Music on the Road – 10/21

As I’ve mentioned previously, I listen to music mostly during my driving hours (and I generally have quite a few of those every week). I’ve just brought these CDs in from the car (yes, physical CDs!) and I wanted to document my listening from the past week.

To The OneJohn McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension – the first release from his (now) Photo4final and incredibly memorable band. John’s playing developed and matured over the years. Of course, his Mahavishnu Orchestra had a big impact on me as a youth. Along with my personal connection with  Larry Coryell, John’s fusion excursions flipped all sorts of switches in my adolescent brain. I continued to listen to John over the years, most especially with his guitar trios and his trio work with my compadre Joey DeFrancesco. I think this band is/was first-rate in every way. The tracks on here have some rough edges when compared to the later recordings and performances — but, for me, that adds to the appeal.

Photo3_WiredJeff Beck – many years ago, when I got my very first transistor radio and stuck it up against my ear, I heard what I thought was an electric violin in a rock band. That was Over Under Sideways Down with Jeff Beck playing way ahead of most of the guitar crowd at that time. He’s only gotten better and better, building a sound/approach that is entirely his own. This is an early release that followed his epic Blow By Blow — it has its shortcomings in terms of production. It’s more like a sampler of Jeff Beck, but it’s still a satisfying, if not enduring, listen.

Phoot1The AbsenceMelody Gardot – I am not an instant fan of vocal artists. I’ve had the opportunity to work with several outstanding vocalists, with whom I’ve created great music and learned a great deal about my approach to the music. Melody has all the qualities of a first-rate vocal artist. The tunes, arrangements and performances on this release are superb. Melody proves herself a consummate vocalist and composer here and most definitely belongs in a category that contains the title jazz, even if it’s hyphenated. I know she’s living in the UK now, having left our humble Philadelphia hometown, and ideally keeping listeners throughout the world enthralled.

Photo2_AbracadabraSoft Works – This is the continuing lineup that hearkens back to the seminal progressive jazz-infused music of Soft Machine. The original band is part of my early foundation in creative music and spawned the sub-genre of Canterbury music in the UK. This group was composed of original members Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean along with the later-generation members Allan Holdsworth and John Marshall. It’s a jazz-infused group, based on interactive improvisation, with musicians who are at the top of their artistic game. Without intending any slights to the other musicians, Holdsworth’s playing is absolutely stunning in every way.

I’ve kept myself in check, avoiding paragraphs and pages of editorializing about this week’s listening pleasures. I’ll have more to come.

Thanks very much!

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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.

Matt

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.

NAMM14GGa

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.

Peace.

Matt

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….

Matt