"My life has been given sudden definition
An end point that I can almost prepare for
At once frightening and magnificent..."
Paul Nash Diary, December 28 2003
The measure of a person's life can be seen in the impact they have on other lives and how they handle the often grim vagaries of life. In the face of one's own mortality, the entirety of emotions and fears can be overwhelming. Many though decide to soldier on and concern themselves with the time they have left, the mark they leave behind; with the story of how they inhabited this life and walked the earth.
Paul Nash, composer, educator and jazz guitarist, has written such a life story. After earning degrees in both jazz and classical composition, he created the 10-piece Paul Nash Ensemble in 1977. The group included trumpeter Mark Isham who, influenced by Nash's genre of morphing ideas, created New Age music for Windham Hill Records and become a Grammy and Academy Award nominated soundtrack composer. Nash also helped to organize the Bay Area Jazz Composers Orchestra, an ensemble that explored the merging of jazz and classical music. This group featured notable musicians such as trumpet player Tom Harrell, and vibist David Samuels.
In 1990 he moved back to New York and founded the Manhattan New Music Project (MNMP), which brought together various new music performers, including French horn innovator Tom Varner, and unsung guitar great Vic Juris, among others. Under the MNMP umbrella, Nash wrote chamber music, orchestral pieces and playful avant garde compositions inspired by John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
After discovering he had a fatal brain tumor, Nash determined to stamp a legacy to his lifelong career, "...for the prize of life itself (is) the excitement of creation no matter who hears a piece." With the help of producer Julia Reinhart he set about creating his musical legacy. One part of this is the organization and re-mastering of his earlier compositional works which are to be released in a seven-part retrospective series.
The other is a two-CD project, one of which you have before you, meant to represent the definitive works that sum up his musical journey. The first CD "Jazz Cycles" is a work that takes the listener through the development of various jazz styles based on musical elements explored and developed over a 30-year period. The second "Avant Noir" is a ten-composition work that combines avant garde jazz with the familiar sound and feel of soundtracks from old film noir movies. On both works, Paul is accompanied by a special group of performers associated with MNMP, including ...
Paul Nash has proved throughout his life, and especially in his final year, that the human heart, mind and soul can live on in the things one leaves behind, things that touch and influence people's lives.
Paul Nash, 56, Jazz Composer Who Set Music in City Spaces By Ben Ratliff, The New York Times Obituary, January 28, 2005
Paul Nash, a composer and guitarist who created orchestral jazz works, site-specific compositions for New York public spaces and educational programs for New York public school students, died on Thursday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He was 56 and lived in Manhattan.
The cause was complications of a brain tumor, said Julia Reinhart, his business associate and the director of the Manhattan New Music Project, the ensemble Mr. Nash led.
Mr. Nash grew up in the Bronx and played in rock bands during his high school years. He attended the Berklee College of Music and, after graduating in 1972, headed to San Francisco, where he earned a master's degree in composition at Mills College in 1976. In the San Francisco area, he formed his first large group, the Paul Nash Ensemble, and went on to help form the Bay Area Jazz Composers Orchestra, which included a string quartet that used public grants to commission new works from contemporary composers.
After he returned to New York in the late 1980's, Mr. Nash went further in that direction, forming the Manhattan New Music Project, a group with up to 16 members, depending on the circumstances. (It is still functioning and plans new concerts.) Since 1990, it has presented 35 new works in Manhattan, by Neal Kirkwood, David Taylor, Bruce Williamson and other composers.
Five recordings of Mr. Nash's music have been released. The most recent was "Soul of Grace," issued on the Soul Note label in 2000. That album contained music that fits somewhere between the hushed, streamlined palette in Gil Evans' work and the defiance of Charles Mingus'.
In 1997, Mr. Nash began writing site-specific compositions. One of them, "Still Sounds Run Deep," has been performed 20 times: in it, musicians arrange themselves around large public areas like Battery Park's Castle Clinton of Central Park's lake, keeping together via stopwatches and instructions from the score, and occasionally interacting with ambient sounds.
