In the instance of Žan Tetičkovič, his is a story of following his dreams from his native Slovenia to study music in New York City. The drummer and composer who goes by the name Jean John has self-released his debut American album. Titled "The Port of Life", he started creating the 15 track-75 minute program on his arrival in the New World in 2011 to study at The New School. The handsome booklet includes "The New Colossus" by poet Emma Lazarus which features the lines emblazoned on our minds "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Jean John returned home to record the album with a septet that includes Alba Nacinovich (vocals), Lenart Crečič (tenor saxophone), Tomaž Gajšt (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jani Moder (guitar), Marko Črnčec (piano - he has an album for Whirlwind Recordings), and Myles Sloniker (acoustic bass) plus the Janus Atelier String Quartet (violinists Matija Crečič and Nejc Avbelj, violist Barbara Grahor, and cellist Zoran Bičanin).
The next 11 tracks comprise the "Acculturation Suite", a song cycle that blends sounds, voices, short tracks, longer cuts and powerful musicianship. Opening with "Prelude", an introspective work played by the String Quartet, the Suite follows the drummer through his "Farewell" to the "Euphoria" of following his dream to "Collapse", the realization of how hard it is for someone to uproot himself and how alone he feels. The Strings return for "Intermezzo", a musical real to reflect on the journey and resettlement. The second half of the Suite includes "Alienation" (perhaps a pun) as the composer continues his search. The music is not as dark as "Collapse", there seems to be light at the end of this tunnel. Sloniker's powerful and melodic bass introduces "Adjustment"; joined by John's funky drums, the song moves forward on a slinky melody line with the saxophone and guitar leading the way. The leader introduces the last piece in the Suite, "A New Beginning", with a staggering drum solo that slows down and softens for the main melody. The strings rise in on an circular line played by guitar and piano. When the rest of the group enters, the music takes off on a celebration of the new "home", the composer nows has his feet on solid ground and his joy rises to the heavens. Once the festivities come to a close, the ensemble returns for the final track, "The Port of Life, Dawn". The voice and piano open as if praying and so does the String Quartet; the music is a reverie that, after five minutes, allows the rhythm section and guitarist to enter. As the music rises to its climax, all the instruments reenter in a triumphant "shout."
Perhaps part of my enjoyment of this album comes from the numerous times I, a second generation American, have attended the Naturalization Ceremony in my home town, a day when immigrants become citizens. It's touching, life-affirming, and it's a bit humbling. "The Port of Life" is an impressive story of determination, of talent, of desire, and of fortitude. Give it a listen.
For more information, go to www.jean-john.com.
Here's a taste of several tracks:
Vocalist, composer, and arranger Jihye Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, and came to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. And study she has done, learning from Ayn Inserto, private lessons from Maria Schneider and Terence Blanchard, and workshops with John Clayton and Robin Eubanks. Since graduation from Berklee, Ms. Lee is completing graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Jim McNeely.
With the help of Berklee Professor and trumpeter Greg Hopkins, she assembled a 19-piece orchestra (students and teachers) to record "April" (self-released), her first American album. Much of the music Ms. Lee created for this project came in response to the sinking of the Korean ferry Sewol which took the lives of over 300 of the 476 passengers and crew; the majority of those who perished were teenage students. Yet, the songs, while they have elegiac moments, are not filled with anger or long stretches of sadness. The album takes its title from the lovely opening track which is also the month of the tragic event that spurred the composer into action. But the music, unlike the month T.S. Eliot described in "The Wasteland", as "the cruelest month" is filled with promise, with new life springing out of the earth, days are longer and beginning to be warmer; one hears joy in the dance created by Shannon LeClaire (alto sax) and Allan Chase (soprano sax) and no inkling of the tragedy to follow.
|photo: Keith Davis|
"April" is an impressive introduction to Jihye Lee, a composer and arranger (she studied vocal performance at Berklee and adds wordless vocals to several tracks here) who channeled her emotions to create this music that celebrates life, rarely pausing to mourn. How does one deal with loss of this proportion, a tragedy taking the lives of so many young people? It's an unanswerable question yet the music serves as a balm.
For more information, go to jihyemusic.com.
Here's the last track from the album: