Music on the road 11/7/18

Here’s a quick rundown on the CD-based music that served as accompaniment for my behind-the-wheel time during the past week-and -a-half.

It seems I somehow defaulted to an all-acoustic playlist to begin the month. IMG_1155 (1)

Bach ConcertosXuefeif Yang – if you follow me on FaceBook or other social networks where I show up you are probably aware that I am a champion (possibly fan) of this wonderful guitarist. (My thanks to Adrian Legg for the introduction.) She is undeniably one of the finest classical guitarists around, playing with not only technical skill and ability but with feeling and emotion. This particular recording is mostly a collaboration of guitar and string quartet. It is superbly performed and recorded. The arrangements are her own and offer an example of the possibilities of guitar as an integral component of a traditional string  ensemble. In addition, she performs two solo pieces on 7-string classical guitar that are truly sublime.

A Closer ViewRalph Towner & Gary Peacock – this is essentially part two of their collaboration when combined with their first recording Oracle. That in no way diminishes the music on this second chapter of Ralph & Gary.  Towner plays a classical guitar on most tracks and twelve-string on two (if I recall correctly) and the rapport these two players have is magnificent. Ralph does feature two solo performances (one of which is a stunning version of Toledo), both of which fit perfectly in the programming. It’s not the usual II/V/I turnaround jazz standards by any means — of course, with these two artists you wouldn’t expect that. Performances are enhanced by the stellar production that ECM is famed for. In a recent interview, Towner discussed his various collaborations and mentioned his duo with Gary Peacock to be one of his favorites. (After several listenings, I went through my iPhone address book searching through the bassists I have on file, with some fresh ideas about my duo. This happens every time I listen to this.)

LuziaPaco de Lucia – Paco has been a favorite of mine since I had front row seats for the McLaughlin/DiMeola/Paco guitar trio (too many) years ago. I have several other albums by him and his usual collaborators. I must sadly report this is not his best work. In fact, I would advise against obtaining this release if you don’t have any of his others. It is unfocused, almost free-form Flamenco, and while the techniques and aspects of the genre are very much in evidence, the music itself doesn’t deliver anything that sticks with you other than his technique. Paco wanders through a variety of ideas on each track, but never seems to settle in and explore any one of  them. While Flamenco music is improvisational and very much based on the duende or spirit that drives it, this music never rises into a temperate heat. The recording quality also has a lot of ups and downs, with distinctly differing mastering and EQ that contrasts too much from track to track.

Three GuitarsLarry Coryell, Badi Assad, John Abercrombie – this is a great acoustic guitar trio project by two modern jazz musical innovators and a fantastically talented guitarist/vocalist. Each artist is in top musical form. While there are two (I believe) duets on the release, the bulk of the music is arranged for these three musicians and they all play magnificently. Their individual skills are apparent, but their ability to work as an ensemble to what really sets the music on this CD apart from other multi-guitar projects. My only criticism, and it is minor, is that I find the mastering to be somewhat ‘lite’ — the overall level is quieter with less presence than most acoustic recordings. It does provide an uncluttered mix, though I think some of the dynamics are lost. Of course, given the performances and music that’s not a reason to pass this by. If you’re expecting an  acoustic shred-fest, look elsewhere — in fact, Badi provides kalimba and amazing vocals/vocalise to a number of tracks, so virtuosity, while in abundance, is evident through  the quality of the performances.

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“But you’re using a classical guitar!”

This is an actual quote that was said to me following a set I played some months ago. I just played the opening set at the Sellersville Theater and went to the merch table to, hopefully, sell some merchandise (CDs, download cards, etc.). A listener who had heard my performance for the first time (as did most of the audience) came up to me, grinning and looking rather energized, hopefully as a result of my solo set.

2/17 @ East Brunswick Public Library

Matt preforms solo – 12/7/14

He extends his hand and introduces himself, then shakes my hand vigorously, still grinning. He proceeds to tell me “Your playing totally knocked me out — it was great.” He tells me how much he enjoyed my arrangement of the Lennon & McCartney song All My Loving and mentions several other musical moments in my set that he thought were impressive. He’s not unique, by any means. The majority of my listeners tend to play guitar, most non-professionally, and are always picking off details of my technique, asking questions and requesting advice. (They usually buy CDs, as well.)

