Alex Price Presents “Life Story” at The Nash | 14 April 2019
The band practices before the performance.
Today is Alex Price’s presentation of “Life Story” at The Nash in Phoenix, Arizona. Band members include: Alex Price (trumpet and flugelhorn, composition), Chaz Martineau (tenor saxophone), Sam Russo (drums and cymbals), Vincent Thiefain (upright bass), Jude Poorten (guitar and pedals), Benjamin Cortez (piano and vocals), Katelyn Vincent (vocals), and Kaili Otsuka (vocals).
Price has been studying “the link between sound and language, music and narrative.” Through this performance, he asks “what kind of story does music tell? Does music mean anything at all? Should it mean anything?” Price isn’t sure whether or not he’s got the answers to these questions, but he knows “one thing, and that is that music is… communication. Music can be whatever I want it to be, as long as it communicates something. That can be an elaborate story or just a swinging groove, it doesn’t matter. And within that communication, within all the different communications we have on the bandstand and off, between the members of the band and the members of the audience, lies narrative and story.”
The music of “Life Story” is entirely original and programmatic; Price designed it to tell a story. He himself performs in five out of the eight pieces, and he’s being quite secretive about the future of the project; in the coming months, he’ll reveal his plans for the composition as a whole.
“The story I’ve created is something that I hope celebrates those different narratives we have, our different life stories. Whether you want to experience the music and lyrics by themselves, or engage in the narrative I’ve planned and written out, you can choose to do that. As an artist, I’ve learned to let go of my own creative intent, because enforcing that intent on an audience is far less important than I originally thought. All I want to do is provide just enough to spark the imaginations of everyone who listens, so that the real story can be created.”
The show lasts about an hour and ten minutes. The trumpet-led introduction is cinematic, a prelude to a truly evocative performance. While composing “Journey,” Price gave great thought to narrative structure, basing the piece on the archetypal “hero’s journey,” inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After the piece is over, Price introduces his project and explains that he would not go to these places artistically if he wasn’t thinking along the lines of storytelling. All of the music performed today is original, linking narrative and thematic materials throughout the concert.
Up next is “Call to Dream.” Katelyn Vincent is on vocals, with instrumental influence leaning towards the guitar and piano for the interludes of the piece. Price comes in on the trumpet, the slowly rhythmic melody wavering out nicely against the upright bass and drums. The overall effect is truly lovely, Vincent easing back in to sing along the trumpet’s melody. The band leans off to give Cortez a turn on the piano, and as the piece rallies on, the instruments culminate together in what feels like the climax of the story, the main character just about to reach whatever he’s been yearning for the whole movie. Each instrument shimmers out to audience applause.
Rather than planning the songs as individual vignettes, Price’s concert tells one cohesive story. He’s a double major at ASU in both jazz and English literature (it was “interesting to do that,” says Price), which explains his love for these different mediums of story. He wrote the narrative first, the finished piece a short novella that he will present at a later date; today is just about the music. The concert portion of Price’s project features themes that are repeated and transformed throughout the songs, some lyrics calling back to those in other parts much like the intricacies of a well-thought-out novel. The next song he plays is “On the Path Between.” now with all of the band members back on stage with Vincent on vocals once more, the lyrics expositional.
The next song, “Crossing the River,” begins with a slow-building whirl of air, the sound flooding in organic and ominous. Paired with the build-in of the piano, the piece is unlike any of those before it. It is a modern melancholy love scene, the looped melody of the piano laying underneath the rest of the instruments. This piece is dynamic, the shifts in tone almost slurping through the minor scale. At some moments, I am not sure which instrument is making which sound, the underlying harmonies mysterious and rushed before a final four-note sign off from the piano. Price explains that “Crossing the River” was a true experiment for him, the composition taking him out of his comfort zone as a writer of both story and song.
Only two songs remain. Price takes a few moments to give his thank yous to the audience and introduce his band members. While family and friends abound at the venue, Price has invited important members of his jazz community as well, including his trumpet tutor of eight years and myriad faculty members from his school. For the two days preceding the concert, Price and his band members have been able to record the entire work in a studio, a veritable shift from the requisite procedures of undergraduate jazz into the world of professional music-making.
“At the Center of It All” represents another new shift in narrative, a depiction of the dynamically sublime. Price explains that the song (featuring every member of the band, including both vocalists) is meant to represent what it’s like to walk into a hurricane, with a section of music encompassing the inside ring, an ultimately deeper pull of motion centering the entire piece. It’s clear what he means. The rotation of focal instruments over the biting piano, expert drums, and steadying upright bass is complex and intriguing, the ultimate effect of the piece dramatic. The piece reaches an all-instrument climax before slowing down into a piano-led ballad, singers Kaili Otsuka and Katelyn Vincent taking to the mic in turn in the melody of a Disney-esque interlude. Otsuka’s soprano against Vincent’s alto works beautifully, the pair of them lulling alongside Price’s trumpet and the glistening of the drums. Once again, the instruments quiet to give space for the piano to utter its final solo before the piece picks up again; now, we are out of the slow center of the hurricane and back in its outer ring. It’s amazing to watch Price’s talents as a composer, conductor, and trumpeter converge.
The final song of the performance is titular: “Life Story” starts off with Vincent’s voice over the piano, which is by now one of the clear grounding instruments of the whole concert. The lyrics are once again expositional, and they’re followed by the upright bass, drums, and piano acquiescing slowly and methodically. The sax, trumpet, and vocals pick up again, the song mellowed by the constant piano and cymbals. It feels important, the tone reminiscent of a true closing scene of a novel or a movie. The story is almost finished. As the piano leads the piece to its end, the effect amidst the audience is magnetic and palpable, and the crowd rises to a standing ovation for Price and his work. Had you told me that Max Richter had turned to score movies in ensemble jazz, I would have believed you.
Two more songs remain in the overall work that were not performed today, but the whole of the piece feels complete as it was given to us. If “Life Story” is indicative of anything, it’s that Alex Price is going to be a superstar. His mastery of narrative is captivating and replete with promise.
On 28 June of this year, Price will be releasing the entirety of “Life Story” as an album. Watch this space for more information as the release date nears.