In Walked Bud

I’m now in the middle of three studio recording projects.  First on the stack is the next Buzzy Tonic album and the follow-up to Bluezebub.  It’s working title is BZVR, and is more of a rock album, with all the songs so far including and electric guitar part.  I had three songs mostly complete before I decided to make Bluezebub as an instrumental jazz record, so now I’ve dusted them off.  

One is The Story Lies, written by my brother Martin, a cool uptempo funky number.  Second is Who Speaks on Your Behalf, a prog-pop anthem by The Cheshire Cat from Buffalo back in the day, reinterpreted with a horn section.  I had this one in the can, but when I listened back I decided it needed a heavier sound.  So I added a guitar part, mostly big sustained power chords to give it some fill, or syncopated rhythm accents behind the riffs, which are handled by saxes and synths.  Third was Why Not Zed? which already had a pretty heavy guitar, and a sort of metal-industrial vibe, but the sax sounded a bit thin.  So I doubled the tenor part on bari and octave down and replaced the tenor solo with a bari solo.  Just the thing!

That was back in late winter.  Then I began work on the three new songs, all short, singer-songwriter style songs written on guitar.  The first of these was Slope.  It began life as a jazz song with my pre-pandemic group Haven Street, written by our bass player Jay, and appeared on our record.  I wrote a lyric for it, but I’ve never been much of a fan of vocalese, unless it’s Ella Fitzgerald.  So I changed it from a jazz style into a blues.  The arrangement is fairly sparse, with just a single vocal, guitar, bass and drum.  I’ll probably add a bit of fender rhodes and organ, and a bit of sax.  Possibly also some real drums doing brushes on the snare, since I don’t have a good sample for that.

Second is My Ol’ Brokedown Truck.  This is pretty much a traditional country song, although with different lyrics and chord voicings it might be something like a jazz standard from the great American songbook.  I wrote it around Christmastime, when I was visiting my parents and my Mum asked me to explain Nashville notation.  I did by way of demonstration and came up with the beginnings of this song.  I like the chords and lyrics enough to finish it, and it came out quite good.  I now have the basic track recorded, with guitar, bass drums and vocal.  The vocal has a low and high harmony part, and decided it’d sound better with a female voice doing the high harmony.  I asked my sister-in-law Mary, who has been in a number of singing groups over the years, if she’d like to the part.  Now we’re trying to set up a time.

Third is All of the Above, which is a rock song with a uptempo fell, and lots of little changes in time signature, basically going from 4/4 to 6/4, but more easily expressed as 2/4 throughout.  I have the guitar and bass tracked, and a basic drum part, and have been trying to find the time to lay down the vocals.  But things have gotten busy …

I was listening back to my earlier Buzzy Tonic record Elixr for comparison.  This was the last one before Bluezebub, and again more of a rock record with lyrics.  It took me about eight years to write and record it.  My friend Jay helped me mix and master it, and at the time it was a big step forward for me in terms of musical production.  But my mixing chops have improved substantially over the last few years and there are a few things I don’t like about the sound of that record.  So decided to remix and remaster it.  And I must say I’m quite happy with the result.  I don’t think I’ll get new CD’s printed up but I’ll probably replace the existing record on Spotify.  I’m almost done; just tweaking the time between songs and a final listening back on different stereos.

But then along came an opportunity for a gig with my Thursday Jazz and Funk Group.  The group has been getting more and more solid, and none of us has played out since before the pandemic, so we’re all pretty excited.  A few weeks ago I bought a portable digital recorder and started recording our rehearsals.  To give bar owners an idea of our sound, I put together a few some clips of songs from our last rehearsal.  You can hear it at:


Up Jumped Spring

Well the weather has finally turned nice, and everything is going great these days.  Only problem is I’ve been super busy, and the pace is accelerating.

I’ve been seeing lots of live music lately, making up for over two years of not being able to go out and see bands.  Since my last blog post I’ve seen four live acts.

First, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau at Caramoor.  Brad has a unique and compelling style that combines a melodic approach with a deep, abstract imagination and great technique.  His album Nearness with Joshua Redman a few years ago really drew me in and remains one of my all-time favorites.  This was a solo show and the program was about half originals and half interpretations of pop and rock songs by artists like The Beatles, Radiohead, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie.  It was not exactly jazz, because his left hand doesn’t follow typical patterns for modern jazz, but is much more rhythmically active, but pretty different from the stride style.  Probably the closet thing I’d compare him to is actually Duke Ellington, not that he sounds much like Duke, but has a similar approach in using all the different tones, dynamics and registers of the piano like an orchestra.

Caramoor is a great place to see a show.  It’s this former mansion and grounds of some long-dead rich guy (presumably Mr. Caramoor) that’s been turned into a sort of park and art center.  I’ve only ever been there in the summer, for that jazz festival that’s outdoors.  The main house is this rococo Spanish monstrosity, at once garish and exquisitely tasteful in a hundred-year old way, with the main ballroom transformed into an 200 seat theatre.  I’m guessing the Steinway grand piano was close to a hundred years old too.  Great sound, but didn’t quite have the low end power of a modern instrument.

Surprisingly, Brad didn’t play any Rush.  Just a few weeks earlier he dropped a new record called Jacob’s Ladder, that includes several interpretations of Rush songs, plus some originals with titles like Maybe as His Skies are Wide.  It combined his piano stuff with synthesizers, some vocals, and protools loops and electronic effects.  Overall pretty mind blowing.  I was hoping he’d recreate some of that stuff live.

Just a few days later we saw Brad Mehldau again, this time backing tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, along with Christian McBride and Brian Blade, reuniting the quartet that made them all famous much earlier in their careers.  Seriously, it’s like one of the great Miles quintets or Coltrane’s great quartet.  The show was at the Blue Note down in Greenwich Village, and it was a great night for walking around New York City.  The music was quite inspired, everything you’d hope for.  Christian McBride and Brian Blade in particular played lots of great stuff, both in solos and as part of ensemble.  Mehldau in a group setting took a much less radical approach, but still was great.  And Redman remains on of my top three tenor players on the scene today.  His altissimo is out of this world, and tone and melodic inventiveness.

We thought we’d finally have relaxing weekend at home, but then Friday morning Jeannie won tickets to see the jazz-adjacent jam band Lettuce at Capitol Theater in Port Chester.  The bass player in my Wednesday band told me was going and that I ought to check them out.  It was alot of fun.  Lettuce are in the same general zone as bands like Galactic and Snarky Puppy, as sort of psychedelic jazz-funk.  The sax player ran his horn thru a synthesizer, which was pretty cool.  They seemed to have alot of fans, it was was pretty different from the modern jazz crowd.  Best of all John Patatucci sat in on the encore.

Then Saturday, on a whim, I went to check out a place Alternative Medicine Brewing Company. They’re a local microbrewery that recently opened near my house, and I got the impression form their web site that they have live music from time to time.  I thought it might be an opportunity to get my Thursday band a gig.  As luck would have it, there was a blues band playing there that night.  The drummer was a I guy I knew from when our kids were in middle school together, and I was in a band with him for maybe a couple months about five years ago.  He was just getting back into playing after a long haitus, and his time and endurance weren’t so good.  But now he’s playing with power and taste and groove.  The band was excellent, particularly their singer and their lead guitarist.  

It turns out the guitarist is the co-owner of the bar, and my friend introduced me.  And, yes they’re looking to bring in more live music, and are open to different styles and genres.  A jazz and funk band sounds good to them.  I few weeks ago I bought a digital recorder with idea of recording the band rehearsals.  I was able to edit up a highlight reel of a few tracks to give an idea of our sound.  Now the question of availability for the guys in my group.  

I Know What I Like

There’s been lots and lots of rain the last couple weeks.  I finished part two of project dirt on Saturday.  Too wet to do much else.  I’m up to 12 wheelbarrow loads.  Looks like maybe three or four to finish off.

Jeannie and went upstate on Sunday to visit Martin and the family.  Once we got there the weather turned unusually cold and there was even a snow flurry.  

