Pianist Michael Arnowitt, who lived for over 30 years in Montpelier and now divides his time between Toronto and Vermont, released his first commercial jazz recording, Sweet Spontaneous, July 13 on PARMA Recordings’ Big Round record label.
The album is a two-CD set of 14 tracks that dive deep into the imaginative musical landscapes of one of Vermont’s most creative performers. A dozen New York City jazz notables joined Arnowitt, including the Cuban-born Yosvany Terry on alto sax; Lucas Pino on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet; Dave Smith on trumpet; and Colin Stranahan on drums. The recording also features Therisa Rogers reading Langston Hughes’ poem “Crossing” and Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise,” brought into the world of jazz.
Recorded in 2017 at Sear Sound in Manhattan—the historic New York City studio that was the original Hit Factory studio where Jimi Hendrix made his first two recordings—Sweet Spontaneous also benefits from the skill of engineers, including Chris Allen, a frequent recording engineer for Blue Note, Concord, Sunnyside, and other leading jazz labels, and Dave Darlington, one of the nation’s top jazz mixing engineers. The cover art is pure Montpelier, with a painting by local artist Maggie Neale.
The title for the album comes from a poem [“O sweet spontaneous”] by e.e. cummings. The album showcases the diversity of Arnowitt’s musical visions. He wrote his own lyrics to three songs on the recording, featuring vocalist Shirley Crabbe. “Against the Wind” tells the story of a woman summoning the strength to persist in the face of powerful forces and presents it in an innovative way, with a melody whose interwoven phrases are partly sung, partly played by a tenor saxophone. In “The Crying Candle,” the lyrics imagine a society set far in the future where people have learned how to live together without conflict, and the narrator looking back in time to our strange and painful present. The recording’s finale, “Street Strut,” sees Arnowitt playing Hammond organ and demonstrates a creative interplay between the band and audio clips of urban street conversation.
Arnowitt’s interest in world music also provides intriguing colors to three of the songs on the recording. His love of Bulgarian folk music is shown in “Bulgarian Hoedown’s” wild, exuberant fiddling, and “Shapka Swing,” which features three duos of melody instruments in criss-crossing fanfare rhythms, in some moments like Klezmer music. “Syria-us” emerged from a six-month study Arnowitt made of Syrian music and literature in 2016 for a benefit concert he organized to aid refugees. The song combines Syrian rhythms and scales with the harmonies and proportions of a minor blues.
Arnowitt says, “We tend to listen to music in a seated, stationary position, but in reality music is all about motion and journey. To me, listening to a piece of music is like traveling through a varied landscape of rolling hills. We go up and down and round corners to see constantly changing vistas of different colors and textures.”
Sweet Spontaneous will be available locally at Buch Spieler Records in Montpelier, at record stores worldwide through Parma’s distributor Naxos, and through online retailers in either CD or digital downloads or streaming.