One of the new breed in this post-Kurt Rosenwinkel/Brad Mehldau age, Tucson native Tim Rachbach takes his cues from such kindred spirits on the scene as Aaron Parks, Ben Van Gelder and the Brian Blade Fellowship on Under One Moon, his ambitious debut as a leader (Rachbach Records, July 27, 2018 release).
A May 2017 graduate from the Manhattan School of Music, the 23-year-old drummer-composer has recently relocated to Los Angeles after five years in the Big Apple. With the release of Under One Moon, Rachbach is now poised to make his impression on the West Coast and the international jazz scene at large.
Many of the tunes on his debut, explains the budding composer, began as assignments in pianist Gary Dial’s class at the Manhattan School of Music. “They’re based on some kind of particular harmonic devices that we talked about in class,” says Rachbach. “One piece incorporates a Neapolitan sixth chord, another one was an assignment on chord inversions. But beyond that, I wanted to write music that meant something to me, so I spent some time with it and hopefully came up with something good.”
With his former MSM combo bandmate Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Seattle native Xavier Del Castillo on tenor sax, Weinheim native Manuel Schmiedel on piano and Montreal native Rick Rosato on bass, Rachbach demonstrates a rhythmically assured touch and a refined harmonic sensibility on his seven compelling originals while also turning in a faithful, swinging cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Toy Tune” (from his 1965 Blue Note recording Etcetera, a Rachbach favorite).
Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Rachbach was a classical guitar student before switching to drums. “I took guitar lessons for three years and then I just wanted to play rock — Led Zeppelin, The Who, R.E.M. and stuff like that. So then I took electric guitar lessons for a year, and right around that time I got interested in the drums. And the drums kind of took over.”
Jazz came into the picture through the influence of his older piano playing brother Ben, who was enrolled at the highly regarded Tucson Jazz Institute. “I remember listening to jazz records with him right before I entered middle school,” he recalls. “He turned me on to the classic stuff like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. At the time, I liked it and knew that there was a lot there that I needed to really dig into, but actually the first people that I heard and really connected with were Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel. They really inspired me because they were taking kind of the rock approach, where it’s more about the song and the composition. And I was really drawn to that, I guess, because of my own rock roots with R.E.M. and Led Zeppelin. And I also remember listening to and being inspired by Aaron Parks’ Invisible Cinema when it came out (in 2008).”
Shortly thereafter, Rachbach enrolled at the Tucson Jazz Institute, under the direction of Brice Winston, Scott Black, and Doug Tidaback. The big band would go on to win the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition in 2010 and 2012 as well as the Monterey Jazz Festival Next Gen Competition. His combo also won the Downbeat Award for outstanding high school honors small jazz ensemble. In 2011, Rachbach had the opportunity to tour Europe and perform in prestigious jazz festivals in Italy, France and Spain with the TJI ensemble. In 2013, he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with drummer John Riley. From 2014-2016, he played in the MSM Indian ensemble under tabla virtuoso Samir Chatterjee, from whom he also took private lessons. He also studied privately with drummer Kendrick Scott. Additionally, as the drummer for the New York Youth Symphony (NYYS) Jazz Band from 2014-2016, Rachbach had the opportunity to perform with acclaimed guest artists such as Lew Tabakin, Luis Bonilla, Jane Monheit and Robin Eubanks at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. In March 2016, he toured and performed with NYYS in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which piqued his interest in Brazilian percussion and prompted him to join the Brazilian combo at MSM under the direction of Rogerio Boccato.
Under One Moon, which comes one year after earning a Bachelor of Music in Jazz from MSM, is Rachbach’s first fully-realized statement as player-composer-bandleader. As he relocates now from East Coast to West Coast, this stellar release becomes an impressive calling card for this talent deserving of wider recognition.
On the thoughtful opener, “Ancient Thread,” saxophonist Del Castillo delivers a bold tenor solo while Rachbach colors the groove, offering rapid fills beneath Schmiedel’s cascading piano comping. “That’s actually the oldest song on the record,” he explains. “I wrote that in my sophmore year at MSM. I started with the harmony on that one. It’s just a bunch of chord changes that I liked and blended together. It used to be called ‘Unsure’ because it has this unsettled quality to it while also being meditative.”
