Taylor Eigsti's 'Plot Armor' (GroundUP)

GroundUP is excited to announce the March 1 release of Plot Armor, the latest album by GRAMMY-winning musical pianist-composer Taylor Eigsti.

The follow-up LP to his GRAMMY-winning Tree Falls, the pianist-composer-bandleader's ninth album and GroundUP Music label debut boasts twin masters in each instrumental slot—featured guest (vocalist Lisa Fischer, trumpeter Terence Blanchard); vocals (Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens); saxophone (Ben Wendel, Dayna Stephens); guitar (Charles Altura, Julian Lage); keyboards/piano (Maya Kronfeld, the man himself); bass (David "DJ" Ginyard, Harish Raghavan); drums (Oscar Seaton, Jr., Kendrick Scott), plus many appearances by a layered string section (Stephanie Yu, Corinne Sobolewski, Mia Barcia-Colombo, Jules Levy).

"The only instrument that didn't have more than one representative was flute, " he notes. "But Rebecca Kleinmann did triple herself most of the time and played different parts. So she had clones, at least.

"I wanted to build the whole record around two concepts: One was using the bands that I'm playing with frequently—Oscar and DJ and Charles and Maya, " Eigsti says. "And I also wanted more than one representative of every instrument on this record. It's been a huge source of joy to play with Harish, Kendrick, and Julian over the years, and I'm so happy they were able to join us on this project."

Plot Armor continues Eigsti's winning approach of showcasing eleven of his original compositions plus a standard. With ace string arrangements by Andrew Balogh, its orchestral lushness showcases Eigsti's compositional prowess and his experiences sharing the bandstand with the Turtle Island String Quartet as a member of Blanchard's E-Collective band (along with Altura, Ginyard and Seaton). "The Rumor" began as an improvisation between Eigsti and Turtle Island violist Benni von Gutzeit.

"Andrew really turned these string arrangements into one of the most important components of this whole record, " Eigsti reflects. "I've written a lot of music for symphony orchestra over the years, and Andrew added such a beautiful dimension to these tunes with his orchestrations that captures a cinematic quality throughout."

"Let You Bee" (a song which Eigsti describes as a tribute to a bumblebee that wouldn't leave him alone) opens Plot Armor and comes to a conclusion with a masterful Altura mini-masterclass in guitar. "Charles personifies the bee, " Eigsti points out. "You hear him soloing towards the end of that tune, and he becomes like the bee, free to buzz around wherever he pleases."

"Taylor just does such a great job of setting up a creative space for everyone to collaborate and feel so natural, " Altura says. "He's a master at bringing his different communities together."

"Look Around You" was adapted from Eigsti's ambitious "Imagine Our Future" Hewlett 50 Arts Commission, which premiered in 2022 at the Community School of Music in Mountain View, CA and included the likes of Fischer, Kleinmann and Wendel. "The tune is about appreciating the little details that are around you, " Eigsti shares. "Texturally, I wanted this piece to give the listener something different to tune into every time. So there are instruments that morph into other instruments and kind of pop out of nowhere to represent the little things around us that sometimes we don't notice but make us who we are."

The title track is a philosophical theme that Eigsti has been pondering: "It's the concept of character protection within a story and just acknowledging there's a purpose in creating something that you might not understand yet, " he explains. "There are a lot of analogies to my own life, the fact that I've outlived my immediate family. It feels there has to be a purpose for that. If you're out here surviving, there's a reason why.

"I come across those reasons all the time from different people who are affected by the music in a certain way, " he continues. "Sometimes people will tell me they wrote something because they heard something I played. I think there's a chain reaction and purpose behind creating something and putting that music into the world that is important to have confidence in. It allows you then to write without fear knowing that the reason you created something will reveal itself much later on."

"Light Dream" was written in honor of Wayne Shorter, who passed away on March 2, 2023. E-Collective has honored the saxophone titan and legendary composer, and Eigsti wanted to pay his respects with Blanchard on trumpet. "Wayne's music makes me feel like I do when I fall asleep with the lights on and have different kinds of dreams with lucidity and inspiration.That's where that title comes from, " he reveals.

Eigsti's mother, Nancy, receives the first of two official tributes via "Fire Within, " which is her posthumous debut as a lyricist. "She passed away just two weeks before I started recording this album, " he recounts. Eigsti pondered taking a break for extended mourning but knew his mother would have wanted him to persevere. "My head and heart were so deeply in this record, and I carried that into this project.

"She was a damn good writer and never did anything with it. Going through all of her writings after she passed —her journals and diaries— allowed me to get to know her inner world better, " he adds. "I found so many amazing phrases and metaphors in the way she wrote.

"I had no intention of recording 'Fire Within' when I started out the process of planning this record. It just demanded itself to be recorded. It tells her story in a way that I feel she would have been okay with. It meant a lot to record this with Lisa and Julian because I consider them like family, and the way Lisa went deep into my mom's character in that piece is something that I'll always remember."

"'Beyond the Blue, ' with Gretchen's lyrics, literally deals with loss and the beyond, " Eigsti says, of the second song to honor his mother. (The Japanese version of Plot Armor contains an interpretation of "Nancy with the Smiling Face"—understandably his mother's favorite standard.)

As a child prodigy growing up on the Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, Eigsti memorized, interpreted and performed many a standard. His take on "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" may reflect back on that part of his youth. But it does from a decidedly grown up perspective.

"I've genuinely been obsessed with the lyrics of 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, '" he admits. "The later you get into the verses, the more real it gets. It's cool because there's an evolution from where at the start you see someone totally transfixed on someone else. And then they're examining pros and cons. By the end, it's 'Bewitched, bothered and bewildered no more, ' which I think is an important resolution, so I treated it like a breakup song."

Though Plot Armor sounds relaxed and like it was captured in a series of live group sessions, it's another heavily layered production that's a testament to Eigsti's well-organized work ethic as a bandleader and independent musician. "For Tree Falls, I basically got everything done in six tracking days. And with this, it was a total of about 70 days in the studio with more like 20 to 30 tracking days of just adding different things, " he says. "We really did this gradually, with different sessions in both in L.A. and New York.

"I'm lucky to have found a really incredibly cool open-minded bunch of people who encourage exploration and discovery and new music, " he concludes. "And there's such a great cast of folks on GroundUP. I'm already a big fan of a lot of their music and am friends with so many people on their label that it just feels like another family."


Born on September 24, 1984 and raised in Menlo Park, CA on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula and in the shadows on the Stanford University campus (and the future first home of Facebook), Eigsti first started playing piano when he was four. A child prodigy, he had his first paying gig at age eight, opening for fellow pianist/composer and future mentor David Benoit.

After studying at University of Southern California for a year and half, Eigsti lived and worked in the Los Angeles area from 2004 through 2007 before moving to Oakland for a year and a half. He's lived in New York City since 2008 and has released eight studio albums and a live recording. Tree Falls was awarded Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in April 2022.

Track list:

Let You Bee
Bucket of F's (feat. Ben Wendel)
Look Around You (feat. Becca Stevens)
Plot Armor
Light Dream (feat. Terence Blanchard)
Fire Within (feat. Lisa Fischer)
The Rumor
Beyond The Blue (feat. Gretchen Parlato)
Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered
Bad Sport Lobby

write your comments about the article :: © 2024 Jazz News :: home page