Octave Records offers a richly-varied musical and sonic jazz excursion with its latest Pure DSD release, Bishop’s Lair by the Tom Amend Octet. Keyboardist and composer Tom Amend and his band offer the classic large-group sound of an eight-piece jazz ensemble, combined with post-modern influences. Bishop’s Lair is a musically compelling album of originals and standards, featuring Tom’s Hammond organ, piano, electric keyboard and flute playing.
Tom is accompanied by a top-flight group including Louisa Amend on vocals, Daryl Gott (alto and soprano saxophones), Octave Records’ own Gabriel Mervine (trumpet and fluegelhorn), Drew Zaremba (tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute and piccolo), Zachary Rich (trombone), Will Swindler (baritone sax, flute, alto flute), Alex Heffron (guitars), and Paul Romaine on drums. All the songs were composed by Amend except for “It’s the Little Things” and “September in the Rain.”
Bishop’s Lair was recorded in pure DSD 256 to capture the ‘big” dynamics and musical textures of the octet, with powerful dynamic range, lush instrumental and vocal colors, and a wide, deep soundspace. All the variety and nuance of the instruments can be heard with exceptional resolution and presence, from the deep growl of Tom’s classic Hammond B3/Leslie speaker setup, to the ensemble voicings of the horns, and Alex Heffron’s different guitar sounds that range from deep, mellow jazz tones to all-out overdrive.
The album was recorded and mixed by Jay Elliott in Octave Records’ state-of-the-art DSD facility, with assistance from Tom Amend, Aaron Snyder and Chris Amend, and mastered by Gus Skinas.
Bishop’s Lair features Octave’s premium gold disc formulation, and the disc is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It also has a high-resolution DSD layer that is accessible by using any SACD player or a PS Audio SACD transport. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download, including DSD 256, DSD 128, DSD 64, and DSDDirect Mastered 352.8 kHz/24-bit, 176.2 kHz/24-bit, 88.2 kHz/24-bit, and 44.1 kHz/24-bit PCM. (SRP: $19 – $39, depending on format.)
Bishop’s Lair kicks off with the dreamlike flute, guitar, organ and horn interplay of “Yellow Bench,” named for a treasured family memento. The pace picks up with the organ-groove swing of “Mountain Fish,” and the octet delivers a warm accompaniment to Louisa Amend’s inviting take on “It’s the Little Things.” The title track “Bishop’s Lair” blasts out of the gate with a syncopated horn section melody, and stunning, harmonically adventurous soloing by Gabriel Mervine and Alex Heffron, followed by energetic dueling saxophones. Bishop’s Lair travels through a range of tempos and moods, concluding with the swing-meets postmodern fusion of “One Entry,” with a wild octave-fuzz guitar solo, intricate drumming, and a tight, propulsive horn section.
I talked with Tom Amend about the making of Bishop’s Lair.
Frank Doris: So my obvious first question is, how'd the album come about?
Tom Amend: This band formed a while ago, probably 2018. We did a record in 2020. Jessica [Carson] from Octave heard that group and I've done some work for Octave in various other sessions. So Jessica reached out to see if we would be interested in recording a record for Octave.
Some [of the musicians] are real old friends and some are newer friends, but this recording was the first time that the eight of us were all together in that exact lineup.
FD: I don't know if you were going for a certain style or feel, but to me it has elements of that classic Sixties jazz big group kind of playing. And then there are things that you would've never heard 40 or 50 years ago.
TA: You kind of nailed it. I have a lot of influences from all those Sixties Blue Note records, and all the great organists. Gil Evans in terms of the writing, with all of the horn [parts] and all that stuff. But then I love all sorts of different, more modern music. When writing for this band, I try not to really think about of any of that. I just write what I think would be fun; what I think the musicians would have fun playing and what might have some variety on the record too.
FD: What made you decide to be a musician and play keyboard, especially Hammond organ?
