Saxophonist/composer Aaron Liddard is set to release ‘Nylon Man’ his debut studio album under his own name, the title referring to the three towns that have, as he puts it, ‘most fed my soul’. Aaron Liddard has a particularly broad and global vision of music, and no less than forty-two different musicians play or sing on the album. Dan Paton interview article.
The fact that the saxophonist and composer Aaron Liddard is set to release his first studio album under his own name belies the sheer number of glowing stories he has accumulated from years as a professional musician. These range from the slightly odd video shoot request that kicked off his six months of work with Amy Winehouse (“be ready for the taxi at 6 a.m. with a baritone saxophone and your pajamas!”) to 12-hour workweeks by adapting Norman Connors productions and assembly of a 13-piece band for live work with Michael Henderson. In the case of the Winehouse video shoot, perhaps it was unfortunate that Liddard didn’t have pajamas. Luckily, he’s able to improvise (“I had a one-piece Indian thing,” he explains).
The moment that Liddard describes as “the high point of my musical life” arrived on stage when none other than Prince asked most of the band members to step down so he could take full advantage of the horn section of which Liddard was a crucial part. Liddard had opened for Prince during his legendary O2 Arena residency with Beverly Knight, and the band had been invited to play a few after-show parties at the smaller Indigo venue. Of his career as a performing musician and conductor, Liddard says, “I’ve been very lucky, but it’s not just that. There are 100 hours of hard work behind every hour of good fortune.” No doubt Liddard was surprised to receive a call from Michael Henderson asking him to organize the band for some shows in London seven years after first working with him, but that can only be because Henderson was impressed by that earlier experience during a soul weekend in Blackpool (at the time an annual event for Liddard).
The title of Liddard’s next album, nylon man, artfully combines the three cities that Liddard claims to have “most nourished my soul”. These are New York, London and Manchester. Liddard spent his early career in Manchester, then moved to London where he feels he has ‘evolved’ professionally. ‘I was well known in Manchester…I had a band playing original music, but I was going to Leeds or Liverpool and nobody knew who I was. London gave me a good kick in the ass! No less than 15 visits to New York inspired him to find his own voice (“if you play a little with your heart, suddenly the doors open”), and he describes New York as “one of most challenging cities musically, but also uplifting”. Liddard also identifies the American public as particularly engaged. “People will come out even if the band has done very little promotion and then they will line up to buy the merchandise”, he says, still looking somewhat shocked. “Jazz is less marginalized there,” he explains, “but the other side of the coin is that we have a welfare system and they don’t. So you have to go there! Their way of making music is very committed”.
The influence of a wide range of musical styles is felt on Nylon Man, which is a diverse and often surprising album. The music takes on many twists, often in the space of individual tracks. Liddard also compares music to nylon itself: “I think music is really flexible and, as a saxophonist, I’m pretty tough!”. This is not to say that Liddard necessarily sought to bombard the listener with stylistic changes and ideas. He suggests that his writing process is more a matter of chance, and recording often involved a lot of trial and error. “My belief is that musical ideas already exist somewhere and sometimes they will choose a person. In this case, they chose me and I was able to turn them into something people could hear”.
Realizing the depth and range of his music took a total of 42 musicians. “I would like to say that it is because the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says the meaning of life is 42,” Liddard jokes, “but it’s really because I needed bebop players to play the bebop moments, Latin American players to work on the Latin tunes, soul players to be able to play soul”.
To cite just a few examples, Omar Puente guests on the violin on the lively but relaxed Latin air Manana and chicken soup was recorded in Brazil with a rhythm section of Du Gomide (guitar), Felipe Cortes (low) and Mauro Martins (drums). Sometimes he had particular people in mind at the time of writing (through your eyes was written for singer Giulia Marelli), but at other times recording involved the development and expansion of unique ideas by working with a live band. Again, he extends the materials analogy: “You can get a little fabric out of the ether, and if you’re gentle with it, you can get a little more.” A number of compositions date back several years (earlier versions can be heard on a live album recorded with his band Aaron & The Argonauts) but these studio recordings clearly capture considerable extra work and a greater emphasis on production values. (engineers Nikolaj Bjerre and Tim Bazel were on board throughout). Indeed, Liddard emphasizes editing as a crucial part of the process. There is clarity and clarity to the sound throughout the album.
Whereas nylon man certainly covers a lot of musical ground, it’s not scattered. Liddard asserts that “the combination factor is to balance – between fast and slow, intense and relaxed, electronic and acoustic.’ Listening to the album in its entirety, Liddard says he feels “calm and happy,” even though the work has its fair share of intense, kinetic passages. The opening section of the brilliantly disconcerting “My Kinda”, for example, is particularly punchy, perhaps resembling Acoustic Ladyland in its jazz punk guise. The whole piece then runs through the range of an eventful relationship, traveling between a palette of musical styles without too much signage. Balance is the lush, unconventional groove of through your eyes or the intriguing combination of a memorable melody, carleen andersonthe exquisite vocal delivery and engaging groove of frisco.
liddard wrote frisco night in a hostel after attending a hip hop opera in San Francisco. The original melody can be heard in spiky jazz sections, but after sharing the melody with Carleen Anderson, Liddard ended up subverting it (“they say sometimes you gotta butcher your babies,” he says mischievously). Anderson had actually spent a year in San Francisco before returning to the UK, and together he feels they captured the sound of that city. Liddard describes Anderson as “the queen of British soul” and suggests that “there is a nobility in the way she sings… she expresses the message with purity and with an incredible amount of heart and passion”. Along with the contributions of Giulia Marelli (which tackles some of the gnarliest melodic material with real agility) and Miss Baby Sol (which appears on Beautiful, a bold ballad), the singers have a strong and powerful presence on nylon man.
Liddard believes that listeners have become more open-minded around the turn of the millennium and are now more open to albums that can surprise. It also at least partially goes against the current streaming consensus. While many voices are quite critical of the role algorithms can play in influencing viewing habits, Liddard seems to think that streaming has left more room for individual approaches, with people less concerned with following fashion. and more willing and able to seek out the music they really want to hear. All of this seems to shape a larger philosophy that assumes few limits to the possibilities of contemporary music. It helps that his experience as a saxophonist playing in many different genres, “sometimes with real masters in those styles”, gave him the foundation to convert such an ambitious approach to music making into tangible results.
PP features are part of marketing packages
The release of Nylon Man (October 7) will be supported by a series of UK live dates:
Thursday September 29 – Manchester, Matt & Phred’s
Thursday, October 7 – Darwen, Sunbird Records
Friday October 7 – Berkhamsted, Arty Barn
Saturday October 8 – London, Temple of Art & Music (TAM)
Thursday 20 October – Newcastle, Hoochie Coochie
Friday, November 18 – Abegavenny, Melville Theater