We had our long-awaited recording session this weekend. It came off great, without a hitch. Thanks to Robert Kessler for the use of his studio and for doing the session engineering, and to Josh his assistant. The whole process went really smooth and the sound was great. As mentioned before, Robert has a great live room with a Steinway Grand piano, and a deep bench of mics and preamps, an overall comfortable setup, and he really knows what he’s doing. So the group could just relax and focus on the music.

We actually managed to record a whole album of material, nine songs in all. In the end we jettisoned the cover and added two more originals, both from Gary. A Minor Event is a cool hard bop blues kinda of number, and Case DiGozo is very latin, bouncy and piano-driven with a fun drum solo.

We got there around ten and by the time everything was set up and we were rolling tape it was a little after noon. We averaged around forty-five minutes per song. In that time we got at least one good take, and usually two or three, and since we figure we can splice them together we have a few of just the first part or last part of a song. Everyone in the group did a really fantastic job playing. Gary, Dan, Rich and Jay, thank you all.

Next comes the editing and mixing. Jay and I are going to do it in my studio. Fun fun fun.

And just in time too. We’ve all been writing new songs. I have a number called Lift Off, inspired in part by John Coltrane’s Countdown, and particularly the idea of having a sax-and-drums section to lead off a song. However I picture the groove more like Bodhisattva by Steely Dan.

Harmonically I’ve been experimenting with chord substitutions, specifically different ways of embellishing a ii-V by putting another ii-V inside of it. The pattern I’m using for this song is to lift the inner ii-V up a half step, so you get ii-biii-bVI-V. You can loop it into a iii-IV-ii-V and you’re off and running. By the time you get to the bridge it’s kinda whole-toney and Monk-ish. I had envisioned it uptempo, but once I put down a melody and started practicing, I discovered it works great as a ballad too. So we’ll see where it goes. Sometimes songs take on a life of their own.

Wintertime Blues

The weather had been mild the last few days and the snow has melted again. Good thing too, I’ve had as much as I can take.

My mixes are coming along for the new Buzzy Tonic record. I applied the same set of FX Jay put on the first song to the rest. This is mostly EQ and compression on the individual tracks. The most noticeable thing is the kick and snare drums are much clearer, and sound louder, and the bass and cymbals too. The kick went from a thwomp to a thud and the snare has a nice bright snap. Everything is much clearer and in it’s own zone across the spectrum. After that I needed to dial all the balances again. Some things were too loud and all the subtle blends needed to be recreated. Now that’s taken care of and things are sounding really good. Of course I’ve yet to hook up my new studio monitors, so that’ll be the acid test. Hopefully I’ll have Jay come in for one more session and we’ll finish the record.

Meanwhile the jazz group has a date set for our recording session, the 28th. I’m glad now we didn’t record last December cuz the songs are that much better. Looser and tighter. We’re thinking we can record a whole album if all goes smoothly and our energy holds up. Else we’ll just go until we run out of time and get as much as we can. We have three more rehearsals to go. This last weekend I sat down and wrote out the scales to the changes in Gary’s tunes. The set list looks like this.

1. Buzzy Blue (John) – a bossa blues with cool changes on the turnaround, Miles meets Jobim. Nice and easy, a good warmup.

2. Samba Astor (Gary) – Spanish guitar with a Chick Corea vibe. Lotsa chords, not in an easy sax key.

3. King’s Hex (John) – crazy uptempo jazz waltz with a free modal solo section, channeling Coltrane. Tracks 2 and 3 are the complicated ones that we anticipate might take a couple tries to nail.

4. Slope (Jay) – very bluesy ballad, partly in 5/4, with the melody on the bass.

5. D-Bop (Gary) – cool and clever uptempo number with a 3/4 interlude.

6. Dark Skies (John) – minor jazz ballad. Great changes if I say so myself. Needs a better title. The image I have is of a pre- or post-thunderstorm moment when the sun is breaking thru the clouds or covering up. The juxtaposition, the light behind the dark, or inside the dark. I was thinking of Burnished Skies but don’t know if that has a ring to it.

7. Atonement Blues (John) – a joyous and laid back gospel blues, Branford vibe. It’s not strictly a blues because the chords are all dominant 7th chords and it actually hits all twelve of them once each chorus, like a tone row for chords.

8. Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rogers/Hart) – a standard; the bridge is probably the inspiration for Giant Steps.

