Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Five Albums That Are Currently Driving My Musical Taste

Lately I've been hearing a sound in my head. That may sound a little crazy, and it is. Instead of ignoring this sound I've gone looking for it.

With Spotify and other digital resources, a person like myself can binge on music the way others can binge a TV show. (I can do that too).  One pratfall of this wormhole is overcoming the ephemeral anxiety that it might be a bottomless well.  You can take the view that there is no edge or limit to our musical world, or you can come to the conclusion that this world is a round one, not flat. It all comes back around.

On the flipside of digital, the return to good old analog vinyl as a music resource can serve as a reminder to slow things down and try and make connections in a more organic way. Vinyl can get costly so you have to be a little selective. I might do loads of crate digging research online, but if I'm going to pull the plug on a $20 or $30 record from a merchant I ought to have a pretty good hunch that it's worth it.

Out of that vinyl foundation, these five records are helping to feed that endless search for the sound.

Sun Ra - Exotica
Exotica is a word that gets used to describe a certain kind of music. You know it when you hear it. Other terms that mean similar things include Lounge, Space Age Pop, Bachelor Pad Music, Tiki Music or Cocktail Music. Exotica was popular in the 1950's and 1960's among a certain demographic that was probably opened up to a post WWII sense of wordly culture and prosperity -- a rapidly expanding awareness of other countries, flavors, rhythms and spices which overlapped with the expanding hi-fi stereo technology that was also tied into the larger world of booming, rapid technology - like the idea of going to the moon in a rocket.  Keep in mind this was all still filtered through a white, middle-class, Disney-like, pre-LSD perspective.

If you start to research Exotica you come across names like Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny. I've dabbled into these guys' recordings and it might not be what I'm looking. The only reason I'm familiar with those names at this moment is because they are mentioned in the liner notes to the new Sun Ra Exotica compilation.  Honestly, I'd rather just continue listening to Sun Ra's take, which is really just a fantasy-island in the sun among the larger Sun Ra oeuvre.  However, the more I listen to this I think that the folks at Modern Harmonic who put this collection together really hit the nail on the head by calling out Sun Ra's connection to Exotica.  He's not usually recognized as a member of or contributor to this style of music, but you can certainly hear an exotic thread there.

An association with Sun Ra can only help to elevate the neo-coolness of Exotica.  I probably wouldn't be writing about it right now had it not been for this collection.  Thankfully, Modern Harmonic has now released this collection as a 3-LP set on regular old black vinyl for folks who want the luxury of listening to this excellently remastered music on a turntable, but don't want to pay the Black Friday hyped extra cost that colored vinyl brings.

So where does this album lead?  Like anything else once you get to where you want to be you find suitable offerings that open entirely new doors.  Through this Sun Ra compilation I've happened upon the Brazilian organist Walter Wanderly (Rain Forest) who could actually lead around and into the Bossa Nova records of Zoot Sims and Gene Ammons.  There's also a guy named Robert Drasnin who did some delightfully straight-up Exotica (Voodoo I, II, III), as well as more contemporary artists who work out of an Exotica-like base, including Les Hommes, Monster Rally and Creepxotica.  I'm basically a sucker for anything tropical with a vibraphone in it.  I can kind of see how vintage Exotica could morph nowadays into a trippy form of instrumental hip-hop, but that's another story.  Come to think of it, Nels Cline's Lovers double LP (a favorite from 2016) could be seen as a loungey form of Exotica.

Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu of Ethiopia
I found this album by sampling through the many great offerings of Strut Records.  This is African music, but not the African music of King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti or Manu Dibango. Technically this is Ethiopian-Jazz, which you just know is going to be cool even before you hear it!  "Yeah man, I've been listening to a lot of Ethiopian Jazz lately".  Back in the 1960's this guy Mulatu basically invented a distinct style that came to be known as Ethio-Jazz -- similar to how you can attribute Bluegrass to Bill Monroe or Reggae to Bob Marley.

Mulatu's music could also be pigeonholed into that "world" music category, but ironically it's much more universal than that.  Ethiopian Jazz (AKA Mulatu's music) certainly has its roots in Addis Ababa, but it also has tentacles stretched out to London, New York, the Middle East, and South America.  There's definitely a sophisticated awareness of Modal and Latin Jazz that gets paired with a deep understanding of traditional Ethiopian modes and melodies. At the same time it is the product of a singular vision that was not overly concerned with what was going on with other trends of the time.  It sounds the way Ethiopian food tastes.

