Which Way Now
Following Filaments—named Top Jazz Debut in 2012 by Peter Hum of Ottawa Citizen and described as “an assured, organic debut from a pianist/composer who beyond the obvious elegance of his playing has a clear sense of the bigger artistic picture”—Julian Shore asks Which Way Now? Far from a statement of uncertainty, he poses the question to focus his record on the process of artistic exploration and the joy of musical discovery. Says Shore, “while I used to concern myself with writing a song that captures the minutia of a single person or memory, now I seek to show the world from which a person or feeling comes.”
With his second album (February 12, Tone Rogue Records), Shore builds on the sonic foundation of his first, recognized for its “full use of a wide open musical palette” (All About Jazz) and “sense of space usually reserved for more veteran players” (DownBeat). The band features a group of young but acclaimed musicians reflecting many eras of Shore’s playing and familiar to anyone closely following contemporary jazz. A combination of Dayna Stephens, Noah Preminger, and Godwin Louis helm his horn arrangements, riffing off of each other in dazzling interplay. Aidan Carroll on bass and Colin Stranahan on drums accompany him in the rhythm section, along with the burgeoning star guitarist Gilad Hekselman.
Shore highlights the diversity of his musical connections and sources of inspiration with a number of guests featured for a single track. On “Pine Needles”, he brings a touch of roots music with long time friend and Nashville mainstay Kurt Ozan on dobro and acoustic guitar. His arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” makes fresh a familiar tune, showing how comfortably a classic of the tradition sits within an album of more contemporary compositions. He taps Jorge Roeder on bass and Samuel Torres on percussion as musicians up to the task of conveying the song’s hybrid roots from throughout the Americas. Edward Perez, writer and arranger for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, lends his deft pen on the string arrangement of the record’s opener “Our Story Begins on a Mountain.” Shore carries forward his affinity for writing compelling vocal pieces, with Alexa Barcini returning as a singer and lyricist for “Alpine.” Michael Mayo, currently studying at the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz, voices the main part beautifully, with the two harmonizing to drive home the song’s message. Finally, the layering of Michael Thomas’s sure- handed woodwind work into the western swing of “Back Home” perfectly complements the shades of chamber music interwoven throughout the album.
Which Way Now? offers a snapshot of a particularly rich point in the evolution of a maturing composer/ musician and a burgeoning community of players around him. Shore is a critical part of a rising generation of New York jazz musicians, who, as each successive wave must, are crafting their approach to making the tradition fresh for listeners. The styles and sounds on the record open out in many directions, showcasing his wide ears and range of sources from which he draws. He has had the opportunity to play with many of the musicians whose work have inspired him like Gretchen Parlato, Ferenc Nemeth, Chris Cheek, Matt Wilson and, on his last record Kurt Rosenwinkel, but here he draws on his own community of collaborators. “Most of the songs on Which Way Now? I wrote with the members of my band in mind,” Shore explains. “There came a point in the process of the record where I entrusted the music to them, knowing it would flourish in their hands.” Each musician shaped the arrangements and compositions they played, with Shore integrating elements of their performance into the final scores.
Speaking on the immediate influences during the time period of the record, Shore says he was still listening heavily to his life long hero Wayne Shorter’s last record Without A Net and performances he saw of Shorter with chamber ensembles. “I kept thinking about the way Shorter transformed his music working with woodwinds and strings, bringing it into a whole new context.” Shore says this emboldened him to incorporate the classical inflections into several of his songs. At the same time Shore worked on Which Way Now?, Gilad Hekselman was recording his recently released Homes and the two frequently discussed their approaches to making an album, benefitting from each other’s ears and input. Shore credits Hekselman for years of support and camaraderie in developing as a leader and composer.
While the songs have grown and been nurtured from years of shows and sessions, the recording process itself germinated over the course of a year. “I work to create an environment, making sure all the elements work together within each track and across the album” says Shore about the recording process. He recorded with Michael Perez Cisneros, a brilliant engineer responsible for many classic records including Rosenwinkel’s Heartcore and The Remedy and the works of John Ellis, Matt Penman among others. “For example, I could tell him I was looking for a choir, but made entirely of pianos and he knew exactly how to translate that into the recording.” The collaboration between them shines throughout, drawing the listener into the world of the record from the hauntingly cinematic opening piece, straight through until the echoing refrain of “Lullaby” that brings the record tenderly to a close.
Returning to the album’s central theme, Shore reflects “I didn’t realize, until I finished writing the last song included on the record, that all the music explored that same moment of discovery. It reminds me of being a kid loving the work of Leonardo Da Vinci; not for the figures in the foreground, but for the way he created these layered rippling backgrounds composed of fantastical landscapes. I’m interested in how, when you look past the subjects you can see the backdrops laid behind them that lend them their power.”
Born and raised in Narragansett, Rhode Island Julian Shore grew up listening to his father playing Bach on his home piano and would often sing along as a toddler. After starting piano lessons at a young age he began studies with famed educator Hal Crook as a teenager. In 2005 Shore was awarded a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music. During his time there, under the mentorship of Danilo Perez, he performed in a young musicians ensemble in the Panama Jazz Festival, learning from Wayne Shorter, Brian Blade and many others. After graduating in 2009 he moved to New York, where he was soon hired to perform with singer Gretchen Parlato’s band. He has since continued to appear as both leader and sideman in NYC and across the globe. He has performed or recorded with musicians such as Ferenc Nemeth, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Gilad Hekselman, Chris Cheek, Kendrick Scott, Mark Giuliana among many others.