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L.A. Guitarist Bruce Lofgren Releases New Sextet Album, Earthly and Cosmic Tales



“Earthly and Cosmic Tales” features original compositions by Lofgren in addition to a few new modern Standards. 

Earthly and Cosmic Tales is a wonderful new small combo album by Los Angeles guitarist Bruce Lofgren. Bruce wrote the arrangements for the clarinet, cello, vibraphone, and rhythm section.

JB:  The album opens with an upbeat tune “Summer Passage.”  How were your parents an inspiration in composing it?

BL:  I was born in Seattle in the 1940s – the first child of parents who both played piano. Mother was classically trained, and Dad played by ear.   There was no TV then, so as I was growing up I would sit on the piano bench next to Mom as she read through classical music and pop tunes from her childhood. Sometimes she would play a Cole Porter or Richard Rogers tune.   Dad would come home from work and play a Fats Waller tune or some Scandinavian party music (he was Swedish). Mom died young; Dad died in the late summer of ’92.  I composed “Summer Passage” after Dad’s death – “passage”  in reference to his passing, but I thought that the meaning of the title was best left undefined, enabling the listener to imagine his or her own meaning.  The dedication “to Mom and Dad” on the current CD is my way of thanking them for infusing in me the love of music.

JB:  “Tripsy” sounds like a contrafact of the Jobim tune “Triste”.  How did this song come about?

BL:  You correctly noticed that the chord changes to “Tripsy” are the same as Jobin’s “Triste”.  However, the melody and introductory ostinato are mine.  “Triste” in Spanish means “sad”, and Jobim’s slower tempo and mood supported that meaning.  My title is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Antonio Carlos Jobim (whose work I admire). Jazz buffs will also notice the quotes from “Donna Lee” and “The Peanut Vendor” – which hopefully add to the “trippiness” of the tune.

JB:  What drew you to Van Dyke Parks’ “Orange Crate Art?”

BL:  I’ve always liked Van Dyke’s pieces – going back to the days of his “Song Cycle”. I like his sense of irony and his influences of folk music and Americana.  When I began putting things together for the current project I thought “Orange Crate Art” would be a soulful addition with its charming, nostalgic melody and would also lend itself well to the group instrumentation – and also add a contrasting sound dimension to the album.

JB:  What drew you to Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’?”

BL:  “Creepin’ ” was a last-minute addition to the project – though it has always been one of my favorite Stevie Wonder tunes.  When I first decided to do the project, I started by arranging around 20 pieces (about half of them covers).  Then we did some rehearsals. When it was time to record, I had whittled the song list down to nine pieces. The night before the first session I thought we needed something funky with a good melody, so I did an arrangement of “Creepin’” – which I think was a happy choice.

JB:  Bassist Randy Landas and percussionist Billy Hulting play superbly.  What do you appreciate most about these two musicians?

BL:  Both Billy and Randy are friends and long-time colleagues.  Billy has played in my Jazz Orchestra since the 1980s.  Besides being a first-call percussionist he is also a fine vibraphonist, a first-rate recording engineer, and my trusted co-producer.   Randy has played on many of my recording projects as well as live gigs. He is a tasty player, a creative and talented soloist, and an ace reader – 

equally comfortable on upright, electric, and fretless basses.

JB:  Talk about the musical communication you have with vibraphonist Craig Fundiga as you perform with him.

BL:  I selected Craig to play the vibes chair because he’s a wild man at jazz improvisation.  The written vibes parts are important colors in the group as well, but it is in soloing that he really shines. As far as communication I would say most of my directions to Craig had to do with clarifying specific chord voicings in the arrangements.

JB:  Geoff Nudell and cellist Hope Easton are fine musicians.  What do you appreciate about them as players?

BL:  When I formed the group, I was looking for a cellist who was comfortable with a variety of musical genres, odd meters, and jazz rhythms.  Hope Easton was highly recommended, and she became a valuable asset to the group. Besides having legitimate credentials she sings, writes songs, and makes videos of her performances.

Geoff Nudell is also a fine musician.  He is a woodwind specialist who can play almost any instrument of the woodwind family – and can tear it up on tenor sax (which I’ve heard him do with local big bands).  But he can also play piano – energetic 1930s-style stride piano and composes too.

JB:  What do you find so rewarding about arranging for this sextet with the cello?

In forming the group I was imagining pure musical sounds – clarinet, cello, guitar, vibes and bass.  The musical arrangements would unfold – the instruments telling their stories with clarity and intimacy –  without the overuse of drums.  I didn’t write percussion parts for Billy.  We would discuss each song in terms of the goals outlined in this paragraph, make some percussion instrument choices, and Billy would create his own parts.  It is rewarding to realize a musical project like this and to discover an audience open to new things.

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