Of course, I answer his questions and express my appreciation. Then my newly-found fan says “But you’re using a classical guitar.” Our spirited exchange comes to an abrupt halt — he almost seems disappointed after saying this, as if my using a classical-style instrument is some sort of caveat regarding the music. Is it easier than playing a steel-string guitar? Is what I played using this guitar somehow less valuable in terms of the music? Is there some sort of bias the average guitar fan/player has against a classical guitar if they play steel strings?

From my perspective there is no difference. In fact, as I tell this fellow, I learned my fingerstyle technique on a steel-string acoustic guitar, my late-1980s Lowden. I also toured and performed for several years with a Wechter Pathmaker and/or a Seagull Mini-jumbo, both of which were steel-string guitars. I only began using a classical-style instrument as a result of an endorsement while I was recording my first release, In This Single Moment, in 1999. At that time, it was not a primary instrument, but a guitar I utilized for a different tonal color. In fact, I played it with a pick for a great deal of the music on that album. The guitar, by the short-lived company Fina, was part of a two-guitar deal, which included a steel-string acoustic (which was the guitar I initially asked for). I began using the classical instrument from time to time on solo gigs and did enjoy playing it. Quite honestly, at that time I would usually just grab a guitar case on the way out the door to a gig and play whatever I took.

The Godin LaPatrie that I’ve been using for over seven years was actually an interim instrument. I was working in a guitar/flute duo with Katherine Barbato at that time and I wasn’t feeling comfortable with the sound of my Lowden with her flute. I decided to get a Godin Multiac (one of their fantastic, solid-body-like acoustic-electric guitars) with nylon strings to facilitate a better blend in our sound. However, when I contacted my rep at Godin he informed me the bulk of the Multiacs had been shipped to Europe and I’d have a two-week wait before more were built. As I had less than one week to get the guitar and get used to it he suggested the LaPatrie as a temporary guitar — he promised to notify me when the Multiacs were back in stock. That was about 7 1/2 years ago — he did call about two weeks later. I told him I was pleased with the LaPatrie and that I’d hold off for the time being.

Matt Richards solo at The Grand, Wilmington DE

Matt performs solo for the Summer Salon outdoor series at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington DE on 7/25/12.

Well, time has passed and the LaPatrie is now my go-to guitar for solo work — not because of its classical identity. It’s a great guitar that has never come up short. I’ve adapted to the classical setup easily and feel the guitar serves my needs in a solo context. Unlike some other solo guitarists, I don’t utilize altered tunings during a set (or at all, for that matter). so the re-tuning is never an issue. Interestingly, Peppino D’Agostino, Phil Keaggy and Larry Coryell, all of whom I either opened for or performed with, saw no difference in my not using steel strings.

Nevertheless, getting back to that listener and others who find it amazing that I play a classical-style guitar — I explain my preference for this guitar, its playability and its sound and hope I make my point that it’s the music that is most important. Of course, some listeners get it, some don’t.

It’s quite possible that a few months from now I’ll be playing another guitar on my dates and it may, quite possibly, not be a classical-style instrument. If it plays well and sounds great it will work for me. As long as I can make good music.

It’s been a while….

… since I last posted anything. I offer my apologies to those who have been following my posts.

My focus has been spread a bit thin, not just with my musical pursuits, but with family-related matters that include selling my mother’s house (which my sister and I inherited). As my family and I have been living in the house, we’re also considering new living environments, calling and visiting and driving around. It’s practically a second/ third job…

Since my last post I released Balance, my sometimes overwhelming solo recording project that often seemed just beyond completion.

BalanceCvr3

While I have mentioned this in interviews and promotions, I offer appreciation to my friend and musical mentor Larry Coryell for his on-going encouragement to see this recording through to completion. He did hear some of the finished tracks, but passed away before I could actually release the album and give him a copy. I did replace one of the tracks with my tribute, A Blues For Larry, recorded just a few days after his death.

The album was supposed to be an easy project for me. On my first two releases, I had a tendency to over-work the music, especially once I discovered the then-newly-developed digital editing and processing. I spent entirely too much time on those albums, tweaking individual notes in some cases and re-mixing and re-mastering everything more than once. Larry actually shared his wisdom when he inquired how many takes I used for a specific track. I happily explained how I assembled four different takes into a single finished track. His reply? “You should trust the first or second take — I think one of those was probably perfect.” My next two releases, One In Mind and Trio, each included only one solo track each — while it was a challenge, I did follow Larry’s advice and didn’t cut & paste the life out of either piece. My ‘retrospective’ As You Are was comprised of solo guitar selections that had been recorded for my earlier albumssome were on the CD releases, some were unreleased. Again, I kept Larry’s advice in mind….

