"I do a similar thing to you, although my version is I sing the lines to myself. It seems the choices I make as I'm composing happen on a subliminal level, somewhat outside my conscious awareness and thought process. If a melody works for me, it's usually because it feels right emotionally and seems to feel in sync with the lyrics. Some songs kind of compose themselves, while others need rewriting or revisiting. Sometimes a change in a song will reveal itself after a writing session, in sort of a visceral way, kind of like having a splinter in your finger that will irritate you until you take care of it. Changes in the writing process can take place by the piano, but often come to me while I'm doing something completely unrelated, like taking a shower or driving my car. Lorraine and I discuss the lyric before I start writing the melody, so we're usually in sync as to what the meaning of the song is about."
One of the outstanding songs on Attachments
is the tune "159," a quirky, rhythmically catchy song about a family sitting around their kitchen table while the drummer son lays down the groove to "The Clapping Song" with his metronome set to 159. The tune opens with bassist Michael Valerio doing some fetching Slam Stewart-style scatting along with his swinging bass melody that bumps right into the groove, which Feather says her husband Tony recorded to assist her in writing the song's lyrics. It's a tune destined to be one of those Lorraine Feather instant radio classics, so I asked Arkin how the lightning-in-a-bottle composition had evolved.
"Lorraine wrote the lyric and Tony sent the groove, which he called a 'jump swing.' With this tune, I came up with a couple of 4-bar progressions before we got together, ones that might work as a basis for building the song. When we met, Lorraine immediately picked the progression you hear in the finished tune. My idea, musically, was to pick something that was hypnotic or trance-like, that had a certain subtle smoothness and an ostinato-montuno
repeated bass line. The melody came very quickly on this particular song.
"While working on '159' I happened to go to a jazz club to see pianist Mike Lang play. Mike Valerio was playing with him, and much to my surprise, he was featured singingvery wellon one of his original tunes. I told Lorraine about his excellent singing, and we both thought it would be cool to have him open '159' playing a bass solo and scatting. What I love about this track is that it grooves like crazy, and yet never gets above mezzo forte
, so Lorraine [was able to] sort of glide above the track, using the lyrics much like an added percussion instrument to punctuate the rhythm."
The arranger's pallette grew rapidly on this and her previous CD, when Feather added Bisharat and his imaginative violin work. But her regular troupe are increasingly willing to try anything, as demonstrated by Valerio's scatting or Grant Geissman's magician's sense of guitar swing, or the drummers' various approaches to exactly how to "fill" a request (e.g., from Shelly Berg to Gregg Field, to "Throw another bucket of fish on" a wild section of "I Love You Guys"). I wanted to know from Arkin how the recording was influenced by writing with these personnel in mind.
"I find Lorraine's CD to be a virtual treasure chest of talent. There can be no better example of the phrase 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.' On my compositions, the band consisted of Russell Ferrante on piano, Grant Geissman, guitar, Charlie Bisharat, violin, Mike Valerio, bass, and Mike Shapiro on drums. It's very rare indeed to find a group of musicians so accomplished that they can play anything you put in front of them, no matter how technically sophisticated, and at the same time introduce ideas and embellishments to these charts that go far beyond the written page. Simply put, their mastery and creativity blow me away." Russell Ferrante
Producer, arranger and multi-keyboardist Russell Ferrante is the last remaining original member of Yellowjackets, the legendary fusion (and beyond) band formed in 1978 that, among other things, was one of the seminal 1980s aggregations to keep the flame alive along with groups like Weather Report, Chick Corea's Elektric Band and the Rippingtons, but which unlike those bands, keeps the flame alive still. The band's tastefully adventurous work is largely due to Ferrante's guidance and vision as a composer. In addition to his work with Yellowjackets, he has also written and produced records for a wide range of artists, including Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Michael Franks, Diane Reeves and Sadao Watanabe.
Of the co-writers Lorraine Feather works with, Ferrante is perhaps the most stylistically eclectic and likeliest to compose something not immediately recognizable as his. His broad mastery of harmony and orchestrational theory result in a fountain of compositional ideas that might bear a strong resemblance to Rachmaninoff at one moment, Zawinul the next, Debussy the next, and still remain uniquely his. Watching his instructional videos, you get the feeling that you are listening to a musical scientist, a particularly analytical intellectual who lives and breathes harmony, rhythm, melody, and especially compositional narrative. Then there is his staggering pianistic technique. He can play anything that he writes.
And he loves writing with Lorraine Feather: "I'm a huge fan of Lorraine's lyric writing and singing. After working together for the past twenty years or so, I think I've come to better understand her unique musical world. It encompasses early American musical genres from blues, stride, and swing to the present day. Her lyrics often suggest a mash-up of all those eras! I, too, share a love for all those musical styles. Each style has its own melodic, harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary. I think all of Lorraine's collaborators have to speak those various musical languages in order to support her lyrics in the most authentic way.
"The songs we've written together have been constructed different ways. Early on, Lorraine would send me a lyric and I'd write the music I thought best supported her lyric. Songs like 'The Girl With the Lazy Eye' were written this way. More recently, we've been brainstorming together at my house, with both of us throwing ideas back and forth. Once we settle on the direction for the song, I'll work on it on my own and send MP3s for her input and direction.
"I guess in the simplest terms, you're always trying to find a balance of heart and head. One studies music to gain a working vocabulary, but then one has to move into the realm of the heart, to grasp the emotional center of a lyric and find the best possible way to serve it."