House of Mirrors
Sunnyside Records (November 2020)
The original pieces on her stylistically diverse and explorative recording were selected with the intention of taking the listener on a journey and telling the story in a direct and honest way. These are compositions that Roemer felt needed to come out so that she could continue her growth and explore new pathways. The pieces span from her time in Paris to New York, many having been written with her ensemble and special guest artists in mind. Many of the lyrics, hers and otherwise, began as poetry.
The story is introduced by the title track, a meditative piece exploring decisions made and paths taken that’s mood is amplified by guest Gilad Hekselman’s sensitive but spacious guitar. The haunting “Beauty Is a Wound” is a tribute to her mother, the music going straight to the heart with stripped-down, minimalist but emotionally charged accompaniment by percussionist Rogerio Boccato. The intrepidly upbeat “Virgin Soil” is a benison given to a sister to go out and find one’s own way; gorgeous solos from Dayna Stephens and Frei emphasize Roemer’s message.
Roemer intentionally included German language in her music, as there has not been much use of the language in contemporary jazz music, which she delivers in a natural, relatable way. In seeking German poetry, she discovered Felice Schragenheim’s “Deine Hände,” an uplifting love poem, written by a courageous woman who knew misfortune and died young at the hands of the Nazis, that Roemer arranged exquisitely for the quartet. The intensely persistent “Dark Night of the Soul” utilizes St. John of the Cross’ poem for content but really shines with Roemer’s brazen recitation of her own writing accompanied by Ben Monder’s guitar exploration. Hermann Hesse’s “Manchmal” is a blue-tinged appeal for humans to see our reflection in nature and mend our relationship with it.
Monder’s shimmering guitar tones provide a gorgeous, enveloping soundscape for Roemer’s “Lullaby for N.,” a thoughtful piece echoing the parting of a friend. Roemer adapted Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” into a metrically intriguing arrangement, the paramour’s message of love heightened by Stephen’s brilliant tenor, Frei’s rhapsodic piano and Claffy’s expressive bass. The recording concludes with Charles Mingus’s “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” a tremendous song about the love of music that brings us back to the journey’s true essence and its ultimate goal, the music.
The music of Kristiana Roemer comes from an honest place, a place of appraisals of actions and embracing all potential paths, whether taken or not. Her House of Mirrors is a diverse and brilliantly devised program of music that illustrates where Roemer has been and where she will go in her bright future.
I imagine a House of Mirrors inside of each of us where we can hold and honor all the possibilities of ourselves that we could have drawn upon—aspects of character evolved, chances taken, potentials cultivated, paths pursued, and so on—each of which is reflecting back to us various parts of ourselves. Some of the mirrors are distorted and play tricks on us. Some are spotless while others have blemishes. It is a museum of images of all that we have nurtured, preserved and gardened to varying degrees, even if we abandoned them for short or long periods of time. I find that by providing a home for these reflections, they can be put to rest and be valued for what they are worth, free from regret or stagnation. This can liberate one to make choices, own them, and embrace what is. The following compositions are some of the images one might encounter in this House of Mirrors. § Beauty is a Wound is dedicated to my mother, my origin and first mirroring. It describes the acceptance of her parting and the embrace of the unknown, but also her continuous presence which can serve as a guiding light that will lead the way home from within. Virgin Soil speaks to a sister, and describes the need for us to break free from our roots and seek out our own fertile earth in order to grow and evolve, in the comfort of knowing that our bond will hold true. Hermann Hesse’s poem, Manchmal (“Sometimes”), looks for our reflection in Mother Nature and contemplates how we have become increasingly estranged from her, and how we struggle to find our way back. Sugar, a tune by Stanley Turrentine that I arranged, addresses a lover, and touches on the way in which the elements that attract us to one another mirror our own internalizations, which forces us to put into question our previous conceptions of a “heaven” we choose to seek. Dark Night of the Soul is based on St. John of the Cross’ well-known poem about personal insight and reformation. My poem, Home, addresses this process from another angle, using the imagery of a child leaving behind its perceived helplessness and hopeful dreaming in order to embody its capable true self. Lullaby for N. pays homage to a departed friend whose essence continues to live in me. Felice Schragenheim’s poem, Deine Hände (“Your Hands”), is a tribute to an uplifting and empathic kind of love, from which you can source a deep sense of peace by discovering that it will not be found by continuously seeking out other mirrors. Lastly, Charles Mingus’ Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love is dedicated to music, a messenger that speaks to your heart and reflects back to you what words can never describe.
I would like to sincerely thank: my parents, Karen and Albrecht; my sisters; all my extended family and dear friends; the musicians on this record, Alex, Addison, Adam, Gilad, Ben, Dayna, and Rogerio; Michael; Christopher; Francois, Bret, and everyone at Sunnyside Records; all the musicians I had the fortune to make music with, and the many musicians and artists who have taught me through their work and artistry.
Thank you for listening.