The New Cool: Meridian Odyssey records a jazz love letter to Alaska
If you've been following the Seattle jazz scene, no doubt you know a few of the musicians calling themselves Meridian Odyssey. They've played as sidemen with many of the city's top players and spent hours working together in each others' bands. Despite and because of the pandemic, the quintet of friends found room to collaborate in socially distanced Alaska, resulting in a great new album.
For Second Wave, Xavier Lecouturier, the band's drummer and the album's producer, is joined by fellow Northwest residents Dylan Hayes on keys and Martin Budde at the guitar. Seattle friends now in New York, saxophonist Santosh Sharma and bassist Ben Feldman, complete the quintet.
Pandemic isolation meant several of their projects and tours were canceled, so they found a way to join forces in an Alaska airplane hangar. Guitarist Budde was raised in Alaska, and the band made use of his dad's hangar space to settle in and work out the songs and arrangements for Second Wave.
As saxophonist Sharma tells me, plane "tickets were cheap, so we decided to make the trip up to rehearse, do a livestream and record."
Recording mostly original songs by the band members, Meridian Odyssey creates 21st-century hard bop, influenced by modern pop and classic jazz fusion a la Chick Corea.
Each of these players is incredibly talented; their youthful exhuberance shines through on urgent and passionate uptempo flights and intense, moody ballads alike. There are hooks to be found throughout Second Wave, but the band's interplay - the musical conversation in each performance - is most striking to my ear.
You could say this is the acoustic version of the Dylan Hayes Electric Band album Songs for Rooms and People. This band is nearly identical, swapping out electric bassist Tim Carey for Feldman's acoustic upright. The songs and playing certainly show off the growth of these 20-something musicians. (Guitarist Lucas Winter and pianist Gus Carnes guest on the Feldman song "For Antonguilio.")
On Friday night's New Cool, I'll play the Budde/Hayes composition "NT," a reference to Canada's nearby Northern Territory. Budde's echoed guitar introduces the song, and the rhythm section sets up a mellow pace and introduces the catchy, slightly angular melody.
As "NT" progresses, Lecouturier's drums begin to skitter and build the song's energy. By mid-song, Sharma's saxophone nearly bursts with a passionate, soulful solo. Budde's guitar takes the solo baton, drifting like a melody of falling snow.
The band settles into a tight but relaxed pulsing rhythm and rises to one more climax before a false stop and drum-filled resolution. It's an epic piece at a deliberate pace, and it's catchy, too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR2ddkth0rW9ajLVxFvqpJ5Bhi7IwfUAzJbqV4gXWFox53JiGQ-DcDxNrNw&v=9-ANdH_QJ8M&feature=youtu.be
On a personal note, I've had family in Alaska as long as I can remember, but I haven't yet made the journey north to experience the epic landscape and unique culture. I asked the band to share their impressions of their sojourn to Big Lake, Alaska, and Dylan Hayes happily obliged.
Hayes writes, "There was no wifi or television, only books and the radio, which made the trip feel like a restoring and meditative artist retreat. Being from California and never really seeing snow made me appreciate it so much more. The house had a sauna that we'd use practically every day after cross-country skiing in the backyard. And to top off the day, we would have a salmon dinner with all sorts of gourmet cheeses and wine shipped from Bordeaux, France. At the dinner table, Martin and his father, Lee, would play and sing traditional bluegrass on the banjo and guitar."
As it turns out, the album was almost an afterthought.
"During the times that we didn't spend working on music, we did activities such as sailing, hiking, biking and, for specifically Xavier, learning how to fly planes," Hayes adds. "The day before we all had to leave Alaska, I suggested that we record some music, so we ended up staying up really late having a blast recording what is now the album."
The New Cool would like to thank Big Lake, Alaska and the fellows of Meridian Odyssey for making the most of their time in semi-isolation. I wouldn't be surprised to hear of more great jazz originating in this distant, converted plane hangar-recording studio. Stay bundled up, and stay tuned!
The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.