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Mark Meadows: Somethin’ Good

Geannine Reid By

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Mark G Meadows is a multifaceted jazz pianist, composer and jazz educator. Besides regularly performing across the U.S, Meadows also teaches four courses as an adjunct instructor at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. During the 2014-2015 season, Meadows is appearing alongside world-renowned musicians such as: Warren Wolf, Cyrus Chestnut, Dontae Winslow, Kris Funn, Todd Marcus, Eric Kennedy, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, Elijah Jamal Balbed, Quincy Phillips, Gary Thomas, Paul Bollenback, and Dr. Alex Norris.

Meadows is the son of a gospel and jazz vocalist and when he was three years old his father bought him a little Casio keyboard and said, "have at it." At the age of five, Meadows and his family moved to Dallas, Texas and he began studying classical piano under the stern, but loving eye of Dr. Rosalie LeVant, a renowned Russian-born and highly regarded classical pianist. Years later, Julie Bonk, a treasured Dallas jazz pianist and teacher of Grammy Award-winning artist Norah Jones, took the 13 year-old under her wings after hearing him play Debussy's "Clair De Lune."

Meadows took a different route than predicted when deciding on his college education and decided to attend Johns Hopkins University; not for music, but for psychology. After two years of the strenuous premed route at Johns Hopkins, Meadows began to understand how much music really meant to him. He decided to complete his psychology degree, but added on a second degree in jazz piano at the Peabody Institute, all the while waking up at the crack of dawn every Sunday morning to perform as Music Director at a dynamic multiracial church in Baltimore, MD.

For six years, Meadows composed, arranged, and taught a wide array of styles to compliment the diverse and energetic congregation. In 2011, Meadows earned degrees in jazz piano from The Peabody Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from The Johns Hopkins University. After graduating, Meadows decided for the first time in his life to focus solely on music as he received a full tuition Graduate Assistantship from The Peabody Conservatory where he completed his Graduate Performance Degree in jazz piano.

Meadows compiles an impressive cast for his second album, Somethin' Good, with Brent Birckhead on alto sax, Eric Kennedy on drums, Eric Wheeler on bass, Paul Bollenback on guitar, Warren Wolf on vibes and guest vocalistS Lena Seikaly and Christine Dashiell on a couple of tracks. Besides playing piano, Meadows also sings on four of the tracks, Meadows' writing is outstanding and his compositions fresh and possessing a strong foundation in the tradition, in addition to reaching to fresh sounds and inspiration. Meadows' lyrics are positive and are every bit as enjoyable as the music and playing, which makes this offering even more appealing. Seikaly and Dashiell's voices are used to sing non-lyric melodies and function as an augmentation of the ensemble's orchestral colors.

Meadows has selected four tunes to show his arranging skills on Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High," "Come Together" by Lennon-McCartney, and a solo piano rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." All four selections have certainly had more than their fair share of jazz artists using them as improvisational vehicles, but Meadows truly adds creative ideas to these tunes without destroying the melody.

"Rock With You" is given a hip 5/4 groove for an intro that seamlessly segues to 4/4 for the verse, which Meadows sings with confidence. There are well- placed vocal harmonies in the chorus, which returns to 5/4 along with an interlude before Bollenback's fine solo, layered over a nice 6/8 feel. Although this might seem like a lot of time signature shifting, the beauty is that the overall feel is seamless and whether you're into the details of form and counting or just listening for pleasure, the music flows naturally all the same.

On "Groovin' High," Meadows sets the melody to a straight-sixteenth funk feel that is finished in half-time swing. The second ending is a creative combination of half-time swing and the original sixteenth-note pulse. Meadows takes the first solo, his lines clear and melodic, with just the right amount of blues inflections. The rhythm section of Kennedy and Wheeler keep the pulse steady while conversing with Meadows and eventually moving the feel to an up-tempo swing that inspires Meadows' lines even more. Wolf's solo starts relaxed, with the band opening the feel for a chorus; the second chorus is back to the up-tempo swing feel and Wolf's lines shine, with Meadows' thoughtful chordal interactions adding to the conversation and musical intensity. Kennedy delivers a fine musical solo over an ensemble figure that leads back to the head and out.

Meadows' genius shines in his original compositions; his unique style will certainly appeal to a wide selection of listeners. Meadows explains further about the music, "This album is an aural journey of the joys and struggles I've experienced over the last seven years. It's a testament to where I've been, where I am, and where I hope to be."

"Just Imagine" is a slow mid-tempo, straight-eight composition that has Seikaly doubling the melody with Birckhead, the voice giving an organic human feel to the melody. The A section melody is built on a seven-note theme that twists and turns through an interesting set of changes that uses space very effectively. The B section finds the band taking a more rhythmically active role while the melody plays with a four- note repetitive figure that uses rhythmic displacement and a nice ascending figure at the end of the phrase. The intro is revised as an interlude, while Birckhead plays light fills to introduce his alto solo. Birckhead's solo is thoughtful and musically builds through the changes and form. The intro/interlude makes the transition to Meadows' piano solo, which is full of developed melodic phrases and a repeating note theme from the B section of the melody. The interlude is revised and the repeated melody takes the tune out.

"Get Lost" is an excellent composition that showcases Meadows' singing and lyrics. Again, Meadows masterfully uses changing time signatures to create interest while keeping the music flowing and feeling natural, to avid and casual listeners alike. In fact, Meadows' original music is widely accessible, with hints of gospel, R&B, rock andM most certainly, jazz. There truly is something for everyone on this CD. Meadows' lyrics speak to the magic that can happen when getting lost in one's dream:

"Just figure out what you were called to do
Forget about work you might have to go through
Can'the be scared to take a chance.
Push, push and let it go; it's about time you take that stance.
Up up and away we go.
Get lost in your own dreams."

Somethin' Good is a wonderful collection of originals and arrangements that traverse boundaries and styles that speak to the human spirit in a universal language of music. Let Meadows give you Somethin' Good to listen to; you will not be disappointed.

Track Listing: Come Together; Just Imagine; Rock With You; Somethin’ Good; Once Upon a Purple Night; Less Catchy; Way Up Here; For You; Groovin’ High; Get Lost; Lush Life.

Personnel: Mark Meadows: piano, voice; Paul Bollenback: guitar; Warren Wolf: vibes; Brent Birckhead: alto sax; Christine Dashiell: vocals (8,9); Lena Seikaly: vocals (2); Eric Kennedy: drums; Eric Wheeler: bass.

Title: Somethin’ Good | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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