The creation of a new album can be stressful enough for musicians.
But sometimes life has a way of piling even more stress on a project, as Daniel Pelton, alto saxophonist, vocalist and leader of the Calgary-based jazz-pop group Long Time No Time, can attest.
The period immediately preceding the recording of the tracks for the aptly-named Tough Times (which launches Friday, May 14) was fraught with complications that sounds like plot turns concocted for a movie, he said.
Not only was the band recording in the middle of a pandemic, but the project was also impacted by a catastrophic accident, family illness and relationship issues, the White Rock and South Surrey-raised 2003 Earl Marriott grad said.
Considering the circumstances surrounding the creation of Tough Times – recorded over two weeks in isolation in the studio of HurryHard Records in rural Benalto, Alta. – it’s hardly surprising that the multi-tracked original songs might include some more introspective, even, at times, melancholy music.
“Each one of us was in his own space about the pandemic, and having access to the studio and recording equipment 24-7 meant it came out in very personal ways,” Pelton noted.
“It has been a tough time – for the world, for the group and for me,” he added.
“When COVID-19 started, all musicians were sidelined,” he said.
“There were all the questions we’ve all been asking – is it safe to rehearse, is it safe to play?”
But although the parts of each song for Long Time No Time’s trumpet, trombone, alto-sax, bass and drums instrumentation had to be learned and rehearsed separately, it seemed that isolating together “in a studio in the middle of nowhere,” would minimize COVID-related risks, Pelton said.
Then, a bare week before they went into the studio, bass trombonist Thomas Dundas, whose day gig involved window washing and putting up seasonal lights, fell some 30 feet off a ladder, broke both wrists and sustained a nasal fracture.
While, fortunately, his injuries were not more severe – and he’s made a good recovery since – there was no question that Dundas would have to be replaced on the album, for which the recording time was already booked.
“And he had other things to focus on – like being alive,” Pelton said.
A desperate search for another trombonist turned up Joseph Bakhadi, who – like the other Long Time No Time musicians – is a University of Calgary jazz program alumnus.
Happily he was willing to dive in and learn the material rapidly – although, since he’s not a bass trombonist, the substitution necessitated some extra work by Pelton to revise the horn voicings.
But that wasn’t all. A night before they went into the studio, Pelton’s dad, Jim, went into surgery for lung cancer.
“He’s alright,” he hastened to add.
“The surgery went well and he’s doing a lot better now, but at the time it added a lot of extra stress for our family.”
Compounding that, for Pelton, was the sudden, unannounced arrival on his doorstep of a former partner who had decided – unilaterally – to rekindle their relationship, he said.
“I was dealing with Tom, I was dealing with my dad,” he said.
“And here was this person saying ‘hey, you’re part of my life again’.”
In that context, getting away to Benalto, a tiny community of some 70 people, seemed almost a welcome break, Pelton said – although he noted that this latter situation, too, has since been resolved.
When last encountered in the pages of the Peace Arch News – almost a year ago – Pelton seemed relatively care-free, and taking advantage of pandemic-enforced inactivity to release some previously-recorded material.
That was Big Time (Live at the National Music Centre), a collaboration between Long Time No Time and the University of Calgary Jazz Orchestra at The National Music Centre/Studio Bell in Calgary.
Featuring compositions by Pelton and two other UC alumni composers, the live-concert album, instigated and produced by Long Time No Time, picked up on the five-piece band’s trademark brand of fun, audience-friendly, high-energy, jazz-infused music.
In the latest album, the progressive jazz-rock sounds also carry a strong influence of Pelton’s upbringing by Semiahmoo Bay.
The ocean is present as both inspiration and metaphor, and sea sounds included in the mix for the song Lightning Strikes the Waves were actually recorded on White Rock beach by Pelton during a visit home to his family.
Cementing the hometown connection is the album art by Raven Schafer, which features White Rock pier at low tide – imagery Pelton long ago filed away in his mind as a great concept for an album cover.
But while he’s proud of the way Tough Times turned out in the end, the problems that surrounded its creation could not have been anticipated, he said.
“It seemed like I was on edge the whole time,” he said.
“It seems so unreal now, I sometimes wonder if I imagined it all. But it was real, it happened, and, in a strange way the music is even stronger because of it.”
Tough Times is available for pre-order on Spotify through the link https://show.co/0dJvYwN