Rachel Eckroth talks about Portland’s upcoming gig, her latest album ‘The Garden’

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Rachel Eckroth Contribution photo

A musical chameleon comes to Maine for a special show at 8 p.m. on Monday, December 27 at Sun Tiki Studios at 375 Forest Ave. in Portland ([email protected]).

Rachel Eckroth is a pianist, singer, keyboardist, composer, producer, arranger, band leader and sideman with 20 albums (as leader or co-leader) to her credit, the most recent being “The Garden”, which she will be celebrating by performing at Sun Tiki Studios this next Monday evening. Eckroth, who is a fan of all kinds of genres, was kind enough to chat with me from his home in Tucson, Arizona recently about his music and about the upcoming trip to our beautiful state.

Q: Let me start by saying that I have never spoken to someone so diverse – it’s amazing!

Eckroth: Thank you (laughs).

Q: You have to take advantage of all these different avenues that you can take.
Eckroth: Yeah, I do. You know, I’ve been a sideman for a good part of my career, which means I had to learn different styles and that’s why I play all kinds of keyboards and not just piano. So, yes, it just comes with the territory; but along the way I was able to make my own music in different ways.

Q: Sure, it’s like asking a parent what their favorite kid is, but is there one style you prefer over another?
Eckroth: You know my first love is jazz so I would say jazz is where I usually end up.

Q: Now you come to Maine for a show in Portland at Sun Tiki Studios. What kind of performance can people expect?
Eckroth: Well, we’re going to do the music for my new album called “The Garden” which is now Grammy nominated, so it’s exciting. So it’s basically kind of keyboard / synth focused jazz, but it’s a bit beyond jazz, it’s improvisation with a lot of melodic and compositional material involved.

Q: Do you play a lot in Maine?

Eckroth: It will be my first time as a solo artist.

Q: Well if you are a foodie you couldn’t have picked a better place than Portland.
Eckroth: Oh, I’m excited, I’m really excited to eat… I’m still excited to eat (laughs)!

Q: When was “The Garden” released?
Eckroth: It was released on September 3rd on a label called Rainy Days Records and they are based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Q: Russia? !
Eckroth: Yes, it’s like a very strange connection but it’s through my husband who has played on some of the records of the artists of Rainy Days. My husband is the bass player who will be coming with us to Portland.

Q: What is the story behind “The Garden”?
Eckroth: We started writing this kind of music during the pandemic, my husband Tim and I were stuck at home, so we had to compose the music ourselves with no other people involved, obviously. So we did a lot of improv jams at home with synths, drum machines and instruments, and we recorded this stuff just for fun, we made videos and stuff like that. And then the label, Rainy Days, really liked what we were doing, so they asked us to make an album based on that sound.

Q: I think it was on your site that I found a video with you and your husband: he was playing bass and you were singing.
Eckroth: Right after we did this video for NPR, we did a duet recording that we called “The Blackbird Sessions”, where he just played double bass and I just sang, and we did a bunch of standards. It’s online and it’s something we did in early 2021, kind of for the sake of seeing if we could do it. So we made a full recording of it. I started out as a keyboard player, but when I was young I sang a lot too, and I still do; I have a lot of vocal projects that I do. Obviously “The Garden” isn’t one of them, there’s only one vocal number on it, so the show in Portland will be more of an instrumental party.

Q: It’s a shame because you have such a wonderful voice.
Eckroth: Thank you.

Q: What does your catalog of records look like?
Eckroth: If you look online, there’s a real variety of stuff, I’ve always been a songwriter so I’ve always tried to write different things. I actually started writing songs with lyrics and stuff about 15 years ago, so I have a few records online where it’s vocals, but you’ll hear a lot of my arrangements, especially on the record called “Let Go”. There are a few singer-songwriter records out there: one is more focused on synths and the other with more acoustic instruments. I’m working on other stuff now, but it’ll probably be like big ensemble stuff, hopefully my next album will be. And I also have a very acoustic singer-songwriter EP with four tracks that I did last year.

Q: Just with this quick rundown, you’re definitely on the music map for sure.
Eckroth: I know, I can’t control myself.

Q: Please never try!
Eckroth: It’s too late for that, anyway.

Q: Good. Now, is there anything you would like to pass on to people reading this article?
Eckroth: Yeah, you know what? Just mention that “The Garden” is a Grammy nominee now, and if you could mention the names of the band members, that would be great. The drummer is Nate Wood and my husband is Tim Lefebvre, he is the bassist.

Lucky Clark, winner of the 2018 Keeping the Blues Alive Award, has spent over 50 years writing about great music and the people who make it. He can be contacted at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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