Veteran pianist Lynne Arriale is no stranger to writing for the times, and her latest album, The Lights Are Always On, is an evocative reflection of our collective recovery from the pandemic of 2020. It’s Arriale’s 16th release as a bandleader, her third for Challenge Records and her second with Dutch bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer E.J. Strickland.
Somsen not only lays down the low-end groove but is also the co-producer for the album, which adds an even deeper level of musical chemistry with Arriale. E.J. Strickland provides the missing percussive piece to bring these trio arrangements to life. Pianist and composer Arriale describes them as “brilliant musicians” that “have so much heart in everything they do.”
All original compositions, the tracks were written mainly to honor the modern American hero, including the frontline healthcare workers who labored tirelessly through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as those who helped preserve democracy during the January 6th insurrection.
Noting the hardships over the last couple of years, Arriale explains that “it was a very tough time for all of us, and I wanted to somehow translate that into something positive and to send out a message of hope through the music.” She’s created what she calls a “musical profile in courage.”
The title track of the album is inspired by an interview Arriale heard on MSNBC, during the lockdown, with a surgeon from Tacoma, Washington, named Dr. Prakash Gada. She describes a moment where the doctor is speaking about treating COVID patients and says, “No matter what happens, no one works from home. The lights are always on. We will take care of you, I promise.”
That dedication gave the pianist the impetus to focus the collection of compositions on the struggle and the sacrifice of everyday people during the pandemic.
Other tracks include “Sisters,” a soulful gospel groove that honors women across the world in the fight for gender equality. Arriale says that she “thinks of all [my] sisters around the world and all the things they do every day; they raise kids, they lead countries, they are nuclear physicists, they do it all.”
Although all 10 of the tracks on The Lights Are Always On are instrumentals, Arriale crafts them with the intention of speaking to a certain feeling and a certain time, particularly for Americans. In the folk-tinged “Sounds Like America,” the pianist describes the song as “about possibilities, hope, and strength of spirit.” and that she “wanted to convey that in the most broad sense because everyone has a different sense of what America is to them.”
Several of the songs have specific dedications to people that Arriale considers to be heroes. The harmonically colorful “Honor” for Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, the slow hymn-like “Walk In My Shoes” for congressman John Lewis, and the hard-hitting swing of “The Notorious RBG” for supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The seasoned pianist is continuing to tour everywhere this summer, from Europe to the American midwest. You can find dates at http://www.lynnearriale.com/calendar