The overall inspiration for the project developed as Mike and I were first performing together at a wine bar in north Houston called 55º, where we had toyed around with the idea of making a funk/fusion record. I had recently picked up Herbie Hancock's Grammy winning album, River: The Joni Letters and was awestruck by the groups ability to use space and conversation. As soon as I passed it on to Mike, he fell in love with it as well and then we started to shift our idea of what we wanted to perform and record. We began tinkering with some tunes of Mike's and my own and produced a nice demo recording with Mike playing piano, bass, and drums and myself on saxophone. We felt, however, that most of the tunes we'd done were slightly too commercial sounding and began to explore the idea of finding the right mix of musicians to produce a true improvisation-based 'jazz' record. As it turned out, the mix of musicians was very important! We tried a few other combinations that, while wonderful musicians and good performances were produced, didn't have the right vibe. We finally settled on the musicians as they appear and, for the most part, got exactly what we were looking for! Track 1 'Higher Learning' is a piece I wrote about 10 years ago while at Texas Tech. The title reflects the period of my life at the time of the composition, as I was in an institute of higher learning, but also was really developing a sense of higher purpose in music and my religious beliefs. It has undergone several face-lifts, mainly regarding stylistic alterations from funk to swing to latin to ballad. This version is a new arrangement that Mike did that incorporates my favorite elements of the myriad of styles I've done with it in the past. Ultimately, the piece works best in a groove-oriented feel. This rendition if also heavily influenced by Hancock's 'River' recording. Track 2 'The Wave' is an experiment gone right! When we did our demo recording of this composition of Mike's, it was pretty much 'smooth jazz.' So, in the interest of fostering conversation and space, we changed the feel to a more Bolero-ish feel and simply created a vamp from the first few chords of the tune. We also decided not to state the melody in full until the end of the performance, though the melody is stated improvisationally in fragments a couple of times before the complete statement. The result, we hope, is that there is true dialogue and conversation occurring without the usual restrictions of form and chord structure. While not completely free jazz in sound or feel, (we are bound by rhythmic restrictions at least) there is the element of free jazz that is true give and take from the musicians. Track 3 'Above and Beyond' is a new composition I wrote with the great Michael Brecker in mind. Many of Brecker's recordings feature Latin, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Swing pieces set in 3/4 time. I sought to try to bring out that soaring feel with the rhythmic drive behind it with this piece. The intro is also a nod to saxophone giant John Coltrane. Track 4 'Sad Love Affair' is a work by Mike that has been set to lyrics in the past. It contains a beautiful, haunting melody set to a dark, brooding chord progression. While not as free from form as The Wave, we still tried to capture the spacial and conversational aspects in the performance. Track 5 'S.O.S. (Save Our Sons)' is another new composition by myself, the title a commentary on how, societally, we have failed to produce true leaders in the men we have raised. At first, this piece was difficult to record and achieve the sound we were looking for. I knew I wanted a 'grungy' funk feel that was inspired by New York saxophonist Seamus Blake and Joshua Redman's Elastic band. It was, however, more challenging than it sounded! The performance actually developed further in post-production when I was granted free reign to add some effects. In the interest of not over-doing it, I only added them to the horn and only sporadically at key moments to produce some sonic interest. This coupled with the awesome sound of the Fender Rhodes and Fretless Electric Bass produced a sonic delight, when listening through headphones. I also added as an afterthought a doubled horn line with harmonized part in key melody spots. Again, post work moves the horn all over the place in the mix in order to add some more interest. Track 6 'In Dreams, We See' is a piece I wrote about a year ago that I've always wanted to record. It has an odd A section of only 6 measures that, while seeming to flow naturally, lends an other-worldly quality to the piece that reminds me of the dream world, where we see incomplete versions of our own paradigms of how we truly view the world. Mike added a lovely introduction, complete with chimes to enter the dream world with. The performance of the ensemble reminds me of the classic film-noir feel of cinema, also a surreal, dream-like state. Track 7 'Peace Waltz' is a lovely piece by Mike that has been one of our favorites to perform this past year. The composition is wonderful in it's simplicity and emotional feel. As it turns out, the simple part of it was a challenge to capture in the recording studio! We went through multiple versions with various great musicians trying to capture just the right feel and always fell just short, though the efforts did produce some great performances. What it came down to was needing to be very conscious of the simplicity and the tempo of the piece to really capture the soul of the performance. Marvin and David turned out to be just what we needed! The result is, we hope, a performance that inspires a true sense of peace in the listener. Track 8 is another experiment on one of Mike's works, this time in trying to capture the conversational elements of some of the previous pieces but in a duo setting. The result is an almost quasi-Classical feel to this beautiful composition, as if inspired by Debbussy and the French Impressionists. Mike arranged it so that the piece was performed in sections, with each having a breath between them, though all relating to each other and flowing easily from one to the next. It was also great fun to be able to use the recital hall and beautiful Steinway at HCC, further adding to the almost Classical-feel of the performance.