Four Ethereal Planes is essentially completed. After some additional editing and reworking of material, the piece has been finished and delivered to Kevin Day (the soloist for the premiere) as well as to Jordan VanHemert and the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra. The piece may undergo additional editing throughout the rehearsal process and leading up to its premiere (in just a few short weeks!!!).
Four Ethereal Planes, as I've previously written about, conjures up four different settings inspired by various different ideas and turns them into something that's more larger-than-life, in a sense. The first movement, "Oranges and Apples," was a light-hearted yet wild ride based on my experiences riding the New York City subway lines. The second movement was a slow ballad entitled "The Dance That Never Was" for the moments in life that never happened and the opportunities missed.
The last two movements of this piece go off in different directions but are essentially inter-connected with each other. To preserve some surprises with this work, no demos have been provided for these two movements.
"Flights of Fearless Fancy," the third movement, is approximately 95% improvisational. There's really no specifically written-out musical notes throughout much of this movement, except where absolutely necessary (such as to provide harmonic and rhythmic reinforcement at various spots or to set the mood of this tune at the intro).
The term "flight of fancy" by definition suggests an idea or narrative direction that's essentially impractical, unpredictable, and unrealistic. The tune suggests this by giving the players free reign to improvise on the spot and mostly at their discretion. Dialogue exists between the soloist (on Hammond Organ) and a trio of players within the big band - bari sax, trumpet, and trombone.
This isn't to say that the tune doesn't have some sense of direction to it. The soloist and trio are given general written instructions as to where I would like them to shape and define certain moments of their improvisation. The rest of the musical direction is really up to them. So, while is there is some sense of direction in "Flights of Fearless Fancy" in that there's a more abstract idea of shape and form, every performance of this movement will always be different when looking at the specific context of notes and harmony. Even though the form is technically gridlocked in some respect, there's a large sandbox created here for the players to work with and do what they do best.
Basically, I have some idea of how this tune will function, but I'm even more excited to see how Kevin, Jordan, and HCJO interprets this one. This is the movement that I really strove to create a greater sense of collaboration through a compositional approach that I haven't tried before up to this point.
"A Solitary Nightcap", meanwhile, goes back to a more standard approach, yet I consider it to be more thematic overall. It balances between two major dance styles, as well as very briefly a third kind, and is directly inspired by a singular moment in the Mark Frost/David Lynch show Twin Peaks. Specifically, the moment you can watch in the YouTube video below.
And so "A Solitary Nightcap" is this wild and thematic swing dance number that often shifts in tone and style. In some aspects, it appears to be zany, but in other ways, it seems to suggest something really isn't quite right.
The movement dramatically begins with a big slow dance, then erratically transitions into a harder swing number.
Very briefly, a fast waltz occurs once or twice too, mainly because the piece just feels like going that route.
Kevin will be switching between all three keyboards at various moments in this movement, adding to the erratic and unpredictable nature and direction of this music. The synthesizer possibly suggests a different style clashing with this big-band swing.
Hammond Organ elevates the zaniness of these dances to higher heights and adds to the chaotic surface level of the overall tone of the piece.
Piano essentially brings it all together and includes the moments of improvisation where Kevin can go all out once again. In that regard, this last movement features more written material than any of the other movements for the soloist. The piece as a whole balances lots of moments where the soloist can improvise with more concrete material specifically included to tie each movement together thematically.
For the longest time, I have called this piece throughout the compositional process a concerto. Perhaps in some ways, it can still be defined as a concerto, in that a soloist's artistic and technical capabilities are showcased and accompanied with a larger group of players. In more ways, though, the final product highlights the big band just as much as its primary soloist, so the line drawn for calling this piece a concerto is quite blurred.
Four Ethereal Planes exists more as a suite - a truer, collaborative effort between the soloist and band, largely because there was an intent to not include explicit connective tissue between all four "movements" as they're presently called. This work really does present four different tunes that are connected with similar ideas and approaches, but in some respects, they can largely stand on their own too. "The Dance That Never Was" (the second tune) is the best example of this, a piece that I'm actually going to be publishing and offering separately as a standard chart when Four Ethereal Planes is eventually published.
This is a collection that I hope, in the end, showcases Kevin's fantastic artistry as a jazz musician as well as the incredible artistry and musicianship of Jordan VanHemert and the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra. The premiere is fast approaching in Holland, Michigan (October 20!!). Tickets are available now; you can purchase them here.
I'm really looking forward to working with these musicians more on bringing Four Ethereal Planes to life, and I can't wait to share the completed final product with all of you.