KITCHENER, Ont. (Sunday, April 29,2018) ---- If his first two CDs are any indication, Nick Maclean is bound for an international career as a leading Canadian jazz artist.
But his Kitchener fans will be able to hear the rising star on keys/synth every Sunday in May for the Blue Note Composer Series at Rhapsody Barrel Bar in Downtown Kitchener. There are four shows, each explores the compositions of great jazz composers who recorded for Blue Note Records -- Joe Henderson (May 6), Wayne Shorter (May 13), Herbie Hancock (May 20) and Freddie Hubbard (May 27).
Maclean adores Hancock's music. He recorded four famous Hancock tunes of that era -- Cantaloupe Island, Driftin', One Finger Snap and Tell Me a Bedtime Story -- on his second CD, Rites of Ascension, which was released last October. This 26-year-old piano player made that music his own.
"Generally speaking this CD is very influenced by Herbie Hancock's 1960s quartet. The quartet with Freddie Hubbard. It is basically the rhythm section of Miles Davis' second great quintet," says Maclean.
"It is a fantastic group that explores all kinds of interesting Post-Bop Jazz. So the main records of the time that we were taking ques from would have been Maiden Voyage, and Empyrean Isles," says Maclean.
"So this record in some ways is meant to be driven by that kind of ethos, but broadened to the modern day," says Maclean.
Maclean's played in Kitchener-Waterloo several times before, and has a growing base of fans here. He played The Jazz Room last November, a CD launch for Rites of Ascension. He played the Boathouse last month with his band Snaggle. Both shows featured Browman Ali on trumpet. Brown produces Maclean's recordings at Browntasaurus Records, and the two gig together all the time.
"Any situation where I need keyboards, he is my first call, and we have this deep respect and love," says Brown. "There is a reason I asked him to do all four shows, and there is a reason I am on stage a lot with him these days."
This year Maclean is doing a solo CD for the Brown's non-profit recording label, with Brown producing. So there should be another CD launch show in the area before too long.
Before that, the Blue Note Composer Series runs every Sunday afternoon in May, 3-6 p.m.
I talked to Nick at length about his last CD, which is kind of a tribute to Herbie Hancock's genius. If you want to know why Brown has Maclean on all the gigs for the series, just listen to Rites of Ascension. It is a terrific CD.
The spirit behind those famous Hancock tunes infects the rest of the CD, which includes five more originals from Maclean and one from Brown.
Temptations at the Crossroads is Delta-Blues inspired. This is Maclean's musical version of the story guitarist Tommy Johnson selling his soul to the devil at a midnight meeting on a dark, rural crossroads in Mississippi.
Temptations is a slow blues in three.
"Previous to writing this tune Brown told me he hated playing tunes in three, and he is not super partial to slow blues. So here I am thinking: 'Hmmm, I should write a slow blues in three, he'll love that."
The next tune is Goldberg Machine. It is rhythmically complex and asymetrical. It is in 6/8 time with a five-bar phrase and the baseline never falls on beat one.
"It is meant to simulate a Goldberg Machine, this is a machine invented by the cartoonist Rube Goldberg, actually cartoonist and engineer Rube Goldberg," says Maclean.
The term became synonymous for unnecessarily complicated contraptions that accomplish every-day tasks. Nation's Unrest: A Tribal Conflict. This was is inspired by devolution of political discourse into camps of yelling fools.
"This is one of the fastest tunes on the record, it is actually a blues form though it is disguised," says Maclean. "It took the guys a couple of weeks with the tune to realize it was a blues."
A series of panic attacks struck Maclean in recent years, and inspired him to write the next tune on the recording called Feral Serenity. It is a slow and lyrical ballad with a lot dense harmony.
"The very first time I had a panic attack I had no idea what was going on, I actually thought I was having a heart attack," says Maclean.
That was the first time.
"But the next couple of times it was a very surreal experience, because there is this part of my mind that is able to observe what is going on and calmly say: 'There is nothing going on, it will pass, it will be fine,'" says Maclean.
"So there is part of my mind that knows that, but meanwhile the rest of my body is just completely losing its shit," says Maclean.
The tune takes the perspective of someone watching Maclean endure a panic attack.
Elasticity of Time and Space takes a standard jazz format and inserts Hip-Hop.
"There are a lot of jazz tunes that start off swing in the A&B sections, and then at the bridge they will go for some kind of straight feel, or vice versa," says Maclean.
"I hadn't heard anyone do swing in the A sections and then jump to Hip-Hop at the bridge," said Maclean. "I wanted to see what that sounds like. So the melody of the tune feels very much like it is coming from a Blue Note record, then at the bridge it dives into this slow, greasy Hip-hop."
Brown wrote the next tune after reading a biography of the Roman Emperor Nero. The tune charts Nero's descent into madness.
"And it goes to a bunch of different places. There's some straight Latin(ish) things, there is a little bit of swing in the bridge, and then it breaks down into an almost Hip-hop kind of vibe before bringing it back to the original melody," says Maclean.
"There is an excellent quote that I found from Christopher Hitchens talking about radical evil in the breakdown that gives us chills when I hear it," says Maclean.
The next tune is called One. Maclean was inspired by the Herbie Hancock piece Little One from Empyrean Isles.
"So it follows a very similar structure, a rubato melody, followed by a slow swing in a three solo section," says Maclean. "I really love that."
Maclean mixed in Hancock's voice at one point in the song where he talks about the positive power of music. The final piece on the CD is called Tell Me a Bedtime Story.
"We close the album with a Herbie Hancock tune just to tie it all back together," says Maclean. "This tune has a melancholy feel to it, and actually in the liner notes we dedicate it to Brown's cat, Kiwi3, who sadly passed away while we were making this record."
The quartet Maclean assembled for this CD has Brown on trumpet, Jesse Dietschi on bass and Tyler Goertzen on drums.
It is a huge departure from the first CD Maclean recorded with his other group, Snaggle, which released The Long Slog in 2016, also on Browntasaurus Records.
"Snaggle is very much steeped in groovy, electric, fusion jazz," says Maclean. "So the Nick Maclean Quartet game me the ability to explore the more Capital J Jazz, hard swinging kind of things."
Maclean swings every Sunday afternoon in May at the Rhapsody Barrel Bar in downtown Kitchener.