Finding Inspiration in All the Right Places: Jeff Lederer's Schoenberg On the Beach
Inspiration comes in many forms and from myriad sources. For reed man Jeff Lederer, the impetus to create has emanated from sea chanties, Shaker vision songs and Albert Ayler, among other wellsprings. The 61 year old reed player’s latest bolt of innovation has come from the early vocal music of composer Arnold Schoenberg.
We heard the fruits of his notion on October 1, as Lederer and six close musical friends gave new life to Schoenberg’s music at the Shea Theater, as Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares offered its second concert of the season. The event marked the release of Schoenberg on the Beach, a new recording on his little (i) music imprint. Sunday’s concert concluded a tour that also stopped at the Lilypad (Cambridge), Firehouse 12 (New Haven) and Roulette (Brooklyn).
Despite Schoenberg’s reputation as a purveyor of dark, brooding music, what we heard in Turners Falls was, for the most part, a buoyant and swinging affair, full of chance-taking whimsy at various tempos. Each piece was introduced by the extraordinary vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, whom we first met as part of Mary LaRose’s Eric Dolphy project two years ago. In keeping with the classical roots of this venture, Lederer left his tenor saxophone home and devoted himself exclusively to flute and clarinet. The all-star band also included Hank Roberts (cello), Chris Lightcap (electric bass), Michael Sarin (drums), Noel Brennan, aka àrkturéyé, (electronics) and Mary LaRose (vocals).
The concert, which mirrored the contour of the recording, began with “On the Beach”, a rocking tune that featured a sinewy cello solo. What a treat to hear Hank Roberts for the first time. The veteran was a mainstay on the New York downtown scene in the 1980s alongside Mark Ribot, John Zorn and especially Bill Frisell, with whom he still works. Roberts, who has lived in Ithaca, NY for decades, will be back in the Valley on November 4 with Tim Berne and Aurora Nealand.
The lyrics by Rilke, Goethe, Nietzsche and others, were harder to decipher live than on the recording, so it was helpful that Lederer provided programs that included the written poems. They included a poem by the late 19th-early 20th century German writer Wilhelm Weigand. It read, in part: “Oh summer evening/Holy golden light/The gently glowing meadow lies ablaze/Not a sound breaks this peaceful silence/And all is merged into one emotion…”
It seems that Schoenberg, who fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and eventually settled in Los Angeles, had a strong attraction to the beach, and some of Schoenberg’s early vocal music that Lederer used for inspiration contained seaside themes. Brooklyn’s Coney Island holds a similar allure for Lederer. During the minute-long segues between pieces, the turntablist àrkturéyé altered early field recordings taken from a Riverside Record, CONEY ISLAND IN STEREO: The Thrilling Sounds of the World’s Greatest Amusement Park. Concurrently, we watched projected film footage from Coney Islands’ Luna Park, shot by Mack Sennett in 1912.
Lederer’s arrangements of these works by Schoenberg and his student Anton Webern, (whose pieces are also included in the project), are modern and full of jazz life. Much of the project’s joi de vivre was provided by LaRose, the irrepressible chanteuse who seemed to channel the forward thinking vocals of Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan. LaRose’s playful, insouciant approach to the material was vastly different from how Schoenberg heard it. When you add her all-black attire and her movements to the music, the buttoned-down constraint of the original was lovingly blown up.
Jeff Lederer is not only one of the nicest persons in jazz, he is a dependably restless musical soul, with quick wit and limitless imagination. Lederer’s Palisades High School calculus teacher in Los Angeles was Lawrence Schoenberg, Arnold’s son. Lederer and LaRose have longed lived in Brooklyn, and since moving to the East Coast he’s become drawn to Coney Island. And so the beach and Arnold Schoenberg become his latest points to jump off, while musical connections and creative thoughts just keep springing from Lederer’s fertile imagination.