© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David Lord releases 'Forest Standards Vol.3'

William T. Carson

Musician David Lord explains how saxophonist John Coltrane inspired Lord's own guitar playing.

Guitarist David Lord issues “Forest Standards Vol.3,” which is being co-released by Big Ego and Astral Spirits on Friday, April 28.

Tracked primarily in Los Angeles with producer Chris Schlarb (Psychic Temple), Lord is once again joined by a round of world-class musicians, including percussionist Nathan Hubbard, drummer Chad Taylor, bassist David Tranchina and Christine Tavolacci on flute, alto flute and bass flute.

As always, Lord’s majestic, otherworldly guitar playing grips listeners from the start, as lines float and flutter, melodies unfold in unexpected ways and we, as listeners, get a unique insight into the composer/musician’s distinct vision.

And although jazz is a starting point, the record is remarkably absent of tropes that often mark the genre; in fact, anyone who has followed any of Lord’s previous work knows not only to expect the unexpected but also to leave behind any sense of convention.

Such words might often lead listeners to think that such music would be marked by avant-garde-isms that render the music virtually unlistenable. In fact, the opposite is true: The music becomes easier to embrace because of its novel nature. Moreover, it demands that the listener engage with it via multiple listens in order to more fully understand its depth and scope, its complexities and celebratory spirit.

Having spent the last few years living in Montreal, Lord returns to Wichita later this spring where he will continue to oversee his Air House and Air House Academy. Lord recently stopped by the KMUW studios during a visit home to discuss the new record, its initial inspiration and what he hopes to accomplish with future musical projects.

Interview Highlights

Your producer, Chris Schlarb, sent me a copy of the album and attached a little note that read, “This is a re-imagining of John Coltrane’s [album] ‘Ballads.’ ” 

Originally, I wasn’t going to tell anybody that. I told Chad Taylor, the drummer, that and said, “I’m just going to leave that there and see if anybody ever figures it out.” And he said, “No way anybody will ever figure that out!” So, with the whole Forest Standards concept what I do is take the basic harmonic structure of a tune [and usually] just limit it to the bass and then compose on top of that with some pretty severe reharmonizations and compositional techniques.

So, yes, all 10 songs line up with John Coltrane’s “Ballads” album. Even the titles. If you look at the letters, they kind of match up with the track list, but it’s just kind of a starting point [and] warped to the point that nobody would ever, in a million years, would probably ever be able to hear that.

[Laughs.] What inspired you to take that up? 

Totally random. I have no memory, honestly, of where that came from. Usually, I’ll start with a mushroom name or a butterfly name and then find a standard that will match the letters to the mushroom. Or vice versa. I’ll find a standard and rename it with some sort of nature theme. In this case, there’s nothing about the [Coltrane] album or the compositions that had any influence. I think it was completely random thing. Maybe I was just listening to it and thought, “I’ll just use all these tunes.” I really don’t remember. [Laughs.]

I know so many guitarists who take inspiration from Coltrane. What’s inspiring about his playing for a guitarist? 

Knowing [the guitar the way that I do] when I hear a guitar player and I know what they’re doing and it sounds like they’re playing guitar? That’s not as interesting as another instrument where they approach it completely different than a guitarist would think of the fretboard. The guitarists that I tend to be drawn toward, I don’t hear them playing [like typical guitarists]. I can’t hear, “Oh, they’re on this shape on the guitar,” or, “They’re doing this pattern on the guitar.” I think as a guitar player I’m drawn to other instruments just because it makes you approach the instrument differently. You just think about it in a different way.

This is the record where I hear you working most with tradition. You’re still moving the music forward but I hear things that maybe speak more to that idea of standards. 

On this one, I was a little more focused on the composition, and I think I went a little deeper into my compositional concepts, tried some different things there. As far as that relates to tradition? I haven't really thought about it in that way, to be honest. I approached this one a little bit more like chamber music. So maybe tradition more in a classical sense even. Bringing in the bass flute and the vibraphone and marimba, I was treating it a little bit more like classical composition. I thought of it like a woodland ensemble, like I’m writing for this little nature ensemble.

I thought bringing in the flute was just a masterful touch. Was that there from the beginning with the compositions? 

