Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Another music project

I also should mention that I'm playing from time to time in a duo with my guitar-playing friend Jeffrey Kamil, doing some jazz standards. We have played two gigs so far this year, both at the artist receptions at the Madrigal Family Winery Sausalito Tasting Salon & Gallery. The two of us also sometimes get together with our friends Tom DeFiglio on drums and Pat Tinling on bass and play some similar material just for fun.

Upcoming gig – Friday, May 12 at The Wine Bar in Moss Beach

The still-unnamed cover band I joined recently will be playing our first gig on Friday, May 12 at the The Wine Room in Moss Beach, just a little north of the Half Moon Bay Airport, one block to the east of Highway 1,  from 7-9pm.

Fronted by Scott Goldstone, a fantastic keyboardist and vocalist, we'll be doing  R&B-flavored material like "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" by the Four Tops, "I Can't Go For That" by Hall & Oates, "Freddie's Dead" by Curtis Mayfield, "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye, "Home At Last" and "Black Cow" by Steely Dan, and many more. Tom Josa on bass and Dennis O'Keefe on drums round out the personnel. Come check us out if you are in the area!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Home recording update

Recently I wrote about getting re-engaged with efforts to record some music at home. I just wanted to note that two things have put a bit of a damper on moving forward much further. First, I joined a new band, which is terrific, but it has meant that I've had to devote an inordinate amount of time learning the material, and the time has had to come from somewhere. Second, my recording workstation got into a strange state after shutting down improperly and became mired in a Windows Automatic Repair loop that I could not break out of. Ultimately I had to re-install Windows 10 from scratch and reinstall all my applications and restore all my documents and projects (thank God for backups!). I'm midway through getting back to a fully operational state. I've decided to take the opportunity to get a larger secondary hard drive, which I expect to be able to swap in the coming weekend. So hopefully, by the time the weekend ends I will be back in action, and I'll have some new stuff to start posting on SoundCloud soon after.

Two new musical projects

I've now got two things going on, both of which are great fun:

First off, I'm accompanying a terrific singer, Sharon Lea, on jazz and blues standards like "Misty," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "God Bless the Child," "At Last," and many more. The Sharon Lea Duo website will soon be available and there will be a few demo recordings. We made our public debut (not counting doing a couple of songs at an open mic a couple of months ago) on Saturday, March 18 at, oddly enough, a mall clothing store (dressbarn in Campbell) in the mid-afternoon. People seemed to enjoy it and we got many compliments from customers and staff.

Second, I'm now part of an as-yet-unnamed cover band that will be doing R&B-flavored material. Fronted by Scott Goldstone, a terrific keyboard player and vocalist, we'll be doing songs like "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" by the Four Tops, "I Can't Go For That" by Hall & Oates, "I'm So Proud" by Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, "Home At Last" and "Black Cow" by Steely Dan, and many more. I'm really stoked to be playing with these guys and looking forward to playing out in the near future.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Home recording

Call it a New Year's resolution, but I have recently become newly determined to actually use this nice recording setup that I have here at home rather than let it just gather dust.

The first thing I did was ditch the old audio interface I had, which did not work well with Windows 10. (When I visited the manufacturer's website, I discovered they no longer are making pro audio products, the model I had was no longer supported, and the latest drivers (which I already had installed) "might work," but there was going to be no development of a Windows 10-compatible version. I put a few questions out on home recording forums but got no hints of anything I could do to resolve or work around the issue.)

For a few months, I lived with it, but I soon realized that the unreliability of the system being in a functioning state at any given time was acting as a real impediment to me doing anything. So I decided to rip that thing out of there and buy something more modern that actually has Windows 10 support.

I ended up getting a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6. I installed it and bingo, I have a wonderful functioning system again.

I use SONAR Platinum from Cakewalk as my digital audio workstation (DAW) software. I've been using Cakewalk stuff for a very long time, and I've always been pretty comfortable and happy with it.

For recording guitars I have several options. I can plug into one of the instrument inputs on the front of the Scarlett and route it through a software amp in SONAR (I've got the ones that came with SONAR, but my favorite is the Scuffham S-Gear). I have a Line 6 POD HD, which was the last of their kidney-bean-shaped guitar amp modelers, which is connected to the Scarlett via its digital interface. I also have a couple of guitar amps that have direct recording outputs. Finally, there's the good old approach of sticking a microphone in front of an amp.

I also use Band-in-a-Box software from PG Music to throw together quick backing tracks. It is an intelligent automatic accompaniment program – you type in the chords for any song using standard chord symbols (like C, Fm7, or C13b9), choose the style you’d like, and Band-in-a-Box automatically generates a complete arrangement of piano, bass, drums, guitar, and strings or horns in a wide variety of popular styles. It's also a powerful and creative music composition tool for exploring and developing musical ideas with near-instantaneous feedback.

