Gary Meek – “Originals” – Available September 29

With six recordings as a leader since 1991 as well as being a widely sought after sideman, Gary Meek has carved out a unique position for himself as a virtuosic saxophonist. Meek has contributed to over 150 recordings and has performed and/or recorded with artists such as Dave Weckl, Airto Moreira, Jeff Lorber and Green Day. The focus of his newest release, Originals, reclaims his passion for creating his own works and writing personal journeys through music. His first as a leader since 2002, this album demonstrates not only his mastery of the saxophone, but a beauty and joyfulness of expression that is apparent in both his playing and in his compositions.

For this recording, Meek has assembled an extraordinary cast. GRAMMY® Award-winning drummer, composer, and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist and producer Brian Bromberg, and pianist Mitchel Forman round out the nucleus of the group. Originals also features trumpet/flugelhorn player and quadruple GRAMMY® Award-winner Randy Brecker, guitarist and jazz educator Bruce Forman and two additional world class musicians—Airto Moreira and Michael Lent add their talents to “Suite For Maureen.”

 From the opening track “What Happened To My Good Shoes?,” originally written for the Dave Weckl Acoustic Band, Meek and his bandmates dive into the melody with no fear and continue that aggressive, high energy performance throughout. “I wanted to try to capture a little bit of the vibe from Coltrane burning on a minor blues or Brecker on Chick’s record Three Quartets,” explains Meek. The second track, originally named “Monkish,” was written in the quirky style of Thelonious Monk. It’s name was changed when pianist Forman remarked that the opening lick was reminiscent of a song from West Side Story. “When You’re a Monk” features solos by Breckerguitarist Forman and Meek, all utilizing the motivic development that was a trademark of Monk’s style.

“Suite for Maureen” was written as a loving tribute to Meek’s wife. “It took the longest to write, because I had to learn how to play the piano part myself so I could express it exactly the way I wanted. I also wanted the chords to be just right–not too altered but just enough to make it sound rich. It’s my favorite song on the record,” explains Meek. “Adding the nylon string acoustic guitar doubling the left hand of the piano was an arranging idea I got from the late great Oscar Castro- Neves. Mike Lent did a great job. It has to be flawless or it doesn’t sound right. Adding my old friend and boss for many years Airto Moreira was a no brainer for me. He just adds that wonderful signature ‘Airto Brazilian feel’ to the groove. Carrington’s drum breaks are burning and set up the ending of off beat super tight hits. Brecker played beautifully on the intro, matching my intensity perfectly and of course a great solo.”

On “Spiritual for Iris,” Meek features Bromberg on the melody, which evokes an overall somber and tranquil feeling. The work was written for the wife of a spiritual mentor of Meek who has suffered tremendous adversity and came out the other side stronger than ever. “The tenor part is high and soft,” says Meek. “In a way, it was meant to be difficult to play so it has that kind of reaching sound, kind of like the really high bassoon at the beginning of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.”

“Stella on the Stairs,” named after Meek’s chihuahua, was another tune originally composed for the Dave Weckl Acoustic Band. The melody features unison lines and the bulk of the soloing is on a minor blues. “Pacific Grove Fog” is named for the place Meek calls home, and where it is foggy all summer long. Inspired by Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” the composition features a simple melody over a cool groove. “This tune is all about vibe,” Meek writes. “Staying in the moment, trust, honesty–all of these are necessary to pull this one off well.”

“Mr. DG,” written for Don Grolnick and reminiscent of his song “Nothing Personal,” is an uptempo blues over an ostinato bass line that features solos by everyone. With it’s quirky intro and offset bass line, the listener is left wondering where the downbeat really is.

Written some time ago and originally recorded on Meek’s 1997 album Good Friends, “Lost Dreams” is a hauntingly beautiful lament. “I had the odd yet beautiful experience of playing this song solo in LA while touring with Weckl’s band. I had never played the song on tenor before. I was very emotional in my performance and just nailed the right energy,” Meek reminisces. “After I finished I looked up and many people were wiping their eyes–that never happened to me before. I knew I was going to record that tune again but this time the vibe had to be perfect. Bruce Forman’s presence provided the perfect reason to bring the song back.” The resulting duet provides a perfect close to this very personal project.

Even though this is Meek’s first project in 15 years, he clearly has not lost the art of storytelling and his ability to conjure intense feelings through his compositions. Originals not only showcases his ability as a dominant front man but also his ability to let this brilliant group of musicians experiment and push the limits of these compositions.