Making music for me has always been part of my healing process. Music has provided a place in this world for me to express myself in ways that words could not help me articulate. The journey to being the best person I can possibly be has always had this musical component. It has opened up countless opportunities for me to explore cultures and learn from many people around the world. Through music, I have made relationships that have been life changing in positive ways and have been documented by many recordings.
Life Lessons is a testament to these lessons and is a culmination of three years of developing a sound and concept with Dan and Diego through our weekly performances at The Harlem Sessions. We wanted to document our time together and the sound we had developed together by recording and releasing this collection of compositions. We recorded in January 2020, only weeks before life as we knew it changed, as we moved into a Pandemic and lockdown, making this document and it’s title even more relevant to me. The timeliness of this album and when we recorded becomes more profound, especially as we are nearing 1 year of not being able to play each week together, at the same time as taking on board how many people from our community who have departed from this earth because of the pandemic. It also really magnifies the love and joy that the 3 of us have for each other.
The songs that have come together on this album serve to describe how we feel about life, the lessons we have gained, and the types of emotions and situations we navigate through as we remain on our journey. It’s a road map of the different textures and complexities of living the life that we face.
The genesis of the album is the composition “It’s Not a Good Day to Die”, a composition which has been with me for a significant portion of my life. It is about cherishing life and respecting yourself, and it was originally conceived as a dedication to the great Amadou Diallo. Gina Breedlove and I were working together in my band and also performing together with Seckou Sundiata. On the first anniversary of 9/11 we performed this song with Seckou Sundiata at Brooklyn Academy of Music, as a celebration for the firefighters and other first responders who lost their lives on that tragic day.
There is evolution in any creative process, and different aspects of this composition have existed in different shapes and forms in my musical past. In recent years, like many, we experienced the loss of many loved ones; my friends Roy Hargrove, Ron Sutton, Wallace Roney and Joe Nix; my wife’s father and others, and this song has continued to bring comfort and hope throughout these tragic occasions.
I often give a preview of a conscious thought to come on every album. I have always found the live environment a potent place to manifest these ideas, especially with a working band. The song has become fused into various parts of my live sets and psyche, but has never fully formed into a recording until now.
This presentation of the song without the lyrics embodies the essence of what the lyric speaks about, and how they inspire the creative process. Completing it here has made me finally be able to express it in its fullest form.
This song is what led us to bring the rest of the songs in. It made sense to include other equally emotive compositions that had made a personal impact on me, and that said something about life and how we navigate through it.
And It's Supposed to be Love (a song about domestic violence) fitted perfectly in the same emotional space as “ It’s Not a Good Day to Die,” and I have always been inspired by the power of Abbey's lyrics in my interpretations.
I can also say something similar about Learning how to listen.
Outside of the musical directive that the song is suggesting, learning how to listen to the lessons in life has become a theme for me.
Around the time of my daughters birth, this song also came into the world. I was recording with Abbey at the time for her album "Wholly Earth." Since then, it is intrinsically imprinted in my soul as a mantra for navigating all the textures and components of life.
Another song that lived with me virtually my entire career is Trust. Roy Hargrove wrote this song at my house. At the time, we were working on pre-production for RH Factor. The lyric of the song is a prayer to God -Roy's personal mantra, and the first time I heard it come to life , I felt the weight and gravitas of the thoughts of a person who was not known to be verbally outspoken. Roy and I had an ability to activate each other's deepest musical emotions, which bore out in the way we could write for each other and perform each other's music.
One of the best ways I could celebrate the life of Roy Hargrove and our friendship was to take this song which I have performed for many years in my live sets, and create a recording that could even begin to express the love I feel for Roy, and the weight of the loss when he passed. I wanted to record the song as a solo piece, as it was so personal to me, but Dan and Diego were equally as motivated as I was to also commit their love and respect for Roy and everything he contributed to their lives that we also created the trio version featured here.
Trust was a staple at The Harlem Sessions, and Roy graced the session with his presence on several occasions. I will forever cherish those nights.
I wrote Dreamlike when I was 17. It was one the first compositions that I ever wrote. It came from a visceral dream in which I was performing this song in concert with a band of kindred souls. It was an incendiary performance. I woke up, and remembered the entirety of the song. This song symbolises for me how real music is, how it can be borne within a dream that is a conduit to its own manifestation. In life, this can be anything and we have to acknowledge that power.
It's Tricky is an observation of life. The song structure also reflects this - it’s a 14 bar form with 7 bar phrases, mimicking the complexities of life.
God is love is as stated, and is always the thing that cools me out- period. It is a personal state of being.
I also included compositions from the band members. Dan and I have always shared different rituals when it comes to getting acquainted with a new instrument. He brought a progression he’d use when getting to know his instruments, which instantly brought a feeling of balance, both musically for me and also representing the journey Dan and I have been together on, over the years. This balance is represented by what was borne when he brought it to the recording session that day. The track is Equilibrium.
Diego brings Incantation, a hypnotic track inspired by “The Teachings of Don Juan” by Carlos Castaneda. His use of repetition to evoke this state of being is masterful, and his composition highlights to me that quality that comes out when we play together on stage.
Phase 2 is an acknowledgment of the impact that the incredible art form of North Indian classical music has had on me, and is borne out of the raga Chundracones, a 5 note raga. For me, this concept symbolizes those turning points in life, when lessons have been received with grace to perpetuate forward movement and vision. The 5 note altered pentatonic symbolizes the limitations of life and through those limitations, how to maximize yourself. In Western music we can use all 12 notes, and sometimes never achieve that state of being.
Our lives are a perpetual state of learning, and we have to access the key to those lessons to grow and thrive. I think it's important for the human race to practise the arts - just like Abbey told me "that's what separates us from the other animals.”
How I have received my life lessons continues to live within me and my music. I'll keep sharing as I learn.
released September 14, 2021
Recorded at Eastside Sounds, NYC, January 2020.
Recorded by Lou Holtzman.
Mixed by Lou Holtzman and Marc Cary.
Mastered by Marc Cary
Produced by Marc Cary
Co-Produced by Tinku Bhattacharyya
Executive Producer - Tinku Bhattacharyya
Mastered by Marc Cary
CD Design- Rebecca Meek
Personnel : Marc Cary, Diego Joaquin Ramirez, Dan Chmielinski
Marc Cary plays - Piano; Fender Rhodes; Dave Smith Prophet 12; Dave Smith Mopho; Octatrak; Genome Sequencer(IoS); Lemur Mapping (IOs); UAD processing
Diego Joaquin Ramirez plays Canopus Neo Vintage drums, Vic Firth sticks, Remo heads, Zildjan Cymbals. Endorsed by Canopus
Dan Chmielinski plays a 1920s Juzek Master Art Acoustic Bass; Fender American Deluxe Precision Bass, 60th Anniversary Edition; Moog Grandmother. Endorsed by Pirastro Eudoxa Strings
Tracks 1 and 6 written by Abbey Lincoln (BMI). Published by Moseka Music (BMI)
Tracks 2,3,7,9,10,11,12 written by Marc A Cary (BMI). Published by Caryout Productions (BMI)
Track 4 written by Daniel Thomas Chmielinski (BMI). Published by Chimy Publishing (BMI)
Track 5 written by Roy A Hargrove (BMI). Published by Roy Hargrove Music (BMI)
Track 8 written by Diego Joaquin Ramirez (copyright control)