TA: Well, my dad is a keyboard player, and so I grew up playing in his band, playing Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker. I got my first organ when I was 15. I got pretty seriously into that when I was in college. Since then, I've just been playing that instrument a lot. I play lot of other instruments as well, but with the organ, you can really direct the flow of traffic.
FD: That's a good way of putting it, because sometimes you're soloing and sometimes you're comping, and sometimes it's something in between.
Did you learn on one of those Farfisa organs, or a Vox Continental or something? I’m dating myself.
TA: A Hammond was my first organ. My pops and I found it on Craigslist and went down and picked it up in Laramie, Wyoming.
The first real organist I heard was Joey DeFrancesco. He’s what really got me hooked and got me wanting to start to check this instrument out. I love all sorts of other organ players. Larry Goldings, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes.
FD: Jimmy Smith, I’m sure. Ever hear of Wild Bill Davis?
TA: Oh, he is the best! Yeah. He wrote some arrangements for the Count Basie band too. He's a great arranger.
FD: How did you record Bishop’s Lair?
TA: We all recorded in the same room. Minimal isolation, really, just a little bit of isolation on the drum set. But we all recorded with no headphones, just listening in the room.
FD: It has that ambiance of the early Sixties Columbia and Verve and Blue Note records, so I had guessed that you did it live.
TA: I overdubbed a few piano parts on top of the organ. But 90 percent of the tracking was done all together in the room.
FD: I have to ask every Octave artist this, since Octave is dedicated to good sound. What was it like to record in that kind of environment and hear your playback in such fidelity?
TA: It was a trip, man. (laughs) A real treat. And um, you know, I just had a blast, especially working on the mixes, and working with [engineer] Jay Elliott, It’s crazy to hear, ’cause these are people I play with three, four times a week. So I'm real familiar with their sound and to hear it [in Octave’s studio], it’s so close to being on the stage, but somehow even a little clearer. We had everything miked and then there were a few room mics.
FD: So, you guys play around the Denver area and you play quite a bit. How did the pandemic affect you?
TA: It was weird for a few months when there was nothing was going on, but Denver [still] had a lot of different things going on even through that time. Now, everybody's really working a bunch. I play with Gabriel Mervine a few times a week. There's stuff going on and I'm really grateful for that.
FD: Do you want to talk a little about some of the songs? The first track, “Yellow Bench,” I don't even know how to categorize it. It doesn't sound like jazz. It doesn't sound like a movie soundtrack.
TA: My grandma had an old bench that my wife and I inherited and it was just kind of weathered, so we fixed it up and painted it yellow. It doesn't sound like jazz, or you don't know what to call it, ’cause that's kind of where the sweet spot is for me in a lot of music. I really like things that don't sound like something you've heard before. And of course there's stuff that I write and play all the time that sounds more familiar. But you try and do something that is new to you and hopefully will be new to some other people.
FD: What about that wild solo on “One Entry?” He’s using all that distortion but it fits.
TA: That's Alex Heffron. He’s got all sorts of different influences and grew up learning metal guitar.
FD: So you let him loose for one song. (laughs)
TA: I didn't tell him to do that. The idea with this band is, I want it to be a place where everybody can have their voice and do what they wanna do. I wanted to be surprised by their choices.
FD: Did you have to do a lot of takes?
TA: Most [tracks] were the first or second take. The last record we did, we recorded all in one day, and this one was such a luxury. We had two full days with the band! (laughs)
FD: Anything else you’d like to add?
TA: I just wanted the album to be something where you don't know what's gonna happen on the next track. Having a theatrical, soundtrack kind of vibe, and then [hearing] something straight ahead, and then something more of a soundscape and then grooving or whatever. Try and keep people listening, you know?
FD: Do you write the arrangements?
TA: I do, yep.
FD: There's so much you can do with an octet. At points the album reminds me of the stuff that Oliver Nelson would do. Things like that just have such a big sound to them.
TA: Peter & the Wolf is a Jimmy Smith record [with] Oliver Nelson’s [band]. It was the first Jimmy Smith I ever heard. Tchaikovsky and Jimmy Smith and Oliver Nelson! It’s great.