Smile Politely

Aberdeen and The NYChillharmonic to jazz up Rose Bowl this Friday

Brian Plautz is the leader of the band Aberdeen. Sara McDonald runs things for her band, The NYChillharmonic. On Friday, December 2nd, the two groups will be bringing their vibrant jazz/indie sound to the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana.

Photo by Liz Maney.

Those who turn up for the show will be able to see Aberdeen play its soon-to-be released single, “Losing Eurydice,” featuring drummer and composer Antonio Sánchez, a four-time Grammy Award winner. “We cannot wait to share it with the world,” said Plautz, whose band will release its second album in early 2023.

McDonald, meanwhile, graduated from Central High School in Champaign and has played four times in C-U with The NYChillharmonic. She was a member of the Central High School marching band and said the twin cities “feels like home” to her.

The shows will have a close-knit, familial vibe with the bands using some of the same musicians for both sets and also hiring local players, a practice that has worked well for The NYChillharmonic in the past (more on that in the Q&A below).

Plautz and McDonald, who write and arrange their bands’ music, book the shows, and handle overall managing duties, took some time to share their thoughts with Smile Politely prior to the upcoming tour, which begins November 29th.

Smile Politely: What brought your bands together for this tour?

Plautz/Aberdeen: We’re lucky to be in a large community of like-minded musicians who live in Brooklyn, often playing shows together and playing with similar band members. For this tour, we’re sharing a rhythm section, meaning Aberdeen and The NYChillharmonic will have the same bass player, drummer, and guitarist, along with an alto saxophonist and tenor saxophonist. Beyond that, we’re utilizing a model that’s worked great for The NYChillharmonic in the past, hiring local musicians to fill out the rest of the bands. Aberdeen and The NYChillharmonic have some crossover in our fan bases as well. 

McDonald/The NYChillharmonic: I’ve been touring with The NYChillharmonic for a while with this specific format, bringing the core rhythm section with me on the road and then hiring local horn and string players from the cities where we’re performing. I knew I was going to book a Midwest tour again, and I really wanted Aberdeen to come with us. We play with a lot of the same musicians in NYC and have shared bills in the past, so it’s already a great fit. As Brian mentioned, we share a similar fan base. There’s some nice crossover there.

Photo from the NYChillharmonic’s Facebook. 

SP: Were your two bands doing the actual studio recording of the new video “I’ve Lost It”? What stands out to you about that session?

Plautz/Aberdeen: This studio video features Aberdeen and The NYChillharmonic recording the new single, with both bands mashed together as one mega band. The touring party for this upcoming tour is featured in this video and recording, with Sara on vocals and synth, me on alto saxophone, Jared Yee on tenor saxophone, Shubh Saran on guitar, Adam Neely on bass, and Josh Bailey on drums. Pianist Liya Grigoryan was not featured on this recording/video but will be joining us on the road. For me, the best part of this session was getting to hear a tune that Sara and I had written come to life, hearing all our friends interpret our composition, turning it into a fully produced tune.

“I’ve Lost It” was a unique experience because the goal of it was to capture the sound of Aberdeen and The NYChillharmonic simultaneously. Both sounds have unique approaches, with some clear similarities. It was a balancing act to highlight those similarities as well as sprinkle in the unique identifiers.

McDonald/The NYChillharmonic: A mixed-up iteration of both of our bands were taking part in that recording, yes. Aside from all the magical elements previously noted, I would say the sheer amount of final takes we got in that half-day was a cool takeaway for me personally. Usually in a live setting you’re lucky to get a solid scratch vocal and a foundation for the chordal instruments, but everything was pretty much done. We did some overdubs for fun, but things were sounding super solid during pre-mix. Especially my French horn parts.

In terms of vocals, I was listening to a bunch of Bjork and Hanne Hukkelberg, just revisiting some of my old favorites to get inspiration for this symphonic project I’m working on, and it totally translated into some of this song. I would record voice memos of me playing piano and yelling/singing, then drive to Brian’s and force him to listen to my streams-of-consciousness. The result is a mashup of our bands’ sounds because we are the bandleaders, but it’s also sonically different from what we would both usually go for, which I love!

SP: Tell me about the musical inspiration behind the new single by Aberdeen, “Losing Eurydice.”

Plautz/Aberdeen: “Losing Eurydice” was written late at night after coming home from a Bon Iver concert. The melodic approach and textural ambience are directly influenced by Iver. The tune also follows the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, as Orpheus attempts to rescue his lover Eurydice from the underworld and, ultimately and tragically, failing this quest. “Losing Eurydice” features beautiful improvisations by Chloe Rowlands on flugelhorn and Max Zooi on bass clarinet, portraying the honeymoon phase of the story before disaster strikes. Antonio Sánchez is featured on drums, representing the strife and bargaining in the story. The flugelhorn and bass clarinet improvisations return when the lovers reunite, ultimately ending in fading guitars echoing the final loss of Eurydice back to the underworld.

SP: Tell me about your bands’ beginnings and your musical influences?

Plautz/Aberdeen: Aberdeen was born out of a bit of an existential crisis. I studied jazz and improvisation at Berklee College of Music and, while in school, had a quintet in which we played original jazz compositions that featured improvisation heavily. After graduating college, trying to pursue a career with this quintet, I found that it was difficult to capture the attention of audiences. After seeing a hip hop group with a live horn section, I was reminded of my own high school hip hop group that also featured a horn section. The music was more produced and relied less on improvisation, allowing you to have more control over the impact. This led to me starting Aberdeen, rejecting some of the improvisational music I used to love – and still do – and focus more on what I grew up listening to, resulting in a band influenced by Trombone Shorty, Bon Iver, the Brian Blade Fellowship, gospel, and classical music. In reframing who I’d be influenced by, I also tried to start embracing some guilty pleasures like the Backstreet Boys and pop-punk bands.  

McDonald/The NYChillharmonic: I also liked the Brian Blade Fellowship, so I’m stealing that. Aside from having two classical musician parents, I was always super into indie rock and metal. I grew up playing horn in orchestras and acting in musicals, and then I auditioned for jazz bands because I wanted another outlet for singing. I fell in love with that music and then went to college at the The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where I immediately realized I was not a jazz singer, but I migrated to composition and started a rock band and then eventually The NYChillharmonic. This project was absolutely going to be a one off, but I loved writing for so many people, so I just kept it going. It was all trial and error; it still is. Probably mostly error, but I will say I don’t think there is another large ensemble project out there quite like this one. There’s a techno big band in Germany and there are amazing big bands in NYC and many other places. Mine is basically just a big rock band. It’s not entirely fair to real big bands or correct to compare it to jazz.

Photo from The NYChillharmonic’s website.

The show is Friday December 2nd. The doors open at 8 p.m., with Aberdeen playing at 9 p.m. and The NYChillharmonic playing at 10:30 p.m. Tickets go for $20 which you can purchase here.

Top photo from The NYChillharmonic’s Facebook page. 

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