Liner notes by Mark Hiebert, November 2012
The title of this album is Lush. The word “lush” by itself can describe a man who drinks and becomes flirtatious, or it can depict something that is savory and appealing to the senses. The album includes a little of both, with characters like the Femme Fatale living in an unwritten story set in the streets of New Orleans, along with some of the richest and most beautiful new music in the big band repertoire. The listener will quickly fall in love with Joe’s musical characters that show us humor, heartbreak, love, and beauty as their story unfolds.
Joe Clark grew up 35 miles southwest of Chicago in Lockport, IL. After high school, he moved into the city to pursue Composition and Jazz Studies degrees from DePaul University. Joe quickly became a top-call composer and arranger for the Chicagoland area. Already, Joe’s arrangements and compositions have been performed by renowned Grammy-award winning artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Phil Woods, and Ira Sullivan; musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, and Grant Park Orchestra; the Rob Parton and Tom Matta Big Bands; and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble and Alumni Big Band. Lush is his first of many albums to come as a leader.
“I think it was remarkable to everyone involved how quickly the band jelled. From the first moment of rehearsal, it was clear that we were ready to seriously play…the studio sessions were just easy and felt right from the get-go. Joe’s music combined with the personnel selections he made created a warm atmosphere of collaboration and it just felt natural,” commented tenor saxophonist Chris Madsen. The group had never played together before its only rehearsal, and flourished under veteran leadership from lead alto saxophonist, Dan Nicholson; lead trombonist, Andy Baker; lead trumpeters, Chuck Parrish and Brent Turney; drummer, Jeff Hamilton; and conductor, Dr. Bob Lark.
Bass trombonist Tom Matta was also tremendously influential throughout the session. “Joe has put together one helluva band for this debut recording, and I am as thrilled to be a part of it as I was excited and proud to have Joe as a student all these years at DePaul. The writing, the ensemble, and the soloists are all top-notch. And the drummer is pretty good, too!” Joe reciprocated, “It was a real honor to have my composing mentor Tom Matta in the band, sitting right in front of me during the session. He not only dominates that bass trombone, he’s taught me so much about the art of the big band. I owe him a lot.” Matta’s influence was also apparent to Tom Garling, who commented, “It reminded me a little of Gordon Goodwin, with a twist of Tom Matta for hip-ness.”
It would be impossible to describe the session and not mention the great contributions of Jeff Hamilton. “Jeff Hamilton is ‘THE DRUMMER’. He is a real artist–Baryshnikov of the beat. Before our first rehearsal, we sat and talked about the charts–he was always looking for deeper artistic depths, more detail, more ways of enhancing the arrangement. He is a deeply caring and professional musician,” says Joe. Jeff brought his unparalleled talents to the table along with his original composition, Samba de Martelo, which Joe arranged to feature the drums. In addition to being talented, he was very gracious in his comments:
“Having experienced Joe’s arranging talents, as a guest of DePaul University’s Jazz Ensemble, I was excited about playing HIS compositions in HIS ensemble for this recording. He sure has many ways to express himself and knows the right musicians to call who understand his music. It was easy for me to walk in and feel right at home with this group.
In this genre of Jazz, we are often presented the freedom to ‘play our personalities.’ You’ll hear Joe’s passion for this music through his writing. I look forward to the next opportunity for Joe to make me sound like a million!”
The rest of the rhythm section was also truly outstanding. Pianist Ryan Cohan, guitarist Mike Pinto, and bassist Joe Policastro displayed consummate professionalism and complete musicianship throughout the session. They were deeply involved with the decision making process in the booth and in the studio, always striving for the most authentic sound and feel for the music. The listener will instantly appreciate the deep grooves and artful comping.
“The rest of the band is nothing short than the best musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to play with. Months before the session, as I was in the early stages of planning, I was totally giddy with the prospect of getting these guys all in the same room to make music together. What’s exciting to me is how each individual’s personality shined through in the recording. The soloists are amazing—each in their own unique personal way,” said Joe. “Recording a big band album is like pulling a heist. I had been writing and dreaming for years and since the time was right and I won a generous artist’s prize (God bless Nik Edes and the Edes Foundation), I could put together a dream team. Like a heist, everyone has specific roles that need to be executed with precision and since our session was only for a couple days, everything had to go off without a hitch. So time was of the essence and I was fortunate to recruit the very best.”
The album is made up of five arrangements and three originals. Joe shines as an arranger with his Nelson Riddle-inspired Lush Life (Comm. New Trier High School, Nic Meyer, dir.), funky second-line infused Well You Needn’t, thoughtfully orchestrated Tenderly, inventive Samba de Martelo, and hard-swinging Yesterday’s Gardenias. His real compositional voice is most apparent in his three originals: Red Sky, Free-Wheeling (Comm. Wheeling High School, Brian Logan, dir.), and Femme Fatale. The one-take performance of Red Sky most clearly reflects Joe’s deep understanding of composition and orchestration. Free-Wheeling, like Well You Needn’t, reflects Joe’s passion for the greasy sound of New Orleans brass bands. And Femme Fatale gives the world a look into Joe’s film-noir-savvy mind.
This album was an absolute pleasure to be a part of, and the listener is in for a real treat. There is more in store for this group because as Joe said himself, “this is just the beginning” of the next wave of great Chicago music.