A faculty recording grant at Berklee College of Music was the impetus for an album that jazz artist Nick Grondin says has been a decade in the making. Called “A View of Earth,” it’s the debut CD of the Nick Grondin Group.
“So Close, So Far” starts off with a surfer reverb vibe on guitar and gentle vocals that shortly lead to a wide, easy melody on trumpet, sax and guitar. It’s a mood piece that brings calm and introspection. Grondin’s outstanding blues plucking on “Frenchmen St. Funk” and some clever rhythmic machinations make for a multi-layered track that plays outside the edges of the box. “Rise and Shine” uses the sax’s upper register to sweet effect and the title track, “View of Earth,” is full of great riffs while leaving room for the listener to appreciate the wisdom of its well-paced music.
Consider “View” completely accessible, gratifyingly melodic and perfectly chill.
You play a lot of different instruments. Why is guitar your primary one?
For me, guitar is so expressive- it can take on many roles, from lead melody voice, or blending with other melody voices like a horn section, to a rhythm guitar grooving with the bass and drums. Electric guitar has so many possible sounds, like characters that I use to tell the story of each piece.
Singing and playing multiple instruments can really give insight into how music fits together and can give you new ideas for compositions too. I love to play drums, which helps me create and internalize rhythmic ideas that come out in my guitar playing.
What themes and ideas inspire you when you compose?
Often, I am inspired by a mood or kind of style, or even a place- for example, the piece Frenchmen St. Funk was inspired by a trip to New Orleans and the street where the great music is played every night!
What are your favorite clubs in the Boston area?
There’s the Regattabar, Scullers, and the Lily Pad too where a lot a creative music is taking place. There are some excellent shows at Berklee College of Music, where I teach, as well as the New England Conservatory, where I’m currently a doctoral student in Jazz Performance.
What is the most noteworthy trend in jazz at the moment?
When I was in Italy last summer, there was an amazing night at the Umbria Jazz Festival. The first part was Snarky Puppy, who brought a very engaging form of jazz mixed with funk and world music. The crowd was focused and energized. I think they have great way of communicating their ideas and have created an audience for exciting instrumental music.
Following Snarky Puppy was Kamasi Washington’s incredible group and they have a kind of hypnotic power that reminds me of the John Coltrane quartet with Elvin Jones, but with funk and social justice issues blended together. Jazz for the 21st century!
How would you characterize the feel of your music?
The Nick Grondin Group is a creative outlet and a way to share what I love about music: my favorite musical ideas, influences, bandleading, storytelling and of course, improvisation. Let’s call it sonic storytelling that seeks to communicate with the audience on intellectual and emotional levels. We’re coming from jazz but also bringing in elements of rock, folk and world music.
Talk about the other musicians in the Nick Grondin Group.
They are all brilliant musicians, soloists and accompanists, and human beings.
Michel Reis on piano, Aubrey Johnson on voice, Tucker Antell on sax, Brian Friedland on keys, Vivek Patel on trumpet, Brad Barrett on bass, Lee Fish on drums, and also Dan Carpel on bass as well. They all write great music too. Many live in New York now and are touring all over, especially Michel who has been touring Europe with saxophonist Joshua Redman.
Many of us met as students at the New England Conservatory (when I was there the first time for a Masters in Jazz Composition). I brought in the compositional ideas but the whole band shaped the pieces as we performed them many times. I like to create an environment where the players can contribute their opinions and ideas, which leads them to feel more invested in the music.
What did Jon Cowherd bring to this project?
Jon Cowherd is a deep and versatile musician and has so much experience playing and touring with artists from jazz to country. I met him though his work playing and composing for the Brian Blade Fellowship. Jon was amazing, especially in his role of helping to produce the recording, smoothing out the edges, the transitions, the tempos, etc. And of course, he helped direct the music and vibe through his excellent piano playing!
Do you think you were successful in capturing the idea of a view of Earth from space in this CD? Why does distance give us compassion?
“A View of Earth” was inspired by the experience astronauts have when they look at the Earth from space for the first time, when suddenly the differences between people and places seem less significant. It’s called the “flyover effect” and I believe music can create a similar experience, especially in a concert setting, of bringing a group of people together, to focus more on what we have in common- which is something the world needs right now.
I would like to think we were successful in giving a grand sense of scale, and hopefully reached listeners’ emotions along the way. It’s not the distance exactly that helps remind us to be compassionate, but rather the focus on the bigger picture, when our apparent differences seem less significant.
Hardest part of producing this album?
I think great art takes a long time to create. It took years to compose, rehearse and perform each song many times for the band to really shape them. I’m also a perfectionist. We spent over 100 hours mixing and mastering the songs to get everything just right.
It also took a long time to decide if I wanted to find a record label for the album. In the end, I decided that I would be better off releasing it myself and create my own, Everybody Wins Music, in order to have full creative control.
Your favorite track?
That’s a tough one. The first track, my piece “Ships Passing,” has a unique sound, I think. I played it all fingerstyle to get a sound that only open strings provide. It starts soft and builds, and features an amazing sax solo by Tucker Antell. For instrumental pieces, I would pick “So Close, So Far,” which has a lot of colorful sections and a rocking guitar solo at the end.
Best moment making this CD?
The two days we spent in the studio were so exciting, knowing that we were capturing some great performances.
What are you most proud about in your career thus far?
I’m grateful that I have a career in music where I work every day with top-level musicians and students. “A View of Earth” is really the culmination of 10 years of work, by many people, and I’m glad the whole world can now hear it.
For more information, visit www.nickgrondin.com.