Yeah, I think the first things I envisioned, like I said, was the instrumentation and the mood of the album. Maybe there is a connection there between the “Ballads” album and … the mood and form of that album I think did inform it a little bit.

The first step was to take the instrumentation: I thought about marimba, I thought about alto flute. That’s the primary instrument that [Tavolacci] plays. She does do some regular C flute and then some bass flute as well. But the mood and instrumentation was the starting point for the album.

Tell us about Christine Tavolacci, who plays the various flutes on the record. 

I’d never worked with her previously. She was someone that Chris found. I think she’s more of a new music and less of a jazz player as she is an experimental music player. Beautiful tone, incredible to work with. Great reader. She’s in Los Angeles and plays in a lot of new music ensembles there.

You also incorporated one of my favorite musicians, Nathan Hubbard, on percussion. 

He can do anything. The music I wrote for him was very difficult. He was reading some things on vibraphone that I probably had no business giving him to read in the recording session. He was incredible. He played vibraphone, marimba and also did some auxiliary percussion. He can kind of do everything. Very serious musician. Very professional. Great to work with. Extremely talented.

When you hand somebody a difficult piece of music like that I imagine that there might be a moment of anxiety where they look at it and say, “I can’t do that.” So how do you get somebody to do something that they think maybe they can’t do?

I don’t think I do anything about that. I think it’s just getting good musicians and that’s really Chris’ job. He knows the type of music that I’m going to write and the demands involved. I would give him credit in making sure that he gives credit to the right musicians. That’s the main way that he produces these albums. It always starts with Chad and I. We’ve been working together [for a while]. We’ve done four albums with Chris. Sometimes I’ll talk about musicians for an album, but usually it’s Chris.

We’ll talk about the album and direction and he says, “Bring in Nathan, he can do this.” I feel like these are better musicians than I am so I don’t feel like I need to approach them to help anybody out or anything. I’m just trying to focus on doing my job. Chris is so good about making a very relaxed environment where everybody feels comfortable.

You have this wonderful relationship with Chad Taylor musically, and I assume personally, too. It just sounds like magic when the two of you play together. Was that there from the start? 

Almost psychically. There are takes on all the albums that were literally the first read-through of the piece. Not only the first take but the first time literally that we even played the piece. “Hedgehog Mushroom,” the opening on the first album, that was the first time we had even played the piece. Chad is such an incredible composer in his own right, and he plays the drums that way. Just intuitively when it switches sections he goes into the perfect groove for it. Something beyond anything I’d imagined. But it’s felt almost psychic or uncanny what he does with these compositions.

He was someone whose playing you had been admiring before you worked together, right? 

Ever since I was in high school he’s been one of my inspirations and favorite drummers. All those Chicago players: Jeff Parker, Chad Taylor, that whole scene really informed what I’m doing. That was what started my whole path into this type of music. That’s how this all started: I reconnected with Chris and said, “You worked with Chad Taylor.” He said, “I could probably set up a session for you.” This whole project started through my love of Chad’s playing.

Tell us about bassist David Tranchina. 

Another great L.A.-based musician. He has a big band album of all his compositions that’s out on Big Ego. It’s worth checking out. Another phenomenal musical.

What have you not done yet as a composer yet that you want to do? 

Right now, I’m working on a piece that involves vocals. I’m thinking of it more like an opera even though it won’t be in an operatic style. But it’s kind of a heavy compositional piece. Sort of like “Forest Standards” but introducing vocals as well. That’s my focus right now, getting even deeper into composition, even larger groups like orchestral … using more strings and so forth.

Then I also kind of see doing a series of jazz albums with just guitar-bass-drums trio. I see both ends of the spectrum: Going further and further into composition and then some more stripped-down stuff a well. I tend to go album by album, so I'm usually focused on whatever I'm composing for at the time.

You’ve done these three “Forest Standards” records. Do you see the next one being a continuation of that or some sort of departure? 

It’s a departure! It’s actually done. We just mixed it last week.


Every release we’re one ahead, so we’re releasing [album] three and mixing [album] four. The same thing happened with [album] three and two. Number four is a departure. The instrumentation is alto sax, bass clarinet, it’s much more driving, More of a rock album in a way. It’s a big departure from three.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.