Beginning a New Year with a new post…..

… would seem like a no-brainer, but that’s too easy.

Solo - East Brunswick Public Library

Actually, I did lay low over the holiday season, only checking FaceBook, Twitter, etc. once a day and mostly just hitting LIKE for others’ posts. I felt some sort of burnout taking hold and needed to reset myself – some intensely determined Buddhist chanting has pushed me back into action. While I am steadily getting back on track I must admit I do feel more focused. It’s usually not a problem being a one-person operation and handling everything every day – but repetition both in my own actions and the responses (or consistent lack thereof) I receive from bookers and promoters eventually wears thin.

I am getting some revamping done, mostly with my website (gradual tweaks and mods which may go unnoticed) and also with my playing (!). I’m actually reviewing the published exercises from John McLaughlin‘s This Is How I Do It DVD educational release from a few years ago. He does work up to his signature approach rather carefully, with simple patterns across scales and builds logically into full-fledged improvisations over chord vamps. The charts do provide a good deal on their own. I’ve also glimpsed some excerpts on YouTube. The DVD set costs at least $75.00 online, though actual retail is much higher. I admit to being hesitant about purchasing the package given the price tag (though I have paid more than that for one lesson). Last year, Larry Coryell had suggested I study the music/playing style of Tal Farlow – of course, when Larry recommends something I’ve learned to take his advice… which I did, obtaining the one technique book on Tal along with a four-album CD collection. While I’ve not only listened to Tal during my lifetime I also became acquainted with him and attended a few performances in intimate club settings. Tal was always somewhat modest about his abilities and admitted that he couldn’t always explain in detail the music he had just made. While musical comrade were busy transcribing and parroting solos I tended to listen closely and let the ideas slowly sink in – these would ultimately surface days/weeks/months later during a gig and cascade out of my fingers onto the strings and into the air as music.

My great pursuit, for the time being, is digging deeper into the music to find ways playing through changes. While I’m always looking to expand my single-line improvising, I’m sincerely attempting to apply the same approach to solo guitar with chord forms and variations. As I’m recording my CD project Balance I’m discovering new chordal ideas/harmonies/lines are taking shape as I play. More importantly, I’m hearing things differently, finding new ways to work through progressions that may seem ‘outside’ on paper but sound better and better each time. I’ve always believed you develop and mature in your ability to apply extended harmonic ideas and make them musically appropriate rather than a ‘high-wire circus act’ (Ralph Towner’s words) of calculated virtuosity. A great example is Wayne Shorter (my Buddhist grandfather, by the way) who seems to be capable of playing any note / phrase and make it work in anything. Obviously, I’m over-simplifying that fact – he is an improvisor of the highest order whose ideas and skills have developed over a lifetime.

So I am digging into the technical and theoretical side of music to do some homework and ignite new ideas and possibilities. While I, like most musicians, listen to/experience music on several levels (artistic/technical/theoretical), I try to come away with a grasp of the spirit that went into the performance – the learning issues get ingrained and permit the artist to express his life easily with a high degree of musicality. It’s that life-force that drives it all and tapping into it makes every bit of effort worthwhile.

See you next time.



Winter NAMM came and went….

…. and, along with my son, so did I.

The Winter NAMM Show is overwhelming — the very first time you go it will cause dizziness and severely sore feet. Then there’s confusion, disorientation and a feeling of ‘what am I doing over here when I should be over there?’ First and foremost it’s a music industry trade show, intended as a promotional endeavor for hundreds of companies that are involved in businesses relating to music. For the musicians it offers opportunities to connect with companies for endorsements, perform in both formal and informal settings for a captive professional audience and to establish the fact that you are someone worth noticing. (The NAMM Show is closed to the general public — you must have some connection/affiliation with a professional company/vendor to even walk through the doors.)

Playing a Godin Montreal.


While I did meet up with acquaintances and make new friends, this show was hampered by the fact that our hotel (promoted as conveniently located to the convention center) was a 35-minute bus ride away that required a 15 minute walk to the bus stop and between a 30 – 50 minute wait for the bus. Taxi service was at a premium requiring up to 40 minutes wait and a hefty fare. Normally, the hotel is within convenient walking distance to the convention center and I’ve never needed a rental car. But, all things considered, we made the most of the trip, and I did meet Pat Quilter (whose transistor amps are at least as good as my favorite vintage brand (Lab by Moog)) as well as some other nice folks. The details have settled in as the weeks have passed. Rather than rant on here, I’ll get to some timely news.

I’ll be performing in my first-ever guitar/vocal duo with the incomparable JayKatz beginning in April. Actually, Jay will join me in a 2-guitar/bass/voice quartet in March at the superb restaurant August Moon. This project is also a first for me — the quartet is a drummerless group and is assembled from my duos. This is the first time we’re all playing together at the same time. In addition to JayKatz, this group includes Tony Hughes on guitar and Nick Krolak on bass.

I’ve been more involved in studio production work, most immediately in mix/edit/master work with duo recordings with Jay, and with solo recordings for my next release Balance. I do go deep when I’m involved with any recording work and 4 to 6 hours in the real world seems like 2 hours in studio time. Of course, I spend a serious amount of time sweating over every note on playbacks — I am excessively critical and I always need to give myself some space after any recording session. So, this means results of the solo sessions are pending…. I will say that I really like ribbon mics now……

I’m working with almost five hours of sleep so I believe I’ll close this posting and come back with a new one when I’ve rested a bit more. Let me offer one of my famous / notorious window shots from my trip to CA. This is just outside Salt Lake City UT.

