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Wednesday, September 15, 2021
C’ – Soul Pilgrimage

September 15, 2021

Far out collaboration

Local pianist teams with Tim Reynolds for new record

By Shea Gibbs

Tim Reynolds is busy these days. He’s shredding on tour with Dave Matthews Band while playing Dave & Tim shows in between. He’s dabbling in livestreams, and is only two years removed from his last TR3 album.

But when his old Charlottesville friend, Michael Sokolowski, called during the pandemic last year, Reynolds freed up some time in his schedule. “We’ve been working together for almost 30 years,” Reynolds says. “We go way back.”

Sokolowski’s proposal? A follow-up album to the duo’s 1992 collaboration Common Margins, a direct-to-two-track recording of Sokolowski on acoustic piano and Reynolds on semi-hollowbody jazz guitar.

For fans of the first album waiting on the edge of their seats for 29 years, the new collab might not be what they expected. On Soul Pilgrimage, which dropped as a digital album and streaming on August 25 (CDs and vinyl records are coming in fall), the friends worked together from a distance, and Sokolowski set the tone with a more electronic-minded perspective.

“I don’t know if it was what we were expecting,” Sokolowski says. “I’m not even sure what those expectations were. Over my career, I’ve always played piano. I’ve had synths and electronic keyboards in bands, but I’ve never gotten deep into synth patch creation, the analog synth world. It took the lockdown to get really into it.”

Reynolds has gone the other way on technology. He doesn’t have a home studio—or even a computer, legend has it—so for Soul Pilgrimage, Sokolowski laid down his side of the project and sent it to Reynolds along with a decent-quality digital audio recorder.

Reynolds listened to the piece of music—“just some great Michael shit,” he says—and played a guitar part as an accompaniment. He didn’t love his first pass.

“The first time, I was not locked in,” Reynolds says. “On the second take, I realized I didn’t need to mess with the knobs. I just needed to play guitar…It was like, ‘just smoke a joint and get into it.’”

Reynolds was satisfied the second time around and sent the recording to Sokolowski. Back in Charlottesville, the pianist-cum- producer started putting the pieces together.

The first thing Sokolowski noticed? Instead of plugging directly into the recorder, Reynolds jacked into his own amp and used the recorder’s microphone to pick him up. “Had I known, I would have sent better mics,” Sokolowski laughs. “You could hear where he clicked the pedal. I was sort of nonplussed. But I got past that and just let it wash over me.”

The happy accident limited Sokolowski’s ability to chop the recording up and make distinct songs, so he built a 27-minute title track around the heart of Reynolds’ guitar playing. The only thing he changed about the original recording was to break the jam into three parts to make it vinyl-ready.

Sokolowski used other pieces of Reynolds’ performance to produce five more tracks. For the album’s balance, he reversed the creative process, reacting in his studio to the guitar parts. On penultimate track “Homunculus,” for example, Sokolowski uses a portion of Reynolds’ playing as a rhythm loop and lets another guitar piece trot over it as lead. It’s the most obvious example on the record of sound collaging, which Sokolowski says he did less of than expected, due to Reynolds’ own process.

“At the beginning, I thought I would just put some cool sounds down and he would send back super-clean guitar tracks,” Sokolowski says. “I realized he had the right idea anyway. It has shape and form and flow and melody and all of that stuff. He was hearing form in all of my sounds that I maybe only heard intuitively. I was putting it down—not in a haphazard state—but not in the way it would end up.”

And how does Soul Pilgrimage end up? On the surface, it sounds more in line with an electronic record than a strings-and-keys duo—more Groove Armada than Bill Evans and Jim Hall. But at its base, it’s guitar and piano playing, something Sokolowski wanted to highlight by avoiding emulated sounds throughout.

For Reynolds, the results couldn’t be more different from the type of guitar he plays on a nightly basis with DMB. This time, he’s filling the space between, you might say.

“When I’m playing with Dave, there is a different sense of space because the music has a different purpose,” Reynolds says. “But I love it. I’m a fan of ambient music. It has a lot of surprises, and it’s all wonderful.”