the river inside of trees

The River Inside of Trees

Jazz lieder. Haiku. Wilderness. Trout. Quirky humor. Storybook innocence. Death & rebirth. 30 tracks, 32 minutes, one unified cycle.

This album is the product of a six-year collaboration with singer Kim Sueoka and pianist Paul Cantrell. Kim said that making this album “has been of the most exciting and life-filled and joyful experiences I have ever had.” We loved working on it together, and we hope you will love listening to it!

The physical CD comes in a beautiful package with cover art individually hand-screened by Cork Leg Nelson. The album is also available for download.

Hear previews & get your copy at:
iTunes • Amazon • Rhapsody • eMusic • CD Baby
Liner notesLyricsHigh-res cover art

About the Album

Ten years ago, I came back to my singing voice. This was a real shift from my previous jazz piano playing/composing, and epic, loud, multifaceted percussion theatre pieces. My first songs I wrote for myself. I started noticing specifics in my voice, how various notes, motifs, etc. sounded. I set some poems that I liked, and tried the piano styles I knew. But soon I found myself overwhelmed.

Luckily, I met Paul around this time. We enjoyed each other’s music, and I began to ask Paul questions about his process, about how to get unstuck. He shared how he studied scores, and pointed me to Schubert lieder. I was taken with the perfection of Schubert’s musical universe — in such a small space, he mapped out a whole world. I wanted to write like that.

A breakthrough came when I was visiting a friend “upnorth,” and I noticed the police report in a small town newspaper. It didn’t have the usual urban terror. It was a little bit off kilter — funny, but with a quiet pathos. I knew that I had to set it. I submitted Northwoods Police Report for tenor, piano, and string bass to a call for scores. It was turned down, and I am eternally grateful that it was, because I found Kim Sueoka instead.

Kim immediately saw the earnestness, the bizarre humor in the texts, and sang with a clarity I had never heard before. Soon I was setting Questions by my fly fishing friend, poet John Minczeski. Paul started calling these pieces “jazz lieder,” as they combined classical lyricism with modern jazz harmonies.

I read Paul’s haiku First Autumn Night, and in my mind’s ear heard Kim’s voice singing it, with no piano. I was struck by how this song worked, its clarity and purity, how the harmony was completely implied by the melody. I returned to writing poetry myself…and “jazz haiku” was born.

These songs are so short and self-contained, turning them into an album posed a real problem. We interspersed them with some new piano pieces, and Paul’s accordion mashups of my songs. After much careful ordering and reordering, a shape revealed itself. We held our breath, listened…and it worked!

I hope this music helps you connect with the larger-than-human world, a place of wonder. I see music and nature inextricably intertwined — I cannot live without either. Many of these songs are set in trout streams. Trout can only survive in wild places with cold, unpolluted water. These places have great, unique and irreplaceable beauty — like the voice of Kim Sueoka.

For the past six years, we have been working together, polishing these ideas. I have never worked this hard on such small pieces of music…and yet I still like to listen to them!

Some things I want you to know: The words to Northwoods Police Report are actual police reports from a small town in Minnesota. (Not saying which one!) Rattlesnake Song #1 is taken from the final paragraph of a newspaper article written by my father. Thoughts at 4 AM was written for Paul, a prodigious night owl, on his 25th birthday. When in Pieces is a found poem. It hangs on a wall in a little house by the Willow River, embroidered and anonymous. As soon as I read it, I heard Kim’s voice singing it.

Kim and Paul have been the most amazing collaborators, who understand the inner geography of my works. They have been able to take my ideas and create a viable musical landscape, no, a vibrant ecosystem.

I cannot thank them enough. I cannot thank you enough! After you listen, I hope you go outside for a while.



  1. Lieder, yes, but are you sure these are jazz? They’re a lot more interesting than any jazz I’ve ever heard. Thank you, Todd and Paul and Kim, for creating music that helps me realize–in spite of all that’s sad or bad–how beautiful and funny the world still is. I like to listen again and again. And again.


    1. That is a very kind thing to say… But, coming from the jazz tradition, I feel like I have to defend it a little! :) -there is a lot of very interesting music in my opinion.. try Uri Caine’s take on Mahler. Of course, Bill Evans piano trios. But also Abdullah Ibrahim, ( South African pianist) Herbie Hancock with Wayne Shorter ( 1+1)- too gorgeous to even imagine. Also, the vocal stylings of Abbey Lincoln.

      I used to feel alienated from “classical”, but now I am not so worried about genre. I feel that the artist’s intent is most important. I think that is more important than what style is performed.
      Paul and I call these tunes ” Jazz lieder” and “jazz haiku” because of the harmonic language they are drawn from. Some of the piano parts are “invented”, ( fluid- not notated_ like in the little trout songs. SOme other tunes are more defined.
      It’s a whole adventure to me… what swell people to work with! Thanks for your support.


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