Martin’s boys Charlie and Matthew are now playing sax, mainly an alto which they share.  It turns out they’re pretty good, particularly Charlie, who is a couple years older and has been playing longer.  Martin has been giving them lesson and plays a (very nice Selmer Mark VI) tenor.  There’s alot of duets with a Bb and Eb horn.  So I gave them my old (cheap Chinese, but still decent and playable) soprano sax so the boys could play together.  I brought up my (ancient classic Conn) bari sax, which used to belong to Martin, so we could play as a quartet and have some fun.  I wrote out a couple John Coltrane blues charts, Blue Trane and Equinox, as double duets so we could all jam together.

That night Martin, Jeannie and I went to see a concert in The Egg, a strange theater in the downtown Albany capital complex.  It was Steve Hackett, the guitarist from the classic lineup of Genesis in the 1970’s.  I had heard that Genesis was touring this year and was thinking of going to see them.  Genesis of course was one of the great prog rock bands of all time, and I was a big fan as a teenager.  But their last really good album was Abacab in 1981 or so.  So I didn’t really want to see them play songs like Invisible Touch, and figured there’s no way they’d do something like Supper’s Ready, so I passed on it. 

Then Martin told me Steve Hackett is touring this year and the tour is called Genesis Revisited. I think Genesis was Martin’s favorite prog band of that era and he got particularly into the 12-string guitar and Hackett’s whole bag, just as mine was Emerson Lake and Palmer and I got heavy into synthesizers and Keith Emerson’s thing.

And it turned out the be a great show.  The Egg is a unique venue, all modernist curved concrete and vertical hardwoods, very sci-fi, with outstanding acoustics.  The fist set was drawn from Hacket’s solo work, and reminded me of guys like Alan Holdsworth and Jeff Beck.  His sound is actually very diverse and often quite subtle.  The second set he basically recreated the classic Genesis live album Seconds Out, which was all their best stuff from that era.  The musicianship was outstanding and the band knew every part.  They augmented the usual five-piece lineup with a sax player, who was excellent.  

I’d always wondered how they got their sound live, so some things were a revelation.  One is the bass player had a doubleneck combo bass and 12-string guitar.  I’d seen Geddy play one on Xanadu, but the Genesis sound leaned on it pretty heavily.  The other was Taurus pedals.  This was a funny little foot-operated analog bass synthesizer by Moog in the 1970’s, played like the pedals of an organ.  They appeared to be the genuine article (the Mellotrons were all recreated using samplers) and it must have been hooked up some very powerful subwoofers.  The tone was huge and so low as to be on the edge of subsonic. Sometimes it didn’t even sound like tones in the chord, just massive low frequency energy.  Definitely something you can’t get from listening to a record.

Today it finally got of to seventy degrees in the afternoon, once the rain stopped.

Dig a Pony

Spring continues to tease us with alternating spells of warm and sunny then cold and stormy weather. We got out in the yard again last weekend to turn over the flowerbeds and plant some seeds. Also, I initiated project dirt 2022. If you recall, my neighbor across the street had a big pile of dirt that was dug out from having a swimming pool put int. A year ago he encouraged me to take as much as I wanted. I ended up taking fifty or sixty wheelbarrows to fill in low spots in my yard, and grade the area around my newly expanded patio. This year he moved what’s left of the pile closer to the street and again asked me to help get rid of it. Now I’m just filling in a few remaining low spots, mainly in the front where there were once giant trees and the ground continues to settle years later as the stumps underground continue to decay. Also I did the front yard last last year, and was getting tired of the job toward the end. So far this time I’ve put down six wheelbarrows worth, and am maybe about half done. In the end It’ll probably be twelve to twenty loads total. Anyway, it’s good to spend some time out in the sunshine.

Clubs and concert venues are finally opening again after more than two years. We saw the first of a run of spring concerts last week. The Ed Palermo Big Band played the Iridium in NYC. They’re famous for doing big band arrangements of prog rock songs, particularly the music of Frank Zappa. Usually each show has a different theme, and that night they did a tribute to Gary Brooker featuring the music Procol Harum mingled with a bunch Beatles, Yes and of other prog psychedelia. The highlight was toward the end of the show, when the band did A Whiter Shade of Pale, and the horn section joined in on the organ solo toward the end, and just went round with it and built it up to be absolutely huge and soaring. I’m hoping they’ll do Thick as a Brick Sometime.