Mr. Nash is survived by his wife, Marta; his sister, Margo Nash, of Manhattan; and his mother, Anne Nash, of the Bronx.
Jazz Cycles, MNMP Records (October 2, 2007)
download one sheet Retail: CD Baby | iTunes (All proceeds from CD sales benefit MNMP to continue and promote his work)
Paul Nash was a gifted jazz composer with an original voice. When Paul lost his battle with brain cancer in 2005, the world lost a visionary with a unique harmonic sense and a passion for infectious, driving rhythms. The recordings on this CD are the last Paul produced with his ensemble, the Manhattan New Music Project, but the material in this set has been developed over many years. These pieces have a richness which makes them worth playing and hearing many times over. Paul's compositions were orchestrated with compelling accompaniments and background figures that inspired his soloists to greater heights. Additionally, Paul included beautifully scored ensemble passages utilizing the wide variety of instrumental colors available in his ensemble.
This disc is more than a collection of wonderful compositions by Paul Nash. Written from materials collected over the course of 30 years and completed in the last year of his life, Jazz Cycles is a kind of suite where each track may be heard as a movement in a larger artistic structure. Listeners will be rewarded if they listen to these tracks in sequence and if they absorb this cycle of recordings in its entirety.
In many ways, "Passaglia" is the quintessential Paul Nash composition. The piece begins with a wonderful, repeating ostinato, first presented by Vic Juris on guitar, answered by a contrapuntal, melodic statement from Tim Ries on tenor saxophone. Then we hear an ensemble passage featuring Paul's trademark open horn voicings followed by a heartfelt alto saxophone solo by Bruce Williamson, one of Paul's longtime collaborators.
"Passaglia" segues without pause directly into "Night Flight" which features a driving groove propelled by drummer Grisha Alexiev and an exciting solo by trumpeter Shane Endsley. This leads to burning improvisations from bassist Jay Anderson, guitarist Juris and tenor saxophonist Ries. Tim, who has been touring with the Rolling Stones, literally screams through his horn on this tune.
"Desire" includes some of the most tender music on the disc, followed by a free jazz introduction to "Wind Over the Lake," a piece which was originally written by Paul for orchestra and jazz ensemble. The free playing morphs into some typically Nash rhythmic, repeating figures which serve as the underpinning for this composition. Pianist Jim Ridl contributes a beautiful solo as does saxophonist Ries. This is followed by an interlude which leads to "Strange Rife," a slow, swinging statement with some collective, improvisational blowing from the group.
"Outside In" features an optimistic, uplifting chord progression and demonstrates Paul's love for mixed time signatures. This selection includes more fine soloing by Endsley, Juris and Williamson, this time on soprano. "Outside In" segues directly into "Ballad for T" with its rich harmonies and mournful melodic statement. Once again, Williamson delivers a soulful solo.
After two more interludes, the second of which features Anderson's considerable bass prowess, we move to "It's Only a Dream," the hardest swinging tune in the set with rollicking solos from Ridl and Ries. This is followed by solo interludes from Juris on guitar and Alexiev on cymbals and drums. These passages act as introductory material for "Tamalpais Night," an older tune of Paul's which was included on his first album A Jazz Composer's Ensemble. This newer performance has a propulsive energy which matches well with the tune's expansive melody and mixture of dark and optimistic harmonies.
While discussing the next selection, "Starlit Skylight," I would like to be more personal. Paul was a good friend of mine and I am proud to say that I played the tenor saxophone solo on this tune on Paul's earlier album, Second Impression. It is exciting to hear what the musicians featured on Jazz Cycles have done with this beautiful composition. The group is in fine form with strong ensemble work and striking solos from Ridl, Ries and Williamson.
The disc concludes with a reprise of "Night Flight" followed by a short "Epilouge." As with all of Paul's projects, Jazz Cycles features stunning compositions performed by some of the finest musicians in jazz.