Thursday, December 01, 2011

Digitizing LPs

Facing the prospect of actually, finally getting rid of my vast LP collection, I have been going through and identifying ones that I would still like to listen to again and digitizing them. To this end I bought a USB turntable to minimize the effort involved in getting them onto the computer.

Then, after doing several LPs using Sound Forge - recording each side, then opening the resulting files, running a click and pop filter on them, cutting them up into songs and saving them individually, I looked around a little on the internet and discovered a wonderful tool that cost a mere $29: VinylStudio from AlpineSoft in the UK. It makes the whole chore so-o-o-o much easier. Input the album name and it automatically names saves side 1 and 2 for you with appropriate names. Then you can download cover art and track information (titles and lengths) from your choice of online database (from Amazon, Diskogs, or several others) and it will automatically insert track markers at the appropriate places. You can easily adjust the markers if they are a little off, then clean up pops and clicks, and finally save the album in any of the usual compressed formats like MP3, or FLAC if you prefer lossless compression. It does this by creating a directory based on the artist and album title, then saves each song with the track name and the beginning and end as defined by the track markers, and with the cover art (if found) stored in the file. Just import into iTunes or whatever player you use.

Just might be the best $29 I've ever spent...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Playing guitar in a trio

For the first time tonight I tried playing in a trio with electric bass and drums. Yikes, is it hard!

The classic jazz trio is piano/bass drums. A piano player has ten fingers with the same basic function - to hit notes - and the nature of the instrument means they can play rich harmonic accompaniment while also playing lines. But even the most amazing adept guitar players are limited by the nature of the instrument to six notes and the separate and different function of the hands (five fingers of one hand fretting notes and the five fingers on the other hand striking them to make them sound).(Of course I'm referring to standard 6-string guitars played in more-or-less standard ways.) So a guitarist in a trio has to kind of pretend a bit to suggest musically what a piano player can do pretty readily. The best ones are adept at breaking parts down in such as way as to give the impression that there is harmony going on all the time while in fact they are alternating between playing lines and playing chords. It's a kind of aural sleight of hand.

I am not even in the Little Leagues when it comes to his sort of playing and I was pretty chastened by the experience, but it wasn't a total failure, and I think it will be fun challenge to continue to try to play like this. Conclusion: I must be more than a little insane.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Upcoming shows

I'm excited about the first three months of 2012:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ruth Davies' Blues Night review

The latest edition of the Golden Gate Blues Society newsletter (Issue #11, October 2011) has a review I wrote about the Ruth Davies' Blues Night concert I saw this past summer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Autumn harmony

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!  - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Here it is a week before Thanksgiving already. Let me take a few minutes to see if I can sort out what's happened in my musical life since my last post... jeesh, this gets harder and harder every day I age...

September and October saw a little bit of SNUG activity. First up was a private event at the Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae. A stripped-down lineup - SiBon, Ross, and I - crammed into a ludicrously cramped space and played a very short set and got fed some incredible food. Next up was a very fun  outdoor brunchtime gig at the Main Street Coffee Roasting Company in Redwood City. We went over well and hope to be back there again when the weather returns to the appropriate temperature. Finally, we played on a Saturday night at a funky bar in San Mateo, Moon's Family Sports Pub (I think the word "family" in the title means the pub is owned/operated by Moon's family, not that it's a family sports pub to take your kids to for a meal and a few brewskis). This time we had a fill-in rhythm section, Alvin Joseph on bass and an old musical colleague of SiBon's, Rick Bailey on drums. We went over well and I suspect might be back there again soon.

In October I sat in for several songs with Stan Erhart's band at the American Legion Hall in Princeton-by-the-Sea, right next door to the OPL, long-time site of Stan's Sunday night jam which I used to frequent when it was still happening. Then in mid-November I played a set with my friend's band Blue Tuesday at McGovern's Bar in San Mateo, an evening that was made noteworthy by the presence of the awesome Berkeley-based guitarist Garth Webber sitting in a later set. It would have been great to have had a chance to play with Garth again (we jammed once or twice a while back at Stan Erhart's OPL jam), but it was wonderful just to be able to watch and listen to him.

