Al Jewer and Andy Mitran with their new record, "Transmigration" in the Echoes Podcast
If you haven’t heard Al Jewer and Andy Mitran, it’s not because they haven’t been around. They’ve recorded six albums as a duo plus two solo Al Jewer records. They’ve also cut music for dozens of commercials and music libraries. In the last year they’ve put out two very different albums, Transmigration and Surrounding Sky. Surrounding Sky won a Zone Music Reporter award this year for best ambient album. At the years Zone Music Reporter awards show, I caught up with Al Jewer and Andy Mitran.
Al Jewer and Andy Mitran spend most of their time creating compositions for music libraries, commercials and jingles. But when they want to chill out on their own, they go for a different sound. They’ve released several albums of ambient music including Desert Light and Surrounding Sky, which won an award for best ambient album at the Zone Music Reporter awards show in New Orleans this past spring..
“I just started falling in love with that kind of music”, confesses Mitran.
“I write that music because it makes me feel a certain way. I do it because I want to hear it, and it keeps me peaceful. I like to hear that music when I’m working”, Mitran explains, “It keeps me moving, it’s very meditative and I live that as well, so I was drawn to the genre. And then we have these wonderful tools that allow us to you know, taste all of those textures, and I loved exploring all of that. And then I loved Al’s electronic woodwind work too, that just made the flavor”.
Andy Mitran plays percussion and keyboards. Al Jewer plays flutes, sometimes lots of them.
“And the other thing that we do is what we call a flute cloud, and that’s usually four or five tracks of flute that are playing the notes of the chords, but they’re all moving, the chord isn’t just static, so there’s a bit of that on there”, illustrates Al Jewer.
“There’s a breathing quality to it”, adds Mitran.
You don’t hear much of Andy Mitran’s percussion on these ambient releases, but it’s all over Transmigration, an album of world fusion expanses. Unlike much of their work, Transmigration was a collaboration, at least virtually, with a lot of other musicians who they met in non-virtual form at the 2015 Zone Music Reporter awards show.
“Al and I have always liked to collaborate. You’ve heard, we’ve had collaborations before, but when we came to ZMR convention or the ZMR awards two years ago, we walked into this community and we started to meet people that we really liked and we had really admired for many years”, Mitran recalls, “And we just decided that we wanted to enlist them to collaborate, as many of them as we possibly could”.
The duo composed many of their tracks around certain guest artists. “Talking Stone” is centered on the voice of Miriam Stockley from Adiemus and AO music.
“We would put together seeds, you know. We knew we were going to work with Miriam Stockley, so we wrote three or four pieces, I think, and sent them along and asked which ones spoke to her”, says Mitran, “And she was in the middle of an AO music record, so she was you know, she kind of squeezed us in and picked the tune that spoke to her most. And she just did an incredible job for us, she gave us 32?”
“32 tracks”, Jewer confirms.
“Well, she did those big thick vocals and then she’s multing them, so you might hear a four part, five part harmony, but she’s sung each of those pieces two or three times. So it’s big, it’s huge”, Jewer describes.
Jeff Pearce was another musician they met at the ZMR awards. His ambient guitar would almost seem more suited to Al and Andy’s ambient work, but they put him on a Transmigration track called “First Crossing.”
“In hearing some of his work, I heard that delay guitar loopy thing he does and I love that”, Mitran proclaims, “So I wrote the seed with that in mind, so I wrote pads that had a lot of room and didn’t really have a motor, thinking he would be the motor”.
But after Andy got the tracks back from Pearce, he altered the songs direction.
“But only after Jeff’s piece came back because you know, there’s a seed and then you get this wonderful input from this other musician, and you have to evaluate whether the original ideas are still valid or not”, admits Mitran, “This was a case where I wasn’t anticipating that instrumentation until we got his tracks. I thought sonically that would work”.
“You know, there’s there’s tempo in it, and he laid that piece in and then I thought about marimba for that. And added the marimba and accordion to that piece”, Mitran continues.
Even though Al Jewer plays all kinds of flutes from straight silver flute to world music wind instruments, they still brought in flute player Sherry Finzer for the track “Quiet Waters”.
“We brought in Sherry Finzer. I really like the way that Sherry plays. I think she has a beautiful tone, but I also think she has incredible note choice and pacing. Her control of vibrato is very conscious and she uses that to great effect”, acknowledges Jewer, “I just love what she plays. You know, I play alto flute too, but it’s not the instrument, it’s the player. And I just really like the way she plays and so we had her do the alto flute track and then it’s a conversation between the track that she gave us and then I played the native american flute, call and response stuff”.
All of these collaborations fueled the initial concept of the album. Al Jewer.
“As you look through the booklet, you know, it’s very much a journey. It starts with Talking Stone, which sort of seeds the intention of the journey, and then each of the pieces, you can see from the names of the pieces and the description of what that tune means in relationship to the journey”, confides Jewer.
“For me, the journey is a transformation that occurs from the point where you’re physically talking to somebody about doing this, maybe shaking hands on it”, Mitran explains, “Then you start to work and there’s an amorphous thing that gets created that is formless. But yet has pieces of all of you in it that’s the Transmigration for me”.
“It is the journey and then at the end, of course, we end with a piece that’s the final transformation”.
“Crushing death”, Mitran reveals.
“Yeah”, affirms Jewer.
“It’s a joyful record right up until the last second”.
You take your own journey to oblivion with Al Jewer and Andy Mitran’s Transmigration, a journey with friends. And then you can chill out to Surrounding Sky, both out on Laughing Cat Records.