Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter approaches...

The atmosphere finally let us folks in the Bay Area know that it's almost mid-December, just a couple of weeks away from the winter solstice. Snow the other night on the high points - Mt, Hamilton, Mt. Diablo... frost all over everything the next couple of mornings. Now it's warmed up a little, but it's been raining for two days and it's supposed to continue to do so over the weekend.

The cover band I'm in, SNUG, is back in business with a new bass player, Mike Vargo. We've been rehearsing and hopefully will start booking some gigs very soon.

In recent weeks I added a couple of things to my musical toolbox:

  • I finally added a Fender Telecaster to my arsenal – a 1995 made-in-Mexico Telecaster Special, which has a humbucking pickup in the neck position instead of the standard single coil, and a five-position pickup switch that allows you to split the humbucker's coil and use it as a single coil pickup. Very versatile and a great-feeling, great-playing instrument. I love the way it looks too (see right).
  • I also bought a very nice effects toolbox called the M13 Stompbox Modeler from Line 6, makers of the famous POD guitar amp modelers. A fantastic a versatile unit, built like a tank, and full of terrific sounds. It should come in handy in SNUG.
  • Finally, I bought this amazing tiny amplifier called the Lunchbox, from ZT Amplifiers in Walnut Creek. There have been tiny amps before, some of which sound terrific, but none of which are usable in a live performance situation unless put through the PA system. But the Lunchbox actually is damn loud and cuts through a band just fine. It really is incredible.
Finally, I'm looking forward to a couple of exciting shows in early January. First is the combo consisting of guitarist Allan Holdsworth, bassist Tony Levin, and drummers Terry Bozzio and Pat Mastelotto. A week later guitarist Robben Ford is back in town, with Michael Landau on guitar, Jimmy Haslip on bass, and Gary Novak on drums.

Happy holidays to everyone, and may 2010 be a wonderful year for us all...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Adrian Belew Power Trio at Slim's, San Francisco

On Sunday night, October 18, I drove up to San Francisco to see the Adrian Belew Power Trio at Slim's. I was alone - my usual concert-attending buddies were all unable to come. But as it turned out, I ran into my sister-in-law April, her husband Ted, Ted's brother Charles, and three other friends that they had come along with... so it turned into a party.

The opening act was a interesting acoustic guitar duet going by the name of Lapdance Armageddon.

Shortly after, Belew and his cronies came out on stage - the siblings Eric and Julie Slick on drums and bass respectively. The story of how he found the Slicks and came to employ them is interesting - here's a 2008 interview with Belew where he talks about it.

The music was wonderful, full of power and delicacy, dissonance and consonance, chaos and precision - sometimes all at once. Much of the show was taken up by bits of the new release e. On Belew's blog there's a good summary of what e is all about.

This was the first time I've seen Belew in his own setting since the early 90's (though I've seen him a couple of times this decade with King Crimson).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn is underway

Outside the ground is wet, thanks to "the biggest October storm since 1962" around these parts. That's a mixed blessing in the state that has had so many fires recently, with ridgetops burned bare and the potential for mudslides increased.

Meanwhile my musical endeavors continue on their slow and merry way:
  • SNUG is in a bit of a stand-by position, as we try to find a new bass player. We've been working on recording some better demos in the meantime, with yours truly playing bass as well as guitar, and I think they will probably see the light of day pretty soon.We'll also be doing a gig at the Shougun House Restaurant in early November as an acoustic act (which SiBon calls the GNUs rather than SNUG acoustic... don't ask me...).
  • I had two jazz gigs materialize out of the blue in September, one at a small restaurant in Foster City, another at Santana Row in San Jose. I've been mildly working myself back around to doing more playing of this nature, and while perhaps premature, it was a good to do them (and if I waited until I was "ready" in my mind, I might never get out there and play).
  • I have been to the Little Fox jam on Wednesdays and the Old Princeton Landing jam on Sundays as often as possible, as usual.
  • In my practice I've been trying to focus more on playing along with backing tracks. I tend to do that sporadically and I think it will be to my great advantage to do it as regularly as I can.
I also have a couple of music shows coming up that I'm excited about. Two of my favorite guitar players are coming to town. This coming Sunday I'm going into San Francisco to see Adrian Belew and his power trio at Slim's. On Friday, November 6, I'm also going to go into SF to see Pat Martino at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. 2009 continues to be a good year for guitar performances.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Handy new device

I recently acquired a portable audio recorder, the ZOOM H4n Handy Recorder. It's a little bit bigger than a cigarette pack and sports a built-in pair of microphones, two universal inputs that take either XLR or 1/4 plugs so you can add external mics or take the line out of a mixer, and records to SD or SDHC cards. It has a USB 2.0 connection so you can transfer recordings to a computer, or even use it as a digital audio interface if you want to use it to record straight to a computer.

