Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wayne Krantz

For years now guitar wizard Wayne Krantz has been one of my all-time favorite players. In my quest to try to hear everything he ever played on, I just came upon a used copy of a CD he did in 1989 while a member of the band Urban Earth featuring Harvie Swartz, titled Full Moon Dancer. If you read the review of it on the All Music website that I link to here, you'll see that they find it's a bit tepid, and I concur. Yet the players are all really good, and Krantz as usually really shines. Even at this point in his career when he was first making a splash, his playing had a special something that made him stand out amidst the pack of fusiony guitar slingers. The one track he wrote for this date, "Five Years," is easily the best one on the album.

So I'll take this chance to just quietly rave about Wayne Krantz.

I first came upon his name in the credits of former Weather Report bassist Victor Bailey's debut solo album, Bottom's Up, from 1989. I had listened to the opening track, "Kid Logic," and there was a guitar solo that made my ears perk up. Back then I couldn't yet go to the Internet and Google the name, but I filed it away in my brain and kept my antennae up for more from him.

Soon enough I found him on some releases from Leni Stern in the early nineties. Then, if I remember correctly, I read a brief review of his own CD,1995's 2 Drink Minimum, in some magazine, and was inspired to pick it up. To say my socks were knocked off is putting it mildly. A live trio recording from a performance at New York's 55 Bar, it is just chock-full of Wayne's amazing harmonic sense, incredible time, and dazzling single-line improvising. In the few things I'd heard earlier, he was an excellent player in the vein of a Mike Stern or maybe a Scott Henderson, but by the time of this live recording, he was totally in a world of his own. His playing is perhaps the most distinctive of all guitar players I've ever heard. His ideas are as fresh and cliche-free as possible.

Of course I had to go right out and get his earlier two CDs on Enja, Signals and Long To Be Loose.

In the late 90's and into the 21st century Krantz released on his own label a couple of albums that were edited-down fragments from hours and hours of live recordings made at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, NY: Greenwich Mean in 1999, Your Basic Live in 2003, and Your Basic Live '06 in (duh) 2006. He also played on several other people's projects, notably Chris Potter's Underground, Tal Wilkenfeld's Transformation, and several releases by David Binney.

In 2009 he finally released his first studio recording since the mid-nineties, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre, on the Abstract Logix label. It was one of my favorite records of the year.

A recent news item from the label says he will have a new CD titled Howie 61 to be released in April 2012. I can't wait! Here's a promotional video I just discovered this minute.

Some WK links:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recording with SONAR X1

The recent recordings I made with my son David playing drums have finally gotten me into learning the new interface in my recording software, SONAR. The X1 version had very significant changes, most of which I am coming to believe are for the better, despite meaning that I've had to re-learn how to do certain tasks I thought I already knew.

The other thing about it is, I realize I have done very little recording of any note for most of the last decades, and I'm also learning about things that have been in the SONAR bag of tricks for a while and I somehow missed.

In particular, there is a way to record extra passes of audio into a single track. They are called layers, and provide a nice way of grouping multiple takes together and working with them to assemble a composite performance. (For those that don't know, a composite performance is simply editing down a series of two or more takes of a performance, picking the best parts of each track. Typically, for example, your first take will have a so-so first verse, and an excellent second verse and chorus, while the second take really nailed the first verse and the rest were a little off, etc. Rather than re-recording the entire performance over and over again until there's one ideal take that's as good as can be, often you edit the performances, keeping the best parts of each one.)

I'm currently working on recording an arrangement of Ray Charles' "Unchain My Heart," and I've discovered this feature while trying to get as good as vocal performance as I can, and a good guitar solo.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Robben Ford at Yoshi's Oakland, Sunday, January 22, 2012

It was a wet, rainy weekend in the Bay Area, and spirits got even more dampened when the San Francisco 49ers lost the NFC championship. Maybe the big game explains why the 8 o'clock show at Yoshi's on Sunday was so criminally under-attended. The room wasn't even half full. But those in attendance enjoyed a smouldering set from Robben Ford and his band.

