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!


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.



.. to what I’m hearing on my car CD player.

John Coltrane – Ballads

Peter Bernstein – Monk

Pat Metheny – What’s It All About

Casandra Wilson – Standards (I think that’s the title….)

John McLaughlin – Now Here This

I find myself noticing details recently that went unnoticed for years. I guess I’m getting better as a musician (I hope). I am most definitely zeroing in on certain aspects of my own playing more, as well, paying attention to how I get my sound and what I need to get the ideal sound.  Of course, I work with classical-style guitar in my solo and flute-duo work and electric guitar everywhere else… and fretless guitar as well… so my logic has to stretch-to-fit. But, so far, it seems pretty accurate and my sound is getting better, to be sure.

Spending time reviewing / editing / doing post-production on audio and video tracks from my concert with Katherine Barbato last month. Once again, my ever-reliable Tascam DR-1 captured things impeccably. My trusty Kodak Zi8 got a very clean video record of the gig. After giving the tracks time to ferment (aka letting my memory gloss over the rough musical spots that I winced over at first) I’m hearing a great chronicle of the evening and the superb level of playing that Katherine and I have achieved thus far. Ultimately, we should record in a studio environment and really focus on the sound quality up front rather than after the fact…. I do have one of the tunes on video  on my YouTube page: More will follow….

Until next time…..




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.