Posted: October 12, 2023

Agile Wallaby (track two from RADIANCE)

Agile Wallaby (track 2 from Radiance)

Agile Wallaby is track two on my latest album Radiance, out 11/1/23.  Who amongst us didn’t get caught up during the pandemic watching some home renovation or nature shows on streaming video?  One of my favorites was Out There with Jack Randall, a nature show set in Australia, on Nat Geo (Disney+).  Episode two was all about kangaroos and wallabies.  When a juvenile wallaby is old enough to leave the safety of its mom’s pouch and hop on its own, it’s called an “agile wallaby.”  Watching these cute marsupials bounce around inspired the melodic motive for this week’s preview stream: Agile Wallaby.

This original composition is informed by two primary influences that have molded my music for decades: Afro Latin rhythms (12/8, in particular) and the blues. As a student at Tufts University (’88-93) many fellow students and faculty members insisted that I sign up for David Locke’s African Drumming class.  During my year in the ensemble, Locke introduced me to several foundational West African rhythms, and in particular helped me really hear and understand some of the myriad ways that 12/8 time can be subdivided.  12 is a magic number because it’s divisible by 2, 3, 4 and 6- any of these groupings can be the primary accents in 12/8, and learning to really feel them all and freely transition between them was ear-expanding.  These African and Afro Latin rhythms are at the foundation of many the jazz and blues rhythms, so being introduced to them close to their African sources was a critical step in my development.

Surveying my catalog of songs, after nearly 40 years of writing instrumental jazz, the most common thread connecting my work is a love for and constant reinvention of the blues, both in form and in feeling.  Each of my 9 records as a leader or co-leader has at least one song that’s an interpolation of the blues.  Five of the tracks on Radiance are different explorations and expansions of the blues form!  Agile Wallaby takes a 16-bar extended blues form and sets it in a Latin jazz 12/8 time feel.  The I and IV chords are where the ear would expect in a typical 12-bar blues, but in place of the V chord I’ve inserted a more complicated chord sequence that’s reminiscent of a Steely Dan song, or Joe Henderson’s writing.  As you listen to the track, pay attention to how and when the 12/8 feel transitions to swing, and then back again.  These two time feels are so closely related; I love the tension and release created when implying one within the other, and eventually changing.  Gary Wang (bass) and Tony Mason (drums) are agile playmates in this rhythmic playground, leading to a fun, lighthearted performance.