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“We as human beings can manifest our own futures,” says pianist and composer Victor Gould. “The older I get, the more apparent it’s become to me that thoughts really do become things.”
During a phone conversation in late September, Gould explains the meaning behind the title of Thoughts Become Things (Blue Room Music), his third album as a leader. His observations reflect a worldview that underpins every note captured on the recording, a complex and ambitious musical statement built around a narrative that’s structurally stealthy but philosophically specific.
“I’m painting the picture of a fictional journey, where someone is racing through thoughts and organizing them in their head,” he says. “In the beginning, the tonality is kind of minor, or even darker than minor. But slowly, bit by bit, it becomes happier and happier, and by the end of the piece, it’s like this character has finally broken out of that negative thought pattern. It’s never resolved, but they’re in a better place.”
Gould’s personal odyssey began in Simi Valley, California, where his early love of classical music bent toward jazz due in part to the influence of Hollis Gould, his father, a talented amateur flute player. “One of the main reasons he got me on piano is because he wanted somebody to play with at the house,” Gould notes, laughing. “We were always jamming.” When the pair wasn’t making their own music, the house was filled with the sounds of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Hollis’ personal favorite, flutist and saxophonist Hubert Laws. And while he let his son borrow his discs, he imposed a strict limit. “He only let me have four of his CDs at a time in my room,” Gould recalls. “I had to be really organized to get through his entire collection.”
Rather than abandoning his affection for classical music, however, Gould found ways of incorporating some of its elements into his jazz songwriting. “I did a piece for symphony orchestra toward the end of my master’s degree program at the Thelonious Monk Institute in New Orleans,” he says. “It made me confident to add that instrumentation.”
Indeed, the blending of string quartet arrangements with wind instruments played by the likes of saxophonists Godwin Louis and Dayna Stephens, as well as masterful flutist Anne Drummond, gives Thoughts Become Things a scale and sweep that’s emblematic of Gould’s work. It’s a point of pride, as well. “I remember a critic saying that some of my music was too dramatic,” he says. “But I think of that as a compliment. Drama is a big part of music.”
Another key contributor to Thoughts, trumpeter and longtime collaborator Jeremy Pelt, co-produced the new offering. Gould credits Pelt with suggesting the haunting melody played by cellist Susan Mandel on the title track. The trumpeter also encouraged Gould to include “Brand New,” a fascinating solo-piano improvisation that he originally considered adapting as an introduction for another song. And the pair duet on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” a heartfelt version of the Jimmy Van Heusen chestnut that Gould sees as epitomizing the optimistic state his protagonist reaches. “The idea of polka dots and moonbeams is a little surreal, a little mystical,” he acknowledges. “But it’s a different way of looking at things we don’t always understand.”
The set concludes with the propulsive “What Do We Need,” in which Gould tackles questions of an existential nature. “I’m asking, ‘What does society need? What does planet Earth need?’” he says. “The melody is sort of a question. And when the piano, the strings and the bass come in, that’s the answer.” - Michael Roberts