On 'The Short Years,' Ed Kornhauser's Jazz Is Of The Moment
A new album of original quartet compositions by San Diego musician Ed Kornhauser dwells in the ephemeral nature of jazz.
The days are long but the years are short. It's a common mantra of parents, attributed to writer Gretchen Rubin. Thirty-three-year-old pianist Ed Kornhauser has been envisioning (and putting off) writing "The Short Years," his debut jazz quartet album for some long years, but once he finally got started with the recording process, the days moved quickly.
Time is the magic, not the enemy of "The Short Years," though, released Nov. 8. "The title refers to: it might be tough right now in the moment and things might seem to be dragging on, but still, things will pass quickly and we need to appreciate what we can in the moment," said Kornhauser of the album. "It’s a series of moments locked in time by a recording."
Kornhauser, who grew up in Escondido and studied music at San Diego State University, is known among the local music scene as a prolific pianist, performing with other groups as well as an accompanist and gig musician.
"The thing that kind of spurred me to finally just knuckle under and do it is I met the saxophone player, Dylan Hermansen, and I really liked his sound. We did a gig where we played some of my songs, and I'm like, 'That's it, that's the other voice I want, that's the extra ingredient,'" said Kornhauser.
Finding a sax player didn't just trigger the act of recording the album, it shaped the project. "I've spent my years in San Diego in large part as an accompanist. And it's made me really appreciate a good ensemble sound," said Kornhauser. "I love a good group, and I wanted that extra voice in there and not have it be all me. I think a good leader can delegate different roles, different people in the band."
Last October, he rounded up Hermansen along with bassist Mackenzie Leighton and drummer Kevin Higuchi (who is also the drummer for punk rocker Jeff Rosenstock) to record the 13-track collection in just two days. "The Short Years" weaves through moods, textures and styles, showcasing Kornhauser's versatile quartet.
Hermansen's saxophone is a strong element throughout the album and shines, but doesn't dominate — just like Kornhauser's piano. On close inspection, each track on the album feels like it brings something new to the jazz table, but the album is ambient enough to hit play and listen through.
The opening tune, "The Shuffler," has a classic, swing-standard feel to it. The track manages to showcase the tight compositions and ensemble unity before an early, skillful piano solo, then an instant switch to Hermansen on sax for a solid solo, plus a few breaks to show off Leighton's bass and Higuchi's drums before settling back into the track's refrain for the final minute. In that way, a blend of solos and orchestrations, the opener sets the tone for the album as a whole.
Kornhauser pulls away from the standards quickly with "Celadon," the second track that's startlingly melodic. It's a lovely tune, with twinkling piano and a romantic-edged sax melody, and Kornhauser said the track was inspired by San Diego pianist Danny Green.
"I was really trying to explore a lot of what I like to call the pretty dissonances, not the darker sounds. But you still have some interesting grinds on the piano," Kornhauser said.
Another standout piece is the moody "Fuyu," which opens with nearly two minutes of piano solo, like a welcome magnifying glass for Kornhauser's style, chops and creativity. Within a few more minutes the tune is solidly in a highly technical, whirling saxophone solo, sharp-edged but maintaining the track's slowed down darkness.
The track "Tumblehome" is driven by what Kornhauser describes as the traditional train beat — in fact, a tumblehome is a term for when the lower part of a train or boat curves inward above the underframe or waterline. It's a fun, wandering track, packed with melody and steady drums, and hues of gospel and Americana.
Finally, to close things out, the rowdy "Modren" shakes things up with massive walls of sound and Higuchi's versatile drumming (and endurance).
Kornhauser said that this album, like all improvisational music, is a snapshot in time, and that at no other time will these tracks sound the same. The music is formed by these four musicians in each 1-7 minute take of each track. Each subsequent time they're performed, the band can grow with the tune and make room to be surprised by it. The concept of time is undeniable in this piece of work and Kornhauser's approach to composition and jazz in general.
"We only have the moment, and jazz is an intensely ephemeral music. It exists in a unique space and a unique time," said Kornhauser.