Special Review and Interview - Russ Miller - Arrival Live
Arrival Live – Russ Miller, Jerry Watts and Rick Krive
[For more details of Arrival Live and it's background, please read the interview with Russ Miller below this review]
Here we have a very different CD and DVD set both documenting the 2010 live concert in Hollywood of ''Arrival Live'', with Russ Miller on drums, Rick Krive on keys and vocals and Jerry Watts on bass.
We start with the Peggy Lee penned ‘Love Being Here With You’ which is done in an up tempo jazz style and opens the show nicely, also giving Rick a chance to show off his vocal stylings from the offset. Jerry Watts has his turn to shine on the next track ‘Mestizo’, a Russ Miller original that features some lovely slap bass. Next up the trio cover Sting’s classic ‘Fields of Gold’ in which Russ does some lovely brushwork.
Among other covers are James Taylor’s ‘Mean Old Man’ and my favourite track on the album – Radiohead’s ’15 Step’, a 5/4 number which is layered beautifully with overlapping beats and subtle melodies, the vocals are very rhythmic in this song and Rick Krive doesn’t do too bad a Thom Yorke impression (a man who has a rather unique style to say the least).
There three main centrepieces to the show which feature the original (or specially recorded) performances from special guests on video screens as the trio play. Two of these ''screen'' tracks are rhythmic conversations, the first featuring Russ on snare drum with brushes doing some nice trades and question and answers with George Shelby’s tenor sax. The second features Steve Smith and world percussionist Pete Lockett, overlapping Indian rhythms and quite literally turning it into a conversation at the end when they put down the drum sticks and use their voices.
The most special guest of all – Mr Steve Gadd - makes an appearance on the screens in the last main piece. The track also features a choir and a rapper along with Steve''s performance (which is his original performance recorded in new York for the Arrival album), and the trio playing along live on stage. My only problem with this is that Steve’s appearance seems a bit overshadowed by all the other amazing playing that’s happening. If I was going to feature Steve Gadd in a live show, I''d try and make it a bit more noticeable.
Some nice solo interludes piece together the show and make the transitions of styles a bit easier to handle. There is some fabulous playing on this package and it''s great to see how everything meshes together to make the overall performance. I''ve never seen a live/prerecorded concert like this before – its quite unique. Overall a great package which I think works best on the DVD for the visual side of things and especially for drummers who get to see the intricacies of Russ’s playing up close.
R.M.I Records Inc
We had a chat with Russ and asked him about the background to the package and how it came about.
You are so busy working normally, why have a solo band?
That''s what my wife said! I have recently come to a place were I feel like I have accomplished what I set out to do with other people''s musical concepts and direction. I love playing great music... I will continue to do that working for other artists. Even though I''ve been in bands before (The Psychedelic Furs, etc.), I was playing a concept of material that wasn''t mine. I just need to see what I have to say about an ensemble that is wide open, musically, to what my abilities and musical direction is.
What is the background behind "Arrival" the band?
The "Arrival" album came out in late 2007. It was a huge production that took three years and had over 30 international artists on it. We did a quartet tour for it. The band included Eric Marienthal, David Garfield, John Pena and myself. We did nine dates in Europe and US dates as well.
Then, I started the "Arrival - Behind The Glass" package for Hudson. That was another huge project and was released in 2009. Meanwhile, I''m still working in the music business around all of this stuff. Hence, the process is slow. I finally got back around to the live shows to support "Arrival" at the end of 2011. It''s a real challenge with this material. My first solo album "Cymbalism" is a six piece "Blue Note" instrumentation and was easily performed live. Arrival, however, has nine of the biggest drummers in the world as guests (Gadd, Smith, Jimbo, Robinson, Marotta, Haffner, etc. etc.) and there are pieces with over 100 tracks on them, choirs, strings and two drum kits, etc. So, the challenge, of course, is how to reproduce a version of some of the pieces live on stage? I went completely in the opposite direction and decided on the smallest possible ensemble: a trio format.
So how did you choose the band and songs?
I chose the players first. There were three bass players throughout the "Arrival" recording sessions: John Pená, Neil Stubenhaus and Jerry Watts. John did the first tour, so I thought it would be great to play with Jerry on these shows. My friend for many years, Rick Krive, has played on all my albums and written many pieces with me over the years. We know each other from Florida and have played a lot of music together. Rick brings a whole other element to the show because he is a monster singer and pianist/keyboard player. We set-up in RMI studios in LA. I literally pulled the charts from all of my albums and touring ensembles over the years and we sat and played through everything for four days. We needed to see what pieces could be executed with the trio format. Those were fun and interesting sessions. We recorded some of it as well and I think we are going to release some of them as bonus material later on.
Anyway, we came up with a basic set of songs that would translate to the trio. I actually learned a lot about composition in those sessions. I realized that writing pieces with long legato melody figures, limits the instrumentation possibilities. When the melody notes are too long, only a horn or voice can play the piece... the piano and guitars just don''t have the sustain ability. Some of the songs in the catalog couldn''t be played in the trio because of this. We were, however, able to do some really nice arrangements of a few covers because Rick was there to sing. It opens up a whole world of possibilities.