OIMcvrhi         cvr2     AYAcvr

 

 

 

After my ‘retrospective’, I wanted to produce a completely new recording that reflected what I was doing as a solo player now. Since my last official studio project I had played mostly solo dates and felt that I had developed my musical approach beyond the newer tracks on As You Are. Based on the soundtrack recordings I was producing, I was confident I could produce a first-rate recording without heading into the studio. I certainly figured it would be an advantage to have less pressure to record as I didn’t need to watch the clock. Of course, the financial advantage of not needing to pay for time was also an incentive. Larry agreed.

As is usually the case, creating value requires overcoming obstacles (or, as Wayne Shorter mentions, ‘encountering opportunities’).

I’ll continue with more details next time.

Matt

Remembering Larry Coryell (pt.1)

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I vividly recall my weekly trips to the Franklin Music store while in high school and my obsessive journey through practically every LP bin in the store. I wasn’t necessarily an open-minded teen, looking for new and exciting music forms (though, in retrospect, it seems I was). Still under the influence of popular music (which, at that time, mixed rock, Motown, folk, country and full-fledged pop musics into one perpetual playlist) I used the covers of the LPs to educate myself. I knew about rock and folk music, of course, but learned of country artists, jazz artists, classical orchestras and composers, Broadway shows, all from studying those LP covers.

By this time I was also into the guitar – any guitar, any style, any level of playing. I was most immediately drawn to cover shots with guitars pictured, my teen-aged imagination just piqued by the music that was lurking on that vinyl disc. I wasn’t much of a guitarist at that time – with literally no guitar instruction available other than a folk-singing father of a younger friend, I was fumbling along on my own, snatching bits of ideas from TV variety shows, where popular groups would lip-sync their latest hit. So, it was with this fascination-driven mentality that I encountered Larry Coryell’s Offering album.

I’m not sure I can express exactly what drew me to that record – the cover is quite artistic, of course, but there was something about this guy holding this immense guitar that hinted at new music, an unique experience. He didn’t have the physical demeanor of Barney Kessell or Herb Ellis, wasn’t sporting the suit-and-tie look still associated with a preconception of jazz. He had bushy hair, giant glasses and a fantastic guitar. The back cover was even more convincing – the quintet didn’t look that different from guys I was hanging around with at school, albeit a bit older. I could imagine sitting there with them just looking cool.

The list price for Vanguard LPs was $3.49 that week, which was beyond my high school budget (circa 1969). But I persevered – upon each return visit to the store I checked the sale banners – various labels had weekly specials when the price would drop by $1. Each week I checked that the record was still in the bin. Three weeks passed – my patience was rewarded when that banner touted all Vanguard LPs for $2.49! I wasted no time in dashing to that bin, grabbing the record, pulling those three $1 bills out of my wallet and buying Offering.

My parents were very tolerant with my musical obsessions. In the era before earbuds and headphones, they had to be tolerant with my often redundant listening habits. This time it went even further. Upon returning home, I rushed to the venerable Fisher stereo system, placed the LP onto the turntable and was astonished by what I heard. The very first track, Foreplay, was unlike any music I ever heard. I played the track six times, all the while running around the dining room, calling out superlatives and exclamatories. When I finally calmed down my mother walks into the room and asks “Is the whole record just that one song, over and over?” I, of course, replied with more superlatives and impassioned exclamations.

I literally had to not listen to the remainder of the record until the next day and the artistic knock-out punches continued. This was group of musicians creating something exciting on many levels, opening new doors into musical expression. For me, it was truly a turning point –  I had a new take on music and new determination to play music like this. The music of the rock and pop idols had nothing close to this – I had to learn to play like this.

Back in the LP days, to learn a song/solo/guitar part you played the vinyl LP over and over again, cuing the needle to the spot as many times as needed. I’m sure those repetitions clocked into three figures as I attempted to figure Larry’s solos out by ear. I had no idea where to begin. After wearing out the first copy of Offering and procuring a second, I realized it was time to find a teacher – this was jazz, after all, and I was in totally uncharted territory (for me). I asked friends who had taken lessons if their teacher was accepting new students. He wasn’t – but he supplied two names: Pat Martino and Tom Giacabetti. As it turned out, Pat was out on tour for several weeks, Tom wasn’t. I studied with Tom for five years and still employ his lessons today.

