Yale’s jazz scene recently reached a new milestone, as an undergraduate group teamed up with a music industry legend to make their first album.
Composed of Alexander Dubovoy ’16, Hans Bilger ’16, Eli Brown ’17, Harvey Xia ’16 and Emma Akrawi ’14, Newspeak released a digital album titled “Machinery of Night” last Tuesday. Eleven-time Grammy winner and recording engineer Jack Renner produced the album. Members of the ensemble noted that the songs in the album focused on an organic and intimate style that is different than what many people normally associate with jazz music.
“The underlying idea was that when a lot of people hear that we are a jazz group, they automatically pigeonhole that into us playing bebop or one of the older styles,” said Dubovoy, pianist and leader of Newspeak.
Dubovoy explained that the album was largely inspired by the Allen Ginsberg poem “Howl,” noting that the album’s title comes from a line in the poem. He said that one track, titled “Interlude: Howl,” sets the words in the poem to a piece that he composed in high school, adding that many of the poem’s themes are echoed throughout the album.
The design on the album’s cover features an amorphous collection of gears, wheels and tubes that are mostly colored black, blue or white. Annelisa Leinbach ’16, a former illustrations editor for the News who created the cover art, said she centered the imagery on ideas drawn from the album’s title and atmosphere. Initially drawn in black and blue on white paper, the image was then scanned and inverted to create an inverse of the original drawing, she explained.
“I liked the sort of night effect that it created, and that was something that we talked about a lot,” Leinbach said. “It has a dark romantic feel to it.”
Bilger, who plays bass in the group, said that his favorite song in the album was “Oyfn Pripetchik,” an old Yiddish lullaby that Dubovoy’s grandfather used to sing. Bilger noted that much of the original melody is maintained, though group members have altered several parts of the song by adding musical lines that they devised.
The final recording session for the album took place in May. Dubovoy said that after most of the album had been recorded, he and Bilger decided to spend some time improvising music, which resulted in the duo recording a new interpretation of the traditional bluegrass tune, “Tennessee Waltz.” Dubovoy noted that he was unfamiliar with the song prior to recording it for the album.
“I didn’t know the chords to ‘Tennessee Waltz’ before we played it, which is why the track starts off with just Hans playing, because he’s kind of teaching it to me as he plays it in the intro,” Dubovoy said.
The group’s name, Newspeak, is a reference to the language used by the autocracy in British author George Orwell’s “1984.” Xia explained that the group chose the term as their name because the word, which sounds like “new speak,” represented the group’s progressive style.
“We’re introducing new sounds, a new language,” Xia said. “We try to do more than just playing jazz standards by adding our own creativity and spontaneity.”
Julian Rosenblum ’18, a member of the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective who has performed with members of Newspeak, highlighted the group’s original approach to jazz. He explained that while most Jazz Collective events feature only traditional jazz pieces, Newspeak has always been known for their modern interpretations of such works.
Newspeak was founded in 2012.