Michael Gallant, a New York-based pianist/keyboardist, composer, producer, writer, and entrepreneur, has unveiled his new brilliant work ‘Above All Else,’ and we get to experience a fantastic performance that takes us through all of the surreal times in a person’s journey. Michael Gallant is a well-known musician whose performances have indeed been praised at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Preservation Hall, and the White House, as well as contributions to Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated recordings.
Above all, Michael Gallant’s new composition contains the spirit of montage images that carry us through all of life’s major events. It has its own sets of ups and downs. The modulations in modes clearly reflect the variations in colours and seasonal transitions. The extensions ensured that we saw precisely what he intended and proceeded at his pace.
The performance contains the necessary dynamics and expressiveness. The artist’s attitude is beautifully portrayed with how he initiates each note. The articulations are perfect. The motions are faultless and very well complemented by the selection of chords in the bass, which kept the listeners in the appropriate mood and in sync with the overall mood of the composition.
Michael Gallant’s mastery of his piano is excellent. With the hitting of each note, he easily transports us and lets us experience the sensations. The composer’s thoughts behind the work will undoubtedly pique the curiosity of discerning listeners. The more conscious we are, the more we appreciate the performance.
Here’s a great exchange with Michael Gallant in which he talks about his music-making process, his ideologies behind the arrangements, and his musical influences.
What was your notion or mood while you were writing the piece?
“Above All Else” is fully improvised from start to finish. I play multiple themes throughout it, but they were all made up on the spot. I recorded the song during a session where we were tracking all day with the Michael Gallant Trio. My bassist and drummer were taking a break partway through and I decided to explore for a few minutes on solo piano, just to blow off some steam and see what happened.
It’s interesting that, in contrast to a lot of the intense Trio pieces we were tracking, this piece came out relaxed and contemplative, but still channeled a lot of the high energy of the session.
As I listened to your piece ‘Above All Else,’ it took me through montage pictures of key occasions in my life. What do you believe caused me to hold that view? Was the pacing of the music important in determining how a listener should feel?
That’s a wonderful reaction. It means a lot to hear that the music could conjure such images for you. “Above All Else” did come together in an episodic way – different themes and vibes that melt into each other – and it certainly has a strong sense of nostalgia, so I’m happy that it took you into a slideshow of memories.
Regardless of what and how I play, I always try to pour raw emotion into my improvisations – and even though those feelings don’t necessarily translate to the listener in a literal way, it’s great when the music is vivid enough to spark something in people who hear it. And as far as pacing, I think the energy and vitality behind a piece of music is far more important when it comes to moving a listener than how fast, slow, dense, or loose the track may be.
Was it a spontaneous performance, or has there been preparation or an intention to compose the piece in a certain way? Was there a lot of editing, deleting, and rewriting?
The performance was spontaneous and was a live take, top to bottom. We mixed and mastered it, but there was no editing, rewriting, or studio surgery going on with this track. My wife and production partner Rachel Rossos picked “Above All Else” out from all the material we’d recorded because she felt that it had unique energy and movement, and I agreed that it was something special.
What do you believe was the source of the concept that eventually became ‘Above All Else’?
I think it was the sum of the energy, joys, challenges, excitement, and difficulties of the day up to that point -and probably the week and month before it, too. I gave myself permission to float, explore, and let whatever was inside me come out, in whatever musical form it needed to.
I’d like to understand further about modulations in scales and modes. Was the improvisation part of a premeditated narrative, or did it happen by itself?
I’d actually say neither – there was nothing pre-meditated about it, but it didn’t just magically appear either. I see improvisation as a language, like English or any other. You build your fluency and toolkit, which in this case, includes familiarity with scales, modes, chord structures, rhythmic figures, meters, moods, whatever. Then, in the moment you’re improvising, the idea is to focus on the emotion and immediate experience of playing, and see what comes out. It can be scary to take a leap of faith like that, but it’s also exciting and cathartic, and can lead to some uniquely beautiful music.
Could you tell us a little bit about your musical influences? Is there a particular artist or piece of music that inspired you to compose a tune like ‘Above All Else’?
My influences are all over the place. I love the work of jazz icons like McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson – the list could go on – but also Pearl Jam, Garbage, Leonard Bernstein, Maria Schneider, Medeski Martin and Wood, Phish.
I wasn’t actively inspired by any particular artists or compositions when I was recording this song, but when I listen back to it, I do hear myself trying to channel folks like Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, who were both so joyous and amazingly fluent at the piano. I also hear Debussy. His solo piano composition “The Sunken Cathedral” was a big influence on me, and I can feel some of that piece’s grandeur and nostalgia in “Above All Else.”
Listen to Michael Gallant’s Above All Else on Spotify!