Portland-based jazz drummer and composer Chris Lee is a long-standing veteran of the local jazz scene and is known for his creativity and musicality. He is releasing his album, Quintet Music, on September 15, 2023. The album features Lee on drums, Dan Balmer on guitar, Greg Goebel on piano, Thomas Barber on trumpet, and Dave Captein on bass. The debut album is comprised entirely of Lee’s original compositions, and it explores a wide range of emotions and textures.
“Besides being a drummer and vibist, I’ve always written music. I’m not a terribly prolific composer but over the years I’ve managed to put together a fair body of work.
So when the opportunity arose, I had a backlog of pieces I’d wanted to record and decided a quintet (trumpet, guitar, piano, bass and drums) would serve this music particularly well. I knew I wanted Dan on guitar and Dave on bass and was fortunate to get both Greg and Tom as well, who both fit perfectly. Dan and I had our first band together as teenagers. Dave and I went to the same grade school, but didn’t play together until later when we formed a trio with Dan.”
The album opens with “Can He Wheel Her?” a cheeky nod to the great trumpet player and composer Kenny Wheeler who often had punny titles. It opens with a reflective, rubato piano intro and shifts to a driving rhythmic tune with clever rhythmic hits. Barber’s melodic statement perfectly captures the essence of Kenny Wheeler. Balmer’s harmonic support and timbre have undertones of a John Abercrombie influence. The opening track clearly states that the players and the vibe are the real deal and they’re not going to be bashful about that.
“Autumn” is a lilting 5/4 track based on a poem by 10th century Japanese poet Fujiwara no Toshiyuki. The poem is about the changing of the seasons, and the track captures the feeling of autumn with a swirling ostinato and dark harmonic texture.
“Lifting of the Veil” is a haunting track that refers to global events of the last few years. The rubato intro with arco bass, a melody that seems to be asking questions, and Balmer’s tone reflect the uncertainty of the times. When the time comes in, it has a 1970-80s ECM character with straight eighth notes and a driving pulse. Balmer’s guitar solo begins with long notes and has a touch of grit, but develops into soaring lines, often punctuated with guitaristic bends.
“Castalia” is named after the setting of the Herman Hesse novel The Glass Bead Game. The track is a quick-paced, brooding piece that reflects on the nature of knowledge and the search for meaning. In the intro there is more rough edged playing by Balmer with distortion, pinch harmonics, and tremolo picking over a bass ostinato. The melody strikes like a bolt of lightning, as the tempest eases into an open freer section before returning to the theme. It serves as a soundscape, with many sections and seamless transitions.
“Born of the Sun” is a melancholy but ultimately hopeful track with melodic statements dovetailing with each other. It celebrates the interconnectedness of all life on the planet.
“Portobello Road” is a more playful track, with less harmonic complexity than some tracks on the album. It begins with a two-chord vamp. Balmer enters with a melody that could be said to have a quality of hope. When Barber doubles the melody the mood is fully triumphant.
“Wheat’s Way” is an anagram of the first three letters of the last names of three composers who have influenced Lee greatly: Wheeler, John Taylor, and Steve Swallow. The track is a humble swinging waltz that features a catchy melody and a driving rhythm. Barber’s solo is a standout on the album.
“Travelin’ Music” is a little ditty that came to Lee as he was heading out on a tour. The track is a swinging piece that captures the camaraderie that the musicians have shared for decades.
In sum, this album exhibits technical mastery from each musician, and powerful compositions from Lee. It exemplifies the best of what PJCE Records has to offer. Compelling original music played by master musicians from Portland, Oregon.
Album details on next page:
Artist: Chris Lee
Title: Quintet Music
Personnel: Dan Balmer, guitar; Thomas Barber, trumpet; Dave Captein, bass; Greg Goebel, piano; Chris Lee, drums
Can He Wheel Her? 7:17
Lifting of the Veil 7:23
Born of the Sun 7:12
Portobello Road 6:48
Wheat’s Way 6:54
(A Little) Travelin’ Music 6:59
Total Run Time 54:15
All compositions by Chris Lee / ILLIAMNA Music BMI
Recorded by Bob Stark
Mixed by Bob Stark and Chris Lee
Recorded at Big Red Studio
Recording date: February 19 & 20, 2023
Mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering
Executive Producer: Ryan Meagher
Photos by Douglas Detrick
Art by Tiny Little Hammers