RENOWNED BASSIST-PRODUCER FRANK SWART RELEASES NEW ALTERNATIVE JAZZ PROJECT
SOUNDTRACK TO A FILM WITHOUT PICTURES
"Featuring three Miles Davis alumni, an Afrofuturist, and a Headhunter (Gary Bartz, Dave Liebman, Bill Evans, Idris Ackamoor & Mike Clark), the innovative 13-part “soundtrack” inspired by Joseph Campbell's Monomyth/The Hero's Journey is thought-provoking, colorful, and filled with musical surprises." - Scott Yanow Jazz Journalist/Historian
In his wide-ranging career, bassist, guitarist, arranger, composer, producer, and engineer Frank Swart has contributed to countless sessions covering a wide range of music, from rock and funk to psychedelic acid jazz. In recent times, under the Funkwrench Blues name, he has created and produced 146 singles (at the time of this writing) that have been released once every two weeks, featuring such major artists as Mike Stern, Charlie Hunter, John Medeski, Oz Noy, Fred Wesley, and the late Lucky Peterson. In addition, he has co-produced an extensive series of Folk/Americana seven-inch vinyl singles. Even with all of this activity, with the encouragement of his studio partner Brian Brinkerhoff, Swart decided to "follow his bliss" and make an adventurous modal jazz album.
“I always think about music in a cinematic way. Once we had amassed a full body of work, it was obvious to me that this was a soundtrack to a film without pictures; everything fit together. The pieces did not have permanent titles so I loosely nicked titles from Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. The story starts with the character having an unremarkable lifestyle but then being called upon to experience a life-changing adventure and win an important battle before finally returning to share what he learned.”
The intriguing Soundtrack to A Film Without Pictures begins with the electronic groove of “The Life” which then bursts into a full funkfest, featuring Swart’s bass and guitar playing and Mars Volta's Thomas Pridgen’s virtuosic drumming, setting the introductory scene. Altoist Gary Bartz is featured on “The Call,” soaring above the rolling pensive background that is inspired by the jazz-rock fusion of the 1970s. Evan Hatfield’s sitar and Christopher Hoffman's cello create a discordant conversation on “The Refusal” which also features the crisp drumming of Whitefield Brothers' drummer/producer, Max Weissenfeldt. “The Meeting” includes a repetitive and forceful rhythm riff, admittedly inspired by Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson/Bitches Brew period, behind the fiery playing of the Fringe’s George Garzone on soprano. Warren Wolf’s vibes and Swart’s wah-wah effects and chordal bass co-star in ⅞ time on "The Crossing” while “The Test” has a Charles Mingus-ish theme played by a horn section that is worthy of a dramatic detective television show, including Chris West doing his best Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet.
The second half of the program begins with Bill Evans’ soprano showcased on the aggressive blues of “The Approach.” Idris Ackamoor’s tenor gives “The Ordeal” the anguish it needs including its nod to Mongo Santamaria’s "Afro Blue" in its closing. The thoughtful “The Reward,” features the emotionally rich contributions of cellist Mai Bloomfield and John Deaderick’s keyboard playing. “That track was inspired by Andrew Hill’s 'Illusion - Alternate Take'," Swart enthusiastically proclaims. “The Road Back” has jubilant ensembles, an eccentric and relentless groove, and passionate playing from Dave Liebman on soprano. “The Resurrection” is one of several pieces that feature fine contributions from Swart’s old friend and Junk/post junk trio bandmate saxophonist/flautist David “DR” Robbins, who co-wrote this piece along with “The Life”; Mike Clark’s juxtaposing swing and funk sections and the leader’s guitar are also important parts of the dynamic ensemble. The final section, “The Return,” is more peaceful and has Frank Swart’s bass featured along with Christopher Hoffman’s cello. As with any movie score, Soundtrack To A Film Without Pictures concludes with "The Credits." It reimagines the electronic groove that introduced the album and then dissolves into a landscape of free sound consisting of Swart’s bowing and drumming, Hoffman this time on electric cello, and Robbins on flute.
Frank Swart remembers, “Because I had a clear sonic vision of what I wanted on this project, I did all of the bass and guitar work myself. After recording my parts, I was fortunate enough to get many of my favorite drummers including Derrek Phillips, Scott Amendola, Thomas Pridgen, Simone Pannozzo, Max Weissenfeldt, Mike Clark and a few others, telling them to simply be themselves. Due to the pandemic, many musicians who had previously been very busy were suddenly available, so I reached out to special guests who were featured on sections of the album.” Those include such greats as saxophonists Gary Bartz, George Garzone, Dave Liebman, and Bill Evans, and vibraphonist Warren Wolf.
Frank Swart was born and raised in Boston. He grew up hearing the big band swing records and classic Broadway show albums that were in his parent’s record collection, along with the music that his sister (who was ten years older) listened to including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and Led Zeppelin. He also developed a love for Miles Davis’ 1970s recordings, the spiritual Jazz of John and Alice Coltrane, and the deep soul and blues of Chess and Stax records. After some ungratifying drum lessons, when he was 13, his sister bought him a bass. “I was able to play it immediately, learned some riffs from a guitarist, and was soon practicing eight hours a day.” As a teenager, he worked with rock, blues, and acid funk bands. Very interested in making recordings, Swart rented a recording studio in the basement of a hair salon on the graveyard shift and taught himself how to engineer and produce records.
After meeting his future wife and deciding to leave Boston, he spent periods living and working in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Nashville where he led the experimental jam band Funkwrench (which is a nickname for a bass). He engineered the first Pixies demos, worked with Patty Griffin off and on for 17 years, recorded with Morphine, produced and performed with cult underground art-rock band Billy Nayer Show, was part of the acid jazz group Junk/Post Junk Trio, was a founding member of the psychedelic electric blues trio SIMO, and recorded and toured with such artists as Norah Jones, The Indigo Girls, John Hiatt, and Buddy Miller.
After settling back in San Francisco in 2017, Swart and publisher-producer Brian Brinkerhoff founded the Need To Know label, Skunkworks Studios, and Funkwrench Blues. Utilizing Swart’s instrumental blues-oriented compositions and such talents as guitarist Rick Kirch (who worked with John Lee Hooker) and a variety of drummers, they have made recordings with over 200 notable artists. A partial list includes Guitar Shorty, Cash McCall, Fareed Haque, Jim Campilongo, John Hammond, Sonny Landreth, John Primer, Albert Lee, Vieux Farke Toure, Mr. Sipp, Tommy Castro, and Duke Robillard but that only hints at the wide variety of performers.
With the release of Soundtrack To A Film Without Pictures, Frank Swart realizes some of his musical dreams while listeners get to discover his vivid imagination. He sums up the project: “This is my first album like this, not my last one. There will be a touring version of the band and I hope to perform this music at festivals in 2024. This album is the result of my hero’s journey. The listener will bring their own story to it and that, in effect, will create yet another story. I regard art as a spiritual quest and my destiny is to play music as a way of life. It is my life's work and a sustainable profession; both financially and spiritually. This is what I was meant to do and I plan to continue following my bliss.”