New Year New Music

Here it is, mid-January already. I feel like I missed out on the worst of the post-holiday cold and darkness this year. It’s been a pretty mild winter this year and I’ve spent alot of time indoors, working from home waiting for my foot to get better. Now I’m on the mend and feeling pretty well rested, and the days are beginning to get longer again. Of course there’s still alot of wintertime ahead, but it’s time to start getting going with new projects for the new year.

Both the software I’m writing for my day job and the Global Jukebox are now in beta/big-fix mode, counting down to the inevitable release date. So lots and lots of coding, fixing testing, repeat.

Lizzy had been getting her college acceptance letters and some scholarships. She got into every place she’s applied so far. Meanwhile Michelle has been getting acceptances for high schools and some scholarships as well. So things are good on that front and we have some choices ahead.

The new origami book is coming along. I have 12 or so diagrams done, and I’ve been working with the graphics guy on the patterned paper. The balance of the models are in the offing. Working with the publisher now on page layout and book format issues.

I had some projects I wanted to do over the break in the home improvement sphere that I had to push off. Also it looks like I won’t be skiing this winter. Ah well.

But the main point of this post is to update y’all on the music situation. Music has been coming along too, although at different rates of effectiveness on different fronts.

I’ve had my new tenor sax for a year now and I’m digging it more than ever. Also I’ve had the new piano for almost two months and I’m getting used to playing it, building strength in my fingers. I had it tuned and it sounds killer. Turns out the piano tuner is also and origami fan and we folded some paper airplanes together.

The Left Hook is still keepin’ on. We had a strong run in the early to mid fall, but we didn’t rehearse that much from November thru the end of the year because our singer was working for a political campaign. We did learn a few new songs in the time, mainly funky 80’s stuff.

The challenge remains to find more and better gigs. That was our main goal for 2016 but we we ended up playing the same old bars. Ah well gigs like that are still a good time. Part of the problem is there’s not that much demand, and the same half dozen bar bands are constantly rotating around the best place. Still, now we’re back at it, trying to crack into that circuit and casting a wider net, making a new round of inquiries and dropping off demo tapes, making a fresh list of venues . Onward and upward even if it takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance.

My recording project, the third Buzzy Tonic album remains unfinished as well. I’m midway thru tracking the last song, City. I’d hoped to work on it over Xmas break but that was among the things I had to push off. Hopefully finish it before the end of the winter.

On the other hand I made great progress with my jazz demos, and that whole thing has taken on a life of its own. I’ve brought seven or eight tunes to the group, five of which are keepers, and I have one more in the offing. I encouraged the other guys in the group to bring in songs as well, and Gary Guitar has started writing too. He says I inspired him, which is great and fun and flattering to hear. So far he’s brought in two songs, both very good and different than mine. It’s good to have another voice and a good spread of styles and moods.

The guys in the band all like learning originals, and like the particular set of tunes, so now the main monkey business is to make a record. This is the Saturday group BTW, the Haven Street Quintet. It’s shaping up to be nine or so originals and probably one standard. Maybe Giant Steps since we have our own arrangement of that.

Now I’m looking into recording studios. The idea is to go in a do the whole thing live, like we did with Event Horizon back in the day, or like pretty much all classic jazz records. So I’m looking for a good live room with a grand piano and a nice sounding mixing board with warm preamps. Once we get the basic tracks down I can bring it into ProTools and Jay the bassist and I can mix and master it, although we’ll need an engineer to run the recording session.

So far though the local studios I’ve seen (via their web sites) seem more geared up for doing overdubs and electronic music production. This is useless to me since I already have a few good mics and an endlessly looptastic effects-o-rama ProTools rig in my basement. To me a real studio implies a real live room. Of course I’m just at the beginning of the research phase so you never know what’ll turn up. I’m toying with the idea of doing it in my living room as a backup plan, since I have an nice piano and a big, acoustically pleasant space.

Haven July Jam

Meanwhile back in jazzland it’s summertime so being able to rehearse on Saturdays is becoming less reliable. Might have to move back to Wednesdays, which would mean clobbering the Wednesday band or somehow merging the two groups.

We recorded last week’s rehearsal, including takes of my compositions Dark Skies and Your Dancing Shoes. The came out quite good, and I think I can edit them up into a decent demo. Meanwhile you can listen to them here:

Oh and one more thing. It looks like I have a gig come up, some bandshell in the park kind of thing on Monday July 25, courtesy of Young Skywalker. I’ll let you know more details when I find out.