Arrival: Liner Notes
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On the self-produced Arrival, Welsh eclectically turns the gray into vibrant colors, from the Latin-flavored “Sancho T. Panza” (the name of a choodle he once knew) teeming with rocking electric guitar velocity and crunch to the r&b balladic endsong “Time,” featuring co-composer Tomi Townsend’s grooving vocals soaring above Welsh’s blitz. In between, he delivers a respectful solo cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” experimentally pushing the overdubs with an ambient electric guitar, a rippling acoustic guitar and chromatically hued keyboards. “A teacher taught me the finger style arrangement a long time ago,” he says. “So I did my own Jackson Pollock with sound rendition, creating texture around it. People love that song. People love Joni.”
Another gem of timbre is the leader’s slow and bluesy “Baltimore’s Lament,” featuring the church-meets-r&b flair of Detroit organist Ron Jerome Avant and trumpeter Dontae Winslow (another favorite son of Charm City) who paints with a tonality that harmonically marries the leader’s acoustic guitar lines. (Side note: Welsh started playing trumpet when he was in the 4th grade, but in high school switched over to guitar after being bowled over by the first record he bought, 1969‘s Led Zeppelin II.) The tune holds deep meaning for its composer: “I still consider Baltimore my home town, it’s filled with family, friends and all of the great musicians I cut my teeth on and perform with whenever I’m back, so when I turned on the TV to see the riots there a few years ago, it was surreal,” says Welsh. “There I was, watching downtown neighborhoods where I gigged and rehearsed being burned down. I had to write about it.”
Welsh enjoys a special artistic relationship with singer Michelle Coltrane (John and Alice Coltrane’s daughter). He’s her band’s musical director and produced seven tracks on her upcoming sophomore album. She appears on two of Arrival’s tracks, including “Out of The Shadows,” which she co-wrote with Welsh. A song about hope and affirmation born from being in a dark place of broken relationships, Coltrane sings and chants lusciously. Meanwhile Welsh develops the piece into a dancing r&b cooker that rips into a rocker with his hard-edged electric runs. Coltrane is also featured on the soul love song with a jazzy twist, “Slowly Falling,” written by Welsh and pop singer Christa West. It’s a beauty with Welsh strumming an acoustic then taking tasty licks on the electric.
Arrival’s most poignant tune is the lyrical and percussive “Kuna Yala Song—Panama’s Triumph” composed by Marino Roldan Benitez, arranged by Welsh and sung by the young Panamanian/Kuna girl Yulineth Castillo. Its source is from Welsh’s work as the Director of Education at Junglewood (“Tanglewood in the jungle of Panama”), an artistic community committed to protecting the 11,000-acre Mamoní Valley Rainforest Preserve. “The Kuna tribe there teaches its children this song as a way of preserving its culture and language and pride,” Welsh says. “Yulineth’s performance was recorded during a concert we gave in front of and honoring our Junglewood affiliate and celebrated conservationist Jane Goodall. I brought it back to L.A., rearranged it and had the band take a journey in the Kuna Yala jungle exploring their sacred corner of the universe.”
On the straight-up jazz front, Welsh “catches a moment” with his ruminative solo interpretation of the “Moonlight in Vermont” standard and then lets it all fly on the gritty, swinging “Sweet Pea,” which comes off as a celebratory party song with his steady band comprising pianist Cameron Graves, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. “This is a potluck dinner of jazz that I’m into from Monk to Frisell in his Knitting Factory days,” Welsh says. “These changes I wrote are brutal. I enlisted a great group that I knew could push the envelope. I wanted us all to take chances, to jump off the ledge together.”
In this centennial birthday year of such jazz icons as Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk, tributes to the elders of the jazz legacy are important. They remind us of where the music has come from. But what’s unfortunately too often missing is the continuum of the past to the future. And what’s particularly void is the reaching out to a new audience where the jazz of old simply does not resonate. Welsh’s Arrival brings a relevancy to the umbrella of jazz, which historically incorporates what’s going on at the time and helping the current generation of listeners to relate to new textures, colors, sounds. With his wide stylistic array of repertoire, Welsh has his hand firmly on that pulse.