Music for Music: Julian Loida
Julian Loida: Percussion & Connection
By Dan Ursini ©2023
Percussionist-composer Julian Loida has a new album, Giverny, that is a rarity – thoroughly inventive music that is immediately appealing.
Usually, music so fresh takes some getting used to. But not so here. There is a fundamental difference in Loida’s approach that truly reverberates throughout the album. The vibraphone has been Loida’s primary instrument for years, but the music on Giverny is built around the piano. Loida points out that “the piano really is a percussion instrument that can play such incredible melodies, chords, textures and sounds.” He asserts, “I play piano like a percussionist, and play percussion like a pianist.” An excellent example of his approach to piano is “Collide,” a brilliant enactment of the energies of pursuit.
Virtually all of Giverny’s eleven compositions are rich in similar reversals and inversions. An underlying consideration of Loida’s musical thinking is the illuminating impact of synesthesia. As you may know, it is usually explained as experiencing one sense through another. For example, a particular sound can be experienced as a particular color. For years synesthesia has played a role in Loida’s life; he places himself at “the soft end of the synesthetic spectrum.” He discusses it in the podcast Crushing Classical with Jennet Inge.
Loida explains “We don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains.” An implication is that synesthesia can mean an expansive appreciation of interconnectivity, so much so that he can assert that “music is a visual art.” This perspective directly impacts the blending of genres and styles in his compositions: “I’ve always loved global, classical, jazz, and all music … It’s never been a choice to bring the worlds together. It’s just my instinct and voice to do that.”
The songs are intuitively structured according to the mood or state of mind they are meant to convey. With poetic clarity, Loida explains, “Writing music for me is often more about receiving than crafting, it’s more about uncovering than building. I remember studying the way Stravinsky wrote Petrushka, which was in these sections that didn’t progress into each other so much as they just happened … like a film changing scenes . . .” That holds true for most of the compositions on Giverny, particularly “Waves” and “Sphere.” Their sections can be seen as a series of restatements with such deft shifts in rhythm and texture that a complete emotional statement is made.
The arrangements of many of the songs display a striking sense of proportion. For example, the arrangement of “December Dreams” goes through many changes as the song proceeds. Yet it does not call attention to itself. It aligns with a deeper truth within the music.
The title of the album references the French village of Giverny, which was, of course, the home of painter Claude Monet, the founder of Impressionism. The title track has ambling rhythms, and its melody evokes an expansive, footloose hike.
Please note: This video showcases the dancer Sam McReynolds in a lovely woodsy setting that evokes Giverny.
Though most of the songs run five or six minutes, two run just a minute or two: “Ambrosia” and “Look Up” are like soundtracks to evanescent haiku moments.
And the three-minute “Beautiful Way” is a breezy, winning display of lush jazz harmonies and a flawless arrangement.
Closing note: A couple weeks ago I saw Loida live at Chicago’s Fulton Street Collective, where he performed many of the songs from the album. Loida imbued the innate vitality of his compositions with the early-summer energies of the evening. His piano and voice were very strong. Halfway through, he switched to the vibraphone, and suddenly everything soared as Loida played through a number of songs, both old and new, in a blur of speed and faultless execution. I cannot think of a better introduction to his affirming and fresh and compelling music.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983). His play, Sandbar Flatland, directed by John Malkovich, was produced in 1978 during the dawn of the legendary Off-Loop Theater scene in Chicago. In 1990 Chicago Magazine selected it as one of the ten best shows of the preceding 25 years. Beyond this, Ursini worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at such Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org