Firm Roots (digital download)

Lara Driscoll, Chris White, Firm Roots Duo

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Firm Roots (digital download)

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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

www.laradriscoll.com www.chriswhitepiano.com

© 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.

Expected release: January 22, 2021

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Woven Dreams (digital download)

Lara Driscoll

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Woven Dreams (digital download)

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Released March 6, 2020

Lara Driscoll: piano & composition (except 1, 7, 10, 11) Dave Laing: drums Paul Rushka: bass

Recording Engineer: Paul Johnston Recorded at Studio 451, Montreal, QC, Canada Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Brian Schwab Producers: Lara Driscoll & Chris White Photography: Maplewood Photography (Diego Iván Martirena) Graphic Design: Thomas Cray

"Pianist and educator Lara Driscoll showcases her elegant style and understated virtuosity on her charming debut, Woven Dreams. This intimate trio date consists mainly of Driscoll’s lyrical originals and has a laid-back vibe and a warm, cozy ambience. These attributes give the album a thematic cohesiveness that also extends to the handful of carefully chosen standards.

For instance, Driscoll interprets pianist Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” unaccompanied. Her right hand embellishes the wistful melody while her left contributes resonant rhythmic flourishes. Gradually she deconstructs the classic tune down to its essence with masterful pianism. Therefore, at is conclusion, it remains a Strayhorn composition, while simultaneously bearing Driscoll’s own unique mark.

In comparison, Driscoll’s “ECMT Blues” is equally poetic and captivating. Driscoll exchanges lines with her bandmates and improvises with intelligence and a tender touch. The track also showcases bassist Paul Rushka’s eloquent and agile extemporization and drummer Dave Laing’s suave and passionate rumbling solo.

The three musicians’ synergistic camaraderie is well documented throughout. As an example, Rushka and Driscoll exchange individual notes in an achingly beautiful dialogue on the nostalgic “Siblings.” Beyond this delightful duet the ensemble performance is so seamlessly fluid as to come from a single mind. Out of the collective, undulating refrains emerge individual expressions with graceful sophistication and emotive sensibility.

Two other highlights of this uniformly engaging work are the whimsical “Airport Limbo” and the mesmerizing title track. The former features overlapping angular vamps that evolve into a bright and witty spontaneous conversations. The latter, in contrast, is a lullaby-like nocturne drenched in soul and indigo hues. Driscoll builds the main theme with dense and reverberating chords peppered by single chiming notes. Laing’s soft brushes and Rushka’s sparse thumps enhance the mellow and shimmering atmosphere.

Woven Dreams is a superb first statement from a talented musician who, so early in her career, has developed her own singular sound. Driscoll enthralls with her gentle approach to the keys and fascinates with her writing chops."

— Hrayr Attarian (Chicago Jazz Magazine)

"This is truly outstanding music that tells wordless stories about living things (Siblings and Trespassers) conjuring each with humour and detail; it sketches and paints moving pictures and landscapes with vivid colour and texture (Black Dog Skirts Away and Isfahan) and does so much more, seemingly enchantingly, by manipulating the black and white keys of the piano, which is then woven into bass lines and dappled with percussion colours.

Having sat mesmerized through it all, Driscoll, together with Paul Rushka (bass) and Dave Laing (drums), will have done for you just what they did for me: imprinted upon your mind’s eye something of a magical, seemingly unending dreamscape. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of its characterization and the exceptional range and refinement of her pianism, Driscoll imparts an extraordinary bigness to this music that most pianists would die to achieve. This is music evoked as few pianists can.

— Raul da Gama (the Whole Note)

Lara Driscoll est une jeune pianiste Franco-américaine basée à Chicago. Avec son trio montréalais, ville dans laquelle elle vient de finir ses études musicales, elle sort un premier disque que l’on trouve prometteur. Dans une veine contemporaine qui ne renie jamais la mélodie, elle offre à écouter une musique qui se concentre sur le détail. Sa rythmique à une présence discrète qui sied parfaitement au propos de la leader. Tout est très aéré, clair et limpide. Lara Driscoll possède un goût sûr et n’en fait jamais trop. Nous irons même jusqu’à dire qu’elle maîtrise pleinement une économie de moyen qu’elle met au service de sa musique dont le raffinement est patent. Entre ses compositions originales, dont une suite inspiré par Fred Hersch (ce n’est pas la pire des références), et des standards bien choisis (un Autumn in New York réharmonisé de belle facture, entre autres), elle a construit un disque très juste et équilibré où rien ne semble déplacé. C’est un très beau travail de jazz, déjà très abouti, par un trio de jeunes pousses que l’on prend beaucoup de plaisir à écouter.

— Yves Dorison (CultureJazz)

“ Lara Driscoll, a gifted young French-American pianist and composer with a “magical touch...musical solos” (Geannine Reid, All About Jazz), presents her trio with Vancouver bassist Paul Rushka and Montreal drummer Dave Laing here as a richly varied and continuously creative unit, negotiating soulful grooves, mature swing, and lavish ballads. Lara's “captivating style and uncluttered finesse” (Coco Jazz CKVL FM Montreal & Sortie Jazz Nights) encompasses a thorough interest in the jazz tradition while revealing a compelling scrutiny of contemporary musical forms and concepts...It’s clear from this melange of diverse influences and substantially original playing that Lara Driscoll’s voice is markedly personal and should be widely heard.”

