Deep within the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the cool waters of Bemis Brook cascade down a 140 foot granite cliffside into the rocky pools below. Hikers from far and wide enjoy a midday respite here in the misty spray of the falls, turning the arduous, sweaty trek through the heavy heat and humidity of the summer into an effort well worthwhile. The din of the falling water muffles the sound of children hollering and laughing as they attempt to brave the freezing pools on a dare. The vast sky overhead boasts a pristine marble blue, hugging the length of the deep-green pine-covered slopes of Crawford Notch which cradle Arethusa Falls.
Arethusa Falls offers a snapshot into the life of 22 year-old saxophonist and composer Adam Claussen over the past two years. What initially started as a recording project with his fellow musicians at the University of Miami in the fall of 2017 became a fully realized album by late 2018, debuting the performance and compositional skills Claussen has developed over the years.
With the help of Claussen's roommate Andre Bernier on piano, Robert Papacica on guitar, graduate student Marty Quinn on bass, UM alum Zander Ambrose on drums, and music engineer Aaron Mutchler in the recording booth, the quintet recorded six compositions which would come to encapsulate the jazz/folk/funk/indie spirit of Arethusa Falls.
The first track, "What Can Anyone Do?" derives from the feeling of existential dread and lack of control that has overshadowed the lives of many young people in recent years. Political strife, personal loss, climate change, bloated costs of living accompanied by crippling debt-- the world is not exactly a happy place to exist these days. And yet, there is still a chance for all of us to rectify the mistakes of the past. Inspired by the work of the contemporary jazz trio The Bad Plus, this tune combines simplistic, down-to-earth harmonies with a jarring off-kilter melody to express this feeling of loss and powerlessness in the face of adversity. This track features solos by Andre Bernier and Marty Quinn.
The title track "Arethusa Falls" was of course the main inspiration for this project. After a midsummer's hike in 2017, the foundational idea for the tune came so easily-- a simple rhythmic idea in the piano (something akin to a folksy guitar strum) paired with a mostly diatonic melody captured the sense of nostalgia and appreciation for natural beauty that characterizes that summer's hike through the forest to Arethusa Falls. This track features a solo by Andre Bernier on piano.
"Ranek" is, simply put, a love song. To document the circumstances of its inception would tarnish its very purpose, as it was intended to be an expression of yearning and love in the purest sense. The melody and harmonies of "Ranek" return to a place of simplicity-- mostly diatonic and related key centers, with a few jazz-influenced departures from this pop-oriented approach. After a solo by Claussen, Robert Papacica brings the tune back home with a guitar solo.
"Dark Tides Rising" expresses the inescapable feeling of anxiety that accompanies the inevitability of an approaching storm. Written before Hurricane Irma made landfall in September of 2017, this composition conveys the unique sense of fear which seemed pervasive in Miami at the time. Using almost exclusively two notes in the melody-- Ab and Bb-- this composition relies on its harmonies, odd phrasing, and rhythmic feel to coerce the listener into a feeling of discomfort. This piece features solos by Robert Papacica and Andre Bernier.
"Almost, Always, Mostly" is, somehow, a turn of phrase unknowingly uttered by one Mr. Andre Bernier, mid-conversation. The tune itself is Claussen's take on a contemporary jazz ballad, weaving from one key center to the next while utilizing unconventional, not-always-functional harmonies. Featuring a solo by Robert Papacica, this piece captures the calm serenity of life one can experience on a lazy Sunday afternoon living in suburban South Miami.
"Null Island" is named for a unique point in the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the western coast of Africa: coordinates 0ºN 0ºE. (Many digital cameras lacking GPS location will default to this as the location of the photos it takes, effectively making Null Island one of the hottest tourist spots in the world.) Taking inspiration from an electrifying performance in Montreal by Donny McCaslin over the summer of 2017, this piece explores the ever-deepening world of jazz fusion with a focus on harmony and rhythmic interest. Featuring a solo by Andre Bernier, the album is closed out with a driving solo from Claussen, pushing the melody to its final resolution.