A couple of months ago at band rehearsal the keyboard player brought a CD recorder and spent many long minutes trying to set up a pair of mics running through the PA system to record the session. It worked OK but required a fair bit of effort. We were hoping to get a decent demo out of the experience. It was not fruitful, and it was painful enough that we didn't try again.

I brought a laptop to a duet gig in July and set it up to record off a stereo out from the PA, and that was fairly easy and gave good results, but was a bit cumbersome to set up. Enough so that I would think twice about doing it again.

With something like the H4n, though, the hassle factor is reduced so much that it's almost a no-brainer to drag it along anywhere. Just stick it in the guitar case or in the bag with the cables and bring a spare mic stand or a tripod to hold it (and a pair of spare AA batteries if you can't count on an AC outlet you can use)... set it up in a reasonable spot, make sure the levels are OK, and hit RECORD. It's dead easy to capture any rehearsal or performance, and the results are about as good as you could hope for.

The only downside is, when I get home from rehearsal or a gig, I've got a bunch of work ahead of me getting the files onto the computer, editing the recordings down to individual tracks, turning them into MP3s and/or burning CDs to share with the other band members.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Summer 2009

This has been a pretty busy and interesting summer so far. The band I joined, SNUG, played our first few gigs. I played a duet gig with vocalist Janna Osborne (some recordings are on my website) at a restaurant in Redwood City, and a solo gig at a private party in San Mateo. In addition to going as often as I could to the Old Princeton Landing and the Little Fox jams, I jammed one night at Joe Lococo's jam at Peri's in Fairfax, and another time with Dave Workman's group at the Saloon in San Francisco.

Listening-wise, August saw the releases of Robben Ford's Soul On Ten, the (mostly) live CD taken from those two nights in April that he played at the Independent in San Francisco; Wayne Krantz's Krantz Carlock Lefebvre; and Mike Stern's Big Neighborhood.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

March and April concerts, part 4 - Jeff Beck

On Thursday, April 23, I bundled my wife Victoria and my two teenage sons David and Ian into the car and we drove across the bay to the Fox Theater in Oakland to see the amazing the wonderful the fantastic the phenomenal Jeff Beck.

Jeff Beck has been one of my favorite guitar players as long as I've had favorite guitar players, and I've gone to see him practically every chance I had over the years (see below for a rundown). He's never been disappointing, but this night, the last night of a US tour, he was in particularly fine form. I also had the best vantage I've ever had, standing maybe twenty or thirty feet away from the center of the stage. The band was the same, and the setlist was very similar to that captured on the recent DVD release Jeff Beck Performing This Week at Ronnie Scott's. They played like they were having more fun than anyone else on Earth, and maybe they were. It must be a cool feeling to be able to play music at such a level. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta was particularly on fire (he was also the drummer for the Five Peace Band concert a month earlier). (For a neat article on Vinnie, and some great anecdotes about his abilities, see this 2003 article from Drum! magazine.) And Tal Wilkenfeld is a phenomenal bassist, with amazing skill, musicality, and maturity from someone in their early twenties.

We all enjoyed it. It was the first time I'd taken my kids out somewhere to see live music with me since I dragged them to Yoshi's one Sunday afternoon many years ago to see Bill Frisell (they were bored stiff then, but this show they dug).

A word about the Fox Theater... it's an amazing facility, a revitalized 1920's movie theater that closed its doors in 1966 and stood there rotting and disintegrating for 42 years until it was remodeled and opened early this year. See the Fox Theater website for some photos and the history of the place.

My Jeff Beck shows prior to this:

  1. I first saw Jeff Beck play with the second Jeff Beck Group, the one that recorded Rough and Ready, at Carnegie Hall in NY in the spring of 1972.
  2. Next time was also in NY at the Academy of Music, with the Jan Hammer Group as his backing band, in the winter of 1976, I believe.
  3. Next I saw him at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park in LA with the There and Back group with Tony Hymas on keys and Simon Phillips on drums (can't remember who the bass player was) in 1980.
  4. There was a long gap until I next saw him, at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA with Tony Hymas on keys, Terry Bozzio on drums, and Pino Palladino on bass, in 1994, if I remember correctly.
  5. Next was at the Paramount Theater in Oakland with Jennifer Batten on guitar, Randy Hope-Taylor on bass, and Steve Alexander on drums, in 1999.
  6. Next, at the Concord Pavilion in Concord, CA with Tony Hymas on keys, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and Pino Palladino on bass, in 2003.
  7. Next, at the Warfield in San Francisco with Jason Rebello on keys, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and Pino Palladino on bass, in 2006.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

March and April concerts, part 3 - the Derek Trucks Band

Spring guitar madness continued on Wednesday, April 15, when my wife Victoria and I saw the Derek Trucks Band in San Francisco at the Grand Ballroom of the Regency Center.

