The Story of Such Is Life
Recently, Eric completed work on a new batch of material. Culling elements of jazz, classical, and bossa nova, this new songbook was begging for the kind of powerful, precise, treatment that only ESG could provide. “I reassembled the group specifically to record these new works,” explained Eric. “The idea was to record a jazz quartet live in the studio, then add orchestral arrangements later on.”
“Usually musicians are responding to previously composed orchestrations. In this case, the orchestra answers the players,” added Eric. This recording approach, while unorthodox, proved a perfect fit for Eric’s new material, which is a combination of carefully crafted melodies and spontaneous improvisation.
Such Is Life takes listeners on a musical journey to both recognized and unchartered territories. For example, “Can Spring Be Far Behind” recalls the glory days of bebop while “The Conjuror” is a seductive bossa nova with vocal. The most ambitious piece on the album, a two-part composition called “Dream Me,” starts out as a Jobim- style number before morphing into a rocking vamp with lush orchestrations and a searing violin solo.
The innovative string ensemble ETHEL deftly performed Starr’s involved arrangements on the recording. “When I asked [ETHEL'S 1st violinist] Cornelius Dufallo to play the complex solo I had composed for “Dream Me, Part II” he made the impossible possible. Few violinists could have played this solo quite as skillfully,” extolled Eric.
In all, Such Is Life is a grand amalgam of jazz styles and compositional elements pulled off with just the right amount of cool, experimentation, compelling execution, and poise. Each track bristles with deep purpose and inspiration.
1. Can Spring Be Far Behind
2. The Conjuror
3. Dream Me Part I
4 Dream Me Part II
5. Such Is Life
8. Drum Solo
9. In the Spirit
10. For Better or For Worse (for M.A.N.)
Eric Starr (drums, vibes, keyboards, additional piano, percussion)
Nelson Starr (vocals, piano, guitar on “Can Spring Be Far Behind”)
Iain Ballamy (tenor saxophone)
Ike Sturm (double bass)
ETHEL (string ensemble)
Alex Freeman (trumpet)
Greg Smith (French horn)
Jeff Miers (guitar on “The Conjuror” and “In the Spirit”)
All songs and lyrics by Eric Starr except guitar countermelody on “Can Spring Be Far Behind” written by Nelson Starr. Orchestral arrangements by Eric Starr. Violin solo in “Dream Me Part II” written by Eric Starr; performed by Cornelius Dufallo.
Piano, bass, drums, and saxophone recorded at Great City Productions, NYC by Britt Myers and Geoff Vincent; percussion recorded at Red Wally Music Studio, Beacon, NY by Joe Johnson; strings recorded at The Magic Shop, NYC, by Ted Young; trumpet, horn, additional percussion, and various sound samples recorded at 4th Hole Studio, Garrison, NY, by Art Labriola; guitar and voice recorded at Dark Arts Studio, Buffalo, NY by Nelson Starr; Edited by Mike Rorick at Audio Magic Recording Studios, Buffalo, NY. Additional editing by Nelson Starr at Dark Arts Mastering.
Mixed and mastered by Nelson Starr at Dark Arts Mastering, 2014. Produced by Eric and Nelson Starr.
Eric and Nelson Starr have worked together in many musical situations ever since they were children. Eric Starr has developed into a major composer who also plays drums, vibes, keyboards and percussion. Nelson Starr sings in a style between pop and jazz that at times hints at Sting, Jobim and Michael Franks; he also plays piano and guitar.
Such Is Life, the Eric Starr Group (ESG) consists of the Starr brothers plus the soft-toned but explorative tenor-saxophonist Iain Ballamy and bassist Ike Sturm. There are also guest spots (mostly in the background) for trumpet, French horn and guitarist Jeff Miers, with five apperances by the string ensemble ETHEL.
The ten Eric Starr compositions are diverse and cover a wide area of music. The opening “Can Spring Be Far Behind,” a driving uptempo piece, gives the musicians a chance to stretch out. Nelson Starr, who is heard on this selection on both piano and guitar, displays equal fluency on both instruments and is the solo star. “The Conjuror”has a catchy rhythmic phrase and the feel of bossa nova. Nelson Starr sings a bit and there are spots for tenor and bass. The two-part “Dream Me” begins with an appealing vocal, has some tasteful piano, and includes a fine tenor solo. Its second half finds the piece evolving quickly into exciting fusion with Cornelius Dufallo, the first violinist of ETHEL, playing a solo composed by Eric Starr.
Of the vocal pieces, “Such Is Life” is most memorable, a philosophical and haunting love song. The augmented blues also has excellent piano and tenor solos. After a bit of noisy free improve (the brief “Commotion”), the brooding instrumental “Quietude” leads to a well-constructed “Drum Solo”and “Ïn The Spirit” which features some wordless singing and scatting by Nelson Starr. Such is Life concludes with a ballad showcase for the warm tenor of Ballamy on “For Better or For Worse (for M.A.N.).”
One cannot help but be impressed by this music. The musicianship is top-notch, the performances are unpredictable and full of surprises, and Eric Starr’s writing is consistently inventive. This set is easily recommended to fans of creative music.
Scott Yanow, author of ten books including Trumpet Kings, The Jazz Singers and Jazz On Record 1917-76.