corking the bat

back in grad school, i road-tripped with sonja to her home turf of mississippi.  i had met her folks once before after one of her recitals, but this would be the first opportunity for me to spend any amount of quality time with the potential in-laws.  they were very nice, hospitable, and made a genuine effort to get to know me.  her dad asked if i wanted to watch some tv (my sweet spot), so we plopped down in the living room and fired up the tube.  the first thing we watched?  back to back episodes of cheaters.  no joke.

there has been quite an uproar in the news recently regarding obama's second inauguration.  my ex-girlfriend beyonce is presumed to have lip-synced our national anthem.  which side of the argument holds the advantage?  she either mouths along with the track, acting like she is totally going for it - OR - she risks singing live and battles that goofy acoustical slapback, hoping everything goes well in a overexposed moment. sounds like a lose-lose proposition, ms. knowles.

do we like cheating?  we are quick to bronx cheer a live performance that goes sour.  baseball fans fell in love with sosa & mcgwire back in '98, but now the writers won't vote anyone from the steroid era into the hall of fame.  we praise the long ball and whitney houston's version of the national anthem, yet spew barbs of purism in the same breath.  should we insist that nothing be slight of hand yet still expect magic at every turn?  make up your judgmental minds, people.

the adage of "if you ain't cheating you ain't trying" crosses over into many disciplines.  in the recording studio, various takes of the same solo are scrutinized.  punches in & out of certain sections is common place.  fixing the pitch, adjusting the balance, modifying the tone, moving the attack, and building a solo like dr. frankenstein are all techniques used in production.  i remember once hitting a clam in a piano solo and then picking my jaw up off the floor as i watched the engineer find the note and move it up a 1/2 step.

i just finished mixing my jazz band's performance of the snarky puppy tune "binky".  i did some housecleaning - spruced up the solos, shined up the backgrounds, picked out the best guitar solo, borrowed the bass figure from later in the tune and pasted it into an earlier section, and stretched out the tambourine at the end.  should i have done this? sure. in fact, i think it's my responsibility.  i got the blessing of my students to throw on some scrubs and get surgical with the track.  it came off nicely and the kids are super proud.

when i read a blogpost, i assume that the author has proofread their writing and corrected any grammatical blips.  when i listen to something, i assume the artist has taken the care to go through their stuff with a fine-toothed comb.  is tweaking your own work acceptable?  you betcha.  have i chopped up and rebuilt my own recordings?  oh ... i'll never tell.


rtr: the zodiac ensemble

guess what came in the mail today?  my good friend karl is one hell of a bass player and an even better guy.  his band, the zodiac ensemble, just released an exciting album of new and original music.  i saw the band live once and was blown away. karl - i think that's the first time i met you?  anyway, check out karl's site and hear him play/read his poetry/look at his artwork.  here's my real time review (huh?)

right out of the shoot, karl's sound is robust.  the teetering single note is coming from something (the alto?), and i hear the circular breathing.  reminds me of that charles lloyd record with lotus blossom, when you can hear billy higgins grinding through the brushwork.  the inescapable major third around the two minute mark stabilizes me.  the zodiac's fevered shiftiness hearkens to keith's quartet with dewey. stranahan's action ebbs and flows with motian.

man, i'm glad to hear a jazz record that focuses on music music.  i mentioned to a couple of my students that - yeah, i like jazz and all, but - i like playing songs and sounds that make me feel good and tame the beast inside my head.  three cheers for the carol "lo how a rose e'er blooming".  i mean, why not - right?  i love rahsaan for playing "balm in gilead" and used to play "what a friend we have in jesus" with nick and ryan (from that bluegrass band).

the same keys could connect the first two tracks.  was there a definitive thought to not doing that?  the first time i listened to thom yorke's solo effort, i was about five tracks in before i realized it wasn't one big song.

i love the collective phrasing, playing in glenn's first tune as if someone is conducting.  and there is nothing in the world like a rhodes.  i love mine, just picked up a bright red nord with the best patch out there.  the melody in glenn's second tune reminds me of barry sanders stutter stepping through "softly as in a morning sunrise".  aaron's solo is peppery, with control obtained with clarinet chops.  no licks, man. none of these solos. just phrases, patience, floating. allow karl & colin to anchor you down while they rollick.

here's the tune i remember from the gig, that and "work whistle".  aaron sings his original, and karl pizzes the same line 8vb, later offering a harmony before grabbing the root and resuming his post.  there is obviously a lot of thought used to construct ensemble timbres through arranging.  who plays when, and what should you be doing there?  i really really dig this, so refreshing.  i'm not sure i'm ready to hear jazz records because, honestly, i don't care about clever ways people turn standards inside out or hard bop tunes that merely serve as vehicles for guys to flex.  it's wonderful to play in bands like this where you view the material as an essential component to the world's view of your music.

i dig the filter on aaron's voice in "r.j.g.".  i wore out my copy of kronos quartet playing along with a charles ives cassette recording of him singing and playing his own tune, and listened over and over to just the ending of "like someone in love" on the unbeLIEVable django bates album quiet nights. the rhodes solo here settles into quintessential jazz playing, and i am so pleased that they waited this long to program that into my ears.  the long tone stuff in the saxophones yearns, pleads.  one of my cats just popped down here to check out this part of the record. kareem. he needs to go on a diet, but i doubt that he knows a) what in the hell that is, and b) how to start doing that.  now his brother abdul is sitting here, patiently staring at the speakers.  there he goes, tip-toeing through the speaker wire like katherine zeta-jones with those red laser lights in that sean connery burglar guy movie.

michael's tunes sound nice.  they drive.  this book of tunes is diverse, probably tough to practice and keep up yet well worth the effort.  how interchangeable are the parts in the zodiac ensemble?  can guys sub on this?  i doubt it.  i wouldn't want that, not willing to trade the camaraderie and trust (falls) earned for a one night stand with a jazz vixen.

and here it is, fitting my ears like my favorite pair of slippers.  work whistle!!!  i noticed that this is the last cut, so my heart is torn a bit.  i'm excited to hear this tune again (and my teeth are aching to play it again) but bummed that this album is not longer tonight.  such a cool tune, with the modernism - like the whole record, really - to be found in the personalities dealing with original material replete with the right rhythms, silver melodies, and digestible changes.

kmr - you've got a great band, made a great record, and sorry we never played two repeating Bbs behind your solo.