How did you come up with the idea of the video composition screen on stage?
After we had the song list, I reviewed it and felt I was missing a few of the big pieces on "Arrival". I thought the show needed songs like "Rhythm World", "The Smith/Lockett Rhythmic Conversation", "Niteroi Waits" and the "Hamilton Rhythmic Conversation", which we couldn''t do because it had a sax melody. Then I had an idea! I recalled when I played with Natalie Cole''s live show, and she''d do a duet with her father via a video screen. They had a DVD with Nat King Cole''s video footage of "Unforgettable" with his voice on the left side and a click on the right. I started to think about doing this with the guests on "Arrival". We have the session footage of the Rhythmic Conversation duets. This is how we were able to assemble the split-screen footage of Gadd, Smith and all of the guys with me, for the "Behind The Glass" Hudson package. But, we needed to have footage of the "Rhythm World" choir and a few others, so I set out to record and film those parts for use in the live show.
I rented a sound stage, contracted a choir, rehearsed the parts and we recorded the choir parts while filming in HD for use in "Rhythm World". I had session footage of the re-mix session with rapper Gleam Joel from Sweden and of course the footage of Steve Gadd from the sessions in New York. We went back into the video edit suite at RMI and assembled the fly-in video footage. After we had Rhythm World, I decided to do the same for the other pieces. We had the session footage of George Shelby and of Steve Smith and Pete Lockett. I recently started using the Smith/Lockett and Shelby footage for clinics as well. The crowd loves it.
This seems like a technical nightmare, this is usually something we would see at a big rock show, not a jazz gig. How do you fly-in all of the video and audio on stage?
Right! This is stuff I''ve done with Andrea Bocelli and other artists on huge gigs. I knew we needed to execute this material in a 300-seat club. We couldn''t be dragging four computer rigs around with us-- we only have three guys on the crew and it''s just too much. My production assistant, Ashley Beard, is a great visual artist. She has a side company doing design work. I had her work on a staging idea with the 80" HD screen as a part of it and I set out to come up with a way to do this in a small rig every night. She conceived a great portable design that looks like the "Tube" picture we took in London (the cover of the "Arrival" album).
The issue was the multi-track audio. We needed to have the choir, Gadd''s drums, Gleam''s voice and the click, all separate at monitors and front of house. Then I came up with something that I''m not sure had been done before. We took the stems, which was a total of six tracks (the same amount as in a DTS 5.1 surround format on a DVD), and I thought ''is it possible to encode these six multi-tracks the same way as we encode the surround files for film''? I spent some R&D time in the studio --we have a 5.1 mix set-up at RMI and DTS encoding software. I set the stems up in a 5.1 surround (Choir front L/R , Gadd''s drums Rear L/R, Gleam''s voice on the center channel and the click on the .1 (Sub) channel). I encoded it all in a DTS HD file and synced it to our video edit. All I needed was a Blu-Ray player that had individual outputs, so we could output individually at the stage splitter. I found some older Blu-Ray players that had 7.1 analog outs and I purchased a few of these and it worked! The video plays in HD and the surround outputs send the multi-tracks to the console! This stopped us from needing multiple computer rigs in sync to execute this. All we have is a Blu-Ray player!
The only issue was, once we used the screen for a piece on stage, it just sat there dark until the next guest''s video. So, I set Ashley out to design video compositions that worked for each song in the set. Most don''t have a guest or audio but they add a great visual interpretation of the songs on stage.
What is the concept of Arrival?
The "Arrival" album is about artists delivery and interpretation. Give the same script to Robert Deniro and Al Pacino, they will both give you an incredible performance. But it will be interpreted very differently based upon their artistry and abilities. I wanted to create this scenario for a palette of world-class musicians. You can hear how the guest drummer interacts with me and how their interpretation of the music is coloured by their personality on their instrument. It''s funny, a lot of guys were commenting about how they wanted more "Drum Battle" solos, but it wasn''t about that. It was about hearing how these artisans "paint", side by side. I wanted to create the same atmosphere with the live show. You can see it in the guest duets with me and in the band''s interpretation of covers and these players versions of songs that they may not have played on the original recording. The final element which was a visual interpretation of the music on the screen.
Do you have any plans to take this out on the road?
We were planning on a pretty extensive tour this year and through 2013. It''s kind of tough because of everybody''s schedule but we are committed to making it happen. Jerry and Rick love the ensemble and we are in one accord musically. I feel like I finally found a home for my approach to the instrument. I love playing it and experimenting from a drumming ideal, but I need to have the basis be listenable... musical... with the ability to touch people.
My goal was to create a show that you can bring your wife to! It''s entertaining in many ways; there is enough drumming for the drummers, for sure, but it''s also listenable. My wife Christine would go with me to some of the drummer-led gigs and, on the second song, she would be asking me when it was going to end! I can''t blame her. The drumming was amazing but the music was a tad self-indulgent and hyper-focused on "blowin''" on the drums. My goal is to have a great night and have the audience leave inspired in more ways than just drum-licks (but, don''t get me wrong, there are a few of those in there as well!).
Interview: Mike Dolbear
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