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By Kyra Scrimgeour
Tyler Gilmore believes in the power of intuition. When composing, the Ninth and Lincoln founder avoids putting anything on paper right away.
"For my process," he reveals, "I try not to write anything until maybe about two-thirds of the way in. So the first however long — two weeks or a month or whatever — all I'm doing is thinking and going for walks and just getting into a brain space where I can really plan out every little detail of the piece and remember it all in my head, without having written down anything, because you really get a lot closer to what you mean with a piece that way."
While Gilmore says he doesn't have perfect pitch or necessarily know what all the notes will be when he starts a composition, he does know what the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic languages are going to look like.
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"It's almost like I've programmed the piece in my brain before it's actually realized," he elaborates. "The idea is that the most important things in composition are the form, texture and flow. So you have the flow totally there together, planned out, and since you have these parameters worked out, when it comes time to sit down and start writing the notes, you know what your language is, and you can just kind of freely flow through it."
Gillmore, who's won ASCAP's Young Jazz Composer award for the past three years running, sees this process as much more enjoyable and much clearer. "There's never a point where you stop and go, 'Uh-oh, I don't know where I'm going to go next,'" he says. "At that point, you're unfocused. This way, you already have the focus, so then you can write out the notes and create the overall flow you need to, because you know where it is already. You're focusing on macro first and micro last."
Heeding his own advice, the 28-year-old composer employed this approach for the compositions he penned for Static Line, Ninth and Lincoln's followup to its 2008 self-titled debut. Inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's World War II science-fiction novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, he thought he could musically capture the book's rather unsettled, slightly hallucinatory feel. Gilmore, whose grandfather was a lieutenant on the USS Zane mine-sweeper during World War II, is also interested in the history of the war, as well as the songs and composers of the WWII era, such as Shostakovich.
"That was something I was really interested in exploring, from the perspective of somebody who is two generations on from World War II and looking back and simultaneously being influenced by this incredible music that was being made then, and just the history of it — as much as I can understand it, having not been there — and trying to marry that all together," says Gilmore. "It just clicked as something I really wanted to do, so each song somehow ties into music from the era that was either like a moral or propaganda or somewhere in between."
With forward-thinking trumpeter Cuong Vu (who has performed with the likes of Pat Metheny, David Bowie and Laurie Anderson) in mind to be featured on the album, Gilmore set out to create the music for Static Line, which includes captivating takes on World War II-era pop hits "We'll Meet Again" and "I'll Be Seeing You," as well as four Gilmore originals that were inspired by soldier songs and hymns. He wrote half of the songs for Static Line while completing a six-week artist's residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska in late 2009.
While the twelve-piece Ninth and Lincoln could be considered a big band, it's a far cry from the big bands of WWII, with their heavy drumming and high, bright trumpet playing. While Gilmore says the latter is a cool tradition and acoustically deep, it's something he tried to avoid completely on Static Line.
"A lot of the album is soft and low in the registers because horns are like the human voice in that they have a certain tone up high and a certain tone down low," he notes. "A lot of times I try to exploit middle to low registers with the horns to get that...I don't know...that meatier, sort of darker tone."
Static Line is an entirely different album than Ninth and Lincoln's debut. On the earlier recording, Gilmore adhered more to a standard big-band song form, but with Static Line, harmonically and texturally, he went in a direction that was inspired more by twentieth-century composers, minimalism and electronics, and moved away from the chord-to-chord jazz model.
"Clearly, there's a lot more rock influence and experimental influence on this record," he notes, pointing out that there isn't a single tune that has a swing beat or a Latin jazz groove. "This isn't a jazz big-band record, per se." While Static Line definitely has elements of jazz, Gilmore says he's drifting away from that style in the strict sense — though he still needs jazz musicians to interpret his compositions.
"Only jazz players have that sort of rhythmic understanding and also ability to understand what's going on around them compositionally, and to complement it if I ask them," says Gilmore. "If I give them an abstract section that doesn't say exactly what to play, jazz players know how to continue along the lines that the composition began in. And jazz players these days are trained musicians who read well. They know to play in time and in tune. They know how to interpret what's written. So it's kind of a cool time for a jazz composer, because there's a lot you can do that isn't necessarily jazz writing but the jazz players are going to do the best at."