To call Enoch Lee a musician would be selling him short. With two music degrees under his belt Lee is taking on the world as a true artist who happens to operate through the medium of music. Through his hours of education and practice he has discovered, music spans much further than skill and technical abilities on the instrument. Music for Lee holds the ability to capture raw emotion and beauty to then be adapted to a universal language for everyone to understand. This ability obviously fascinates Lee, who does not take this potential lightly. From speaking with Enoch Lee it appears every little detail on his new album Finish Line has been thought out. Musicians were carefully chosen for their stylistic strengths and capabilities to communicate through provocation. Each tune was composed with a strong message or story and the album as a whole is meant to link together to present a larger message. The music was built around Lee’s vision or picture. To maintain no emotion was lost in translation Lee would visualize what he felt and sing the parts and lines to later be arranged and be recorded by instruments.
The opening track Remember The End acts as an overture for the album, introducing the rhythm section as drums, piano, bass and guitar gel over a vamp. The piece fades, only to introduce the vamp at a faster tempo and greater intensity as the album launches into In The Battle. David Binney joins the ensemble on sax with the melody, doubled by both guitar and synth to create an interesting sonic texture. A noticeably distinct element of the album becomes apparent after a few songs. The instruments never change location once introduced. Nir Felder on guitar will always be to the right, and Drew Gress’s bass is always slightly to the left. At first this came off as laziness but soon felt as if it was on purpose. The consistency of placement in turn places stronger focus on the compositions and musical elements each musician introduces. With each musician’s space marked off, any change in rhythm, any fill, or any variance becomes immediately apparent. There is no masking or fighting for space, and this specific element of consistency makes Finish Line an incredibly easy yet enjoyable album to listen to. Lee has successful produced an album that will certainly please both hard-core jazz and fusion listeners as well as casual listeners.
Although Enoch Lee identifies as a jazz musician, Finish Line is truly a fusion album. But saying this requires a little bit of clarification. Fusion to some means high level of technical playing over obscure time signatures with lengthy solos, but as you well hear with Finish Line Lee honestly fuses together several genres as a way to communicate his story. The intended focus of the album is not on the specific musician’s technical ability or whether they can justify using all twelve tones in a solo. The intended focus is intended to be the music as a whole for the overall story and feel. Lee has tastefully created an album that can be appreciated and enjoyed by both the casual jazz listener for the feel and sound, as well as the seasoned musicians looking to dig deeper into the tunes messages and what links the album together. Hopefully the title Finish Line marks the end of his education, but the beginning of this artist’s career.
Enoch Lee spoke with Abstract Logix about his album Finish Line and what music truly means to him.
Abstract Logix: How did your line up of musicians come together?
Enoch Lee: I would first like to mention that it was truly a blessing to have had the opportunity to record an album with these great musicians! The way the line-up came together was simple; I created a sample of my music using software instruments and reached out to each musician asking if they would be interested in joining me in this project. Drew Gress was an exception as he was my instructor when I attended New York University, so I had a privilege of asking him in person. Thankfully, these great musicians all agreed.
ABLX: While listening to the record I was not only impressed by the compositions but the musicians backing you. What characteristics do you look for in musicians?
EL: Even though I categorized Finish Line as a Jazz album, I do not consider myself solely as a Jazz Musician. My goal was to make music that I love. For this album, I did not limit myself to a particular genre or style, rather I tried to listen to myself and focus on what I really wanted to play. While playing, I did want to use some concepts inspired from the Jazz style. One of these concepts was improvisation, which played a crucial role in my album. I sought for musicians who can perform various musical styles while being a good improviser at the same time. David Binney’s sound is very progressive, and Nir’s style had just the right amount of rock sound. I sought for a bassist who can do great arco playing as well as sensitive playing, and Drew Gress came up as the obvious choice. Finally, Nate is a super groovy player. To top it all off, they were all great improvisers. It was a necessary requirement to be able to blend their characteristics together through my music.
ABLX: What do you hope listeners take away from listening to Finish Line?
EL: The main take away that I want my listeners to get out is the story/message. While putting this project together, I gave a lot of thought to the story telling aspect of music. Each song on my album has a meaning that contributes to one big story that I would like listeners to try and figure out.
