Geoffrey Keezer releases Live at Birdland, a lush, evocative homage to Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea featuring John Patitucci and Clarence Penn, releasing August 16, 2024

Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer Geoffrey Keezer issues his first live trio record in more than 15 years. Uniting colossal improvisers and masters of fluid foundation John Patitucci and Clarence Penn, Geoffrey Keezer Live at Birdland presents an album-length gesture that reinvigorates the soul of live releases from the heart of New York City. “I’ve always wanted to release a Live at Birdland record,” says the Wisconsin native who came up listening to Art Blakey’s 1954 Blue Note recording A Night at Birdland. Over three nights, the trio performed six sets in the Birdland Theater. “So we had six chances to create something new each time,” he says. 

Committed to the same ethos of joy and defiant creativity as his heroes Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea, Keezer transmits the enormity of their contributions across Live at Birdland, sharing his reverence for the impact they’ve had on his music, his career, and the way he seeks to live day to day. “They are two of my musical heroes and kind of also human heroes,” says Keezer, who had the honor of recording with Chick earlier in his career and subbing in Wayne’s quartet for several dates in 2009. “I loved that both of them were youthful, almost childlike, in how they approached life. Even though they were doing incredible works of art and creating very complex music, they never took themselves too seriously. They always had a great sense of humor.” 

Featuring three compositions from Corea and three from Shorter (four on its digital release), Live at Birdland also spotlights two originals from Keezer. “Both Wayne and Chick really encouraged me to compose,” he says. “They were always asking, ‘Are you writing something?’ and Chick especially would get annoyed if I wasn’t. So I really wanted to honor their wishes by including these two tunes on the record.” 

Opening their set on Corea’s “High Wire – The Aerialist,” the artists commune with their audience and each other. Keezer delivers a brief, lyrical intro out of time before the three dive into conversation. From Shorter’s 1987 Columbia release Phantom Navigator, “Flagships” elicits waves of lushness from the trio, who frame each chamber of the piece with both intention and abandon. “It’s a gorgeous tune,” says Keezer. It’s more or less a concerto for Wayne. And something about the harmonies are almost like a portal to some other space.” A Patitucci favorite, Corea’s “Eternal Child” references Keezer’s perspective on his hero’s whims and naturalness. The former’s arco gesture through colors and motion from Keezer and Penn creates a doleful invocation at the top of the tune. 

In 1993, Keezer composed “Song of the Canopy,” for his then band leader, the late Art Farmer. Featuring bright moments from Keezer and Patitucci and trades with Penn, the tune siphons harmonic inspiration from Donald Brown, another of Keezer’s longtime influences. “It’s something I kind of dug up in my filing cabinet,” he says. Each artist’s responsiveness to one another and the music’s entirety unfurls across “Imp’s Welcome,” expanding outward from the tension and breath of Keezer’s solo intro. He evokes an analog synth in trio context, drawing inspiration from the original multitrack synthesizer fantasia from Corea as well as film soundtracks, including those for A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tron

When first he played “Joy Ryder” with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Keezer received an insider’s perspective on the tune: “He told me the second through fifth notes of the melody say ‘think for yourself.’” The trio bonds controlled intention and unruly propulsion through the tune’s different pathways. On “Dance Cadaverous,” Keezer delivers a beautiful intro, at once grounded and unfettered. The selection spotlights his harmonic exploration and penchant for absorbing open-endedness and returning clear intention. “I wanted to get closer to the harmony, kind of these minor polychords, that Herbie plays on the original recording,” says Keezer. “Dance Cadaverous” also features a thoughtful solo from Patitucci of equal rumination and virtuosity. 

Available on Live at Birdland’s digital release only, “Virgo Rising – Cathay” combines Shorter compositions from High Life and Joy Ryder and serves as a 6-string electric bass feature for Patitucci. The set concludes on Keezer’s F sharp minor blues composition “Madame Grenouille” from his 1997 trio release Turn Up the Quiet. Informed “melodically” by John Coltrane and “vibe-wise” by Duke Ellington, the tune also features a thrilling end-of-set solo from Penn. “It’s just a fun tune to stretch out and end the set with,” says Keezer. 

Geoffrey Keezer Live at Birdland presents three artists who tessellate through the music, signaling commitment and intention at every moment. Together, they encourage melodic ideas to develop, arc and expand into new universes. Sharing stories through syncopation, brilliant colors and changing hues, Keezer and his collaborators pay homage to Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea and the deeply personal artistries they continue to influence generation after generation. 

Geoffrey Keezer Live at Birdland will be released on August 16, 2024.

Tracklisting:
1. Highwire – The Aerialist (8:33)
2. Flagships (7:27)
3. Eternal Child (10:28)
4. Song of the Canopy (11:53)
5. Imp’s Welcome (7:29)
6. Joy Ryder (9:00)
7. Dance Cadaverous (8:42)
8. “Virgo Rising – Cathay”(Digital Only)
9. Madame Grenouille (6:55)

 

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