By Scott Cunningham
Published Oct. 26, 2015
Where Love Begins is the title of the forthcoming album from The Blues Cabaret. It just might be a fitting title for the next chapter in Dave Fleschner's career as well.
The Portland-based pianist, composer, and arranger has been making albums in the area since he moved here in 1995 from Northern California. None, though, are quite like Where Love Begins.
If you haven't heard of The Blues Cabaret, that's okay due to the fact it is a brand new project, the brainchild of Fleschner and long-time friend and fellow musician Earl Thomas. Fleschner and Thomas first met on a Blues cruise and Fleschner credits him for providing the spark that eventually resulted in the project.
After playing with Curtis Salgado for six years, Fleschner struck out on his own, drawn to the appeal of performing as a duo with Alan Hager. "I was trying to do more of this duo kind of stuff because I was just sick of playing in bands. Trying to keep a band working is difficult. With a duo, you can have a not so good kind of night and everybody still comes out ahead (financially)."
Fleschner and Thomas had gotten to know each other and through a stroke of fortuitous timing and geography, at the time Thomas was living in the same town Fleschner grew up in, the two played a one-off gig one night that went incredibly well.
"The next day, Earl called me up and asked me to join his band," Fleschner recalls during an extended conversation at his home in Southwest Portland. "I realized later that he was training me to be his music director."
"In the meantime, I've been playing him a lot of my songs, mostly in an effort to get him to put one on an Earl Thomas record. Instead, he convinced me to do this whole project."
Fleschner originally envisioned the material he was writing to result in another duo record with Hager. As Thomas listened to more and more of the material, he encouraged Fleschner to take the songs he had written to another level.
The Blues Cabaret emerged from these conversations and is the name of the band for Where Love Begins. Included on the album are four vocalists, three horns, guitar, upright bass, drums, piano, and a string quartet.
Ample harmonies and lead switching provide plenty of room for Thomas, Fleschner, and the remaining two vocalists, Jimmy Wilcox and Billy Mixer, who are soloists for the Portland Gay Men's Chorus.
"Both Billy and Jimmy wrote a lot of the vocal harmonies. But it became more of an ensemble thing. Instead of Earl in front and two singers, it is all of us getting a turn at lead and all of us backing each other up. There's a lot of four part harmony and three part harmony."
Fleschner has done a lot of arranging for other artists and choirs, but Where Love Begins is his first attempt at complex arrangements of his own material. "It is the most ambitious project I've done for myself," he says.
Style-wise, the album covers a lot of ground and includes some funky material with big bass lines and horns, some shuffles with a bluesy feel, Jazz, and a bit of Pop.
“Don't Dig Too Deep,” the album's lead track, is reminiscent of early Dr. John, with plenty of piano, horns, and funky bass lines. “I Want to Love You” is a sweeping ballad with piano and strings that has a Ray Charles feel.
Most of the 13 cuts on the album exist in these boundaries between Jazz, Blues, and Soul. One marked departure from this formula is “Goin' to a Party,” a tale of attending a swingers ball.
"Earl calls me up and says 'I've got a great idea for this song, let's do Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy like an Andrews Sisters song but it's three gay guys,'" Fleschner recalls.
The result is a humorous musical foray straight out of 1940s Swing.
An album release party has been scheduled for November 7th, 8:00 p.m. at the Alberta Rose Theater in Portland and will include the full band. At 6:30 p.m. there will be a special VIP champagne reception that includes early seating and a CD for $60. Tickets are available now through the Alberta Rose website (albertarosetheater.com). General admission is $15 or $30 including a CD.