Tom Lellis – The Flow

Tom LellisTom Lellis -whose work with guitarist Toninho Horta (on the CD, Tonight) was lauded as “exquisite” by the New York Times, and whose CD, Skylark, with the Metropole Orchestra was “most  requested” at WBGO, NY/NJ- has recently released The Flow. An eclectic thirteen track set, The Flow, on Lellis’ own Beamtide label, features a mix of original compositions, lyrical interpretations of instrumental works by artists such as McCoy Tyner, Orlando Valle and Horta  and Lellis’ vocal renderings of songs by El DeBarge, Carroll Coates, the New Orleans-based pianist and vocalist, Willie Tee, Chick Corea and Oregon’s  Ralph Towner.
The Flow once again pairs Lellis with his frequent collaborator Horta, whose 2008 recording with Lellis,Tonight (Adventure Music), also resulted in this effusive quote, excerpted from a review of the album in Jazz Times magazine. “Indeed, if lustrous pearls on black couture are the height of understated elegance, then Lellis and Horta are, in combination, the Audrey Hepburn of Latin-fused jazz.” The two musicians have worked together for some 20 years, on four of Lellis’ albums.  On The Flow, their co-credited “Waiting the Day” is the lyric version of Horta’s “Waiting for Angela.” “I’ve always thought it beautiful, a profound yet simple melody over sophisticated moving harmony,” says Lellis of the song. “I wrote of love delayed or unrequited, and tried to match the title emotionally.”

Also joining Lellis on this musical adventure are Orlando “Maraca” Valle on flute, Gary Fisher on piano and keyboard, Ed Howard on bass, Jonathan Blake on drums, Kip Reed on electric bass, Ed Uribe and Tommy Campbell on drums and percussion, Café DaSilva and Rogerio Boccato on percussion, William Galison on harmonica and Melba Joyce and Donna Cumberbatch on vocals.  Lellis own multi-faceted musical ability on keyboards, piano, guitar and percussion are also on ample display throughThe Flow.

Perhaps the “bonus” track on The Flow is “Dawn of the New World,” which features Lellis’ lyrics put to the McCoy Tyner song that became the title track of the pianist’s 1973 album. Lellis’ history with Tyner goes back decades, to the 1970s when he wrote only his second lyric to “Man from Tanganyika,” which was later to be featured on his recording debut (And in this Corner, 1981) along with his first effort on “Lucky Southern” by Keith Jarrett. “Those songs, along with ‘Tones for Joan’s Bones’ by Chick Corea, and ‘Ceora’ (Lee Morgan) with Herbie Hancock’s piano intro and solo constitute the four works that made this singer play piano at the age of 24,” says Lellis. He recognizes these instrumental influences on The Flow as “Ceora” is paid tribute to with Tom’s original “Sea Aura,” and with a scatting version of “Tones for Joan’s Bones.”
The lyrics to “Dawn of the New World” were written two decades ago, and the song was actually recorded back in 1996. Lellis’ detour toward Brazilian-flavored jazz, along with delays in obtaining permission resulted in the song remaining on the shelf until now.  “I actually think it might be more pertinent now than when I originally wrote it,” says Lellis. “The lyrics is a strong anthem of peace to match McCoy’s strong musical theme, it’s so appropriate for the present times.”

The 20 year difference in recording dates between “Dawn of the New World” and The Flow‘s 12 other tracks brings in another roster of musicians to the project: Dave Kikoski on piano, Tony Marino on bass, and Jeremy Steig on flute. Drummer Tommy Campbell is the only musician who was present for both recordings.

In the case of “Dance with Me.” “I heard ‘Maraca’ Valle’s song, ‘Maraca’s Cha Cha Cha’ and wrote the lyrics, and later contacted him when he came to the US to play with his band in a cultural exchange with Cuba at the Kennedy Center. He came to New York and stayed with me while we recorded ‘Dance with Me.’ It was a perfect outcome, to sing my lyrics with the composer, whose music inspired me to write them, as it was with Horta. A nice circle of art, inspiring art, inspiring art.”

There is somewhat of a theme of wind and water also coursing through The Flow in the myth that inspired “Icarus” to the album’s title track. “Lyrically, I like flight and wind, water and light, as elements to compare to the natural feeling that music can evoke,” Lellis says.

Lellis chose to cover two love songs that span decades, marking each with his own interpretive stamp.  The ballad “Love Comes and Goes,” written by Carroll Coates, whose other credits include songs that have been sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra (“London By Night”) and Mel Torme (“Sunday in New York”), is here flavored with an Afro-Jazz feel, adding some passion to its romance. “All This Love,” written by El DeBarge, has its R&B edges smoothed by pairing of the vocalist’s smooth baritone and Gary Fisher’s glistening piano.

The Flow‘s diverse collection of songs is rounded out by “Can it Be Done”, by two more original tracks – the reflective, “Notes to Self” and “A Bar Tone,” written for Lellis’ mother (and his first musical influence) – and by the powerful Brazilian jazz combination of Baden Powell’s “Berimbau” with “Pomba Gira,” credited to Sergio Mendez.

Throughout his career, Lellis has never been the sort of singer to aim for style over substance.  He’s managed to be innovative without being ostentatious, embodying the true essence of creativity.  “What stays with me are songs that stand the test of time,” he says. “As a composer, I’m a filter of varied influences, working to create something that passes for me as original.  As a lyricist, I was born 50 years to the day after the great lyricist Yip Harburg (‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘April in Paris,’ ‘Old Devil Moon’). I take that legacy to heart.”

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