For drums, I really don't have the space to have a real drum kit in the room, and I couldn't play them much even if I did, so I typically use software drum kits that are plugins hosted by SONAR. Recently I added a new plug-in drum program called JamStix by Rayzoon Technologies that can generate drum parts similarly to Band-in-a-Box, but with much more variability – more like human drummers with their own habits, accents and fill characteristics. I'm looking forward to learning how to use it and hopefully it will be inspiring. If I did want to record a real drummer live, I could set up to four separate mics into the four analog inputs of the Scarlett.

For keyboards and such there are also several so-called "soft synths" – software synthesizers that are also plugins available within SONAR. I have a MIDI keyboard controller that I can plug in to record MIDI data, but I'm not much of a keyboardist so I don't do that too often.

For bass, I can use soft synths and MIDI, and I also have a decent bass guitar that I can play a bit, so I can record it just like I do my guitars.

I have a SoundCloud page where I've put up some of the stuff I've recorded here at home. There are also a few older things at Nowhere Radio.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Autumn update

It's been a bit of an aimless year.  As SNUG continued not get gigs nearly often enough, I looked around and ended up in another cover band based out of Redwood City. We played more often but for various reasons it didn't work out. In the meantime the folks from SNUG had moved south to San Jose and, when I told them I was working with another group, they found another guitar player. I wish them the best.

Not too long after I found Sharon Lea, a very good singer who was interested in doing standards and such with an accompanist, and we started working out repertoire. We had our first public appearance at an open mic at Angelica's in Redwood City in mid-October, and hopefully we'll start finding gigs in earnest in the coming months. It's nice to be doing the sole accompanist thing again, so much simpler to deal with in every way... well, except for how hard it is to pull off creditably.

I still am struggling with trying to find enough time to practice and to work on my playing AND work on recording projects AND compose music AND get involved with looping... what happens is I spend most of the available time practicing and neglect everything else. I did manage to crank out a couple of quick and dirty recordings playing over prerecorded backup tracks from Bobby's Backing Tracks, two Stevie Wonder covers; you can hear them on my SoundCloud page if you are so inclined:

"My Cherie Amour"
"Boogie On Reggae Woman"

I still go out to play on the odd Sunday evening at Stan Erhart's long-running jam at the American Legion in Princeton-by-the-Sea, but not as often as I used to, and I have not been to either the Club Fox or the Pioneer to play even once this year.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"John and Mary" by Jaco Pastorius

I recently listened to the tune "John and Mary" from Jaco Pastorius' second solo album, Word of Mouth, and marveled again at how wonderful it is. I am also amazed that this album, and this piece in particular, are not better known. To me it has always seemed to be a work of utter genius. There seems to be very little on the Internet about it that I was able to find. So I'd thought I'd write a little about it. Maybe one or two people will stumble on this, seek it out, and discover just how beautiful and great this tune is. Then my work here will be finished ;-)

It's actually a rather elaborate piece, running a little over ten minutes long, with Jaco on bass, organ, and vocals, Othello Molineaux and/or Paul Horn-Muller on steel drums, Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, either Peter Erskine or Jack DeJohnette on drums, perhaps Don Alias and/or Bobby Thomas, Jr. on percussion, Jim Walker and/or Hubert Laws on flute ( as you might gather, the album's liner notes are somewhat lacking, so other than the very recognizable Wayne and Herbie, it's hard to piece together who else actually played on this track), augmented here and there by strings and a choir of voices, as well as some captured moments of Jaco and his children talking.

It actually starts with one of those snippets, with Jaco and his kids whispering and giggling. Then come some piano chords that lead us into the first part of the tune, a joyous melody with a Caribbean lilt from the pans throughout which dart soprano sax improvisations from Shorter. This goes on for a bit and then come to an end, leading into some more moments of Jaco's children speaking.

From there the piece segues into a second theme stated with wordless vocals from Jaco and the children, punctuated with tympani, with Shorter's improvisations again springing up around and through the theme.

The first theme returns with more improvising. Then the second theme repeats its first part, but leads to another section where a tuba plays an ostinato note and the rhythm changes and then drops out, and a moment of silence occurs. Then the piano introduces the next section, where strings and horns play a lovely segue. An achingly beautiful melody played by Jaco on the bass (and doubled freely by his voice) is stated once, then again as the strings and horns lay down a slightly more elaborate backdrop.

