Born and bred in Indianapolis, innovative composer-arranger Frank Glover may be one of Indiana's best-kept secrets. On his 2004 tour de force, the classically influenced Politico (reissued in 2009 on Owl Studios), Glover established himself as an accomplished clarinetist-composer with a penchant for long-form pieces that strike an organic balance between improvisation and formal structure.
On Abacus, he expands on his large canvas vision with a stunning program of chamber jazz that alternately reflects the influence of classical renegades Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok, tango renegade Astor Piazzolla, prolific Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and forward-thinking jazz master Wayne Shorter as well as renowned film score composers Bernard Hermann and Alfred Newman.
Performing primarily on soprano saxophone this time (he plays clarinet on one track), Glover and his working quartet of keyboardist Zach Lapidus, bassist Jack Helsley and drummer Dave Scalia join together with a full complement of strings, woodwinds, brass and mallet percussion to present a potent program of sophisticated, meaningful music in three movements. I think there's a giant gap between improvisation and contemporary classical composition," says the 46-year-old composer. We don't even have the words to describe music that falls in that gap. It's not classical composition, it's just music."
The stirring First Movement of Abacus opens with the quietude of Two Shades of Green," which begins with a sparse, improvised duet between Glover on soprano sax and Lapidus on piano before the full orchestral enters. The piece segues smoothly to the pensive Lost Sumino," which recalls the minimalist strains of John Adams' operatic work. I found those two compositions in my closet," says Glover. They were on scraps of paper on the floor and I almost threw them away. I needed a couple more pieces for this record so I started playing them and thought, 'I think I can make this work.'"
The combination of vibes and marimba creates a minimalist undercurrent on the opening of the title track. Says Glover, I grew up with one of the great marimba players in the world. Her name was Julie Spencer. She lives in Germany now with her husband but we had a band when we were kids and she used to write all these great tunes. I've had the sound of the marimba in my head ever since then. And for some reason it took a long time but it eventually came out in my writing. So 'Abacus' was influenced by that marimba sound that stayed in my head for so long." The piece also has Glover and his quartet introducing a jazzy motif that later plays out with some turbulent improvisational passages on Domino." Glover wails with impunity on soprano sax over the dissonant free section of this provocative work that closes the First Movement. And it builds to a grandiose climax with the full orchestra empowering the track.
The Second Movement of Abacus is comprised of a single piece, the elegant Ballerina," which showcases pianist Lapidus accompanied by strings on the opening section. Midway through the piece, drummer Scalia and bassist Helsley strike up a dramatic tango-flavored groove as the piece shifts into Piazzolla territory. The Third Movement of Abacus opens with Lighthouse," a moody number that highlights electric bassist Helsley carrying the melody against a web of interwoven strings. It segues smoothly to Modern Times," a soprano feature for Glover that slowly builds to a furious crescendo before turning drummer Scalia loose on the kit. Glover responds to his slamming backbeats and Lapidus' urgent comping and arpeggiating with some of his strongest soprano playing on the record.
The driving Salamanca is a flamenco-flavored piece named for a town in Spain that Glover is particularly fond of. The presence of dumbek also lends a subtle Middle Eastern flavor to this dynamic offering, which has Glover alternately blowing on soprano sax over the opening 5/4 section and clarinet over the restful 6/4 section in the middle. Says the composer, The solo section for clarinet is written random notes in the strings. So all that stuff behind the clarinet is just random. I picked the notes but they played the notes at random length. That's what gives it that sort of quality."
The Third Movement closes with the strongest piece on the collection, the angular and decidedly complex Robot." Says Glover; I got that idea from Mike Brecker's 'Delta Blues.' Mike was one of my favorite players. That piece was originally written for clarinet and I had written multiphonics through the clarinet, but you can't pull it off. It doesn't have the power. Even if you practiced them, you'd have to have a reed so light that the sound would be bad. So I took out the harmonics and played it on soprano instead and that seemed to work a lot better. And then the metallic sound of the soprano sort of adds to the robotic kind of quality to it."
A dense, through-composed piece, Robot" is reminiscent in some ways of Wayne Shorter's adventurous writing for Atlantis. I'm a very slow writer and I write carefully," says Glover. I try to blend every single sound as a new sound. I love Wayne Shorter's orchestration and his through-composed approach."
A self-described movie freak," Glover points to all the great film composers as having influenced his musical vision in some way. I love the movies, so I've heard tons of movie scores, good and bad. I've also listened to a lot of Bach, Takemitsu, and Piazzolla. Writing is all about courage to me. The courage to write what you really want to hear."
Growing up in Indiana, Glover's first instrument was clarinet. I first heard my grandfather's collection of Pete Fountain records and that's what turned me on to jazz," he recalls. And then I went from Pete Fountain to John Coltrane. I heard Trane soloing on Miles Davis' Milestones and I said to myself, 'That's what I want to do.'"
Switching to tenor saxophone after high school, he studied with Harry Miedema, former musical director of the O'Jays. During summer sessions at Northwestern University, he also took lessons from Robert Marcellus, principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1953 to 1973. In the early '80s, Glover left college to travel to New York in search of clarinet master Eddie Daniels. During that period in New York I took lessons from Eddie and also from Dave Liebman, Joanne Brackeen, Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz." Upon returning home to Indianapolis, he landed a gig at a jazz club called The Chatterbox. And I've been there for 25 years," he says.
A National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Performance Award recipient, Glover has released five recordings as a leader, beginning with 1991's Mosaic. With the release of Abacus, jazz fans on a wide scale will come to understand what Indianapolis jazz fans have known all along, that Frank Glover is indeed a cultural treasure deserving of wider recognition.
(Adapted from the album liner notes by Bill Milkowski)
This story appears courtesy of Michael Bloom Media Relations.
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