I've continued to attend the Club Fox jam on Wednesday nights in Redwood City, but much less frequently. I used to go probably 4 out of 5 times, now I head down there probably once a month or so. My original plan was to switch it up and go to some of the other local jams in between, especially a couple of jazz jams, but I haven't seemed to have been able to do that quite yet.

Concert-wise, I saw a couple of great shows. In October, at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, there was a King Crimson-centric performance titled Two of a Perfect Trio - Adrian Belew's Power Trio and Tony Levin's Stick Men. Belew and Levin, along with Stick Men drummer Pat Mastelloto, were (are?) members of King Crimson, and the whimsical name for the tour is wordplay on the title of a Belew song and Crimson album, Three of a Perfect Pair. Each trio performed a set of mostly their own originals. Then Belew, Levin, and Mastelloto came out and performed a couple of King Crimson songs. Finally the remaining members of the two trios (touch guitarist Markus Reuter from Stick Men, and bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph from Belew's Power Trio) came out and joined the trio of Crimalums for a pulverizing set of Crimson material.

Then, on Halloween night, at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, I saw Jeff Beck. It was my ninth time seeing him (a review of the previous show in 2009 and a list of all the other times I've seen him is detailed in this blog post). This time his band still had Jason Rebello on keyboards, but the bass and drum chairs were filled by Rhonda Smith and Narada Michael Walden. The set list had a fair amount of overlap from the 2009 show, with the addition of several tunes from Beck's latest studio recording Emotion and Commotion and a couple of new covers added since then.

Not much I can say about Jeff Beck that hasn't been said, so I'll leave it at this - when he comes back next year (with a new studio album, apparently, and a tour with his new trio with Rhonda Smith and drummer Veronica Bellino), I'll be getting tickets if he's anywhere within a couple of hundred miles...


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Robbie Robertson's new release

How To Become Clairvoyant is the fifth solo release by Robbie Robertson, coming 13 years since his last release (and I thought Jeff Beck waited a long time between recordings). I remember being really knocked out by Robertson's first solo album in 1987, so when I first heard about this one, my antennae twiggled. Then I learned that it is a collaboration with Eric Clapton, which further tweaked my interest.

I've been quite pleased with it. The songs are all very good, though none of them jump out at you as an instant classic like "Cripple Creek" or "The Weight" from his years in The Band.

Robertson's vocals are... what should I say? – limited? – but they work. He sometimes treads close to pretentiousness, but usually he manages to be emotionally expressive, and he has an excellent sense of phrasing and rhythm.

Sonically the recording is brilliant. It's sort of a combination of raw, lo-fi electric guitars, nylon-string acoustics, and Hammond B-3, mixed up with more modern electronic sounds here and there. Everything sounds organic and loose, but there are all sorts of interesting layers and interlocking bits of sound, in a way that reminds me of the late Lowell George's production work with his band Little Feat. I haven't been as impressed with the production of a recording in a long time like I have been with this.

Clapton is all over the record, but in an understated way for the most part, except for where he and Robertson trade off lead vocals on the song "Fear of Falling." He co-wrote some of the material, plays guitar and sings backup on many of the tunes. It's wonderful to hear Clapton involved with something as creative as this.

Steve Winwood also appears on organ. Bass and drums are mostly provided by Pino Palladino and Ian Thomas, There are also appearances by Robert Randolph, Tom Morello, Trent Reznor, Angela McClusky, Jim Keltner, and others.

There's a nice little writeup about the disk at NPR's Music's First Listen site.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Late August update

It seems I'm letting the time get away from me again. Missed noting a few things that I did this summer.

SNUG played a short one-hour gig outdoors at the San Mateo High School football field on Saturday afternoon, July 9th, as part of the American Cancer Society Rally For Life event. I recorded it with my digital recorder but it was windy, and I forgot the windscreen, and so the results were essentially unlistenable.

I had the privilege of seeing two great shows at this summer's Stanford Jazz Festival. First, on June 30th, was the wonderful Milton Nascimento and his Band of Four. I've been a huge fan of his work since I first heard his collaboration with Wayne Shorter, Native Dancer, back in the mid-seventies. I had seen him once before,  back in the early eighties with a large ensemble, but this time he had a small group with just four other musicians. It was exquisite.

About a month later, on July 24th, I caught Ruth Davies' Blues Night with special guest Robben Ford. It was great to see Ford play with a larger group for a change rather than in a trio setting.

