Katz launched Giant Step Arts in January 2018 in order to provide some of the music’s most innovative players the artistic and financial opportunity to create bold, adventurous new music free of commercial pressure. For the artists it works with, the nonprofit:
o commissions new work and presents premiere performances.
o records these performances for independent release.
o provides the artists with 800 CDs and digital downloads to sell directly. Artists have total control of their artistic projects and own their own masters. Giant Step Arts does not sell any music.
o provides the artists with promotional photos and videos.
o provides PR support for the artists recordings.
“Jason’s project epitomizes the type of music that Giant Step Arts is seeking to foster,” Katz explains. “It’s extremely creative, it’s emotionally intense, everybody’s solos are extraordinary – it represents the highest level of creativity and musicianship in jazz right now. We’re collaborating with musicians who are making big statements, not just making records. Our goal is to allow these artists the space to prove that they are important voices within the history of jazz.”
Rhyme and Reason provides vivid evidence of the adventurous and original music that can be created when artists are provided such integral support. Palmer assembled a dream band and composed bold new music that allows each of these gifted players ample space and inspiration to explore. “I tried to write music that really captured the spirits of the players in the band that I was able to assemble,” Palmer says. “Each of these guys were my first call musicians for this project and I was really fortunate that they all agreed to join me.”
Palmer had worked extensively with each of the album’s sidemen, though never all together. The trumpeter has been a fixture of Turner’s working band for the last three years, while his association with Brewer dates back to their formative years in saxophonist Greg Osby’s band. His friendship and musical hook-up with Scott has endured for two decades, on the bandstand as well as the basketball court.
Katz has also been a close collaborator, having previously recorded Palmer’s Live at Wally’s series of releases, recorded at the South End jazz institution. “Jimmy came up to Boston four or five times over the span of an entire year, so we already shared a good camaraderie,” Palmer says. “The records I made with him were the two where I really had enough time to make the music I wanted to. I’m really grateful to Jimmy and Dena for providing this opportunity. It’s a really noble gesture and gave me a lot of positive initiative to help uplift this new endeavor.”
Palmer draws on a range of inspirations for his compositions, reframing them through his own singular perspective and transforming them into unexpected forms wholly his own. Many of the compositions are built on the work of other artists: the rhythmic pattern on opener “Herbs in a Glass” taken from a song by August Green, the supergroup combining rapper Common, keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer/producer Karriem Riggins, melded with the chord structure of Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “Dream of the Old” was the leaping-off point for “Waltz for Diana,” while “Mark’s Place” pays homage to bandmate Mark Turner. Other pieces are more directly drawn from Palmer’s personal experience: “Blue Grotto” is named for a stunning locale in Malta that he discovered while touring with saxophonist Osby, while “Kalispel Bay” paints a sonic picture of a wintry landscape in Idaho.
In the coming months, Palmer’s album will be followed by stand-out new releases by Johnathan Blake, one of the most in-demand drummers on the scene today, leading a trio with sax great Chris Potter and bassist Linda May Han Oh; and a surprising departure by swinging tenor master Eric Alexander with Blake and bassist Doug Weiss. These wide-ranging sessions point the way to Giant Step’s future, with another series of concert recordings planned for 2019 and hopes to continue the organization’s work indefinitely with the support of the jazz community.
“I’ve seen the industry from lots of different angles: from the musician’s perspective, from the media perspective, and from the record label perspective,” Katz explains. “In the current political climate, I feel it’s really important to support positive ideas in the arts. As artists, it’s our role to stand for the greatest aspects of American culture. This, after all, is what has always made America great.”