I also met Larry Coryell some months later…..

More to come

 

“I need a classical guitarist Saturday….

…. are you available?” the email inquiry asks. While I do play with classically-based fingerstyle technique and did develop that technique via basic classical repertoire years ago, I’m not actually a classical player. But there is a respectable sum of money to be gained, so I reply “I can do it”. As a wave of self-invoked satisfaction rushes over me I now notice the original email message states this is a three-hour event. That’s quite a lot of classical music even for a classical guitarist…. At that moment, I realize I will need to practice classical repertoire incessantly for the next five days.

Snapshot - 2

Which I do.

I cull through the abundant collection of sheet music that I’ve accumulated over the years. Quite a great deal of it is classical music, both long-form and short pieces that span a couple of centuries. I’ve always had a penchant to collect this sort of material even though I was never committed to immersing myself in classical repertoire. I have sporadically taken it upon myself to practice Tarrega or Barrios pieces for a few days; ultimately, I end up diverting my attention to a pressing project that makes use of my jazz/contemporary/improvisational skills and those charts are shuffled to the back of the pile on the music stand and eventually returned to the voluminous binders where they remain until…. (?)

But I have performed in the guise of a classical player in the past. Not counting wedding ceremonies, I have performed short sets of Giuliani, DeVisee and Tarrega for National AIDS Awareness Day and did, in fact, play a two-hour engagement three years ago at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. At the latter, a last-minute request for inclusion of Latin/Spanish folkloric repertoire lessened the pressure — I have quite a bit of experience with South American and traditional Spanish genres.

On the day of the date I feel reasonably prepared. I did eat/breathe/listen to/play only classical pieces. I had prepared a decently-organized collection of charts along with a list of the pieces I had memorized. It was preferred I not have a music stand telescoping up in Lapat111

front of me – I needed the stand with the charts and I was able to adjust it to a very low height. (Usually, in these sort of events, no one notices you until they walk into you while checking their texts.)

I arrive at the immense Constitution Center, where the event is taking place, having given myself additional time just in case. As it turns out, the original booker moved the schedule up by 30 minutes and neglected to inform me. At that moment she was going into a mild panic. I emerge from the elevator and find myself whisked across a spacious walkway to my spot. I do carefully explain that a later arrival time was detailed in the booking arrangements, but rather than insist on my correctness above all else, I assure her I will be ready in 10 minutes as needed.

With one minute to spare I call the booker over to tell her I will begin. For some reason I say/ask “And you want me to perform my classical repertoire for tonight, right?” She replies, “Oh, play whatever works. In fact, it would be good if you included some jazz, maybe some Spanish music.” Once again, pressure removed.

Well….. I did play jazz and other music…. but I did play a great deal of the classical pieces as well. It turned out to be another one of those gigs — but, as is always the case, I played it well, made every note count, every phrase flow. At the conclusion, the CEO of the company comes to me and thanks me profusely, explaining he studies and plays jazz guitar as a hobby. He was delighted that I performed for the dinner. (Additionally, the on-site booker expressed her gratitude to the agent who hired me for bringing ‘a true professional’ in for the date.)

I always put my very best effort into any endeavor I am involved with. I constantly tell my students (and my son) ‘If your name is on it, no matter how small you think your part is, make it count’.

Maybe I should practice more classical music…..

 

Now I’m going to figure out what it is I do….

P1010183…and explain to other people. Actually, I’ve been considering how to do this for several months — explain how I create solo guitar arrangements so others can understand what I do.

Before you assume I am acting grandiose or ego-driven (and we have enough of that right now with a certain public figure), after many years of doing what I do, play music and devise ways to re-phrase and re-structure it so it has a unique identity yet remains reasonably musical, the whole process has become second-nature for me. The music theory and harmonic re-organizing are just things I do without consciously detailing the process — I realized I do it while I’m improvising in a live gig.

When I sat down to begin defining my approach, I became aware of the fact that the system that I use is flexible – I can begin with full concepts in some pieces, while other tunes require my going note-by-note and building from the ground up. I had to devise a logical system, a progressive path through the process. At the very least, I wanted in introduce a method that an intermediate player could connect with, that would allow him or her to develop the skills that I’ve been building (often unconsciously) for more than forty years.