I had a small jazz gig at the Palo Alto Elk's Lodge on August 19th, with some of the guys from the group of folks that used to play at the Turtle Bay Seafood & Grill restaurant in Foster City. It was a lot of fun and I hope to do it again.

Aside from that I've been going to the Club Fox jam now and then, and also the Sunday one at the Pioneer once in a while. But I am scaling it back a bit for the time being. Just too time-consuming for the small amount of playing involved.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Benefit for the Cobb Family - follow-up

Bobbi Goodman also videoed our performance on June 5th, compiling both tunes into a single video.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Benefit for the Cobb Family

On Sunday, June 5th, I was honored to be part of an afternoon of music & fellowship in benefit of the family of guitarist Chris Cobb, who lost their younger son Clay earlier this year. It was held at McGovern's Bar in San Mateo and the music lasted from before 1pm until after 9pm. Some of the featured performers were Stan Erhart, Dave Workman, the Daniel Castro Band with Terry Hiatt, the Chris Cobb Band; there were many others. I played three numbers (one with vocals) with the able assistance of Jeff Kamil on guitar, Pat Tinling on bass, and Jackie Enx on drums, with Gino "Bambino" Emmerich guesting with us on one tune.

Dave Workman took some video of two of the numbers with his iPod Touch:
"That Road"
"Unchain My Heart"

As you can tell if you watch those YouTube vids, both numbers were somewhat shabby. We only had one very brief rehearsal about three or four days before the show. I made a bunch of glaring mistakes. But Pat and Jackie are such strong players that it almost didn't matter - the groove and the drive were there for Jeff and I to surf on.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Tedeschi/Trucks Band at the Warfield in San Francisco, May 22, 2011

I saw the Tedeschi/Trucks Band a week ago last Sunday night at the Warfield in San Francisco.

Almost exactly two years ago I saw the Derek Trucks Band, which was also a fantastic show by a superb band. But this band is a notch or two better. There are a couple of holdovers - the singer Mike Mattison, though now he's a backup vocalist rather than the featured vocalist, and Kofi Burbridge, the keyboardist and flautist. On bass now is Kofi's brother Oteil, who has been the bassist in the Allman Brothers Band for many years now. There are two drummers, J. J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell. There's a three-piece horn section with trumpeter Maurice Brown, tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, and trombonist Saunders Sermons. Finally, there's one more backup vocalist, Mark Rivers, for a total of 11 folks in the band.

The music was all new stuff to this ensemble, with the exception of the old Derek & the Dominoes song "Anyday," which the DTB Band did perform, and maybe one or two other covers that might possibly have been in the repertoire in either Derek's or Susan's earlier groups. They performed "Space Captain," the tune that they recorded with Herbie Hancock on his last CD, The Imagine Project, and a bunch of stellar originals, some of which I've heard already, like "Midnight In Harlem" which they did on the last Crossroads Guitar Fest DVD. They did a couple of interesting covers, like Jimi's "Manic Depression" (which Oteil sang lead on) in the first encore, and the Meters song "Just Kissed My Baby" in the second encore.

Second encore! I can't remember the last time I've been to a show that had a second encore. They played a bit over two hours in all; I didn't get home until midnight.

Their debut CD, Revelator, is being released in a couple of weeks (June 7th).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 40th anniversary remasters of Layla

