Pianist Bill Anschell has established himself as a dynamic bandleader and able accompanist around his native Puget Sound region. But with his new release, Improbable Solutions
, Anschell leaves the acoustic piano behind and digs deep into the possibilities of electronically produced music.
New Cool host Abe Beeson spoke with Anschell recently about his new album, which isn't his first foray into the world of electronic music.
A graduate of Mercer Island High School, Anschell studied analog electronic music as a young student at Oberlin College. His love of progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion in the 1970s was his gateway to jazz. In that way, Improbable Solutions
brings his musical career full circle.
The "electro" page" of his website includes more than 40 entirely electronic songs, including ten for the KNKX radio series Forgotten Prison in 2019. Though Anschell said many of these pieces are examples of "learning as I went."
"My long-term goal was always to combine jazz trio with electronics," Anschell explained.
As a composer, Anschell has always written music on paper rather than while playing piano to avoid "what feels good" to his hands. The creation of electronics-focused music, therefore, isn't that different from his previous compositions.
Indeed, the sound of the acoustic piano is at the heart of Improbable Solutions. However, "that's not a piano!" Anschell exclaimed. Instead, he used the piano sounds from a sample library and then further adjusted those sounds to fit his needs. "I wanted total control of it. I did things to make it sound more like a piano, but it is sampled," he admitted.
Once Anschell's digitally realized songs were complete, he brought in Seattle bassist Chris Symer and Chicago drummer Jose Martinez to complete the project.
Anschell rehearsed twice with the pair using his "fake drums and bass" recordings as a reference, then put his trust in these two talented musicians. "They had total freedom to make it better," Anschell said, "and they did." After the trio recording, percussionist Jeff Busch and guitarist Brian Monroney were added to the mix on a few songs as well.
The post-recording production was an epic journey. For around nine months, Anschell was hunkered over his computer, "mixing, adding sounds, tracking sounds, tweaking sounds... at some point, I had to cut it off. I could have kept going indefinitely." The result of his self-imposed deadline is what listeners hear on the Improbable Solutions album.
Lead single "Ambulator" has was Anschell describes as "a swampy kind of vibe to it, and I'm able to sneak in electronic sounds that don't really belong." The searching piano theme, decorated by futuristic synthetic sounds and Monroney's elastic guitar playing, finds plenty to say over a simple, accessible chord structure.
The angular melody lines of "Is This Thing Even On?" find Martinez in "rock drummer" mode, Anschell laughed. "That's the only tune where I feel like I solo-ed like I would on a jazz tune, but the piano sound is distorted." Imagine Thelonious Monk jumping forward 50 years and meeting Italian progressive rock heroes Goblinon a planet of robots.
"The Following Week" opens with Symer's thoughtful bass as the "piano" melody evokes an icy Scandinavian landscape - a nod to the Swedish modern piano trio E.S.T.'s "Seven Days of Falling" from 2001. "I used the form of that tune, but the rest is me," said Anschell.
Album closer "Outburst" includes special guest drummer KJ Sawka, a ferociously driving blend of progressive rock, percussion, and bass electronica. Anschell enthused of Sawka, "He's a rock star. I'm not sure there's anybody who can do what he does."
Calling the music "Acoustic-Jazz-Trio-Plus-Electronic-Sound-Design," he pointed to the similarity his new music shares with film scores. "Like in a movie," Anschell explained, "I did so much after the fact. I tailored the sounds exactly to the notes that are being played."
Anschell doubts many of his longtime fans would recognize him on Improbable Solutions
. He may be underestimating them. It might not be the type of jazz his listeners are used to, but there's plenty to love on the album's jazzy musical journey.
Anschell hinted that Improbable Solutions
would be his only album in this style. The New Cool holds out hope that a new audience with open ears and a taste for modern jazz evolution will flock to the recording and perhaps inspire a sequel.