Saturday, October 07, 2017

Autumn leaves

It's early October... you would hardly know it outside right now (an early Saturday afternoon), it's in the mid-seventies, but lately there's been more of a morning chill, and the light at dusk is beginning to get that fall thing going on...

Recent music stuff:
  • the Scott Goldstone band project, now called No Static, recorded some demos (mixed by moi) and popped up a website. We had a nice gig two weeks ago at the San Benito House in Half Moon Bay, and we have two more on the calendar in the next couple of months.
  • Demos for Lea & Co. are up on the website, but we've been on a bit of a hiatus, as one of us had sadly had a death in the family. We should be getting back to business soon.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Midsummer update

Lots going on this year so far...

First off, I'm still accompanying vocalist Sharon Lea, but the Sharon Lea Duo has morphed into Lea & Co. with the addition of bassist Jeff Moles. We're folding Jeff in to our repertoire and it's going very nicely. The cool thing for me is that when I do my instrumental improv sections in the tunes, I don't have to keep the whole ball of wax in the air – I can rely on the rhythm and the bass line being there and I can play more freely, which is both more fun for me and sounds better. Our website will soon be available and there will be a few demo recordings, which we laid down about a week and a half ago and which I am currently mixing. I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing with this ensemble.

Secondly, the Scott Goldstone Band has been in a little bit of a hovering state, as several of us have had summer vacations that have interrupted our usual rehearsal schedule a bit. But we've continued to learn some new material, and it looks like we have found a sax player to augment the band. Last week we recorded some raw demos and we're going to clean them up and get them mixed after Scott returns from his overseas vacation. We also hope to settle on a name and get a website together by the end of August, get back on track, and take it to the street. I'm very excited about this group and I look forward to the autumn.

The guitar duo with Jeff Kamil has had two gigs so far this year, with another couple likely coming up at the Madrigal Family Sausalito Wine Tasting Salon & Gallery. We haven't attempted to find other places to play, and with the other projects I have going on there's very little opportunity for us to rehearse at all or think about it much. But we'll see... there's definitely potential there.

Finally, I have played a couple of Bread 𝄞 Roses gigs with acoustic finger-style guitarist Jon Rubin. He's also invited me to two gigs coming up soon, which are on my calendar at my website.

One thing that I've learned for sure over the last couple of months – when you have a full-time day job and then you add not one band but three or four, the paucity of time you can devote to the music becomes jarringly obvious! But I'm not complaining! (Yet...)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Allan Holdsworth 1946-2017

On a Sunday morning in mid-April I was looking at Facebook and was appalled to see a message from Allan Holdsworth's family that the great guitarist had passed away at the age of 70.
Allan Holdsworth performing with the band UK in Central Park, NYC in 1978 – I was at this show!
It hit me like a ton of bricks. He was one of my all-time favorites. (If you don't know anything about Holdsworth, read this excellent obituary from the NY Times.)
I don't want to write another huge essay about his entire career, so I'll restrict this to the early part of his career up until the late seventies.
I've been a devout fan of his since the early seventies, when I first picked up an album by the British rock band Tempest, curious about what drummer Jon Hiseman's new project was like. I put it on the turntable... and by the time it was over I was enthralled.
Here's the tune that really grabbed me – in his solos and fills, Holdsworth played without cliches – notes that no one else would have chosen, interval leaps that no one else could have conceived – all with an astonishing melodicism, speed and fluidity that was way beyond any guitar player I had ever heard:
He was also a violin player at this point in his career, and the intro on the last track of the Tempest album was a thing of beauty:
The first time I saw Allan play was a sheer accident — I went with some friends to see Renaissance, a mostly-forgotten British progressive rock band, at the old Academy of Music in NYC. The opening act was Soft Machine. We arrived a little late and the lights were down and the band had already started playing. As the usher flashlighted us to out seats, the guitar player started a solo, and I stopped dead in my tracks with my jaw dropping... "Wow! Who is the guy?" I thought. At the time I wondered if it could be Ollie Halsall, another fantastic British guitarist who I was aware of. In retrospect I'm amazed that I didn't guess that it could be Holdsworth. A few days later I found an import copy of Soft Machine's new album Bundles at a record store, and the guitarist's identify became known to me. Of course I bought it immediately. Here's the two tracks that feature Allan most prominently:
Just a few months later, Allan's profile was raised when he joined the great drummer Tony Williams in his New Lifetime band in 1975. They recorded their first album, Believe It! One of Allan's compositions that appears on the album remains for me one of the best examples of almost everything about him, with the exception of the signature chordal passages he was noted for in his solo bands later in his career. It's called "Fred."
I saw that band perform twice – or was it three times?
Some of Holdsworth's best recorded performances were as a sideman. Here's a Jean-Luc Ponty tune from his 1977 album Enigmatic Ocean, which features a beautifully-constructed guitar solo starting at right about the 3:00 mark:
In 1977 Holdsworth also joined drummer Bill Bruford's band and recorded the album Feels Good to Me:
Bruford and Holdsworth then teamed up with bassist John Wetton and violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson to form the band UK. I saw that band perform at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park in Manhattan in the summer of '78, shortly before leaving NY to move out to California. Check out his beautiful solo in the song "In the Dead of Night" starting at about 3:08:
Feeling constrained by UK (it was reported that Wetton and Jobson wanted him to replay his improvised solos from the album note-for-note in their concerts), he left after that tour, and in 1979 he appeared on a second Bill Bruford album, One of a Kind. Check out this his solo in the final section of the great tune "The Sahara of Snow" starting around 5:22:
Over the next few years, Allan started leading his own bands and recording albums under his own name. I saw him several times in the years since. One of those shows was a Tony Williams tribute project that reunited him with keyboardist Alan Pasqua from the Tony Williams Lifetime days. A double CD and a DVD of their performance at Yoshi's in Oakland was released in 2008. You can find video on Youtube:
The last time I saw him was again at Yoshi's, in a trio format with bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Virgil Donati. Early this year I'd heard he was doing some performing again and I was hoping to see him up here again soon. Alas, that was not to be.
I've gone on too long so I'll wrap this up here. If any of you that have stumbled on this and were not aware of Holdsworth, I hope maybe some of these links have been inspirational and made you want to find out more.
Requiescat in pace, Allan, and thank you for the music.

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 PJ 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.