Local trumpet player Chris Klaxton finished recording his new album, “Collage,” more than a year ago. In the intervening months, the music has taken on new meaning, tinged by both the sorrow of loss and the fortitude to carry on. As Klaxton prepares to finally release his latest record, his first instinct is to rejoice.
“Composed, recorded, and produced during a very busy and life-changing year for me, this record feels like a celebration,” Klaxton said in a press release. “I made it through.”
Klaxton will celebrate the release of “Collage” with a performance at Birdseye Lounge in Portsmouth on Friday, Dec. 18. The following night, his band will play a free Christmas concert at First Parish Federated Church in South Berwick, Maine.
“Collage” is an achievement worth celebrating. Recorded by Chris Chase at 1130ft Creative Media in Rollinsford, Klaxton’s second solo release is an inspired piece of sonic art. He uses his extensive jazz training to construct compositions that would fit snugly on a late-’60s Miles Davis album and fleshes them out with an unrestrained spirit of improvisation, all the while allowing other genres to seep in and color the corners of each track.
To Klaxton, the new album demonstrates his musical growth since the release of his debut, “Starcode.”
“Personally, I like it better than the first one. The first one was kind of a coming-of-age experience. It was my first album. But I like this one more,” Klaxton said in an interview with The Sound. “We executed the music better. … As long as each thing we do is moving forward or uphill in quality a little bit, I guess that’s all I’m really looking for.”
Klaxton is an erudite jazz scholar and multi-instrumentalist who has studied classical trumpet at the University of New Hampshire and jazz trumpet at the University of Miami, guided by such legendary trumpeters as Terence Blanchard and the late Clark Terry. He now teaches music at the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center, Plymouth State University, and the University of Southern Maine.
But Klaxton’s musical experience is not confined to jazz and classical. He is a member of indie-rock band Tan Vampires and has recorded with a range of bluegrass, country, reggae, and hip-hop acts.
Klaxton said his various influences inevitably creep into his compositions when he sits down to write.
“I spent all high school going to these metal shows, and I’ve always been really into hip-hop,” he said. “When I’m writing music, it’s kind of all over the map. It’s kind of hard to avoid all those influences.”
The opening track of the new album, “Arise Automaton,” presents a dizzying swell of jazz sounds, introducing Klaxton’s exceptionally talented band. The group features cohorts from New York and Miami, including tenor saxophonist Mark Small, drummer Michael Piolet, and bassist Sam Weber, as well as familiar Seacoast musicians like keyboardist Mike Effenberger, trombonist Kendall Moore, and vocalist Taylor O’Donnell (Klaxton’s girlfriend). The band also features Australian guitarist Tim Jago.
Another presence on the album is Cody John Laplante, a local poet who died of a heroin overdose in April. Laplante wrote the lyrics to the mesmerizing second track, “Love Gone Wild,” which O’Donnell sings beautifully, demonstrating her impressive vocal range.
“I’m dancing like a fool next to you / Drinking much more than I ought to / So I can maybe finally fall into bed with whoever you are / And lose my mind,” O’Donnell sings.
For a song that is essentially about a “drunken millennial hookup,” Klaxton said, “it came out so soothing and loving.”
Laplante was a close friend of Klaxton’s, and the best friend of his younger brother, saxophone player Eric Klaxton. His death stunned the entire community and left Klaxton aching.
“In the midst of all of that, I had to watch everybody basically pack up and go to work the next day,” he said. “The lesson, I guess, is that people keep going.”
Laplante also wrote the lyrics to “Fictional Friends,” which originally appeared on “Starcode” but was remixed by hip-hop artists Moe Pope and Rain on the final track of “Collage.”
To Klaxton, having Laplante’s name and words on the album is a way to honor his memory. “All of this stuff is kind of like my way that I’m comfortable keeping him around,” he said.
Laplante’s memory seems to suffuse the album in other ways, too, bringing added traces of emotion to the melancholy and confusion of “Don’t All Go At Once,” the soaring majesty of “Rainforest Tortoise,” and the triumphant jubilance of “Jumprope.”
Klaxton reflected on his journey over the last year in a press release announcing the forthcoming release of “Collage.” “The process of making the record and looking back on the year that surrounded it yielded a great lesson: Despite one’s pursuits or mission statement, life will find the cracks and flood in,” he said.
Klaxton has also lost a nephew to heroin, and the drug continues to plague the Seacoast with alarming regularity. As an artist, Klaxton hopes he and others can help foster awareness about the problem, and about the issues that underlie addiction.
“Everything’s just as damn difficult as it always was,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to reject that warm cozy hug, that narcotic hug, if everything is squeezing you for that last penny and that last ounce of energy.”
For now, Klaxton’s energy continues to go toward his music. After a year of pain, growth, and resilience, Klaxton is ready to share his latest creative achievement, and its hidden lessons, with the world.
Chris Klaxton and his band will play an album release preview show on Friday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. at Birdseye Lounge, 41 Vaughan Mall, Portsmouth. Tickets are $12, or $20 with a copy of “Collage.” The band will play a free Christmas concert on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. at First Parish Federated Church, 150 Main St., South Berwick, Maine.