Taylor Haskins: Raising His (Trumpet) Voice
As for the short duration of some tunes, it was deliberate. "I have a fairly short attention span lately. That's the nature of our culture too. I really wanted to make specific emotional points with each song. You don't really need a lot of time to do that. You need a lot of time if you're expounding on an idea. Most jazz records are doing variations on a theme. Over and over. Which is great, but on this project I wanted to be concise."
"Invocation: American Dream" is an ethereal opening, where Haskins plays over a soft, but persistent rhythm. His sound dominates via a calm melodic line, underscored by Ben Monder's guitar. Brief, but elegant. "Theme from 'Dead Man,'" a Neil Young tune, finds Monder and Haskins playing twisting unison lines over a cinematic theme. "That movie, for me, embodies the same feeling I'm trying to get across with the record," says the trumpeter.
"Mustangs (Steve McQueen)" also seems like it could be for a movie theme; and, in fact, it was inspired by just that. Haskins says "it was musically based on the chase scene from the 1968 movie, Bullitt [The scene had the main character, played by McQueen, in a 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID fastback]. I'm a huge Lalo Schifrin fan [Schfrin composed the movie score]. I love his film writing. That's a big aspiration of mine, a secret aspiration if you will, to be a film composer one day. I was studying the scene and it stayed in my mind. The finality of it. I was trying to capture that in a really abstract way. As I was doing it, I realized the reason the scene was so successful in the movie is it encapsulated Steve McQueen's psyche at that moment. A moment of extreme tension and sustaining that tension for a certain period of time. I liked to explore that feeling."
"Black Boxes" contains influences of electric Davis. It starts out simply, with a plaintiff, muted trumpet, but as the music gets more spacey and intense, Monder's guitar comes in like a lion. Like a rock music lion, with some distortion and a hard edge. Haskins enters blaring, but with a tone that's different than most electrified trumpets; his lines piercing but almost orchestral. ("I'm playing through a distortion pedal and a phaser," he notes.)
"That music is a huge influence on me," Haskins says of Miles from that period. "I'd have to say that's my favorite music. If you went to my iTunes and looked at 'most played,' it would all be Miles stuff from '67 to '75. I also love the electric stuff after that. It's a huge influence, for sure. But I try not to do anything overt. Sometimes it's unavoidable to cross over into what people have already done ... I love hearing his tone. It becomes something else. The record Get Up With It (Columbia, 1974), I love how he's using the wah-wah on that record because it disguises the trumpet. You don't really need the trumpet on that record. It's not a trumpet record, necessarily. It's this other thing. On that record it works so well."
One might think "The Ballad of Michael Jackson" would be a funky kind of thing, but it's not. Haskins plays beautifully on this gentle ballad, showing delightful melodism, as does Monder. "I was thinking about the old western ballads. A song somebody would sing about to honor somebody they knew. To describe them and encapsulate them. I love Michael Jackson. I idolized since I was a kid. I went through a long period of not paying attention to what he did. But always appreciated him," Haskins says. "His best stuff is incredible. I wanted to pay tribute in that way and write a ballad. Try to do my best to honor him musically and embody some of the feelings he was trying to communicate to people."
Bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Hirschfield are extremely supportive throughout. Some of the rhythms are very delicate. The moods vary. And they handle things superbly, allowing Haskins to make his statements.
"I love the way it came out. I didn't know what to make of it when we finished the sessions. Because I've known these guys for so long and know their playing so well ... So I wrote with their playing in mind and the ensemble in mind. It was pretty fluid when we got to the studio. It seemed to go by very quickly for me. I did one day in the studio at first, hoping it would be enough. It wasn't. Then I had a month go by in between and we had another day in the studio. So we had these two really intense days of hearing this music, with no rehearsal, that worked out great in the end."
Haskins hasn't toured to support the music yet, but hopes to in the fall. In the meantime, he remains busy playing in New York City, where he has been since 1995, though he has periods of traveling to Los Angeles for commercial work.