Brian Lynch Crafts a Journey Through Literature


Brian Lynch’s latest big band release is a double album that reflects his love of literature.

(Photo: Mark Sheldon)

Last January, Brian Lynch, 63, took the first sabbatical semester of his eight-year professorship at Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Over the next six months, the master trumpeter-composer worked on his first big band album, composing, recording and mixing the nine compositions that constitute The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature In Music, out now on his own label, Hollistic MusicWorks.

Dialogue is key. The works, propelled by an array of beat signatures—hardcore swing to bolero to hardcore clave—distill in notes and tones the core ideas of a cross-generational, polyethnic cohort of 18 authors who have inspired Lynch and informed his worldview. Each track is dedicated to two writers. The leader uncorks a string of authoritative solos in his singular harmonic argot, exchanging ideas with guest soloists Regina Carter (violin), Dave Liebman (soprano saxophone), Jim Snidero (alto saxophone), Orlando “Maraca” Valle (flute) and Dafnis Prieto (drums).

Most prominent in the authorial mix is Albert Murray (the co-dedicatee, along with Ta-Nehisi Coates, of “The Struggle Is In Your Name”), whose 1970 collection, The Omni-Americans, contends that black culture is a fundamental component of what “American-ness” means. Lynch has refined that hybrid principle through the fluent multilingualism of his musical production, informed by consequential end-of-the-’80s apprenticeships with jazz giants Horace Silver and Art Blakey, and parallel two-decade stints as co-equal bandmate to Phil Woods and Eddie Palmieri. Both veterans played on the 2006 album Simpático (an ArtistShare release credited to The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project), which won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. Lynch received a Grammy nomination in the same category for his 2016 release, Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective On The Music Of Woody Shaw (Hollistic). His 22 prior albums include several low-budget jazz recordings.

“The discipline I gained through making, in one afternoon, albums that could stand the test of time—recording directly to two-track, no mixing—was invaluable,” Lynch said a few weeks after The Omni-American Book Club earned Grammy nominations for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album and Best Instrumental Composition (“Crucible For Crisis,” on which Prieto and Valle perform). “After the good result from Simpático, on which I was free to do as I wanted, I decided to enable myself as a producer, as well as a player, composer and bandleader.”

For this latest project, Lynch said he wanted “a theme that connects to the causes and contexts that drive my music.” He found it during conversations with co-producer Kabir Sehgal, himself an admirer of writer Murray’s works. “If there’s one thing I love as much as music, it’s reading,” Lynch said. Determined to complete the work during the term of his sabbatical, Lynch “didn’t even fund-raise, but just barreled all the way through.”

The core sessions were recorded at Frost’s Austin L. Weeks Center, with additional recording done at six other studios.

That the project cohered so successfully testifies to Lynch’s hard-earned expertise in matters of production. “Brian knows his business,” said Gary Keller, a Frost faculty colleague whose saxophone exchanges with Liebman on “The Trouble With Elysium” are an album highlight. “It was hard music, but everyone was up to the task.” Fourth trumpet Alec Aldred, a Frost alumnus, noted Lynch’s “amazing attention to detail—he was great at communicating with everyone and navigating how to most efficiently get through the music.”

“I recorded methodically to make sure that, at the end, I’d have options to ‘cut the film,’ so to speak,” Lynch said, noting he Skype-produced Liebman’s session, which transpired in Pennsylvania, and that saxophonist Donald Harrison and Valle recorded their parts in New Orleans and Havana, respectively. The time-intensive process was facilitated by access to Frost’s first-rate studio facility and on-site recording engineer Chris Palowitch. Lynch praised the high level musicianship of an orchestra of local pros and Frost students, alumni and faculty. “Everyone was paid as if they were young musicians in New York,” he said. “It’s a professional project. Nobody was doing this as part of schoolwork.”

Indeed, Lynch considers “the idea that you can produce your own stuff”—the 21st century notion of musician-as-entrepreneur—as central to his pedagogical mission. “We’re teaching more than just chords and scales at Frost,” he said. “I imbue that you can’t wait for someone to discover you; you should take it into your own hands. All my students know their way around the studio, know how to record themselves. If you’re able to put out a professional product, that’s your calling card. First of all, it’s got to be good. But also know what’s going on in the business.” DB

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May 2024
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