As we were discussing which artists to approach for Alarm System, John Medeski’s name was suggested as someone who was familiar with some of our work and was interested in doing a project with us. The prospect of working with someone from the jazz and improvisation world was immediately appealing. Medeski Martin and Wood and Alarm Will Sound made contacted and were thrilled to begin collaborating.
The uniqueness of the instrumentation (chamber orchestra versus jazz organ trio) ruled out any preexisting repertoire. Several approaches were decided on: arrangements of existing MMW tunes, new works by John Medeski and Billy Martin incorporating some improvisation, and new compositions by present and former members of AWS. As a musician who spends much of his time improvising and a composer, I instantly jumped at the chance to write for this group knowing that there would be no two ensembles better suited to realize a piece that may be complex rhythmically and notationally, but also improvisational at its core.
Coincidentally, as this project was developing, I began writing for my own jazz quintet based in the Metro-Detroit area. Though I have composed and led bands for years, it has been only recently that I felt ready to take on my own group after moving to Michigan six years ago. During a period of inspiration two years ago, I composed a melody that turned into a really fun vehicle for improvisation for the band. It had a haunting quality, but was open enough to encourage experimentation and energetic drive. I thought this would be the perfect tune to arrange for the two groups.
This tune, which I entitled “Northern Lights,” has a cyclic form consisting of a series of dominant chords set under the winding melody. The name is inspired by the atmospheric effects created at the northern latitudes, but also draws inspiration from the Detroit bar where I played bass with a jazz trio every Wednesday for the last three years. The pianist and drummer in the trio are also in my current group, and the tune became my dedication to them and the music we have made to date. To me, the connection between my role as a bassist in a keyboard trio (like Medeski Martin and Wood) and my role as a bassist in Alarm Will Sound made the decision to arrange this tune obvious, as I draw upon each aesthetic throughout the piece. Given this unique opportunity, I was really anxious to write music that would feature both aspects of my personality, and highlight the strengths of the members of both groups.