A fugue of tones and textures where vocals sail away with violin might give a clue to the surprises in one song, a new one by the Simeon Davis Group. “Pleiades” is an awesome mixed-tempo expression with violin very much central in modes minor and major, grinding, stabbing and double-stopping while the other instruments (horn, drums, soprano sax [Davis], guitar, more) create a swirling world of sound around it.
Rachel Azbell – Vocals
Jess Meador – Violin
Maximo Santana – Trombone
Simeon Nathanael Davis – Soprano Saxophone
Mario Wellmann – Electric Guitar
Holly Holt – Piano/Keyboards
Jake Chaffee – Electric Bass
Josh Parker – Drum Set
How did you construct your latest song “Pleiades”?
“Pleiades” is the second single from the Simeon Davis Group’s upcoming album Of Narratives & Nocturnes. Like all the music on this album, “Pleiades” was written programmatically. That is, rather than following traditional concepts of form, length, and development, “Pleiades” follows an external narrative and uses the unique orchestration and timbral blends of the band to portray that narrative instrumentally.
Why the name?
The Pleiades themselves are famously two things: a star cluster with seven prominent bodies, and an old Greek myth. This piece was originally composed as a commission for a group of Davis thought to be seven musicians, hence the title would be a pun (the seven stars – get it?). Shortly into writing the piece, he discovered there was an eighth musician and had to draw on another source of inspiration for the writing process and soon found himself digging into the mythological side. In the myth, the Pleiades are seven sisters, daughters of the Titan Atlas, who are kidnapped by an Egyptian ruler after they each rejected his marriage proposals. They are taken in captivity across the Mediterranean when, by chance, Heracles’s ship crosses paths with theirs. He raids it, frees the Pleiades, and returns them to Atlas, who in turn rewards Heracles by assisting him in one of his twelve labors.
What are the musical components of this piece?
It draws on elements of Rumba and Partido Alto to evoke the oceanic motion and turbulence while using elements of European folk melody and post-bop harmony to evoke the emotions and aesthetics of the seven sisters. As different themes overlap and familiar statements shift, the band sets the sonic stage for the music to follow the Pleiades, their strife in captivity, the conflict to free them, and ultimately their journey home.
Talk about the instrumentation.
“Pleiades” features an atypical instrumentation of violin, wordless vocals, trombone, soprano saxophone, electric guitar, piano, electric bass, and drum set. Taking technical notes from Wayne Shorter’s voicing styles and paying tribute to two of Davis’s favorite composers for violin, Polish jazz violinist Adam Baldych and 20th-century composer Bela Bartok, “Pleiades” capitalizes on both the unique technical aspects of these instruments and the distinct timbral colors they can create. With contrasting solos by violinist Jess Meador, drummer Josh Parker, and the bandleader himself on soprano saxophone, “Pleiades” covers a broad emotional and thematic spectrum that keeps listeners invested with twists, turns, and transformations that bring the myth to life as never before.
What’s coming up next?
Of Narratives & Nocturnes is the Simeon Davis Group’s upcoming album releasing on June 24th. To unlock exclusive pre-order rewards, head to their GoFundMe at this link.
For more information visit http://hyperfollow.com/simndavis.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2022 Debbie Burke
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