I spent a lot of time in hotels and hotel lounges over the last few years. During a 20-city promotional tour for 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, I found myself in a parade of moderately swanky business-traveler palaces, each with fine wood and marble and liquor bottles lit up like fetish objects. And music, often canned, oozing from the deep background. You can't help but become a watcher of people in these spaces, and along the way, I became a connoisseur of the lounges themselves. These are transition points, waystations designed to be pleasant escapes from the bustle. They're necessarily neutral. They cater to the weary traveler who needs to chill, and they can serve as a road-warrior's semi-public office, or for recovering one's humanity after the physical and psychic punishment of air travel.
In recent years, there's been a quiet revolution in hotel lounges. Prompted by the success of hip boutique properties, the big chains have overhauled the look and feel of their public spaces to suggest a kind of sleek, high-efficiency opulence. Some of the lounges have workstations. Some have soft couches and softer lighting. Certainly the music doesn't make demands: Whether it's from a live band or some DJ mix beamed from the home office, whether it's sly bossa nova or cool jazz or ambient techno, when presented in these spaces, the sound asks for nothing. It's like the drapery; it goes unnoticed. It's ignorable.
Musicians groan about this, of course, but hey, it's pretty much a fact of life: In spaces like this, music functions more as an accessory than a lifeline. Sitting in these plush rooms, listening to heels clicking purposefully on marble floors and the soft clinking of glassware, I went from a default position of outrage — how terrible is this disregard of art! — to seeing the situation as a kind of challenge. I thought about the music you often hear in these places, the gentle bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the ballads of George Gershwin. A thought experiment began to form in my mind: Was it possible to compose music inspired by those effortlessly singing classics that would thrive in the sleek new hotel lounges? It could be music as wallpaper — not intended for active "study" but rather it would blend into an accommodating background wash. It would be instrumental music, but not jazz of the "look-how-fast-I-can-play!" testosterone jazz variety — and not smooth jazz, and not pop, either. In the idle, experimentation phase, I imagined this music as easygoing, nicely textured, low-impact. Something that could stir the memory of soft breeze on a beach, or the lover left behind two airports ago.
When I began to actually pursue this ideal, I had to change my thinking about the foreground and the background. I discovered that when you begin from the notion that people won't be listening, whole worlds open up. Suddenly there's no pressure to be "clever" or sound invincible — there's room for expressing something simple, or beautiful, or poignant. And when you start moving in that direction, the results become contagious — suddenly everyone on the bandstand begins thinking this way, and the musical conversation evolves into buoyant, heartfelt melodies, and wonderfully empathetic supporting lines. If you came upon this band playing in a hotel lounge somewhere and you were busy on the phone and texting, you would, of course, miss that stuff. But if you happen to drift away for a minute, my hope is that you'll maybe pick up a gentle, plaintive melody, something wistful, some calm compelling sound that draws you away from the stress. And into the ojala.
Moon Hotel Lounge Project is a seven-piece ensemble. The group is anchored by members of the rock band known as the Fractals -- guitarist Kevin Hanson (who produced Into the Ojalá), pianist Mike Frank, bassist Jim Stager and drummer Erik Johnson — and also includes tenor saxophonist Tom Moon, vibraphonist Behn Gillece and percussionist Josh Robinson. Into The Ojalá is the group's debut release.
Award winning music journalist Tom Moon is the author of the New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, and a regular contributor to NPR's All Things Considered. For twenty years Moon served as music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and contributed profiles, reviews and commentary to hundreds of publications — including Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, Vibe, Spin, Details, Entertainment Weekly and others. During that time he continued to study the saxophone, in his spare time. He began composing music while a student of Ron Miller's in the University of Miami's Studio Music and Jazz program; his tunes, published by Moontoonage Music (ASCAP), can be heard on two CDs — Into the Ojalá (2011) and Sentiments By Rote (1988) — both now available via CD Baby, or in digital form via iTunes/etc.