View from Salt Lake City airport.

View from Salt Lake City airspace.



I need to walk away from the mixdowns…

.. for now. I discovered that extraneous noise in my system was masking even worse noise in the mixes of my live tracks for the new CD. I burned what I thought would be the Final versions to a CD and took it into the car for the real test with my auto CD player.  (Yes, the system in the car, even though it’s a factory system, is very good and reveals the truth of all mixes.)

It was bad — so much extraneous noise had shown up on the tracks even though the source material was completely hiss-free. It sounded like an old cassette machine. Fortunately, I keep three ancestors of each track — it seems the noise appears after I use the compressor, even on a mild setting. They are first-rate plug-ins and yet they impart noise, so I need to re-mix things all over (I know the basic EQ needs and such so it’s not as tedious as before).  But now I’m hearing hiss on everything (!?) I need to clear my head/ears and come back fresh in the next day or two. With my studio work I actually let the rough mixes sit for a week before listening back to them. I do need to get this done a bit faster than before.

While the playing was of good quality overall, so many of the tracks had loud noises like espresso machines (on a ballad) and very loud one-sided cellphone conversations (through an entire song) and many invasive interruptions common to coffee shops and eateries.  I needed to make judgment calls and did scrap a lot of the Crossroads Cafe tracks with loud, obtrusive noise. Of course, I did dig out other material that fits the solo guitar concept of this release going back around 18 months.

Anyway Balance is still a work-in-progress at this point, though it’s getting there.

Patience is not always my best virtue….


Back from California.. and more

Warming up George Lowden's guitars in the am at the show.True to form it’s been a while since I logged on to share my thoughts and keep everyone up to date.

My son and I returned from the NAMM Show last Monday evening to face about 1″ of icy slush in the streets of Philly. It turns out there is a priority on Route 76, so at 12:15am last Tuesday we discovered that the expressway in/out of Philly was mostly wet due to liberal salting and service. However, the other roads (not just sideroads) were hideously slippery. Our normally 40-minute drive was close to 90 minutes without traffic. quite a shock from the 75F days in Anaheim….

The show was the usual whirlwind of activity and noise. Highlights (for me) included spending time at George Lowden’s booth, playing and discussing guitars (and many other subjects) and trying to play everything in the Godin room (including the new multiac oud). Of course, I spent time with my friends at Ibanez (where I was elbowed in the stomach by security as Steve Vai walked through) and became re-acquainted with the folks at EMG pickups. I was visiting a lot of companies, too numerous to detail and recall on the spur of the moment. My son did shoot videos of performance and meetings – however the noise level in most of the situations is awful and the soundtracks need quite a bit of work. In may cases I am totally inaudible despite amplification. I was disappointed in the number of companies that weren’t there – I was looking forward to checking out some new gear and gaining more firsthand information about things. It seems the financial crisis is real for the smaller companies (which I can attest to personally).

On the musical side of things I’m finally wrapping up the new CD, getting the post-production finished on the solo tracks from Crossroads and some other recording dates in 2010 — all solo. The trio is still very much in action, though as of this writing we aren’t scheduled to perform until March in Princeton NJ. I’m also beginning a collaboration with a very talented flutist with a focus on an acoustic duet, possibly a trio. Of course my solo work is still very much up front. I’m also considering a power trio…..

I did enjoy spending time with the great Pierre Bensusan last night, hearing him perform and then discussing world culture, politics, music, art and life in general. He’s in the US for a stretch and always worth seeing.

It’s about time to get the real work done — more udpates to follow…. more frequently.

Stay well.

MattReturning from NAMM '11


Winter clothing is not fun…

.. but it’s warm and really necessary in Philly this week. In addition to the difficulty of driving when you’re insulated like the Michelin Man, there’s the ongoing hassle of having my gigbag slide off the sloping shoulders of the jacket as I walk. I guess I’m being a bit over the top with my reaction but as I get older I tolerate the cold weather less each year….

My gig with Howard Miller & Friends was a success — we’re on a monthly schedule and will host another jam session in January on the 27th, same place (Abignton Presbyterian Church) same time (7:30pm) and same admission (free). We’ll be doing more publicity to get more musicians out in addition to the great crowd of listeners who attended Thursday evening.  (Personal note: if you come out in January don’t dine at Peace A Pizza beforehand — disappointing to say the least).

I’ve just received Pierre Bensusan’s latest release Vividly and it is played daily during my driving chores – it is possibly the finest recoding of a steel-string acoustic guitar I’ve ever heard. Of course, when it’s a guitar by George Lowden played by Pierre himself it’s hard to go wrong. Pierre’s taking the music further, as usual, and does a bit more singing on this one (which is fine) and features two collaborations with groups of musicians. I look forward to seeing him again in January when he comes to Philly (finally).

I’m tip-toeing through the live tracks I’ve accumulated, both solo and trio, from the year and trying to wrap up two CD releases. Without the luxury of a separate, isolated studio to work in I can’t engage in all-night marathon mixdowns, which is when I do my best work in the studio. I will/must get these wrapped up and available…..

Continuing to face the financial concerns of many presenters and arts organizations who face budget shortfalls and are slimming down not just performing programs but their educational work as well.  Not a good thing – and not for the obvious personal reason of losing gigs. Education is so vital that when any one aspect of it gets slammed down it creates ripples throughout its length and breadth.

Bookings are in the works, as is the video lesson production. Looking forward to getting out there with the trio and solo…. and as a sideman.

I’m flagging (as in losing concentration, getting fatigued) so I’ll sign off and catch up with everyone later.

Stay well and warm.