— Andre White (Pianist, Drummer, Audio Engineer, Associate Professor of Jazz Studies, McGill University), Excerpt from Liner Notes (Woven Dreams)

For Chicago-based Lara Driscoll, Woven Dreams is both a beginning and an end. It’s her first album as a leader, and as such will serve to introduce jazz listeners to her warm, expressive playing and quietly ingenious compositions. At the same time, Woven Dreams memorializes the trio that she led while a graduate student at Montréal’s McGill University, as well as her time in the Francophone city.

“With Woven Dreams, I’m trying to represent several years,” Lara says. “We played together regularly. We (the ensemble) played some of this music at my master’s recital. I wanted to capture all of that before I moved on to something else. And I’m so glad I did, because now bassist Paul Rushka is in Vancouver, drummer Dave Laing is still in Montréal, and I’m in Chicago.” Even Paul Johnston, the album’s recording engineer (5x JUNO winner for Christine Jensen, Joel Miller, Carol Welsman, projects for Justin Time, Origin, Inner Circle, Whirlwind, Cellar Live), moved to Edmonton shortly after this session. “He was kind enough to do this right before leaving,” Driscoll says.

Driscoll, who earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, hadn’t originally planned on attending McGill, much less on getting a masters in jazz performance. “At the time, I was debating whether or not to do another jazz degree, she recalls. “I was considering music therapy, and was intrigued by the Concordia program. But then I met Jan Jarczyk.”

The Polish-born Jarczyk taught piano and composition at McGill, and was a much-beloved figure on the Montréal jazz scene. Driscoll had been referred to him to learn about McGill’s program, but after chatting a bit he asked her to play. “I wasn’t really prepared to do an audition right that second,” she says. “So I said, Well how about we play a duet? I started to play ‘Alone Together’ and he joined in.” Afterward, Jarczyk suggested that Driscoll apply to the program, and before she knew it, “they gave me some courses to teach and a scholarship.”

“I kind of fell into living in Montréal, which was honestly an amazing thing,” she says. “To get to go to grad school, gratis, in a beautiful bi-lingual city, and also to get to experience the way that Montréalers think about music, which is a very interesting combination of European and North American sensibilities.”

The child of an American father and French mother, she felt right at home with the bilingualism. Prior to having children, Driscoll’s parents met in Nairobi, Kenya in the 1970s and travelled the world together. Their life story helped foster appreciation for other cultures and a yearning to continually widen her perspective. Montréal’s creative scene seemed a logical locale to enrich her musical career. “In Montreal, musicians always talked about their projects,” she says. “They would say, I have this project, and I’m working on this project… That mindset inspired me.

Driscoll’s most intense compositional project became her trio. “I ended up with a pretty specific vision in some ways,” she says. “Like the bass lines, and certain things that I want in the arrangements. I think a lot about colors and shapes and mood and dynamics.”

Of her album-opening treatment of the standard “Autumn in New York,” Driscoll explains, “Whenever I’m arranging a standard, my approach is to start with the melody, and ask myself, how can I harmonize this melody in an interesting way? I was exploring what it was like to harmonize melody with crunchy block chords. I thought it’d be fun to have the bass player double the melody when the words are ‘Autumn in New York,’ so the melody was in my right pinky, and then also in my left thumb with the bass. And for the rest of the phrase, I used various reharmonizations, and opened it up with some suspended chords, to change the color and make it a little freer, as opposed to keeping it locked into diatonic harmony. “Also, the head changes meter from the original 4/4, and then the solos are in three. I let the lyrics determine the meter.”

Perhaps the most ambitious writing on the album, though, is the suite “Forgiving – Black Dog Skirts Away.” Inspired by Fred Hersch’s “Black Dog Pays a Visit,” the three tracks were prompted by Hersch’s having written that the Black Dog of his title was depression. “I really love this composition; what can I do creatively with it?” she says. “It’s all minor chords, and there’s a really sequential melody that is simple and beautiful.”

“I tried to emulate that technique, but react to it by using major chords instead. There’s this three-note theme that I play at the beginning of the track very high up, and it comes back, over and over. I see that as the Black Dog. And at the very end, it comes back suddenly. It still might be part of us. How do we forgive ourselves of it? How do we forgive those who have it?

“Music has to be personal,” she adds. “It has to be expressive. There has to be some emotion in it. But it can’t just be emotion. There has to be some depth to the music itself. There has to be meat to it.” And there’s plenty of meat to Woven Dreams.

Copyright 2019 Lara Driscoll & Firm Roots Music All Rights Reserved

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    Airport Limbo

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    ECMT Blues

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    ECMT Intro

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    Forgiving - Black Dog Skirts Away : I. Forgiving

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    Forgiving - Black Dog Skirts Away: II. Black Dog

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    Forgiving - Black Dog Skirts Away: III. Skirts Away

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    Isfahan

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    Just One of Those Things

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    Mamy Adieu

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    O Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela)

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    Siblings

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    Trespassers

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    Woven Dreams

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