Ford was in fine form, if perhaps a tiny bit taciturn, as if he was mildly tired, or perhaps just a bit disappointed at the turnout. The repertoire for the evening included some of my favorites, like his version of Ray Charles' "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" (which appears in an acoustic version on his 1998 release The Authorized Bootleg),  "Cannonball Shuffle" (his instrumental tribute to Freddie King from 2003's Keep On Running), and "Good Thing" and "Strong Will to Live" from 1995's Handful of Blues. The band was exceptional - Greg Mathieson on Hammond B-3 organ and Fender Rhodes piano, Andy Hess on bass, and Toss Panos on drums. Hess and Panos locked in tight as a grooving and dynamic unit. Panos in particular is an excellent foil for Robben. 

He used a volume pedal beautifully in one solo, at the end of which Greg Mathieson stood up for a moment, gestured, and yelled, "ROBBEN FORD!!!" It was a nice moment.

A great show... I wish they had played a bit longer (they were done by about 9:30) but that's a minor quibble...

Aside for the guitar crowd: Ford was plugged into his famous Dumble amp into 2 x 12 cabinet. He stuck mostly with his old Telecaster; several other guitars were standing there waiting, but only one was used, a Gibson Firebird, for one song. His pedalboard contained a wah, a volume pedal, a Fulltone OCD distortion pedal, two TC Electronics Hall of Fame reverb pedals, a Line 6 DL4 delay pedal, and a tuner. Last time I saw him do his own thing (almost three years ago, one of the gigs recorded for Soul On Ten), he used the wah a lot; last night he didn't touch it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More recording

This past Saturday my son David and I convened in the family room again and proceeded to re-record the two numbers from the previous week, which had been somewhat spoiled by my careless bass part bleeding into the microphones. Over the week between I bought a very inexpensive headphone distribution box, so I hooked that to a stereo output from the mixer. I played bass direct into the board and so all that was in the 'phones was the bass part. I also added a third mic, so I had one on the bass drum, one on the left side of the kit and a little bit away, and one on the right side of the kit up close to the snare. This time I got very usable tracks from the session. On Sunday I overdubbed a "real" bass part for each song, and on one song added a rhythm guitar part and a quick stab at a second part with some lines. They are starting to sound really nice. I'm looking forward to finishing them up, hopefully before too much time passes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A dead gig comes back to life

Early last year I mentioned in a post here the demise of a somewhat regular gig. I was never privy to what actually happened, but my understanding was there was a restaurant manager who had instigated the gig, and there was some sort of shakeup at the place which resulted in his departure. Since the live music nights were his doing, they ceased with his exit.

Now it seems that the management has changed (perhaps new owners?), and the departed manager has returned and has restarted the gigs. It sounds like it will be much the same as before: every Wednesday from 7-9 and every Friday from 7-10.

A pool of musicians rotates filling the seats. I had been averaging about one or two nights per month, so I expect that will continue, though it seems that perhaps the original pool of players has become a little bit depleted, so maybe I will play more often. I will be playing the first one this coming Friday, January 6th. Should be fun!

Happy New Year!

Well, it's 2012, and after a week and a half of being off, I am back at the day job...

I wish I could say I got a lot done musically in my off time, but that would be a lie. I did achieve my primary goal, which was to set up a few microphones and record my son David playing drums on at least a couple of numbers. David's been playing since last summer and is starting to get pretty good. I played a rough bass part along with him and the plan was to overdub a fuller bass part and some guitars after the fact. The bass bled more than I'd hoped into the drum mics, so I might not be able to do much with these tracks. Next time I'll play through the mixer and we can use headphones to hear the bass part and thus keep it out of the microphones - either that, or I'll just record the real bass part at the same time.

We still have another two weekends with David at home during winter break, so hopefully we'll get in another session and get some really usable tracks.