“The Feels” opens as a vehicle for some bright melodic playing from acclaimed trumpeter O’Farrill. “I haven’t played with anyone who has his kind of range and is able to just execute ideas on the full range of his horn,” says Rachbach of his gifted trumpeter, the son of Grammy award-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill and classical pianist Alison Deane and the grandson of the legendary Afro-Cuban jazz composer Chico O’Farrill. Bassist Rosato turns in a potent solo and Rachbach is highlighted on a polyrhythmic flurry around the kit midway through this anthemic number. “That song has a very specific inspiration,” he explains. “It’s this song called ‘REL’ by Peter Schlamb, the vibraphonist in Ben Van Gelder’s group. It appeared on their album Reprise. I think more younger guys today are writing in that kind of anthemic vein — short pieces that have very strong statements. I was drawn to that and particularly drummer Craig Weinrib’s beat on that song, which was very inspiring to me. It ended up being a meditative drum feature with the sound of Juno washing over everything.”
“Living Noire” is a dark minor key number that features beautiful harmonies on the front line. Says Rachbach, “There’s a ballad-y, love kind of feeling to this song but it also has this kind of almost LA film noir quality to it where it’s black and white and it’s raining and people are in wide brimmed hats like detectives. It also has a meditative quality to it in the harmonic riff that starts off the song. You could almost say it’s the lone ballad on the album, but it does kind of ramp up in energy and goes some different places. It really focuses more on the mood but at the same time it gives you that feeling of a trip.”
Rachbach says his contemplative title track was directly inspired by the Brian Blade Fellowship Band, a band he regards as one of the most inspiring on the scene today. “I remember very clearly playing the chords at the coda section and feeling that it definitely had a kind of Perceptual vibe to it. And I knew that I wanted Adam to solo over those chords and have them be very strong. The rest of it kind of wrote itself. The melody is something that came to me and I just started singing.”
The atmospheric, slow-grooving “Juno” takes its name from the Juno-60 synthesizer, which Schmiedel uses to create intriguing layers alongside his piano. This simple, hypnotic vamp serves as a solid blowing vehicle for both Del Castillo and O’Farrill. “I kind of let Adam and Xavier just freely improvise on this tune,” says Rachbach, “and I’m delighted with what they came up with. I wrote that very quickly. I had a Juno-60 synth for about a week and was toying around with some sounds. And I remember hanging with Kurt Rosenwinkel at Small’s and being inspired to write that song the next day.”
The energized “Fragile Past,” a driving number fueled by Rosato’s insistent bass groove and Rachbach’s percolating undercurrent, features some tight Jazz Messengers-styled harmony lines on the head. Del Castillo delivers a potent tenor solo here while Rachbach unleashes on the kit near the end of this exhilarating romp. “That one used to be called ‘Runners,’” explains the composer. “It was inspired by this video game, a first-person Parkour game which has images of people running on rooftops with messenger bags. It has this kind of trip quality for me, almost where I’m questioning my past and considering how our actions in the past affect what happens in the future.”
“Toy Tune” is a mellow midtempo swinger fueled by Rachbach’s spang-a-lang pulse on the ride and Rosato’s deep-toned walking groove. Trumpeter O’Farrill sparks the piece with a brilliant solo before the whole band lays out to allow Rachbach to shine with a formidable solo on this Shorter classic.
The collection closes with the suite-like “Loch Monster,” which opens on a contemplative note and segues to an anthemic middle section with some bold tenor playing before returning to the calming theme. “This one has a triptych kind of feel,” says the composer. “Again, I like songs that take you on a trip like that and I tried to have that quality here. That song also has a specific inspiration, which is a song called ‘Wise Old Man’ off of Ben Van Gelder’s first record, Frame of Reference. It’s like a waltz, but not a swing waltz or traditional waltz but that kind of Debussy impressionistic piano vibe. I added that B section as another solo section. And the melody really seemed to fall into place on that one, like it just kind of wrote itself.”
With Under One Moon now under his belt, Rachbach looks forward to creating new tunes and new momentum in the future. “I’m very happy with the way this one came out,” he says. “But I’ll just keep chipping away and developing things further. I’ll no doubt be a different person in five years than I am now. But this album represents where I’m at now. And it also sort of represents New York to me…just being in New York and going to school there and trying to take on all the influences from living there and from playing with the people I played with. So it also represents that NYC phase for me.”
Stay tuned for his LA phase. www.TimRachbach.com