The other day on the way to work I listened to the 40th anniversary remaster of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos.
40 years... whew. I was a junior in high school, a nascent guitar player and a stone Clapton fanatic when I first heard this, and I immediately embraced it as an incredible, near-perfect recording in every way - real emotion, exuberant, passionate playing, great songs, the right balance of rawness and polish, and some of the best-sounding guitar parts ever... 
Over the years I have kept coming back to it, and to this day it still always hits me the same way.
At this period of time Eric Clapton was pretty much at the peak of his powers, and ever since his best efforts have never approached even the foothills of the heights he reached on this recording. The stories are legendary - his (at that point) unrequited love for his friend George Harrison's wife, the sympatico meeting between Clapton and Duane Allman - and knowing this history helps inform one's appreciation of the record, but it's really in the music that was put on tape, and the order in which it was presented, that the rubber hits the road. 
In the Dominos (Bobby Whitlock on keys and vocals, Jim Gordon on drums, and Carl Radle on bass), Clapton had a crack rhythm section and, in the case of Whitlock, a songwriting partner and strong vocalist to serve as a foil. And with the addition of Duane Allman, and the generosity with which Clapton featured him in the songs he played on (more than three-quarters of the album), an already delicious musical stew got some wonderful extra spice and complexity. 
Bobby Whitlock, who has recently been very talkative about this album and his time as a Domino (on the heels of his autobiography that came out a year or two back), says that Allman didn't really add all that much to the album, that it would have been just as great an album had he not been present, but I beg to differ. I'm sure it would have been a great album (a listen to the first three tracks, sans Allman, demonstrate that), but Allman's playing in the presence of "God" is inspired, and I suspect Allman's presence tweaked a bit more divine wattage out of Clapton's playing too.
That said, one of my favorite tunes has always been "Keep On Growing," on which Clapton alone plays guitar (as on the first two tracks, "I Looked Away" and "Bell Bottom Blues") -- but a lot of guitar! There are multiple parts piled up here. Several overdubbed rhythm figures drive the song, and cocky fills bristle in between the lines of the verses and choruses. Then, after the last chorus, several guitars improvise joyously in and out and around and through each other. It's the kind of thing that you would expect to quickly dissolve into raucous cacophony and be an over-indulgent mess, but for some reason it's magical.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Deluxe editions

Special editions of a couple of my favorite recordings have come out recently:  John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos.

The Traffic set arrived on Friday and includes two disks: the original album remastered on Disk 1, and a couple of alternate takes, including a rather different arrangement of the title track, plus a bunch of live tracks from the Fillmore East from 1970, which include Ric Grech on bass along with the core trio of Steve Winwood on vocals, guitar, piano and Hammond B-3, Jim Capaldi on drums and vocals, and Chris Wood on flute, sax, and Hammond B-3.

The Dominos package is supposed to ship tomorrow so I should have it in a few days. In addition to the remastered album, there are also tracks from their appearance on the Johnny Cash TV show and a couple of tracks that were recorded for an abortive second Dominoes album.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some band gigs...

I have almost fully recovered from being up past my bedtime after the second SNUG gig in fifteen days. Both were at Murf's Broadway Cocktail Lounge in Redwood City. Both gigs went well. Not much of an audience - a few friends, and a few other folks... a couple of dancers...

Our fill-in drummer, David Bossler from the local band Funktional Soul, did a great job on our vast repertoire with minimal rehearsal. 

One good thing was that for once we seemed to have gotten SiBon's vocals loud enough, and the recordings I made with the Zoom H4n came out very well.

Recordings of "Use Me,"  the Bill Withers song which is my one lead vocal with SNUG, and my guitar solo on "Chain of Fools" are posted now on my website. Hopefully SiBon will find a song or two worthy of using as demos and will put something up on the SNUG site.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's spring...

A rainy first week of spring here in the Bay Area.

The Club Fox jam in Redwood City continues to go strong. I've been there virtually every week since it reopened in November except for two Wednesdays when I was back in NY for the Christmas holiday.

Over the last month or so a new Sunday night jam has been taking place at the Pioneer Saloon in Woodside. It features Terry Hiatt, local guitar player extraordinaire and all-around nice guy. Lots of players and singers are showing up and playing for an enthusiastic crowd.

Also over the last month the live jazz at the Turtle Bay Seafood & Grill in Foster City has ceased. I'd been playing there on average of about once a month since last fall.  It's too bad because it was helping me keep my jazz chops on the road to improvement; I'll have to find some other way to accomplish that.

Meanwhile, the SNUG band has landed a pair of gigs at Murf's Broadway Cocktail Lounge in Redwood City, the first this Friday and the second fifteen days later. SNUG has not played a show since August.

On the listening front I have recently been listening to John Coltrane's One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note 2-CD set. The title track, a 27-minute improvisation by Coltrane, is a mind-blowing tour de force. As Elvin Jones is quoted on the slipcase, "it seemed like he was sitting on a mountain of ideas, and they would flake off every three or four seconds."

