CD Quality - 16 bit / 44.1 khz
The art world of New York City in the 1970s was an eclectic scene made up of many inspired individuals and groups who generated energy from their confines within a dense and turbulent urban environment that, at the time, had space for creative vigor. The setting was ripe for artists to settle in lofts and cheap housing while galleries and performance places began to emerge. It was precisely these conditions that made saxophonist Richard Peck’s music and subsequent recording by his band, Roux, possible.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Peck knew that he wanted to be a musician after hearing a drummer on television. It was under the condition that he would practice, and take the instrument seriously, that his mother purchased a clarinet for him. Peck was beginning 9th grade when the family moved to Lafayette and he soon began his foray into live music after having been asked to sub for a tenor saxophonist in a weekend dance band, though he had never played tenor before.
Peck was soon performing regularly around south Louisiana with a number of different groups, mostly playing Top 40 and R&B tunes for locals. He soon came under the sway of R&B tenor players like David “Fathead” Newman and local legend John Hart, who was a member of Little Bob and the Lollipops and later reached wider acclaim with Clifton Chenier. It was around this time that Peck had his first encounter with jazz, hearing at a girlfriend’s house, a recording of Stan Getz playing bossa nova.
While he was in high school, Peck made the acquaintance of saxophonist/flutist Richard Landry. Nearly ten years Peck’s senior, Landry had grown up nearby and had attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). Landry had settled in Lafayette and was teaching music in a small town nearby and playing regularly with local blue-eyed soul group, The Swing Kings.
Landry had a coterie of musicians and artists who used to hang around his home, including his then wife, artist Tina Girouard. Peck began to hang with them regularly, soaking up their views of the world, music and art. It was there that Peck began to hear the advanced jazz styles of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy and started to experiment with freer styles of playing.
In 1969, Landry moved to New York where he quickly became immersed in the developing new music scene, especially around the circle of composer Philip Glass. During this time, Peck continued playing locally and studying with well-known clarinet master Paul Geauchereaux on the campus of USL. It was in 1971 that Landry invited Peck to join him, along with fellow Louisianans Rusty Gilder and Robert Prado, to join the Philip Glass Ensemble. Peck accepted and remained a principle member of Glass’s groups for the next 36 years.
Peck settled into the bohemian New York arts community. He began by finding work as an electrician, carpenter and plumber, with help from Glass, who had moonlighted as a plumber for years. When he wasn’t on tour with Glass, Peck worked cleaning dishes at Carol Gooden and Gordon Matta-Clark’s art project/restaurant, FOOD. Louisiana pal and former Glass associate Robert Prado was the lead chef. Peck also began performing music and presenting his own art at Jeffrey Lew’s now legendary art gallery/performance space 112 Greene Street. There was a collective spirit of experimentation within this coterie of artists, dancers and musicians that was really on the cutting edge. The proximity of all these talented individuals led to collaborations and cross-disciplinary work, expanding the breadth of each other’s work.
Though he had little time outside of Glass’s Ensemble, Peck did find time to write his own music and perform as a leader. His initial forays were backing dancers from Natural History of the American Dancer (a troupe based out of 112 Greene Street), dancer Nancy Lewis Greene (who would later become his wife), solo and in loose groups, like those of Landry, who recorded a couple of free jazz recordings for Glass’s Chatham Square Records.
During the mid-1970s, Peck assembled a new group called Roux. The saxophonist had recently been absorbed in the music of Weather Report, electric Miles Davis, and Wayne Shorter, especially Shorter’s collaboration with Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento. It was with this more electric jazz sound that The Roux was bred.
Roux initially enlisted keyboard player Bobby Blaine, who had been a member of the New York Dolls and moonlighted in other punk and rock bands. Electric bassist David Saltman had already made a name as a great session musician from Boston and brought in drummer Brian Brake. The group played irregularly in New York, including at the Kitchen, where it was booked by actor Eric Bogosian, who was the venue’s curator at the time.
It was while working on Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach that Peck made the acquaintance of clothing designer and arts supporter Christophe de Menil. De Menil came from the wealthy Schlumberger family of Texas, a family famous for its arts patronage. It was de Menil who gave Peck $8000 of Schlumberger stock as a grant to record an album.
By this time, Glass’s musical director, Michael Reisman, had built a recording studio in the basement of 112 Greene Street. The studio would later become an influential space in the development of hip hop, as many Def Jam groups would go on to record there. It was the house engineer, Rod Hui, who would man the booth at Roux’s sessions.
Shortly before Roux went into the studio, Saltman had issues with Blaine’s playing, forcing Peck to let Blaine go. It was Brake who came up with a fantastic alternative, young piano genius Kenny Kirkland. As of early 1979, Kirkland was still a young gun on the New York jazz scene, mainly playing with fusion violinist Michal Urbaniak, but there were already signs that Kirkland would be an important voice in the near future.
The group went into the studio with minimal rehearsal. Kirkland and Peck had only one rehearsal to work out material. So it was a surprise, when the musicians showed up at 112 Greene Street on April 13, 1979, that Kirkland came loaded with his arsenal of synthesizers.
The session of April 13th led to the recording of two pieces: “Full Moon” and “Flag Piece.” The former is a ballad inspired by the classic tunes recorded by Blue Note in the 1950s and 1960s by artists like Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver, moody with plaintive tenor and lush keyboard washes. The bright yet mellow “Flag Piece” is wonderful example of commercial jazz elements fitting together.
The group reassembled for a second session on April 25th where they recorded three other pieces. Inspired by the energizing fall days of New York City, the grooving “Radical Recognitions (October Days)” is wonderfully funky, and features a tremendous Kirkland solo over a tight drum break. Saltman’s incredible bass line leads into the appropriately titled “Funk,” a dancing uptempo stomper. Finally, the episodic “Vehicle #1” is a long suite like piece with some interesting touches from all, including a Jan Hammer-esque synth display from the keyboardist.
When the recording was finished, Peck tried to shop it around to record labels. It didn’t garner much attention, though a label in Nashville expressed interest but were scared off when Peck had a lawyer approach them.
Peck gave Roux up shortly thereafter, as his work with Glass took the lion’s share of his time and creative energy. Thus, the tapes have been silenced until now.
There are many thank’s I want to give but the first is to Bret Sjerven, who without his enthusiasm and technical help this project would remain lost in my attic (and my memory) and finally to the dustbin of history. But with his invaluable help this project will now proceed through the normal route of having a chance to be heard and then on to the dustbin of history! Thanks Bret! I would also like to thank Christophe for her financial support that enabled me to get this stellar group of artists together. Many thanks go to the player’s David Saltman, Brian Brake, and Kenny Kirkland (may he rest in peace). Also, thanks to Roddy Hui, a great engineer. Thanks also to Andy Taub and Lindsey Briones for the help on the release. Last, and by no means least,to my wife Nancy, without whom none of this would have happened. - Richard Peck
released June 30, 2017
Richard Peck - saxophones, composer
Kenny Kirkland - keyboards, electronics
David Saltman - Alembic fretless electric bass
Brian Brake - drums
Rod Hui - engineer
Bret Sjerven - notes
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