Keyboardist Erik Deutsch makes American music, pure and simple. Over the last two decades plus, he’s earned a stellar reputation as a bandleader and collaborator, working with artists like Steven Bernstein, Theo Bleckmann, Rosanne Cash, Nels Cline, Charlie Hunter, Shooter Jennings, Norah Jones, Leftover Salmon, Shelby Lynne, and many, many more. At the same time, he’s made five albums under his own name full of willfully uncategorizable compositions that combine jazz, funk, country and rock into a swirling, raucous blend that jumps, struts, croons and shouts. His sixth album as a leader, Falling Flowers, will be released September 14 on LoHi Records and Glide is proud to premiere below.
“The more I’m deliberate in my compositional style, the harder it is,” Deutsch says. “I really just try to write stuff that I hope is good and makes sense musically…then to follow it through how it needs to be followed through and not focus so much on what it is, but just try to make a good song.”
The album kicks off with “Jump Change”, a shuffling New Orleans groove jam with a churning bass intro and a fierce, growling trombone solo from Brian Drye. “For my kind of tunes, it’s more straight-ahead and simple,” Deutsch says. “There’s something about that intro and that bass—and by the way, Jesse Murphy came up with that intro right there in the studio. I usually don’t have that much of an idea about [running] order, but once I sat with the songs, it was pretty clear that was a good way to start.”
The title track was co-written with his wife, singer Victoria Reed. “It’s one of those musical marriages that I’d heard about, where we’re always talking about music,” he says of their relationship. “We’re kind of messing around with ideas all the time at the house. If I’m watching a ball game on the couch, she might be playing the Steinway, which is about one inch from the couch, or I might come home from a gig at one or two in the morning and find her strumming a guitar and writing a new song. With ‘Falling Flowers,’ I had this gospel kind of melody, and Victoria said, ‘I have a lyric I’ve been working on that could fit this.’” Built on a foundation of piano, organ, banjo and slide guitar, it has the feel of a lost ’70s country-rock classic.
The band on Falling Flowers is a mixture of longtime acquaintances and kindred spirits, and Deutsch has nothing but praise for every one of them. He calls Mike McGinnis (saxophone and clarinet) “a great positive energy—he’s always excited to play my music.” Of trombonist Brian Drye, he says, “This is the first record I’ve had a trombone on, and when I felt like this was what I wanted…[I got a] supremely talented, supremely positive, supremely energetic and professional musician. Another guy I love having around.” Avi Bortnick is simply “the best rhythm guitar player on the planet, like Nile Rodgers and Prince level, and obviously a great soloist and sonic contributor as well.” Bassist Jesse Murphy is “insanely talented, next level, one of those musicians who’s every bassist’s favorite bassist, and equally good on electric and acoustic on bass.” Of drummer Tony Mason, he says, “There’s no drummer with a better beat. Something about Tony feels as good as it can possibly feel. He’s just my guy, and we’ve been making music together for nearly 10 years.”
In addition to these core players, two special guests appear. Scott Metzger plays lead guitar on “Falling Flowers” and “Big Bongos”; Deutsch calls him “a great, great soloist, just a crack studio cat. I’m not one of those guys who just changes up the band when I’m making a record, but I wanted to have him play a little bit. I always have him play the slide, and he laughs because no one ever asks him for it.” Andy Thorn, Deutsch’s band-mate in Leftover Salmon, contributes banjo to “Ghostfeather” and “Falling Flowers.” Deutsch says, “He happened to be in town the night I was doing the session with Scott, so I just had him play on the record—it’s fortunate that he was there—he’s the best.”
Falling Flowers was recorded at Trout Recording in Brooklyn, with engineers Bryce Goggin and Adam Sachs. “I wanted a studio with an analog board, I wanted great drum tones, and the price mattered,” Deutsch says. “I needed a place with a good enough piano, not the best piano, but a good enough piano…Bryce is a recording genius, he’s made a lot of cool records there in a lot of different genres. He’s fast, his gear works, his drum sounds are amazing, there’s a lot of bleed so it’s got that vibe—I wanted to make the record feel like when we play live, and have that energy, and I think we accomplished that.”
