Jeremy Pelt: Sound Sculptor, Museumgoer

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Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt wrote a suite for his latest album prompted by his viewing the works of sculptor Rodin at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

(Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz)

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is an avid museumgoer, and so it was only a matter of time until his love of visual art began to influence his music.

His new HighNote album, Jeremy Pelt The Artist, is, in part, a tribute to the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The program opens with a five-part suite in which Pelt has interpreted some of Rodin’s most famous works, such as The Burghers of Calais, which he came to appreciate during repeated visits to the Musée Rodin in Paris. Three of the song titles include parenthetical references to the sculptures that inspired them: “Dignity And Despair (Burghers Of Calais),” “I Sol Tace (Gates Of Hell)” and “Camille Claudel (L’eternel Printemps).”

The Rodin Suite—commissioned by the Festival of New Trumpet Music, a nonprofit organization led by Dave Douglas—is a moody, effects-heavy affair. The suite showcases diverse instrumentation: Alex Wintz on guitar, Ismel Wignall on percussion, Frank LoCrasto on Fender Rhodes and effects, Allan Mednard on drums and Chien Chien Lu on vibraphone and marimba. The album’s other four tracks—“Ceramic,” “Feito,” “Watercolors” and “As Of Now”—are also original compositions, but they are presented in an acoustic setting. These tunes feature Pelt with his usual working group, including longtime collaborators Victor Gould (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Vicente Archer (bass).

“It might be my favorite Jeremy Pelt record, partly because of the way it’s divided, with the suite and then the second half with his core band,” said LoCrasto, who has played with Pelt since the early aughts. “The introduction of percussion and marimba takes me to a completely imaginative fantasy world, some sort of place that I’ve never been to before.”

Indeed, the album stands out in Pelt’s long discography—he has released a new album every year since 2010—thanks to the clarity of his approach. “He had a real vision of the flow of the record,” said Archer, who has known Pelt for more than 20 years. Throughout his career, the bandleader has experimented a great deal with timbre and form, producing albums with strings, electronics and dual drummers. Jeremy Pelt The Artist is a culmination of everything he’s brought to his previous records—and more.

The breadth of Pelt’s oeuvre, along with his subdued, yet self-assured, tone and his identifiably enigmatic compositional style, has earned him comparisons to a number of jazz icons, including Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. “I might venture to say that Clifford Brown is an influence of his, because of the directness of his line,” said pianist Rachel Z, who recently performed with Pelt at Smalls in New York.

As a young artist just starting out, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be mentioned alongside such exalted company. But at this point in his career, the 42-year-old Pelt bristles at such comments. “I’m not interested in entertaining questions about influences anymore,” he declared. Pelt’s defensive posture is understandable. More than many musicians in the jazz world his age, Pelt has earned the right to be considered on his own terms, and his new album provides convincing evidence of that.

Despite his prolific, acclaimed output as a leader, Pelt feels that his involvement in a variety of groups through the years might have hindered his profile. (His recording credits include work with René Marie, Wayne Shorter and Cedar Walton.) In 2019, he wants listeners to focus on his aesthetic vision as a whole—rather than his solos or his tone.

During an interview in Harlem (as well as a follow-up email exchange), Pelt, wearing a Miles Electric Band hoodie and sipping a can of Heineken beer, discussed the new album, his artistic evolution and the obligation he feels to be a mentor to younger musicians.

The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you recall the first time you had a meaningful reaction to Rodin’s sculptures?

There was a time when I was younger, even though I can’t imagine it, when I completely just couldn’t stand going to Paris. But I started to get older and a little more mature, and at that point I started going to museums. There’s the Rodin museum there, and, of course, the only thing I knew about Rodin was The Thinker. A lot of the museum is outdoors, and once I was there, it was such a picturesque day in Paris. I was like, damn. Certain pieces really resonated with me. The history of the museum itself was also unique. That’s where Rodin lived. It’s called the Hôtel Biron.

Now, every time I go to Paris, I go to that museum. I find a certain kind of peacefulness to it, and it’s interesting to look at it from lots of different angles. When I decided that I was going to write a piece, I thought, “Man, I should just come over here and bring my music book and compose.”

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September 2019
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