Fortunately, I am musically cognizant of how things fit together — I can explain things at face value in clear theoretical terms (i.e., intervals, chord voicings, harmonic relationships, scales) that even some accomplished players aren’t comfortable with. (No names here….) I can also relate to a more guitaristic approach (two frets = 1 whole step, sharps go up the neck, etc.). So, with both aspects necessary to clearly explain things, I’m going forward with Arranging For Solo Guitar and making very sure my instructor’s approach adequately explains my musician’s approach to the topic.

My goal in teaching is for the student to, eventually, develop beyond the point of needing me. While I certainly value everything I’ve gained from my teachers (Tom Giacabetti, Larry Coryell, Steve Khan) and my musical inspiration (too many to list here), I always strove to take what they gave me, whether technical, theoretical or inspirational, and get it into my own playing ASAP. To be honest, it didn’t always work and when it did, it often took months / years. Sometimes, it appeared in my own music and I became aware of it after the fact. But that is how music / art / self-expression works and that’s what I hope to give to my students and my workshops attendees.

Coffee Break

 

I’ll be sharing more as things develop. Needless to say, I’m learning a lot about myself and even more about how I play music. In either case, that can’t be bad.

See you soon!

Matt

Now, about that CD project….

… which has practically become the stuff of urban legends. I half-expect to see non-reputable newsfeeds begin regular reports of CD box sightings in/around certain geographic areas. In an effort to de-fuse any such rumors, here’s the final version of the cover art:

balance

I do hope everyone realizes I am joking about the news reports. I am not quite that important in the eyes of the general public and, most certainly, won’t be engaging in Twitter battles with other music celebs (or with a certain presidential candidate…..).

Here’s the update on Balance:

The technical issues have been conquered. Early-on, I was encountering all sorts of electrical interference on the recorded tracks. During sound-checking everything would sound perfect – I’d doff the headphones (which I preferred not to wear while playing) and record for an hour or more. Upon reviewing the tracks afterward (days/weeks…. more about that later) I’d hear either news radio broadcasts or twinkly static that resembled electronic mosquitoes. In either case, filtering, which can eliminate power hum and the like, didn’t solve the problem – the noise was too loud and tweaking removed far too much guitar sound. The source of the interference was my electrical lines picking up the signals from no fewer than nine towers that stand within a half-mile radius of my home. I could a) re-wire my entire house; b) install a highly-insulated A/C circuit just for studio use; or c) get off the grid. The third option cost far less than the first two….. Of course, I utilize condenser mics which require phantom power and, essentially, need to be plugged in. It just so happened that TASCAM was offering a factory rebate on their DR-40 recorder – 4-track recording, battery-powered, with phantom power. The unit records 24bit/48K resolution and, as it happened, was on sale through an online retailer.Need I say more?

The new setup features four mics with the DR-40 with the option of a fifth with my DR-1. As I currently do not have a dedicated studio room where mics can be left in place, I face the issue of having the sound just a bit different for each session. A one-inch difference in mic placement can alter the bass response, affect the midrange…. when an A/B comparison is made between tracks you can hear subtle tonal contrasts. That’s not a bad thing, I’ve come to realize, as there is plenty of tonal variation possible with 4 or 5 mics. In fact, my original goal with the multi-mic setup was to capture as much sound and tonal character as possible then mix the signals to achieve the sound I want. I’ve always ascribed to the theory that having more sound/tone than you need allows you to remove what doesn’t work – if you come up short, tonally, adding/boosting frequencies usually yields lackluster results (at least for me).

The guitar takes a deserved break.

Thus far, I’ve refrained from doing a lot of plug-in processing other than compression/limiting. I want the natural sound of the LaPatrie guitar on the recording – it sounds great and the recording is, after all, a solo acoustic guitar album. I have been able to mix and position the individual mic tracks to create a full, rich sound that conveys the dynamics and the texture of the guitar. I do add reverb (Timeworks) and use Steinberg software for mastering – I do have a favorite reverb setting (which I do tweak for each track) but the mastering is accomplished on a  track-by-track basis. I look to fill the sound out just a  bit while getting the overall mix ‘tight’. I do leave a good deal of dynamic range in the finished product. Essentially, I want to like the sound.

Of course, first and foremost, the playing has to ‘cut it’. I have to like what I played and believe it’s a strong musical performance. This is where I must utilize the most challenging aspect of my recording process: patience. 

I will tell you all about that next time…..

Matt