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Tacoma-based Peter Adams creates a musical refuge for difficult times

Keyboard player and composer Peter Adams releases his new album Refuge this Friday
Juli Jah
Peter Adams' Bandcamp
Keyboard player and composer Peter Adams releases his new album "Refuge" this Friday.

The seclusion of pandemic lockdowns gave people an opportunity to reflect on their lives. For keyboard player and composer Peter Adams, pondering life suddenly became serious when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Creating and playing music gave Adams an escape from his health battle and resulted in his forceful new album "Refuge", available digitally this Friday.

A collection of all original compositions, "Refuge" was just that for Adams. He explained that the writing process, "was a way for me to release everything I was going through. It was also an opportunity to employ my friends who suddenly weren't working a lot."

For his album release party, Adams is performing a free concert open to all ages at Tacoma's Spanish Ballroom Sunday at 5. He'll be busy that night, opening the show playing with another dynamic modern jazz quartet, Velocity.

Adams has been the main songwriter for the group who formed about a decade ago. The music on "Refuge" strips away the funk and hip-hop edges of Velocity's music to focus on an intriguing combination of jazz, classical and progressive rock styles.

"I played classical music in junior high and high school, but I wasn't very good at it," Adams said in an interview with KNKX. "Once I found jazz, you could make up your own stuff... I fell in love with that."

As a teenager, Adams was a fan of progressive hard rock bands like Tool and Primus, and he learned the cathartic power of music. Combining that complex and heavy approach with classical technique results in music that Adams describes as cinematic. "I love movie scores, that's a big influence," he said.

Peter Adams seen here performing with Velocity. That band and his Refuge quartet play the Spanish Ballroom in Tacoma Sunday.
Keith Jackson
Peter Adams seen here performing with Velocity. That band and his Refuge quartet play the Spanish Ballroom in Tacoma Sunday.

"Even if the song is complex, I still want to have a catchy melody that people can latch onto and sing. I try to put my emotions into a song but make it approachable so that anyone can connect to it on their own personal level. That's what good art is."

The improvisational elements of "Refuge" always bring the music back to its jazz heart. The personality of each musician shines through in every song. "I wanted to get them on songs that I thought they would fit best and let them loose to go wild on it, and they did," said Adams.

Kareem Kandi, one of Adams' most important jazz teachers, lent his saxophone to "Echoes." Portland-based saxophonist BrandonLee Cierley returned to his Tacoma roots to play on "Shadows." Tacoma jazz veterans Cliff Colon (saxophone) and Osama Afifi (bass) join in on "Storm," with Afifi also playing on a pair of trio tracks.

"Refuge" also includes drummer Jason Edwards and guitarist Mason Hargrove, who will be with the Adams quartet at the Spanish Ballroom on Sunday.

Adams' Velocity bandmates make several contributions to the album. Along with Colon, bass player Rob Hutchinson and drummer Brian Smith provide the collaborative skills developed over that band's many years and three excellent albums.

On Friday night's New Cool show, you'll hear Adams' dramatic tune "Squall." He said the song "invokes that rush of the whirlwind of life, the impact of getting diagnosed with cancer, and also knowing there's always hope at the end of the tunnel. The storm passes eventually."

A thrilling minor chord piano theme opens the song with electric bassist Farko Dosumov and drummer Smith encouraging Adams' cinematic vision of turbulence. Rising to a crescendo, the trio settle into a rhythmic pocket while Adams takes a powerful solo on synthesizer.

One of the finest electric bass soloists in the Northwest, Dosumov brings his considerable skills to a searching solo supported by Smith's confident drumming. Adams and Smith trade a few piano and drum lines before the three return their focus to the catchy main theme.

Adams reports that his cancer is in remission, though other health issues are still part of his everyday life. This Sunday will be a proper party and a celebration for "Refuge."

"I'm really looking forward to being there and getting to hang out with the musicians and the audience," Adams said.

In "Refuge," he has given all of us the space to heal and to reconnect.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.