lending instruments, lending time and suggestions. Shelby Cohen, Corey Armstrong, Liam Killen, Ben Deschamps, Teagan Schultz, Jarryd Torff, Giacomo Smith, Steph Cho, Issac Gesse, Fred Bourgeault, Marc-Andre Giroux, Isabelle Viau, Dom Rossi, Andy Sharkey, Andy Clausen, Nick Grinder, Derek Ganong, Matthew Hartnett, Linton Smith, Allison Phillips, Chris Stover, Blake Martin, Erik Saras, Taylor Donaldson, Geoff Cronin, Darren Denman, Freddy Gonzalez, Alfredo Marques, Sarah Safaie, Dan Ellis-Ferris, Dean Buck, glad to have you all as a part of the band! Neha, Ben, Pedro, and Anthony for letting me use your spaces (and being friends!
Joe Baugniet, Joe Melanson, Bud Rice, Rasa Daliri, Julian Gammon, Rox Loums, Emma Love, Seb Forcione, JJ Wright, Marc Beland, Rick Rosato, Mike League, Sammy Miller, Martha Kato, Sami Bronowski, Eric Read, Talia Billig, Jay Rudolph, Doug Marinner, Jeni Szelag, and Ali Levy for being friends and inspirations in and out of music.
Touring band – I look forward to making more music with you all: Yacine for the reinforcement of positivity, Levon for the apologies and overdubs, Cody for the MTL hangs, Sam for the frisbee/soccer (of course), Ilia for being our true gypsy, Dillon for the best roomie award, Felix for the Variations, Gab once again for the night bus, Sayre for the immaculate attendance record and low notes, Simon for the pitas, Kurtis for the Disney interpretations, Raymond for being the last minute champion, Ari for telling me I needed to stay in NY, Carou for being a great leader and host, Colin purely for existing (keep it up!), Francesco for always being so solid and patient, and Michael for teaching me how to play guitar!
Vaughn Sulit: For being so devoted and such a perfectionist, I'm in awe of your focus and drive. Thank you for spending so much time for this. I owe you.
Matt Baltrucki: For being my Montreal recorded music universe. For 2 years of the MMR sessions, the Studio A sessions, for the mixing sessions, for the talent, knowledge, and being just the right amount of crazy to invite me back every semester. I owe you.
Kirk Nurock, for your infinite wisdom and guidance. Ben Wendel, for telling me this project was possible. Christopher Smith for the knowledge I still use in my big band writing. Bob Hurwitz for influencing me to continue to make the music I'm making.
Austin, for crossing the country to do this. You are one of my favourite musicians ever. Arthur, for being the truest friend and mentor I've ever had. Dom for being the greatest sounding board possible. Hannah, for putting up with me, period: much love. Matt for reserving the rest of your life on my gigs.
Thank you, the listener/reader for taking time to pay attention to this project. Enjoy!
All the best,