Acclaimed composer/arranger Mike Holober creates an epic masterwork melding jazz, classical and art song for his Grammy-nominated Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Due out June 14, 2024 via Palmetto Records, "This Rock We're On: Imaginary Letters" draws inspiration from the natural world and the insights of environmental authors, artists, and activists such as Ansel Adams, Rachel Carson, Sigurd Olson, Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, and Robin Wall Kimmerer

Featuring Holober's GRAMMY-nominated Gotham Jazz Orchestra, soloists include Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone), Ben Kono (alto saxophone), Charles Pillow (alto saxophone), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), Jared Schonig (drums), Nir Felder (guitar), Jody Redhage Ferber (cello) and James Shipp (percussion). The ensemble is joined for the occasion by tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist John Patitucci, and the up-and-coming Brazilian vocalist Jamile Staevie Ayres

“Holober has brought a profound artistic vision to bear on today's jazz scene and confirmed his standing as one of the finest modern composer/arrangers of our time, in the tradition of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely.”
Ed EnrightDownBeat

Mike Holober's writing is in the expansive and ambitious lineage of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider: music of varying moods that merges the thrust of jazz with atmospheric colors closer to the classical world. It can teem with energy or settle into a state of quiet, contemplative beauty.” - Jerome Wilson All About Jazz

This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters feels like vespers sung for the Anthropocene before night falls.”

— Terry Tempest Williams, environmental author and activist

Refuge - imaginary letter from Castleton Tower to Terry Tempest Williams
(from “This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters”)
Music and lyrics by Mike Holober 
Jamile Staevie Ayres (voice), Jody Redhage Ferber (cello), Mike Holober (piano)

Composer’s Note
“Refuge” is an art song in the form of an imaginary letter from Castleton Tower, a sandstone monolith in southeast Utah, to environmental author and activist Terry Tempest Williams.  In one of her earlier books, Refuge:  An Unnatural History of Family and Place, Terry reminisces about trips to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge with her mother, each chapter focusing on one bird and one stage in her mother's terminal cancer.  I spent a day alone there in November 2019 (not a good time to look at birds), but it was still beautiful and I did get to meet many grebes and harriers. 

Castleton Tower is a freestanding sandstone spire in view of Terry's home in Castle Valley, Utah.  I used this as a metaphor for the Bears Ears National Monument while thinking about Terry's fight for recovering the sacred wildlands lost to the Trump administration’s resource extraction policies.  Terry and I had breakfast in Salt Lake City (just before Covid) and she played for me a recording that audiologists and geologists had made of Castleton Tower.  You could hear how both the local and far reaching geology, the built environment and even the weather had an effect on the sonic life of the tower. 

In “This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters,” “Refuge” is followed by two works for jazz orchestra: “Tower Pulse,” for Castleton Tower, and “Erosion,” for Terry.  In her recent book Erosion, in the chapter titled “The Resonance of Stone,” Terry writes, “Castleton Tower has a pulse. We have a pulse. The Earth has a pulse.”

Three Words for Snow/Boundary Waters
(from “This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters”)
Music and lyrics by Mike Holober

Composer’s Note:
Sigurd Olson is one of the featured “protagonists” in “This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters,” a multi-movement work scheduled for release June 14 2024 (Palmetto). 

Olson was a nature writer and wilderness advocate, and for more than thirty years served as a wilderness guide in the Quetico-Superior country of northern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. He was president of the Wilderness Society for 12 years, and helped draft the Wilderness Act of 1964. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as a designated wilderness in 1978.

My connection to Olson began in the summer 1976, when I took a job as a “head tripper” at Camp Timberlane Boys Summer Camp, located in the North Woods of Wisconsin. The camp schedule was 2-3 days of backpacking, followed by 1-2 days off, then 2-3 days of canoeing, followed by 1-2 days off. I slept outside almost 50 nights that summer, igniting a lifelong passion for outdoor adventure. In the summer of 1978 I returned as a “guest tripper,” and led a 10-day trip through the newly established Boundary Waters Canoe Area into the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario – the very wilderness that Olson had dedicated his life to protecting.

I didn’t know who Sigurd Olson was at the time, but when I learned about him later in life (and began reading his published works) my connection felt immediate and deep. I was particularly intrigued by the circumstances of his death in 1982, while snowshoeing near his home in Ely Wisconsin. He had a “writing shack” on his property, and one of his sons found a note on the typewriter that he had typed just before heading out: “A New Adventure is coming up / and I’m sure it will be / A good one.” The “writing shack” is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the note remains in the typewriter to this day.

“Three Word for Snow” is the imaginary letter for the Sigurd Olson group, and was inspired by the extraordinary circumstances of his passing. The jazz orchestra piece for this protagonist is titled “Boundary Waters,” and is infused with the adventurous spirit of youth. It is like the sound track for that summer back in 1978 when I paddled through a million acres of unspoiled lakes and forests, under skies with painted clouds, with life opening up onto a horizon that I couldn’t wait to see over. Olson’s final words oddly capture the boundless enthusiasm of that moment: “A New Adventure is coming up / and I’m sure it will be / A good one.”

My other connection to Sigurd Olson is more circuitous. When I was researching this protagonist, I purchased a copy of Olson’s The Hidden Forest on eBay. When I received my copy, I discovered that the photographs in the book were by Les Blacklock, and the used copy I had purchased had been signed by him. It turns out, I had met Les Blacklock in 1979, while driving cross country with my brother George. Blacklock and his young son were camping next to us in Badlands National Park, and we struck up a memorable conversation. We were excited to have met a famous photographer, and over the years I would be reminded of our encounter when I came across his photographs in magazines. Now I owned a book that he had worked on with Sigurd Olson, and that had been signed by him. I knew that Les Blacklock had passed away in 1995, but I wondered if his son was still around -- so I decided to look him up. It turned out to be quite easy to find him, and I gave him a call. I learned that Craig Blacklock is an only child, so we had indeed camped next to each other in Badlands National Park in 1979. Craig now lives in the north woods of Minnesota, and is a professional nature photographer with a focus on the Northwoods, Great Lakes, and Boundary Waters. Craig has been incredibly generous in sharing his photos and memories of his father with me, the most precious of which is a photo of his father and Sigurd Olson working together on "The Hidden Forest." Sometimes life works in unexpected ways, where endings become new beginnings, and chance encounters can lead to deep connections across time and space. 

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