Next, a vocal segue by the choir leads to a repeat of the first theme, this time much fuller, with the voices harmonizing the simple melody and Jaco singing improvisationally

I don't really know how to describe it, but this piece just makes me stop and quietly listen, and it evokes a lot of emotion. The feeling it projects is sweet and loving, but there is also an undercurrent of sadness and regret. There is depth and complexity to the emotions evoked. Maybe part of that is knowing Jaco's story, his bipolar disorder and his sad death at age 36 (so much potential music-making that we'll never get to hear). I also remember clearly when this album first came out, when I was living alone in a studio apartment in West Los Angeles, emotionally tattered, miles from friends and family. I remember lying on my futon at night and playing this record many times, letting it sweep me up in its spell.

To me these kind of experiences are what gives music its power, though "power" isn't the best word.

"John and Mary" on YouTube
More about Word of Mouth
See the Jaco documentary film

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wayne Krantz Trio at Yoshi's, March 26, 2015

My first trip out to Yoshi's so far this year was to see one of my favorite musicians, Wayne Krantz. He played at Yoshi's, the wonderful jazz club in Oakland's Jack London Square. Rounding out the trio was James Genus on bass and Cliff Almond on drums.

Krantz's music has for some years now (though a little less so on his last two releases, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre and Howie 61, both of which were more composed and included vocals by Krantz) been largely improvised. He takes some thematic elements – phrases, grooves, chord patterns – to give the proceedings something of a skeleton, and the trio uses these to navigate. To call them songs isn't accurate; maybe musical snippets is a better term? Nothing remotely like the typical jazz trio playing the head, then taking solos, trading eights, and repeating the head.

Along the lines of his most recent recording, this year's Good Piranha/Bad Piranha, some of the material was "cover material." On that record, he recorded two versions each of Pendulum’s “Comprachicos,” M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” Ice Cube’s “My Skin is My Sin,” and Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke’s “Black Swan" – one set with Nate Wood on bass and Keith Carlock on drums, the other set with Tim Lefebvre on bass and Nate Wood on drums. Gabriela Anders adds some momentary vocals to most of the tracks. Each touches briefly on the tunes but then gets Krantzified immediately. The two versions are almost totally different, as were the versions the trio performed at Yoshi's. It's recognizably Wayne Krantz – his distinctive qualities as a guitar player are sui generis – but you don't listen to Krantz expecting to hear specific melodies or tunes. It's all new each time.

It's a risky thing to do, and accordingly, he's not a household word, and not something the less-than-adventurous listener would be attracted to. The music is constantly in danger of veering off the tracks into the dreaded "bad night." But to balance that out there is always the chance of something transcendent happening.

Last night's show was decidedly not a bad night. You could see it in the faces of the musicians as they played. Krantz lit up like a child having the most fun ever, totally in control of his awesome facility with the instrument and the array of sound-modifying pedals he uses (wah, delay, a new device called a freeze pedal, and a ring modulator that turns him into a percussionist from outer space). He was clearly enthralled, and it was enthralling to the audience, who clearly got it, grooving and smiling and applauding and whooping out loud. There was a nice feedback loop formed between the performers and the audience.

Most people probably wouldn't call this jazz, but to me it's jazz at its finest, thrilling music arising out of the simpatico improvisation of gifted musicians, music that swings and grooves and rocks.

Read my earlier post about Wayne Krantz if you are so inclined.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Another year passes

It's a couple of weeks now after Christmas 2014, and I'm looking over the last year musically (and otherwise) and trying to see it in a glass-half-full rather that glass-half-empty mode. Not easy. SNUG had just three gigs all year. The collab with Adrian McMahon imploded. Another playing collaboration with some friends never got off the ground much due to the scarcity of time to get together. I had one jazz gig in November. Otherwise I've been spinning my wheels, floating between working through some instructional materials, working on solo jazz arrangements, occasionally going to some blues jams, working on some of my various recording projects, looking at Craig's List every couple of weeks or so in hopes of finding some playing situations...

That all sounds pretty half-empty. What's the half-full part? Well, I keep managing to get a little better still. I dread the day when old age starts to take its toll on my hands but so far I continue to improve.

In 2015 I really hope to figure out some sort of path forward that sees me either writing and recording some of my own music, finishing some of my other recording projects, and playing live more often in one or more contexts.

Mike Keneally

I've know about Mike Keneally for a while but somehow was never moved to check him out until I read a Guitar Player magazine interview with him on the occasion of his new album,  You Must Be This Tall,  and learned that he had previously released a collaboration between himself and one of my all-time favorite musicians, Andy Partridge of XTC fame – Wing Beat Fantastic. So I downloaded it from Amazon, loved it, and then went out and got the new one. Loved that one, too.

Some thoughts while listening to You Must Be This Tall: Keneally's guitar parts by turns roll, ramble, snake, dart, flit, bark, snarl, roar, chuckle as they make their way across a colorful, vivid musical landscape.