Courtesy of Ben Beckman

During his leave of absence, composer Ben Beckman ’24 is co-producing an album that he hopes will break the boundaries of typical jazz music.

The project began in June, when Beckman’s high school friend Roshan Nayar contacted him about producing an instrumental jazz fusion album together. Beckman, who had already opted to take a leave of absence due to the lack of music events on campus, was excited about the project. He and Nayar plan to record their album, titled “Voyage,” in January, before they return to college.

“[The album is] so stylistically blended between jazz and classical, harmony and prog rock, and instrumental metal and all these other genres,” Beckman said. “It’s not deadset jazz fusion and it’s not any of these other genres; it exists in a space that we’re not boxing in any way.”

For the album, Beckman said they wanted to unify the songs around a “concept element” rather than having a collection of distinct tracks. The two finally landed on the theme of growing, which also inspired the album’s title.

“The theme that we landed on was this idea of explorations, and what it means to explore,” Beckman said. “Exploration also becomes a journey.” 

Before this project, Beckman had never written jazz music for performance. To move beyond traditional jazz and jazz fusion styles in the album, Beckman both drew from his background in classical concert music composition and took inspiration from prog rock, instrumental metal and Indian classical music.

Beckman hopes to innovate with his music but also attract listeners. He tries to achieve this by experimenting with rhythm throughout the album.

During the writing process, he asked himself, “How insane rhythmically can we make these tracks and still keep them so that people can jam out to them?”

Songs on the album explore this theme in different ways. A track on the album called “Harrower” opens with complicated saxophone and piano runs, Beckman said, and frequently changes time signatures — a notation representing beats per measure — to replicate the sensation of being in a harrowing, “close call” situation. In one section of the piece, the time signature quickly switches from 2/4, or two quarter note beats, to 4/4, or four quarter note beats, and then to 10/16, or ten sixteenth note beats. Another song called “Through the Haze” builds on a ballad-like melody by combining acoustic guitar and piano with a bass typically used in trap, hip hop and EDM music.

Nayar is a jazz performance major specializing in saxophone at the Frost School of Music in Miami. Beckman and Nayar’s creative collaboration began when Beckman wrote a saxophone and piano piece for Nayar at the end of his senior year of high school. Beckman and Nayar also reached out to fellow musicians in college to serve as background musicians and sound engineers. According to Beckman, working with other college students “feeds his energy” and allows him and Nayar to steer artistic direction without an adult authority figure.

To raise funds for hiring musicians and renting a studio, Beckman and Nayar launched a Kickstarter page on Nov. 12. Two track demos released on SoundCloud are included on the page.

Even though Beckman’s composition background is in contemporary concert music, he found it thrilling to write music for non-classical instruments — including a drum kit and electric bass — and to learn about audio engineering and mixing.

“Going outside of [classical concert music] was a big step for me in terms of my artistic development and growth,” Beckman said. “I’ve definitely started to broaden my eyes, and I’m trying to think about ways I can work towards a lot more genre-ambiguous music. This project has really expanded my practice.”

Beckman and Nayar plan to release the album in June 2021.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu