Déjà Vu: Groundhog Day Release For Chandler Travis Philharmonic's 'The Ivan Variations'

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

When you find something you like, you stick with it.
That may be part of the rationale behind “The Ivan Variations,” a new full-length album by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic which consists of not one, not two, not nine, but 12 distinct versions of the same song. Now I know what you're thinking. Who wants to listen to the same song over and over 12 times?
You do.
Because this is not your average everyday album of 12 versions of the same song.
Each and every one of the 12 tracks on “The Ivan Variations” is a standalone delight, and some of them — I'm thinking of “Headstand Ivan,” the upside-down version, before which it is explained that the musicians must turn their music over on their music stands; or “Ivan Backwards,” which begins with a countdown from four back to one — are hard to recognize as even distant cousins of the original song. There's “Ivan Quickly,” “Ivan in Worcester,” “Ivan Ska.” There's an Ivan for everybody. If you run into an Ivan that you don't like, just wait a few minutes. There will be another Ivan coming along that you might just love.
Groundhog Day was the ideal time to release such a project, harkening back to the 1993 comedy in which Bill Murray nearly loses his marbles as he awakens to the same day over and over again. Before the pandemic struck, following a suggestion by drummer Jerome Deupree to “just play the same song over and over,” The Chandler Travis Philharmonic played four consecutive Groundhog Day Ivan shows over four years in Boston, each consisting of Ivan song after Ivan song. The response was enthusiastic, and it seemed only a matter of time before the many shades of Ivan would be immortalized in the form of an album. With no live performances currently possible, Groundhog Day was the perfect time to release “The Ivan Variations.”
The original tune which inspired all of this focused creativity, “Ivan in Paris,” was first recorded back in 1998 on Chandler Travis's solo album of the same title. Travis explained that at the time, the song was a throwaway instrumental, really not much more than an afterthought. Pressed for details about who Ivan is, anyway, his response was intriguingly vague.
“My friend Bruce Maclean loaned me an Omnicord, which is a little thing that sets up little beats and patterns,” Travis explained. “I started fooling around with it and came up with the song, and I
had no real plans for it. It was this minute kind of thing. But when we started doing (the Chandler Travis Philharmonic), it turned out to include a nice bunch of changes for the horn players to play over. I am a big fan of the unexpected. A big fan of the mistake.”
Asked again about the identity of Ivan, he explained that he was looking through a friend's photo project years ago, and it struck him that the face of a random man in one of the photos “looked like an Ivan.”
It's just that sort of freeform invention and willingness to chase a small idea until it pays off that results in an unexpected and wholly original result like “The Ivan Variations.” Not every musician has what it takes to embrace an idea that sounds a little bit odd and run quite so far with it. Luckily for us, Chandler Travis, along with his fellow CTP musicians and writers, does.
The Chandler Travis Philharmonic consists of Fred Boak, Alex Brander, Dinty Child, John Clark, Jerome Deupree, Mark Hamilton, Dave Harris, Kami Lyle, Berke McKelvey, Mike Moss, Bob Pilkington, Jerry Sabatini, Cliff Spencer and Chandler Travis. “The Ivan Variations” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, in association with Iddy Biddy Records, is available at bandcamp.com and at chandlertravis.com.