Multi-instrumentalist, composer/arranger Slingbaum‘s unique contribution to Supreme Sonacy (Vol. 1) is more than just a modern look at a timeless piece. His exploration and re-imagination of some of the defining elements of Ravel’s impressionist piece is groundbreaking in that it will undoubtedly inspire a lot of contemporary musicians to go back and take a closer listen to just what the impressionists were doing. The harmonies, melodies and vibe that these composers were exploring a century ago have yet to be seriously studied and assimilated into today’s musical language, and Slingbaum’s incredible showcase of what can be done when inspired by the impressionist idiom will hopefully give contemporary composers/songwriters/musicians a subtle but a much-needed push in that direction.
The fact that the track turned out as great as it did owes just as much to Slingbaum’s creative vision as it does to the genius of Ravel himself. The orchestration of the melody, the small but expansive section that he chose to open up for improvisation, the string arrangements/backgrounds and the musicians he chose to perform on the track together provide a picture of his various talents and of his artistic style. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Slingbaum about his musical influences, impressionism and how his version of “Jeux d’eau” came to be.
Revive: Can you take us to be the beginning of your musical journey?
Slingbaum: My dad is a great musician and he kind of showed me all the early stuff that I know. More than just playing also, he turned me on to a bunch of music that pushed me into the direction that I ended up going into. I started out really interested in a lot of B.B. King, early blues, and jazz. I started out playing classical piano around the same time that I played guitar.
Then when I got to high school I really expanded into jazz. I remember having a car in high school that had a CD player and I had one CD, which was the early Savoy sessions of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. I lived in Miami and it was so hot that the CD melted into my car! I listened to nothing but that CD for two to three years. I didn’t want to tell my parents that the CD got stuck in the car. I can still sing every single note on that record to this day.
I had a classical background but I got really into the Impressionist music. The two big ones for me were Ravel and Debussy. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff out there, but the music of Debussy and Ravel speaks to a more emotional listener while [maintaining] an incredible virtuosity of musicianship and composition.
In terms of my musical experience, I started out the way most people do by starting bands and trying out different genres. I’ve probably played everything to this point. I got into orchestral composing and orchestral arranging pretty hard. I’m doing a bunch of stuff in Miami for that and it’s progressed all the way up to New York. I’m in New York kind of doing the same thing for orchestras and symphonies. I ghostwrite and ghost-compose for a lot musicians. I do a lot for a lot of famous musicians and there’s a lot of stuff I’m not credited for.
It’s been about two and a half to three years since I’ve recorded “Jeaux d’eau,” and it’s finally being released on Revive/Blue Note and it’s just a crazy situation. So here I am. [laughs] Here I am.
R: You mentioned how you were influenced by Impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel. How do you think the Impressionist movement influenced modern art and modern music as a whole?
S: If you listen to Martha Argerich — this is the big one for me — play Ravel, there’s certain passages that sound just like Robert Glasper and it sounds like modern hip-hop and modern jazz. That’s the interesting part to me about all of this, it didn’t have to be changed to be relevant. There were sections of these pieces that were very edited, but there’s sections that I could keep exactly the same. Even though we take the vamp section of “Jeaux d’eau” to a bunch of different places, the actual music from the original piece ends up being one bar of music. There’s parts that are actually verbatim from the Ravel piece.
We did one day at Avatar Studios. I had Vicente Archer and Mark Colenburg lay down the groove and feel and I had strings sitting on stand-by, so I could have them come in between the breaks of Eldar, Casey Benjamin, and Troy Roberts.
This whole project was a big experiment and it’s been two-and-a-half years since I’ve written it and I’ve written 60 more arrangements as well as a ton of original music based on some of the Ravel ideas. The big Ravel mannerism — if you will — that I see is the chordal arpeggiation kind of thing and just a lot of things going up and down. If you look at the music, it actually looks like water. I’ve always found it to be a curious thing about Ravel. The music not only has a water-like sound, it has water characteristics all over it.
R: Did you have Eldar, BigYuki, Vicente, Mark and all the other musicians in mind when you were arranging this song?
S: I really heard Eldar. I needed someone who could play this stuff well, but also give it flavor. It’s kind of a Mingus-type dilemma, where if you use classical musicians then they’ll play the chart too much, but if you use jazz musicians then they won’t play the chart enough. We have a lot of transcendent musicians who can do everything, but Eldar was someone who I was listening to a lot at the time, but I also heard him being able to play an Impressionist vibe as well as being able to rip a completely disgusting section over it. I think that’s kind of what happened.
A lot of the musicians — with the exception of the guys who play with Robert Glasper like Casey, Mark and Vicente — didn’t really play with each other until we recorded that day in Avatar. There was just a lot of spontaneous energy coming into fruition. And the day we recorded was just an insane thing. I couldn’t imagine it sounding like that.
R: It really came together. It sounds great.
S: Yeah, it freaked all of us out when we heard it. It’s one of those rare moments where you hear music like Ravel being played in such a different way.
Words by Paul Naser.