New Song: Heavy Water

The second of three new songs is nearly done. Listen at:

Heavy Water was originally envisioned as a funk-fusion thing a la the Headhunters, built on a riff played on the fender rhodes and clavinet, but it took on a more videogame vibe. Structurally it began with an idea of writing a song with four chords in a loop. This turned into two contrasting four chord loops alternating in an AABA pattern, with a middle section in a BBAB pattern, and then iterating in a fractal sequence. Layered on that are different levels of space and intensity to the groove.

Keeping with the whole computer jazz concept, the music explores the interplay between the human and the machine. There’s both a sequenced synthesizer bass and a fender electric bass played live. Similarly, there’s a synth in melody ensemble along with the saxophones.

I had a pretty specific idea of how I wanted two saxophones to weave in and out with the synthesizers. The middle part of the song features fugue-ish noodling in lieu of a more traditional solo section. It builds from being mainly tenor sax, to tenor and soprano together, and then all three. A breakdown and build before the final recapitulation of the head gives the return more momentum.

One great source of inspiration for the interplay of the two saxes came from a record called Two of Mind by Jerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond. I came across this record last year while listening to different versions of All the Things You Are. The way these two guys interact is just fantastic, a real joy to listen to, a forgotten gem of the cool jazz era. It turns of this is actually the second record they made together, and the first one is just as good, with a great version of Body and Soul.

Lastly I mixed in some machine noise. This was sort of a happy accident. I was down in my studio when Michelle fired up Jeannie’s 3-D printer to make something (a dice jail, I think). It made a really fascinating noise, kinda rhythmic but also melodic, kinda repetitive but also not predictable, in short very jazz-like. So I had to record it. It got me thinking about how one might print our specific shapes to make the printer play a melody. But that’s a whole ‘nuther project…

New Song: Autumn Eyes

The first of three songs I’ve been working on is pretty much done. All that remains is the final mixdown and mastering. You can listen to it at:

I wrote Autumn Eyes for my former jazz group Haven Street in the winter of 2019. Lots of moody, modulating jazz chords and a strong, undulating melody. I originally called it Winter Wolf Whisper. I had the image in my mind of wolf cubs frolicking in freshly fallen, powdery snow, in gentle slow motion. Once I brought the song to the band the sound changed. I had envisioned it as a swinging mid-tempo number like Maiden Voyage, but as we developed it, the song pretty much became a ballad.

Of course doing it on the computer required changing the feel too. One big change was the drums. The main drum part is sequenced, and the playing is pretty minimal. I had the idea to augment it with a live drum part, mainly to get the sound of brushes, which I can’t to do with samples.

The spine of the tune is the piano part. The beginning has the sax and piano playing the melody in unison for eight bars. This was always a challenge to get tight playing live; maybe we should’ve changed the arrangement. But I wanted to use it in the studio version. For the sound, I blended a grand piano with a Fender Rhodes, to give it a bit more smoothness, fullness and shine. I did the bass part on the electric bass but adjusted tone to be jazzier. When we did this song live Jay played upright; the electric changes the character of the piece. I wrote the song with soprano sax in mind. I recorded a version on the tenor, but ultimately went with the soprano. It all hangs together nicely and gives a convincing illusion of spontaneity among a group of players. I tried to approach each solo differently in terms of melody, rhythm and pacing.

I added in some synth strings and bells, just some subtle backing. Last thing was I recorded a live drum part to blend in with the electronics. It’s mainly brushes on the snare drum and a few tom fills and cymbal hits too. I used the Jimmy Page/Gyln Johns method of mic’ing a kit with two mics. One is overheard focused on the snare. The other is well out in the room in front of the kit focused on the kick drum. As a sound check I played some grooves and fills and hits, just to get a sense if how this might work for other songs. It came out quite well.

Let’s All Give Thanks

Thanksgiving weekend came and went. Now we’re into December and soon it’ll be time to put up the holiday stuff and start playing Xmas songs on the piano. Back in the spring, I’m sure most people thought the pandemic would be over by now and life would be back to normal. As it is, it’s worse than ever and there’s no end in sight. Jazz rehearsal was cancelled last week and again this week, just to be sure not to spread it around. It remains to be seen when they’ll open up again. Michelle’s school closed too, and she’s back to taking classes online.