I am also looking forward to the first album by the Tedeschi/Trucks Band, especially after seeing their transcendent performance of one of its songs, "Midnight In Harlem," on the Crossroads 2010 DVD. I also have tickets to see them perform at the Warfield in San Francisco in late May.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In the bleak midwinter

Strange that the week of February 6 greeted us here with sunny, beautiful days with temperatures getting up into the low 70's. This week, more wintry weather is back with gray skies, rain and wind on tap for the rest of this week.

The winter is seeming a bit more bleak than it might otherwise, though, due to the demise of Stan Erhart's Sunday night "Killa Jam."  This jam was approaching its ninth year (or was it the tenth?), with a brief hiatus at the end of last summer when the Old Princeton Landing was sold and closed for remodeling. We all worried then that the jam would be kaput, but when the new owners reopened, it was back. Then suddenly in mid-January, they pulled the plug on it. Sigh... back to watching Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday nights...

Monday, January 10, 2011

The new member of the menagerie

(... or the new quiver in the bow, the new brush in the paintbox...)

Saturday I picked up a Squier Esprit guitar. These guitars were part of the Squier Master Series, made in Korea for only a year or so around 2005. It has a double cutaway, chambered mahogany body, a carved mahogany top, a 22-fret mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard, 24.75-in scale (like a Gibson Les Paul or SG, and unlike most Fenders, which have a 25.5-in scale length), with 2 Duncan-designed humbucking pickups, a three-position switch, and a pair of volume and tone knobs, one per pickup. This model was based on the Fender Esprit/Elite models made by Fender in the 80's, and famously endorsed for a while by Robben Ford. The Squier sports a slightly different headstock, and the pickups are not wired so that you can split the humbucker's coils.

This guitar was previously owned by my pal Dave Workman, a terrific Bay Area blues guitarist, so it's got some built-in mojo.

Guitar Player magazine reviewed it back in the August 2005 issue, and gave it the Editor's Pick nod.

I played it a bit when I got it home. After a couple of weeks of only playing my Telecaster (with a 25.5-in scale length), it was quite different in feel, and it took me a while to get comfortable, but the sound was inspiring from the get-go. Played acoustically, it is rich and vibrant, which is always a good sign. Plugged in, it sounds marvelous. Played through a clean amp, it sounds like a good jazz guitar, with a complex character and great definition. Crank up the gain, and the humbuckers sing like a sweet Les Paul. I was impressed with the clarity and definition even when you roll the highs off.

Sunday night I brought it with me to one of the jams that I frequent (Stan Erhart's "Killa Jam" at the Old Princeton Landing out on the Pacific coast) and got to play it into a couple of very fine amplifiers (a blackface Fender Vibrolux and an Allen Brown Sugar) through a couple of different pedals. It sounded very inspiring, was comfortable, and a joy to play.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A passel of miscellany

"In the Bleak Midwinter" often appears on Christmas recordings. But Christmas is only a couple of days after the first day of winter. What's up with that? By my reckoning, midwinter is around the first of February.

Speaking of Christmas recordings, got a couple more this year. Somehow I missed the fact that the amazing guitarist Tuck Andress recorded a CD of Christmas music in the early nineties... so I got that. Also, I heard a small sample of  a recording entitled performed by Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary by Anonymous 4 and thought that, like the review blurb on the album cover, it was "sublime." So I got that, too.

Speaking of sublime, the other night I watched some of the Crossroads Festival 2010 DVD that I got for Christmas. The first track on disk 2, "Midnight In Harlem" by the Derek Trucks/Susan Tedeschi Band, is just wonderful. Other highlights include Jeff Beck's performance of "Hammerhead" and "Nessun Dorma" (yes, the Puccini aria from Turandot). I was also pleased with Eric Clapton's performances with Steve Winwood -- playing with his old friend and collaborator brings out the best in old EC. (Check out "Voodoo Child" if you're so inclined...)

Since last posting here I've been busy with the usual stuff... playing at the Club Fox jam and at Stan Erhart's "killa jam" at the Old Princeton Landing as often as possible, and played a few gigs as part of the thrown-together jazz combo at the Turtle Bay Seafood & Grill restaurant in Foster City.

I hope that 2011 will be full of great things -- more and better gigs, maybe I'll finally get one of my recording projects moved forward, and of course more great stuff to listen to (like the soon-to-be released David Binney CD, Graylen Epicenter, with sax maestro Chris Potter and guitar wizard Wayne Krantz.