Written by Sam Mondros
You Are Here, released on November 21st, 2020 is a jazz album composed by recent University of Oregon graduate, Austin Hass. Hass composed each of the seven songs on the album, giving the other musicians (also U of O students) lead sheets for them to improvise and further circulate harmonies. The album features a classic quartet: Hass on drums; recent graduate, Garrett Baxter on stand-up bass; third-year, Andrew Silva on piano; and graduate student, Ardeshir (Ardy) Pourkeramati on the tenor saxophone.
The album is consistent and cohesive while displaying a myriad of different moods. Its peaks are complemented by its lows. In its best moments, You Are Here, is an album that displays four great players being deeply in tune with each other. Hass’s composition is bolstered by the combos chemistry and the players’ experience in improvisation.
The first track opens up with a call and response melody that the band plays with and slowly builds until Pourkeramati’s solo rips through the tension. The track is followed by Listening to You, where Hass’s chops are snuck in but not unnoticed by any means. Baxter’s bass tone in his solo is indicative of his great technique and eventually gives way to Silvas piano playing, rounded off by Hass.
Isolated, a track showcasing Hass’s double-time swing, screams Coltrane Quartet. Andrew’s accompaniment is both supportive and complementary to Pourkeramati’s maximalist solo. The drumming is continuously unique and entertaining on this track and throughout the album in both rhythmic experimentation and texture.
“When you bring wonderful composition and playing in with a bassist like Garrett and a pianist like Andrew it becomes something that isn’t just great to play on but really fun to listen to. It’s unique too, you know? Like this music sounds like Austin. You can hear vague traces of many things but he relatively sounds like himself, which is something that generally comes later in life. His playing on the drums reflects the style and personality of the tune that he composed,” remarks Ardy.
Silva discusses his experience playing in a style similar to that of Mccoy Tyner, the late pianist for the John Coltrane Quartet, a style that insists on both vertical (harmonic) and horizontal (melodic) experimentation.
“The styles and things I was working on at the time actually fit in perfectly with what he was writing on You Are Here. On Isolated where the same chord is being repeated over again for something like 8 measures at a time, even though it’s a faster tune, that’s a decent amount of time to sit on one chord, so it was all very modal. A lot of factors contributed to that sound besides Ardy and I being versed in that style. It’s fast-paced, the harmonies are being held for a long period of time, and even the melody that Austin wrote I could tell was exhibiting a similar vibe to the Coltrane thing.”
On Back Home, Hass composes it as a bossa nova piece that swims gently to the finish line of this album. Baxter’s bass solo is underlined by Silvas absolute in the pocket playing.
Interview with Austin Hass, Andrew Silva, And Ardeshire Pourkeramati:
What inspired this album? Did it come to fruition during covid lockdowns or was it conceived beforehand?
Hass: the album was actually originally a part of my degree. Either a recital or an album would suffice and I thought an album would be really cool. I actually recorded the whole thing the week before the quarantine started. It started as a school project and as we approached recording I decided I wanted to actually make it a fully mixed and streamable album.
How did you pick the players for this project?
Hass: Andrew and Garrett, I knew from my first year. I played with them a bunch. Ardy, Garrett, and I were in one of the UO combos together so the chemistry was already there between us. I played with Andrew in a few side gigs but also in a big band at UO.
Silva: Austin approached me after big band rehearsal asking for tips on harmony for some tunes he was writing. I gave him some tips, “okay well with the melody like this you can use this chord, etc…” giving him a few options. He took some of those ideas and later down the road he said he liked how I approached the shells he gave me and ask me to be on the album.
Professor of jazz studies at U of O, Steve Owen, has a joke about what drummers do during the theory lessons: drool. Clearly, this was not the case with you. How long have you been composing? What was your time at UO SOMD like? Composition and drumming?
Hass: I didn’t start writing until I got to U of O because I had never the experience nor opportunity to do so beforehand. I took composition lessons with Paul Krueger, a jazz studies professor and I also took a jazz piano class for my undergrad that really helped with the composing. The lessons with Paul really broadened my abilities and gave me more tools to work with.
What was it like composing the songs and then having the musicians play over them?
Hass: The album was arranged sort-of open-endedly as far as interpretation and obviously, the solos were all improvised. I wasn’t writing like big long strict arrangements. I notated specific things on the lead sheets like melodies and the like but allowed them to fill in the blanks. I was more like the liaison between the lead sheets and the musicians. As we rehearsed and performed new ideas came. The chemistry of the group allowed for a good stream of ideas to coalesce. We had played a gig together at the Jazz Station downtown too.
What was the recording process like for you?
Pourkeramati: Recording the album was a little bit of a difficult task at times for me. Austin’s music is very rhythmic and not just that but we recorded it just after the Jazz arts combo came back from their band trip. We rehearsed once, played a gig at the jazz station, had our band trip, and then recorded the day we came back. So the band was pretty stressed from all the moving around.
Silva: The live performance that we played was much easier on me than the recording. You know, in a live setting at the Jazz Station I’m at a place I’m comfortable with and we have one take to play this tune. There are several factors contributing to the atmosphere like a crowd, the location, etc…Whereas in the studio we were in room 190 which is a big room and we have these shields up against the piano and drums. And every musician knows being able to step into a recording session and play at the same level as a live performance can be tough.
Austin has since moved to Denver after graduating from U of O. The Denver live music scene has unfortunately been as sparse as the rest of the country, He remarks only having played one gig since the lockdown. He has been playing to big band tracks and hopes to play more as the pandemic settles. He says he has plans for writing a new album starting early this year.
In a time where we are unusually subject to the vicissitudes of the world, Austin Hass has created an album that is as serene as it is galvanizing. It points to the past with a foot confidently stepping into the future. You Are Here is not just an experience to listen to, but shows the importance of drawing inspiration from the self while also reaping the benefits of working with like-minded artists.
You Are Here is available now on all streaming platforms!