Deutsch has earned the title as a true virtuoso with his ability to flawlessly land into unchartered territories. Like The Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau and Jason Moran, Deutsch combines haunting and healing grooves alogn with tenaciousi songwriting chops that keep listeners discovering more upon each listen. Glide also had the chance to talk with this composer about his new album Falling Flowers...
FUll FALLING FLOWERS ALBUM PREMIERE
What can you tell us about this group of songs in terms of your growth as a songwriter and performer?
We’ve been working this repertoire into shape for a couple of years now, so it’s extremely fulfilling when it officially comes to life. I’m very proud of this group of songs, and I think they do represent a nice growth for me as a composer. I don’t think that I’ve necessarily broken totally new ground compositionally, but each of the songs exists in an intentional style and mood that I’m currently digging on musically. I’m getting better at writing songs that are playable with a little less rehearsal—in other words, I think they’re a bit more malleable and open-ended than some of my older songs, which I like. I also think II succeeded in creating some memorable musical moments, which is really what I set out to do. I enjoy playing them live and I enjoyed recording them; I think that the band shares my sentiments, and it seems like our audiences do as well… so that’s all I can ask for as a songwriter and performer.
Would you describe this as your most realized and diverse effort yet?
This is my sixth record as a leader (following about six previous records of which I would call myself at least a co-leader), so I always just set out to make a record that has solid, thoughtful songs, an intriguing sonic palette, a talented ensemble, and hopefully some unpredictable twists and turns. It seems like I get a little better at it each time around (and I hope the listeners feel the same). I think this is the best band I’ve ever had, and I feel lucky to be surrounded by such talented, positive, and genuinely caring people.
What do songs on the LP you feel are most representative of where you have come as a solo artist?
That’s a tough question…. I feel like each of the songs represent one part of my musical identity, and I’m not sure which ones are the best representation of that… but I do think that the title track “Falling Flowers” (which is an original collaboration with my wife, Victoria Reed) does venture into new territory for my solo career. I’ve messed around with all kinds of pop and rock and R&B in my music, but this song seems to stand out as the first of it’s kind in my catalog, and we’re both really happy with how it turned out.
What did Bryce Goggin help get out of your music while in the studio and was this your first time working with an analog board?
Bryce is just an amazing engineer who I’ve had the opportunity to work with for over a decade now (including records with Charlie Hunter, Todd Sickafoose, Erin McKeown, Allison Miller, and So Brown). He is such a musical guy, and his studio reflects that (as do the talented assistants that have worked with him over the years). He just allowed us to play our songs like we do live and helped us to sound the best we ever have in the process. I’ve actually had the pleasure of recording on many other analog boards in the past, but all my work with Bryce stands out as some of the best experiences in my career.
Jeff Hill also brought so much musical magic to his mixes of the songs, and Kevin Blackler did a fantastic job mastering. Jeff was the bass player in my band for many years, so he really understands my music and knows exactly how to bring the most out of the arrangements. I’m just so lucky to work with talented people who really care about their jobs and connect with what I do musically.
What are some of your favorite analog sounds or records?
Hmmm… I’ve had a love affair with analog synthesizers since I was a kid and I’ve fortunately gotten the chance to own or play a lot of different ones. I got my first Moog in 1995 from the Washington Post classified section and I bought my echoplex in 1997 in Cincinnati, OH from Mike’s Music. I still use both to this day, and you can hear a lot of that echoplex on this album (on ghost feather, little bell, and Mels drive in especially). Pretty much every record made prior to 1987 featured extensive analog sounds, but some all-time favs in the keyboard world would have to be Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, Terry Riley’s Shri Camel, and David Bowie’s Low.
