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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Revisiting Tyler Traband, Milwaukee’s Piano Man

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  Tyler Traband’s self-released Re-issue EP is not a repackaged collection of five old tracks, but five songs rerecorded and issued for the first time in their new versions. For Traband, a pianist and prolific songwriter, the disc was an easy opportunity to showcase five old songs with his new band. “The hope was to catch the live vibe we’ve been getting,” he explains.

  The rippling piano, quirky hooks, rousing refrains and earnest lyrical delivery of Re-issue have long been hallmarks of Traband’s sound. The current ensemble, however, is well worth showcasing. At the core of the arrangements are guitarist John Simons, drummer Tim Rush and bassist Geoff Howard. Esteemed Milwaukee jazz guitarist Kirk Tatnall is heard on a few tracks, along with saxophonist Jon Anderson and vocalist Char Fiore.

  With four previous CDs of original material and more than a hundred other songs in his notebooks, how did Traband choose a handful of tunes for Re-issue? Answer: He didn’t. “It was too hard to make that decision. I love all my songs!” he says. “I left the decision up to everyone else.”

  Everyone else was Reissue’s co-producers Kevin Arndt and Joe Puerta. Puerta was once a member of The Range, the backing band for Bruce Hornsby, whose style of playing sometimes overlaps with Traband. Hornsby, however, doesn’t rank among the Milwaukee pianist’s influences.

  “It starts with Dave Brubeck,” Traband says. “My dad loved straight-ahead jazz. Further along came the terrible pop of the ’70s, though some of it, like Journey, sounds pretty good compared to some of today’s music. As a young adult, I loved The Beatles, Crowded House, Toad the Wet Sprocket.”

  Elton John and Billy Joel aren’t people he cares to be compared with. “For a long time piano wasn’t cool—it was the bane of my existence,” he says. “Thank god for Tori Amos and Ben Folds and Coldplay—piano is a big part of their sound. I like the modern pop thing.”

  These days Traband and band play one or two times a month, sometimes in outlying areas such as Pewaukee and Hartland. Traband and Simons also perform as an acoustic duo. A modest income streams in from downloads on iTunes but, like most contemporary musicians, it’s more about the joy of making music and finding a few fans than constructing a career.

  “I just want to keep writing and putting things out,” Traband says. “The people who find us love us. I can’t imagine not writing. It’s part of my soul at this point. It’s still lots of fun, putting everyone together as a band and seeing what happens when you flesh out a tune.”

  Tyler Traband performs May 17 at the Milwaukee Ale House.

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