When three friends get together, conversation, camaraderie, and cosmic communication can occur in the most special of cases. That unpredictable magic erupts every time keyboardist Jeff Babko, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana converge for a “hang,” or in the case of Clam City, recorded live at the LA jazz venue Sam First, a musical evening of discovery.
“Friendship is vital. The spirit of camaraderie is crucial to a greater collective of shared ideas, laughter, and to be sure, music,” Babko writes in the liner for Clam City, available on vinyl and digital platforms via Sam First Records on November 10.
Babko states the bond between the three musicians, whose credits span from David Bowie’s album Blackstar and Donny McCaslin’s band, to TV appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and motion picture soundtracks, is palpable within the grooves of Clam City.
“To the casual listener and avid music participant alike, the music heard here reflects the magic that happens in a ‘real time’ moment with very little prejudice, expectation or direction,” Babko writes in the liner notes. “The music composed for Clam City is distilled to the most basic of notated data and the dream of what it can be when cast under the spell of my pals’ brilliant ears, hands, brains and souls.
The album’s opener, “The Church of Bill Hilton,” suggests gospel, as does the title. “But if you saw the San Fernando Valley church where I was the organist as a teenager, there was an emphasis on suburban and less… urban,” Babko writes. “But growing up listening to Keith Jarrett, Ramsey Lewis, Billy Preston and Richard Tee nudged elsewhere. We end up somewhere in the middle. Bill Hilton was a kind pastor and man, regardless.”
Babko says “New Wave Theatre” takes the listener into the present and future. “Mark, Tim and I all keep one foot (and several additional toes) in contemporary music and enjoy exploring the production and compositional style of a post-1980 world,” Babko writes. (New Wave Theatre was a brilliant and bizarre local ‘80s TV show— its harmonica toting host Peter Ivers was mysteriously found dead in downtown LA.)
“New Jersey Ballad” was the one chart Guiliana brought in to play when Babko and Lefebvre first brought the drummer “out west” from the East Coast and played as a trio in 2012. “Its warmth and simplicity invite multiple visits a night and reminds us that Jersey is more than Secaucus and is indeed the Garden State,” Babko writes.
“This West” is a new folk melody with a soul vamp, Babko writes, and the fellas knew what to do with the music while Thelonious Monk’s “Boo Boo’s Birthday” was fun for the trio to run through at any given moment. “Monk’s music can be so playful and wide open and celebratory,” Babko writes. “It’s fun to ‘swing’ with [Mark and Tim], and I don’t think we ever really intended to go ‘all the way’ in that direction, but lo and behold…”
Babko says “Fugue Robotique” is what the title suggests, a Kraftwerk Berlin pulse with some harmonic visits from a few towns away where J.S. Bach might have strutted his stuff. “We seem to get lost in a video arcade along the way,” Babko says.
The album’s journey approaches conclusion with “Chongo’s Song,” aptly named after Babko’s wife, when his son couldn’t pronounce words. Babko says, “Thankfully for us, his unfamiliarity of the English language provided many song titles at the time. Tim and I recorded it on an album called Crow Nutsyears ago and he seems to like continuing to play it, so we keep playing it. A ballad that proves that patience and space can inspire creativity and breath within the cracks, and like it or not, intensity can blossom.”
The album joyfully concludes with “New Jersey Ballad – Return to Jerz,” which Babko says is “lovely stopover before you return to your regularly scheduled programming.”
Babko and the trio thank Sam First Records for “catching and releasing” the sounds in a “safe and inspiring space for us to share these real time moments with those that want to join us on the ride.”
Pre-Order the Album: Here