Firm Roots (digital download)
Firm Roots Duo, Lara Driscoll, Chris White
Physical Album Download
Releases January 22, 2021
Firm Roots Duo Lara Driscoll & Chris White piano & composition except 1,4,7,9
Recording, Mixing & Mastering: Brian Schwab
Recorded Live at Grand Piano Haus, Skokie, IL
Pianos: Bösendorfer 170CS (left channel CW), 185CS (right channel LD), except v.v. track 1
Maplewood Photography (Diego Iván Martirena)
Notes Editor: Klaudia Siczek
Graphic Design: Melle Palmer
© COPYRIGHT 2020 FIRM ROOTS MUSIC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
When pianists Chris White and Lara Driscoll perform as the Firm Roots Duo, they draw on lines of communication that are almost unknowably deep. They’ve developed that bond as spouses, of course, but also as fine independent artists with voices of their own. Based in the Chicago area, they first met as students of pianist John “Chip” Stephens at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And ever since, they’ve set aside space in their busy respective careers to hone and formalize a concept now documented on Firm Roots, their extraordinary duo debut.
Named for the ebullient Cedar Walton composition “Firm Roots,” which serves here as the leadoff track (it was also the recessional at their wedding), White and Driscoll state in their liner notes: “Roots are often unseen, but their resilience and determination to stabilize the tree above makes them quietly powerful and humbly significant. It is therefore only fitting that Firm Roots is both our title track and the name of our duo. It is, in fact, our mission statement.” Finding a studio with not one but two superior pianos can be tricky, but White and Driscoll have the good fortune of living close to the Grand Piano Haus showroom. It was in that live and resonant environment that they recorded, on two premium Bösendorfers, with engineer Brian Schwab tucked away in a supply closet as the control room, bringing their crisp and refined duo sound to life. On “Firm Roots” we hear White in the right channel, stating the melody the first time through in octaves; on the remaining tracks, it’s Driscoll on the right, White on the left.
“We knew that the recording would have more depth if we worked as though we were actually a band,” says Driscoll. What we hear, therefore, is less a blowing session than a beautifully arranged musical journey, rich in orchestration, textural detail and counterpoint, with big bass frequencies and vibrant rhythms, all woven together with a bluesy and lyrical melodic sense.
In addition to Walton’s rousing postbop anthem, the duo renders Horace Silver’s iconic “Song for My Father” with intriguing reharmonization, “a mellow neo-soul vibe and syncopated hits,” they write. At the heart of their interpretive license is a love for these modern jazz masters and the legacy of greatness they represent. Ann Ronell’s perennial groover “Willow Weep for Me” also gives White and Driscoll ample space to call and respond in fine swinging form, deeply conversant in the tradition. Here they cite Hank Jones and Art Tatum as harmonic role models.
Along with its strong rhythmic pocket, the Firm Roots Duo has a magical way of playing rubato, out of tempo, particularly compelling on the intro of the classic 1986 Bacharach hit “That’s What Friends Are For.” “I really gravitate toward rubato playing, things like intros and interludes,” Driscoll says, “and Chris does also because he’s played a lot of vocal accompaniment, so he’s great at following and being a team player.” White adds: “You can be really orchestral when you’re playing rubato, using the full range of the instrument and feeling less limited. You go at your pace.” The graceful waltz “I.P.T.” — the duo’s first original piece, performed together at their wedding reception — begins with transcendent rubato as well, as does “Tu M’as Convaincu” (“you convinced me”).
White and Driscoll not only play together far and wide — recently in Boston, Japan and Thailand — but they also write together. The co-composed songs on Firm Roots, which also include “One Foot First,” “Jalophony” and the elegant “Sábado de Mañha,” bespeak a collaborative process of careful listening, give-and-take and interwoven inspiration. They reflect a growing store of shared life experiences, from transformative or comical travels to serene moments spent together at home. In its way, as White and Driscoll state in the notes, the music of Firm Roots can serve to “remind us of what is most important: family, health, and interconnectedness.”
About Chris White: Originally from Toronto, Chris White has gained recognition as a leader with the albums Young at Heart and Tributaries. At home in a host of genres and settings, he has made his name as a go-to freelance pianist, arranger and accompanist in the Chicago area. His performance credits include the Chicago Jazz Festival, The Jazz Showcase, The Green Mill, Winter’s Jazz Club, Cliff Bell’s, Catalina Jazz Club, Feinstein’s/54 Below (NYC) and The Jazz Kitchen, among others. Chris is an in-demand educator as well, teaching piano, theory and ensembles at Lake Forest College, North Park University and North Central College. He earned his Master’s in Jazz Studies at Indiana University’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music, studying with the late renowned educator David Baker, and went on to complete his DMA in Jazz Performance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has studied piano with Barry Harris, Joanne Brackeen and Hal Galper among other greats, and performed with Miguel Zenón, Ira Sullivan, Jamey Aebersold, Oliver Nelson, Jr. and many more.
About Lara Driscoll: A Chicago native of French-American descent, Lara Driscoll has been praised for her “captivating style and uncluttered finesse” (CKVL-FM, Montreal). Downbeat’s Suzanne Lorge noted the “understated arrangements and meltingly delicious voicings” of Lara’s 2020 trio debut Woven Dreams. After earning her Bachelor’s in Jazz Piano from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she went on to graduate with a Master’s in Jazz Performance from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, on a full-tuition scholarship under the tutelage of Jan Jarcyzk. She taught jazz keyboard and theory while at McGill as well, before going on to her current faculty positions at Loyola University, Harold Washington College and DePaul University (C.M. Division). She has received the Luminarts Graduate Jazz Composition, Performance and People’s Choice awards, and has performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Jazz Education Network Conference, The Jazz Showcase, Andy’s Jazz Club, The Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, Upstairs Jazz Bar, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and more. She is busy as a freelance pianist in the Chicago area, and in addition to her trio and the Firm Roots Duo, she can be heard as pianist and arranger on vocalist Nancy Lane’s Let Me Love You, as well as recordings by the groups Bossa Nuevo and Tango Espejo.