Derek and his band seem to be on tour almost constantly, and it shows in the quality of their playing - it seems as if anyone can have an idea and they all pick it up immediately like they all share the same nervous system.

What can I say about Derek Trucks? He's still in his twenties and he's been one of the world's best guitar players for about ten years already. His playing is as distinctive and recognizable as – oh, say, maybe Carlos Santana – who just so happened to show up and play the last two songs or so before the encore along with the band (his Dumble amp was on the stage from the start so it was no surprise).

The highlight of the night for me was the fifteen or twenty minute version of "My Favorite Things" patterned after the Coltrane version.

The Grand Ballroom of the Regency Center used to be the Avalon Ballroom back in the late 60's, a large part of the San Francisco music scene. It closed in '68 when they lost their lease, and then for years it was a movie theater, until 2001. I remember seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas there many years ago.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

March and April concerts, part 2 - Robben Ford

On Thursday, April 9th, I saw Robben Ford perform at the Independent in San Francisco. Reportedly they were going to be recording a live CD during the two nights he was there (Wednesday and Thursday). I went with my friend and fellow guitar player Vinnie Caminiti, and we grabbed a nice bite of Indian food a few doors east of Divisadero and a couple of blocks north of the venue.

There was an opening act, the Big Organ Trio, who were quite good. Usually "organ trio" means Hammond organ (filling the bass role too), guitar, and drums, but the Big Organ Trio was Hammond organ, bass, and drums.

Then Robben and his trio (Travis Carlton on bass and Toss Panos on drums) took the stage and launched into an absolutely incendiary set. If this is going to come out on CD, it's going to be killer. Robben was at the top of his form. He seems to really love working with Carlton and Panos - they are a superb rhythm section. Especially Panos, who was astonishingly good.

Here's a couple of raw video clips from the show:

"Cannonball Shuffle"
"There'll Never Be Another You" (I think that was this number; includes a bit of a drum solo)

In the second set the trio was joined by Neal Evans of Soulive on Hammond B-3, and everything kicked up a notch. Evans is a great player, and he fit right in, providing some nice harmonic underpinning for Robben's solos, and taking great solos himself.

The venue was also pretty fine, everything sounded rich and well-balanced. All in all a wonderful show.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

March and April concerts - the Five Peace Band

To begin my four weeks of Spring concert madness, on Friday, March 20, at the Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, I saw the Five Peace Band - John McLaughlin: guitar; Chick Corea: keyboards; Kenny Garrett: saxophone; Christian McBride: bass; and Vinnie Colaiuta: drums. The tickets were my Christmas present from my lovely and wondrous wife Victoria Wolcott, who acompanied me to the show.

It's been a while since I was there and so a decent review is pretty impossible at this point. They played two long sets. The music was a mixture of mostly newer pieces, except for a fantastic cover of Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackle" and a 40th anniversary rendition of Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way/It's About That Time." (It was 40 years ago that Corea and McLaughlin first worked together on the recording sessions for Miles' seminal In A Silent Way album.) The band were obviously having a great time playing together. The highlights for me - the aforementioned "Dr. Jackle;" a stupendous several minutes where Kenny Garrett and Vinnie Colaiuta played together in a duet passage that went from a simmer to a rolling boil to a seething maelstrom of sound; and hearing Christian McBride on electric bass for the first time. Wow!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Some music DVDs to watch

Recently I have a passel of music DVDs on hand and a couple in the mail:

  • Robben Ford in Concert - Ohne Filter: Revisited was a birthday present from my little sister. It's from a music program on German TV, recorded in 1997, and it's an excellent performance, Robben is really on in this one. There's a keyboardist on this one, which give him a nice harmonic cushion to work over (he usually plays in a trio setting these days). I'm really looking forward to seeing him next week at the Independent with a Hammond B-3 player on hand...
  • Wayne Shorter Live at Montreux was a present from my older brother... have not yet had a chance to see it but am anticipating it -Wayne is one of my gods... From the description: "musician Wayne Shorter performs live at the 1996 Montreux Jazz Festival with the Wayne Shorter Quintet. In addition to playing tracks from his Grammy Award-winning High Life album, this release also features bonus footage from past appearances at Montreux, when he was joined onstage by the great Herbie Hancock."
  • Robben Ford: The Art of Blues Rhythm and The Art of Blues Solos are two instructional videos...
  • Jeff Beck Performing This Week at Ronnie Scott's is on its way in the mail...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring is sprung...