Still we did the best we could under the circumstances. Lizzy came home from college the weekend before. She and her roommates have been doing their best to socially isolate the last two weeks. It was nice having her home. I think Jeannie, Michelle and I have all kinda withdrawn into ourselves a little bit since we’re all home together so much. Lizzy added a dash of fresh energy to the mix.

And even if it was low key it’s still a holiday. Everyone was off work for a few days, and we hung out and played games and listened to music and watched some movies. Jeannie and Michelle did alot of baking and cooking, even though it was just the four of us. Pies and cookies, a full turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and everything. Lizzy contributed a charcuterie board full of exotic cheese and meats and crackers. I made a miniature model of Stonehenge out of sticks of butter, but it fell over once the butter became soft.

On Black Friday we had Jeannie’s parents and her sister’s family over to hang out on my newly expanded patio. As soon as the patio project was underway Jeannie said she wanted to get a backyard fire pit. So we did. We tested it out last weekend, and named it Brad. It worked out great for the party. The weather was mild and we kept the fire going well into the evening. And of course more food. It was very nice. Even though we play Dungeons and Dragons every weekend, I haven’t seen my nibblings face-to-face since last New Year’s Eve.

In fact the weather has been mostly pretty mild through November, and I’ve gotten in a few bike rides in the Nature Study Woods, and a couple weeks ago Jeannie Michelle and I took a hike in Pound Ridge, near South Salem. We spotted some bear caves.

In another sign of the times, I’ve been working with the Origami USA convention committee on planning the next convention. For a while it was looking like the 2021 convention was gonna be back in Manhattan, but now it’s most likely gonna be another online convention. But this one is gonna be bigger, with multiple streams of classes, so building the scheduling tool is back on the menu. We’re also looking to some kind of VR audio/video chat system to take the place of the hospitality room and allow for unstructured social interaction. So I’ve been learning about different tools and products in this space, and the companies that write the software for them.

Meanwhile, it looks like work on the Global Jukebox is going to be slowing down for a while. We have a major release to live coming up in the next couple weeks, the culmination of a year’s work, lots of great stuff. We did alot more done this year than expected because I was able to put in the time. But all good things must come to and end.

In the new year it’s most likely back to working on it part-time, even though there’s a ton of stuff still on the roadmap. You see, The Association for Cultural Equity is a non-profit foundation, and donations are down this year, because of the pandemic, and the economic and political chaos that’s been raging all over America this year. Ah well. It looks like it’d be alot of fun to work at startup doing VR audio/video chat software, so I’ve started talking to a few of them. Wish me luck!

Lastly, the studio recording project proceeds apace. Autumn Eyes is basically done. One day last week I went ahead and recorded a live drum part to blend in with the electronics. I’m mainly doing brushes on the snare drum since I have no way to recreate that using samples. There a few tom fills and cymbal hits too.

I used the Jimmy Page/Gyln Johns method of mic’ing a kit with two mics. One is overheard focused on the snare. The other is well back in the room in front of the kit focused on the kick drum. As a sound check I played some grooves and fills and hits, just to get a sense if how this might work for other songs. It came out quite well. The sound is good, but obviously recording the whole kit together limits one’s options for shaping the sound in postproduction, so you’re gonna haft want that live feel. Also I’m not a tight enough drummer yet to play along to a click track consistently.

Heavy Water is getting close. The main part of the song features fugue-ish noodling by two saxophones and a synthesizer in lieu of a more traditional solo section. I had to be careful things didn’t get too muddled or chaotic to lose the mood, so a bit of editing was in order. I also put in a sort of breakdown and build section before the final recapitulation of the head. All that’s left here is to add some sound effects. I have a recording of the noise made by Jeannie’s 3-D printer that’s perfectly mechanical and quasi-musical sounding. I’m going to fade that in behind the intro, outro and breakdown sections.

Why Not Zed? is close to complete as well. I’m still experimenting with distortion effects on the sax solo. Even a little is pretty overpowering and drastically alters the tone. I’m gonna create a sub out channel for an overdrive amp to mix back in with the normal sax tone.

These songs should all be finished in the next few weeks. Then it’s back to figuring out what songs to work on next. I wrote a new song on guitar called All of the Above. It’s kind of a love song.