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Mark Soskin: Creating An Ever-Hopeful Day

By Published: November 26, 2007

Beginning with driving "On the Street Where You Live," propelled by Stewart, the album takes an interesting voyage. Monk's "Bemsha Swing" is respectful, but takes a path of its own, with Soskin's approach angular, but swinging different than Thelonious, and the rhythmic feel changes up allowing Potter to combine his muscular attack with a funky feel. Chick Corea's "Innerspace" is a highlight, and the title cut, a ballad by Soskin, is deftly executed and exhibits his nice touch with a melody. The pianist's "Strive" is an interesting structure and sows Abercrombie in restrained form, playing flowing single-note runs that flow nicely through the melody and over Patitucci and Stewart's rock-solid support. "Pensativa" gives Soskin a chance to display his solo chops.

Soskin tried to come up with standards "that were not worked on that much by other people, or, if they were, to have something in the tune that I thought would lend itself to me doing something important with the tune—or not even something important, but something I could work with, as far as arranging-wise, the sound, the rest.

"I just start working with a tune to see where it goes. It's actually harder for me to come up with standards, because there's so many of them. How do you limit it to just an album's worth of standards?" He did it successfully, and the group he assembled contributed mightily to the effort. On "Bemsha Swing," for example, "this arrangement of mine came pretty naturally to me, and it also changed a bit in the studio when I brought it to the guys. We didn't rehearse that much. We had a short three-hour rehearsal before the date, so everything was really fresh. We recorded for two days. On the first day, almost all of it was done. 'Bemsha Swing' was one of those tunes that really morphed in the studio, to my delight. On the intro, it's really open. The endings are open. Bill Stewart had these great, interesting cymbals that he used, which was great."

"One Hopeful Day" was written not long before the recording session. "That came out of a 'Blue In Green' idea, maybe something based loosely along those lines. But at the end it goes into this whole different feel and section," the pianist says. "Step Lively" also features Abercrombie in fine form. "I had written it just before the date. I had a few others on hand to do, but that's the one I ultimately chose. It speaks for itself. It's an up, kind of burning tune."

Soskin tinkers with all the standards, pushing "It's Easy to Remember" way out past the way it's usually crooned. In total, the album offers much for the listener on both visceral and cerebral levels.

"I've been messing with all kinds of different formats—duos, trios, quartets—larger things like four horns arranged for a sax quartet. I try to write as much as I can. I have to kick myself a little bit when there isn't a specific project in mind. But it's been a very interesting process that I want to continue and explore further, because you create this whole language with your original compositions," Soskin says reflecting on the process. "I think it makes it even easier for people to recognize who you are with those kinds of original tunes. You create an identity. You also create an improvising identity, because you've written this thing, and now you have to learn how to solo on it. So, often times, I really have to work on that after I close the piece.

Mark Soskin

"I really love the process of writing music. Usually on my records, they've been almost all originals. This is the first one that had more standards on it. The standards also were pretty rewritten to a certain degree. I like making a standard my own standard. That's important to me. How am I going to tackle something like that? What's going to make it stand out from the crowd? So I usually put some kind of stamp on rewriting a standard."

Soskin started playing the family piano at the age of about seven or eight, and it pulled him in. He took lessons and was involved in the music programs and its different bands during his school years. Music was around in his house. Jazz influences started to creep in during high school. Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse) piqued his interest. He dug deeply into the history of jazz piano: Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Stanley Cowell, Bud Powell, Cedar Walton, Egberto Gismonti, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, "and Keith Jarrett, I loved those 70s group and listened to those a lot, when he had Dewey Redman in the band. I listened to a lot of sax players too. I listened to Sonny and Trane, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter. I still enjoy listening to all these people to this day."

At Colorado State University, Soskin started off as a language major but played music and took lessons. The switch to becoming a music major was the right move. So was jumping to Berklee.

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