It’s the Time of the Season

So last weekend we went skiing for the third weekend in a row, back up at Catamount in the Berkshires. We were able to catch up with our friends Seth and Cathy, whom we haven’t seen much since before the pandemic started. The conditions were good, and I’m getting more comfortable with my new skis every outing. And once again it was really cold.

Then we had a few warm and mild days, to the point where Saturday it was close to sixty degrees and full of sunshine, and most of the snow had melted. I took the Mustang out for a rare February ride, and after that got on my bike and cruised around the neighborhood. Then Saturday night it turned cold and snowy, and Sunday there was a fresh layer of snow over everything.

I recently read a biography of tenor sax legend Michael Brecker, who used to live one town over in Hastings, and passed away fifteen years ago. He was of course one of my biggest influences in the 80’s and 90’s, with his great big sound, killer chops and boundless imagination, depth and soul in his playing. Among many other things, Mike provided an example of how to apply John Coltrane’s ideas in a contemporary setting and in a rock and funk idiom and then go beyond. His first solo album from 1987 remains one of my all-time favorites. Unlike most biographies of famous musicians, this one gets pretty deep into his actual music, his approach to practicing, improvising and writing, and insights into how he achieved his monstrous technique and applied it in all kinds of different musical situations.

Meanwhile, in my home studio I’m in the middle of tracking three short, singer-songwriter style songs written on guitar. I’ve been be practicing to get my guitar chops up, and experimenting with sounds, phrasing, tone and effects. I think I have two of the three guitar parts in the can. I hope to have full arrangements sometime this spring.

And now that Bluezebub is finished, I’ve been bringing new material into my jazz group. I’ve been listening alot to jazz-adjacent jam bands like Snarky Puppy, Galactic, and Butcher Brown, and hoping to bring some of that kind of thing into our group. We’ve been experimenting with free-from open jams, which is promising and alot of fun, but not very efficient in terms of greeting material. One thing we did was to learn an old song of mine called (I Miss My) Baby in Bb, which has a sort of open funk jam in the beginning and end, framing a funky blues as the main part of the tune. Then Ken listened to Bluezebub, and told me really likes it and would like to play Sun of the Sun off that record. Like Baby in Bb, I wrote Son of the Sun for my 80’s fusion band Event Horizon. It’s a much more advanced song, largely in 5/8 and 7/8, with a long sinuous solo section in the middle.

So now we have this old-school fusion energy in the group. I guess to be fair it was there from the beginning, as one facet of our set is songs by The Brecker Brothers, Weather Report, Grover Washington Jr., and that kind of thing, as well as jazz interpretations of rock song by groups like Steely Dan, Joe Jackson and The Police. And a good chunk of it is pre-fusion modern jazz. About half the songs are originals, mostly of mine, but they come from songs I’ve written for my last few groups and have adapted to this group.

But now I’ve written my first song specifically for this group. It’s called Dr. Pluto, and is a loping funk jam with some Monk-inspired changes and rhythm motifs. The lead on the head is designed for Ken to play on the bass with this auto-wah pedal he’s been fooling around with. It sounds pretty cool and deservers a showcase. Meanwhile I can explore a sort of contrapuntal role on the sax, something I rarely get to do. The arrangement is kept loose on purpose, to give the band a chance to stretch out on it and let it evolve and go somewhere. I’ll bring it to rehearsal this week, and we’ll see how it goes.