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Lynne Arriale: A Suite Of Hope In Chaotic Times

Lynne Arriale: A Suite Of Hope In Chaotic Times

Courtesy Juan Carlos Villorroel

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The world influences me, and it has especially influenced me in the last few years.
—Lynne Arriale
Pianist/composer Lynne Arriale's The Lights Are Always On (Challenge Records, 2022) is a suite of compositions that reflects on the tumultuous period of history we live in. Through the chaos, though, she offers a message on hope and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

"The theme of the album was inspired by an interview that I heard with Dr. Prakash Gatta, who is a physician who was treating COVID patients," Arriale explains. She had been struck, in particular, by one of his statements. "No matter what happens, no one works alone, the lights are always on. We'll take care of you, I promise," she recalls. "It crystallized the spirit of people taking care of each other."

The inspiration led to an album with a theme. "It was supposed to be a musical profile in courage."

Each of the tracks is dedicated to the figures that inspired them. Arriale has chosen a variety of figures to recognize musically, including "Honor" for Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, and the "The Notorious RBG" for the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The title track is dedicated to Dr. Gatta.

"The Lights Are Always On also refers to the goodness and bravery of the human spirit," she adds.

Jazz is often accused of being too esoteric to capture popular attention. Arriale's compositions look to connect with the rest of the world. "The world influences me, and it has especially influenced me in the last few years." Rather than dwell on what has been lost, she looked for a thread of hope to hold on to. "I felt compelled to have the spirit come through the music."

The Milwaukee native launched her career with a first prize win at the 1993 International Great American Jazz Piano Competition. Today, she adds the role of educator and adjudicator to her mix, as Professor of Jazz Studies and Director of Small Ensembles at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

At this point in a long and active career, her writing process is driven by inspiration. "It's kind of intuitive," she explains. "I think about the idea or the person, and I start listening in my own mind for melodies."

The finished product comes through a long process of revising and polishing, all while continuing to reflect on whether the music conveys the essence of the person or idea she has in mind.

"'The Lights Are Always On'—that one just came to me. It's almost classically oriented," she says.

"The Lights Are Always On" captures a sense of measured momentum through a kinetic theme on the piano, set against shimmering cymbals and busy bass line. It turns the chaos of the pandemic into a beacon of hope. "Walk In My Shoes," dedicated to John Lewis, has an expansive mood, one of forward progression through a strident piano theme. It takes more reflective turns before fading into an upbeat procession.

"Does one phrase lead organically to the next? I'll listen to it for quite a while," she says. "We want the piece to sound natural, and to not have the form show. In other words, it should feel like it makes sense musically."

While Arriale uses a range of contemporary colors and techniques in her compositional palette, her sound is rooted in jazz traditions. She cites the deceptively easy sound of jazz standards as a model. "There is tremendous internal logic in music," she notes. Each song is polished and well crafted, but the mechanics are subsumed inside the music. "As the listener, we don't think of that."

Her process can sometimes take weeks or more. "Sometimes I've rewritten a tune months later," she notes.

On the release, Arriale is joined by regular collaborators drummer E.J. Strickland and Dutch bassist Jasper Somsen. The pair of accomplished musicians flesh out the music with nicely understated virtuosity. Somsen's upright solo on "March On" is one of the releases' highlights.

"Jasper is an outstanding bassist and composer, and he was my co-producer," she notes. "E.J. Strickland is the drummer, and we've worked together for years."

Close collaboration allows for an organic flow to the music through its various moods on the album. "It's everything—-finding the right chemistry, and being able to communicate well," she says. "It makes all the difference in the world. Both Jasper and E.J. are outstanding in their craft, and they play with a lot of heart."

For the first time, the entire album consists of Arriale's originals. Previous releases have typically included covers in the mix. It's all about the concept of the album. "I always look for conveying a certain story, and sometimes, that means drawing from popular music. I'm always trying to tell a story musically, and engage the listener. And, speak to them through each phrase I play. It's kind of an intuitive concept, but that's my goal." She adds, "When we're playing a solo, it's important to me to start from a certain point, and have it evolve to a certain shape. Every note is important."

She reflects on her stylistic evolution. "I think harmonically I've opened up more over the years, but I always want to have my melody be clear, and create a musical shape where the ear can follow, and it feels like one phrase leads naturally into the next. That's a very challenging thing to do. I scrutinize what I do," she says. "I want to allow the audience to breathe with me while I'm playing. It's easy to play a lot of notes. I want every note to matter."

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