Swift fingerwork with a light touch best characterizes guitarist Eric Zolan’s skills in his newest CD, Calder’s Universe. The spare instrumentation here–he leads the trio with established musical colleagues Brian Charette (organ) and Jordan Young (drums) –fits just right with six uncluttered easy-flowing tracks. “D.D.L.O.D.” (don’t worry what it means/stands for, that’s not the point) is a beautiful, almost pastoral song that pleases deep down with no work required. There is a funk kept up by strong beats in “The Horror” which may be ironically named as the takeaway emotion is the antithesis of horror. The most lyrical is “Neo Cortex” which has that unplaceable familiarity. A tight trio that snaps together quietly but perfectly like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
The first jazz song you ever heard and your reaction? How long after did you decide on a life in music?
I can’t say for sure what the first jazz song I heard was, but Charlie Hunter’s music was what first got me interested in instrumental and improvisational music. I was already taking guitar lessons at that point and my teacher then introduced me to Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt. I still listen to all three of them. The decision to pursue music full-time was something that happened gradually. When my interest in jazz was piqued, I was just focused on getting better and trying to play gigs. Over time, that pursuit led me to a career in music.
What was the most surprising thing for you when you were learning guitar?
I’m still learning! I hope to never stop. But early on, it was a huge eye-opener when I figured out I could just move a single chord shape around the neck to make songs. That’s when I first started figuring out songs by ear. I would just replay a song over and over to try every possible power chord until I found the right one. I got a lot of mileage out of power chords.
What was the most surprising challenge in producing a CD?
Surprising to me, the biggest challenges have had nothing to do with playing or writing the music. The music was the fun part. Figuring out how to properly release the album and get people to listen to it has been a major obstacle. Marketing and publicity is a part of the music business that I know very little about. I’m grateful to people like you, Debbie, who are willing to give me a platform to introduce myself to listeners.
How do you feel about releasing your debut album and what are you most proud of about the entire experience?
It is a huge relief to have finally released it. The music was recorded in 2019 so its release has been long overdue. I’m proud of all of the music. It feels great to finally have an album under my name. The whole process has been a huge learning experience. Now it’s time to make another one!
Talk about the title and how you kept your father fore-of-mind when you wrote the music?
Alexander Calder, the artist whom the title references, is a shared favorite artist of my father and me. Calder’s drawings of otherworldly landscapes that inspired me to write the song “Calder’s Universe.” My father, who passed in 2009, was a graphic designer and amateur musician who loved all types of music. He supported my interest in music unconditionally and did a lot to foster my creativity. By making the song and album title a reference to Calder, I am also dedicating it to my father who continues to be an inspiration to me even after his passing.
How would you describe the overall vibe of this CD and why?
I’m not totally sure. It’s pretty mellow throughout. There are dramatic moments in some of the songs, but the mellow vibe is pretty consistent from track to track. I think it’s fun album to listen to.
Why did you opt for the classic organ trio?
Brian Charette (organ), Jordan Young (drums), and I have been playing together consistently for about five years now. I wanted this album to document the musical chemistry that we’ve been developing during that time. I also have always loved the sound of the organ paired with guitar. It lends itself to blues, funk, swing — the stuff I love!
What do the other musicians bring to the table, how long was this album in the making, and what was it like working together on this?
The album has been in the making for longer than I care to admit but that’s mostly because after recording it I sat on it for about three years. Since I have been playing with Jordan and Brian regularly for a while now, they were an obvious pick for the album. I feel very at ease working with them. While I was writing a lot of the music, Jordan gave me the opportunity to develop and rehearse the songs at a weekly gig he used to have with Brian in TriBeCa. Both of them were very generous with their time and energy during the process of making the album.
Do you have a favorite key to play in, and do you have to purposely write songs in different keys to keep things sounding diverse?
When I started putting the songs together for the record, I made a conscious effort to diversify the tempos and keys of the songs so it didn’t sound too monotonous. I favor certain keys or tempos depending on what is happening in the song. For example, if I want to be able to play double time over a song then I have to make sure the tempo isn’t too fast. Also, I have to consider the range of the melody when figuring out what key a song should be in.
Favorite track on the album?
You talk about “finding your own voice” on your website. How does a musician go about discovering this?
There is no single way of going about finding one’s artistic voice. It’s a personal, lifelong journey. I will say that after practicing thousands of hours and playing tons of gigs, my preferences have become more refined, and I have figured out what musical situations I feel most comfortable in. I have also settled into a certain way of playing my instrument that suits my style. I hope to always continue to grow as an artist.
For more information, visit https://www.ericzolan.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2023 Debbie Burke
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