- Hawk (Dorian)
- Dune Grass (Lydian)
- Ocean (Mixolydian)
- Sand (Aeolian)
- Wind (Phrygian)
- Shell (Locrian)
- Sunset (Ionian)
- Low Tide
- Looking Glass (For Tiffany)
- Shore Pine
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Jenny Conlee, the multi-instrumentalist best known for her 23-year tenure as a member of indie icons The Decemberists, is stepping once more to center stage this year with the release of Tides: Pieces for Accordion and Piano. The humble yet deeply emotional album of instrumentals finds Conlee pulling from her vast well of influences and knowledge to work in a more neo-classical mode.
One half of the LP is made up of a suite of accordion pieces written using the seven Greek modes, centuries’ old musical scales that are each named for a specific place in Greece. “The idea of composing using the Greek modes has been in the back of my mind for a long time,” Conlee says. “These modes may have a sad, unsettling, or dissonant sound to modern ears, and I wanted to experiment with them.” Written during a week-long artist’s retreat on the coast of Washington State, Conlee found inspiration within the natural environment she was surrounded by: the ocean, sand, dune grass, wind, and a hawk she spotted hunting along the beach. The finished compositions are like an oil portrait of a seaside scene — multi-colored, richly textured, and able to draw on sense memories buried deep within the mind and body.
Conlee pairs that suite with a series of piano pieces that she has been slowly writing over the past three years. These five instrumentals are built from a foundation of ostinatos, repeated musical phrases heard in the bassline of each track. Though these delicate and sometimes playful works came about organically, when Conlee had finished the writing she realized the debt she owed to Children’s Songs, a 1984 album by the late jazz artist Chick Corea. “I have always loved listening to and playing Children’s Songs,” she says. “I realized how much they influenced my writing and I need to acknowledge it and give credit where it is due.” Conlee also points to the work of another pianist, Bill Evans, for his inspiration on “Shore Pine,” a somber and moving piece written during the recording of Tides that closes the album with “a different feel and had more of a sense of resolve,” she says.
Combined, the two sides of Tides are new angles through which to view Conlee’s dynamic musical mind and unstoppable talent.