Since my last time here:
  • Saw Robben Ford along with Ruthie Foster and Jorma Kaukonen at the Marin Center in San Rafael on February 27 and came away a total Ruthie Foster fan. If you don't know her, check her out.
  • Saw the Five Peace Band at the Zellerbach in Berkeley on March 20
  • Sat in at length with Dave Workman and his group at the Saloon in San Francisco on February 28 and again briefly on March 14.
  • Jammed a bunch of times as usual at the Little Fox, the Old Princeton Landing, and the 23 Club (the last of these jams is now sadly defunct with the closing of the venue, after a mere six weeks of existence) and ended up being YouTubed several times (you can see my "me at jams" playlist at my YouTube channel if you're interested).
  • Had a birthday.
Some cool stuff coming up too in April: the Derek Trucks Band on April 15 in San Francisco at the Grand Ballroom of the Regency Center, Jeff Beck on April 23 at the Fox Theater in Oakland, Robben Ford is going to play (and record a live CD) at the Independent in San Francisco, and my pal and Redwood City Blues Jam M.C., Vince Caminiti, is on this year's Blues Guitar Extravaganza bill along with RenĂ© Solis, Steve Freund, and Chris “Kid” Andersen at the Little Fox Theatre.

Spring is indeed sprung, and springing!

More news from me soon about new projects, etc.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Some good things to look forward to

Lots of neat stuff on the near horizon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

February is here

Well, we're well into 2009 now... I'm no longer accidentally dating things with the old year.

This is just a quick note to keep too much dust from settling here. I've continued to spend time at the two blues jams I've been frequenting for a while. Tonight a new one starts up, this one also run by Stan Erhart, who does the Sunday night one at the Old Princeton Landing, so I'm going to drag my little fire-breathing amp and one of my guitars and check it out.

There was also the 3rd Anniversary Celebration of the Redwood City Blues Jam, held in the "big" Fox next door to the usual Little Fox. I volunteered to help with stuff backstage, passed the tip bucket a few times, and helped load a Hammond C-3 organ into a van in the rain in the early morning. It was an interesting and enjoyable way to spend an evening, but not the best way to enjoy the performers. That theater is really a remarkable place, one of those old movie palaces from the 1920's that's been restored to something like its former glory.

I also saw Rod Piazza and the Mighty Fliers at the Little Fox, first time I've been there for a regular show. Vince Caminiti's band Bluestate was the opening act. Two terrific bands - lots of fun. The week before, I saw Dave Workman play at The Saloon in San Francisco.

Oh, and January also saw the release of a great new CD by the Derek Trucks Band, Already Free. More about this later, but for now -- highly recommended.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blasts from the past

I fancy myself to be somewhat encyclopedic about musicians that I love... I seem to remember incredible minutiae about what their career arcs are, what guitars they played, what albums came out when, on what label, etc.

Imagine my surprise when, in the course of doing a little research into the first Tony Williams Lifetime band, I read the Wikipedia entry on them and discovered that, between the last of the Tony Williams Lifetime lineups in 1972 and the New Tony Williams Lifetime lineup in 1975 (whose first album, Believe It, introduced much of the world to the amazing guitar work of Allan Holdsworth), there was a version of the band called Wildlife that recorded tracks for an album that was never released. The band included Jack Bruce and Holdsworth.

Somehow, after 34 years had gone by, I had never know of this, despite otherwise knowing about virtually everything else Holdsworth ever did, not to mention Williams and Bruce.

Either I knew it and aliens erased this memory when they abducted me, or I really somehow never knew about it at all.

At any rate, bootlegs of the tapes (often referred to as the Stockholm Tapes) seem to exist, and recently someone posted them on YouTube with as a static, music-only video file. I've added them to my YouTube favorites if you want to check them out.

Very interesting stuff. I've never heard the prior Lifetime album, The Old Bum's Rush, so I don't know whether or not it's along those lines, but it's certainly very different than the New Tony Williams Lifetime material was in 1975-76.

Every so often something like this pops out of the woodwork. Usually it's somewhat disappointing - things left unreleased often were that way for a good reason.