There are two types of audiences when it comes to music. There is a group, Jazz lovers, with profound music knowledge, who can analyze the music in more detailed manner. However, there is also another group, who don’t know what good jazz components are or what good improvisation is. To the second group, they just like the feel and the pure sound of Jazz music. I tried to relate to the latter group who purely enjoys the sound. Although, I do believe that analyzing improvisation is very important as the improvisation shows what each performers felt while recording the piece; this technical aspect of the music composition was used as a tool to deliver my story. That is why for Finish Line, I want my audiences to focus more on the overall story and message rather than the technical part of the music.
ABLX: You’ve said you focus on composing music that expresses “true beauty”. How do you translate that emotion into music?
EL: One of the things I do while composing music is singing and recording. While composing, if I feel a particular emotion or a feeling, I sing and record it so I can always remember what I felt at that specific moment. Once I established overall emotions and the mood of the music, then I work on creating a story, whether a brand new story or an existing story, and apply the melody I recorded earlier. I firmly believe that when it comes to composing, emotion cannot live without a story. The story is the link that ties all the emotions and feelings together. That is why when I play the music, I constantly picture the story in my head so that I can blend my song with the emotion I felt. Of course, the process of composing and playing my music may change depending on the situation, but having that fundamental story will always be a key to translate my emotions into music.
ABLX: Who do you cite as some of your biggest influences as both a composer and a pianist?
EL: The answer is easy, and he’s not a pianist—Drew Gress. As I mentioned previously, I met him while attending New York University. I basically spent my entire academic time with him. Of course, we spent a majority of our time playing music, but we also had great conversations on many things such as humans, nature, musicianship, balance of music, atmosphere on stage, experience as a listener, and the list goes on. His stories and his words were always genuine, and it really had a big influence on me. While talking to him and spending more time with him, I’ve noticed that some of my old beliefs were changing. I realized that music is not the only thing that matters in the world. The world we live in is big, it continuously creates many big stories and music happens to be a part of this big story. As I wanted to be part of this big story that the world is composing, I question myself “what is my music for?”, “what do I really want to say?”, “what do I need to do to be part of this story?”. These questions and my conversations with Drew was an eye opening experience to me. I’ve always tried to compose and play what I thought was good. Now I look at the big picture, not only what I enjoy but look at what my audiences would like to hear as well. Music has become much more enjoyable since then. Undoubtedly, his influence became a significant part of my musical style.
ABLX: What was your recording experience like at MSR Studios?
EL: There is no doubt that it is an awesome studio. The staff was really kind, and you can easily tell that they are out there for the musicians. The equipment and the instruments they provide are of high quality. I never felt uncomfortable while I was recording. I can definitely say that it was the perfect studio for me. I do have to give a big shout-out to the engineers, Bojan Dugic and Jack Mason. They know their equipment very well, and this was evident when there was no delay when setting things up every time. Bojan was delightedly quick in figuring out what I wanted. Communication was smooth and flawless with him, as he would provide clear explanations of engineering terms that I would not understand when answering my questions. Simply put, the session experience was comfortable and fun.
ABLX: With two degrees in music, what do you think the most important thing you learned while seeking a degree was?
EL: I think the most important thing was finding out who I am. When I was a student, I was good at remembering different typyes of music. I was able to remember the song and sing it after listening to the song a few times. However, I did have hard time with certain types of music and it almost felt like I didn’t connect with the music. After looking into the reason behind it, I realized that it was because I had my own musical preferences and flavors. It was a moment that made me realize who I really am in terms of preferences. Also, my favorite professor and friend Doug Johnson helped me passionately, in this search to find myself. I first met him at Berklee, and he never tried push a concept of “styles”. He introduced me to what he liked and asked me how I felt about them. He was such an amazing and compassionate person, allowing me to easily share what I really thought without a hesitation that usually came when interacting with professors. He tried to understand my background and my culture, and with his understanding, he helped me to express what’s inside of me. This eventually became my basic foundation as a musician, and I definitely believe that it is a good foundation to stand on. This experience allowed me to escape the musical disease of comparison and helped to accept who I am as a musician. With this, I was truly able to love music.