The Normyn Suites

SSC1660 2022-03-25

Track List

Shut Him Down - 4:55
The Normyn Suite #1: Denial - 2:33
The Normyn Suite #1: Anger - 2:40
The Normyn Suite #1: Catharsis - 3:17
The Normyn Suite #1: Nostalgia - 5:10
The Normyn Suite #1: Acceptance - 3:24
Radio Is Everything - 4:29
The Normyn Suite #2: May the Young Grow Old - 3:54
The Normyn Suite #2: Waking from Sedation - 5:55
The Normyn Suite #2: Freedom from the Pain - 1:45
The Normyn Suite #2: Unconditional Love - 3:24
The Normyn Suite #2: La Preghiera - 3:38
The Normyn Suite #2: The Dunes Of Cahoon Hollow - 3:56
Shut Him Down (Video Edit) - 4:06
Newspaper Pane - 4:12
Kenny Dorham - 6:01
Wayne Shorter - 5:17


Michael Leonhart Orchestra
Elvis Costello
Bill Frisell
Nels Cline
Donny McCaslin
Chris Potter
Joshua Redman

The Normyn Suites is both a requiem and celebration, inspired by the life and death of the bandleader’s 15-year-old dog, a female mini dachshund named Normyn. The third album by the Michael Leonhart Orchestra features a pair of suites - the first of which is an exploration of the stages of grieving, while the second is a reflection on love and loss. In keeping with the MLO’s eclectic musical palette, the album features several collaborations with Elvis Costello, with contributions by Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, and JSWISS as well as two bonus offerings with Donny McCaslin.

“The Normyn Suites is an elegy; to listen is to spend time in that space of loss, reckoning, questioning, and mourning. At the same time, though, with each note, each phrase, we are propelled back into life,” reflects author Alexandra Horowitz in the stirring liner notes. The first part is titled “The Normyn Suite #1: (Soundtrack to the Five Stages of Grieving)”, and was inspired by “The Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle”, a model introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. “The Five Stages of Grief” is a critically acclaimed study on how humans handle loss.

For this suite in five parts, Leonhart expands the MLO’s live performance palette of brass, woodwinds and strings to include choir and found percussion over gritty breakbeat drums.
Leonhart shares, “I wanted “Denial” & “Anger” to have an emotional tension and raw quality, almost a whiplash effect, before the contemplative soloing of Bill Frisell over the peaceful “Catharsis”.” The fourth composition, “Nostalgia” opens with a nod to the main melody from a forthcoming composition, “The Dunes Of Cahoon Hollow”, orchestrated for choir and monophonic synths before Jim Pugh (trombone) and Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax) take turns as instrumental narrators. Leonhart’s years with Pugh and Weiskopf as part of the Steely Dan horn section inspired him to choose them specifically for their expressiveness and personal experiences with loss. The final movement of the suite,“Acceptance” starts with Leonhart’s mother Donna singing a wordless melody over chamber strings. Leonhart utilizes gospel harmonies and a written soli over a soulful 6/8 groove to represent the peace and empowerment that come with the true recognition of personal heartbreaking loss.

“The Normyn Suite #2: (Love & Loss)” is a collection of six pieces Leonhart began composing in the final weeks of Normyn’s life, when she was physically too weak to walk and began to lose her appetite. Leonhart would bring her to the studio where she would rest in her favorite bag on top of the grand piano while he played and composed. The six pieces “May The Young Grow Old” (featuring Larry Goldings), “Waking From Sedation” (featuring Bill Frisell), “Freedom From The Pain”, “Unconditional Love”, “La Preghiera”, and “The Dunes Of Cahoon Hollow” take listeners on an dazzling sonic journey.

In addition to the two suites, the album features three songs co-written with Elvis Costello during the quarantine. There are two versions of “Shut Him Down” bookending the suites -- one with Joshua Redman, playing his late father Dewey’s newly restored tenor saxophone for the first time on record, the other with Chris Potter on bass clarinet. Costello performs spoken word on “Radio is Everything”, featuring legendary guitarists Bill Frisell & Nels Cline who also co-wrote the songs with Leonhart and Costello. The final collaboration is the driving “Newspaper Pane”.