You’ve worked with a number of big names in the music industry- who have you enjoyed working with the most and hope to join up with again?
I have been very fortunate to work with a wide array of talented and successful artists, and I honestly would pretty much love to work with any of them again. Shooter Jennings is someone with whom I have a special musical connection which I think that we’ll continue to explore for a long time.
What artists have taught you the most from the present (your collaborators) and from your past (artists you have listened to and are influences)
Oh man, I think I’ve learned things from everybody. The ones I’ve spent the most time with are Art Lande, Ron Miles, Charlie Hunter, and Shooter, so I’d have to say that these fine folks have probably taught me the most just based on the amount of time we’ve spent hanging and performing. As far as my other influences, my path started with the Beatles and Buddy Holly, continued on to Run DMC, the Beasties, and Madonna, swung over to Willie and Dolly, traveled past Bon Jovi and Poison to Led Zeppelin and The Who, hung around the Allmans and the Dead, and then exploded into everything in the world of jazz, R&B, experimental, pop, indie, country, and beyond. So that’s the best way for me to explain my influences, and believe me it’s been a weird, wild ride.
You performed this road on the summer with JRAD and Leftover Salmon – some pretty nice gigs for sure- what were some of the highlights for you from those shows and from other shows in the recent past?
It was a great summer… I’ve been a full-time member of Salmon for about two and a half years now, so we’re just having a blast and becoming a better band all the time. We released a new album in May, sold out Red Rocks, and headlined Telluride Bluegrass Festival, so those were absolute highlights. Joe Russo and I go all the way back to our first successful band, Fat Mama, so it was a really nice thing for him to ask me to come out for a weekend with JRAD. They are just so crazy successful right now—it was amazing to get out there and feel the energy of what they do and how much the crowd appreciates it! We did three shows—the highlight was probably when Chris Robinson joined us onstage at the Ride Fest in Telluride—but the entire weekend was a blast.
Can you share with our readers your most memorable gig to date as a solo artist and why?
Ok, that’s another tough one! I think the most memorable show I’ve had playing my original music was probably my first gig in Spain as a leader—at the Granollers Jazz Festival in Catalunya just outside Barcelona around 2011. It was the debut of my band overseas, and it was an exciting, successful night; I remember being really proud thinking that dream was a reality.
There aren’t enough pure keyboard players like yourself with a jazz pedigree with the versatility to crawl into country, rock and funk seamlessly. What are you some of your favorite bands from your past that helped carved your musical DNA?
Well, I think I answered some of that in earlier on, but those bands I named could be considered my early influences. Here’s some that come next in the lineage: John Coltrane Quartet, Miles Davis, Bill Evans Trio, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Keith Jarrett Quartet, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, Bjork, the Stones, Waylon Jennings, The Band, Art Pepper, Horace Sliver, Betty Carter, David Bowie, Beck, and Burt Bacharach.
As a lifelong student of the keyboards, I’m sure you are continually getting your hands on new instruments. What your go-to keys and what do you hope to add to your army of keys?
Well, these days I’ve been playing a lot of wurli, Casiotone, my Yamaha YC organ, a clav, and a sequential 6-trak along with my new mellotron. There’s always love for my Moog source, my Arp Omni, and my Juno 60. And I have to give a shout-out to my trusty Nord Electro 2. I’ve got my eyes on the new Moog Grandmother—maybe Santa’s listening…
Erik Deutsch Tour Dates
Sept 19-20 – New York, NY @ Bar Lunatico
Oct 17-18 – Guadalajara, MX @ Primer Piso
Oct 19-20 – Mexico City, MX @ Zinco Jazz
Nov 01 – Denver, CO @ Nocturne
Nov 02 – Boulder, CO @ Caffe Sole
Nov 29 – Los Angeles, CA @ Apotheke
Nov 30 – Oakland, CA @ Piedmont Piano Co.