Mulatu had few contemporaries. That almost generic Afrobeat/Highlife/Juju type sound that people associate with African music does not sound like Mulatu.  Hailu Mergia's name comes up as a fellow Ethiopian instrumental musician but what I've heard of Hailu is good but not quite the same. Abdou El Amari of Morocco is also awesome but not really related to Mulatu.

It's taken decades but now there are a bunch of bands making music influenced by Mulatu. As a listener, the hard part is distinguishing between what is simply derivative and what is actually unique and inspired interpretations.  So far I like these artists: Atlantis Jazz Ensemble (Canada), Akale Wube (France), Black Flower (Belgium), Pyramid Blue (Spain), Yazz Ahmed (England), and Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet (California).  Richmond, VA's own Afro-Zen All Stars are a great band that is also directly influenced by Mulatu.  Some more yet to be name-checked Ethio-Jazz inspired bands are on my list to suss out.

Arthur's Landing - Arthur's Landing
Even nerdy music geeks might be asking who/what is this?  Arthur's Landing is actually another product of scrolling through Strut Records' releases.  Arthur's Landing is a loose ensemble of musicians all associated - in one way or another - with a musical pioneer named Arthur Russell.  Who is Arthur Russell you might say?  A year ago I would have been asking the same thing.  The music on this album captivated me so much that I recently took it upon myself to find out.

Basically, Arthur Russell was a guy from Iowa. Ha! Born in 1951, Arthur learned to play the cello as a teenager and yearned for more culture and enlightenment than prairies and grains could offer. He was an Allen Ginsberg or a John Cage trapped in a farmboy's body and existence.  So he ran away from home; first to San Francisco and then to New York where he arrived smack dab in the middle of that early 1970's muck and nirvana that HBO's The Deuce is trying to capture on TV.  Living in New York gave Arthur a concrete backdrop and access to an artistic community that allowed his musical potential to really develop.

From what I've been able to tell, Arthur did his composing and production in the form of written notebooks and lo-fi demo recordings.  His work is strewn across various different short-lived projects, unfulfilled collaborations and pseudonyms.  My guess is that during his creative life Arthur would rather write a new piece of music today than polish up and put out a song written yesterday.  Add to that the fact that Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the very young age of 40 and you have all the makings of a musical guru.

What Arthur Russell did really, really well is he took the common, amped-up bubblegum nature of danceclub Disco and fused it with the high-brow abrasion of New York's experimental music scene.  He did this much to the chagrin of his NYC peers.  A lot of the music Arthur made himself has been coming out posthumously, but where the band Arthur's Landing comes into the picture is they assembled in 2008 for the purposes of presenting Arthur Russell's music in a new light.

On this 2011 recording they really capture the essence of that dance music meets heady music partnership.  The first time I heard it - which was last fall - I was hooked.  It was my official introduction to Arthur Russell by way of musicians who knew him, understood him, respected him, and could do his music justice.

For some reason I thought I might be let down by the real thing so it took me a few months to even check out any actual recordings by Arthur Russell.  I finally listened to Love Is Overtaking Me and it was also a pretty life changing instant.  It didn't sound anything like Arthur's Landing!

Love Is Overtaking Me seems to be the music of a very elite brand of singer-songwriter.  It can be appreciated in the same way that John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch can be appreciated.  There is no real connection to the disco or "new" music that Arthur is known for.  You have to dig farther into Arthur Russell's catalog to find that.  That search is now starting to turn up some bands like Liquid Liquid, ESG, Konk, and Bush Tetras - and I am having fun listening to these groups!  Kind of like a less commercial Talking Heads, I guess.

I'm really quite happily baffled by Arthur Russell!

Those three albums - Sun Ra "Exotica", Mulatu Astatke "Mulatu of Ethiopia" and "Arthur's Landing" - cover the majority of the sound I've been drawn to lately.  Some additional frenetic energy can be bottled up in the following two selections.

Kenny Graham and His Satellites - Moondog and Suncat Suites
This is another case of a band interpreting and arranging a composer's music.  The band in question is Kenny Graham and His Satellites - a group put together by British jazz saxophonist, arranger and composer Kenny Graham for the purpose of playing the music of Moondog, who at the time (1956) was an eccentric, obscure street musician who in-the-know jazz tape traders were just becoming fascinated with.  Prestige records put out official recordings of Moondog in 1956 but those came out after this recording was made.  Interesting.

In the 60+ years since those days, Moondog has gained cult-hero status.  His music can come across as weird at first - and it is perplexing - but it's actually built around pretty simple harmony lines.  Moondog's compositions primarily treat each instrument as independent voices with no traditional chords.

What I like about this Moondog and Suncat Suites LP is it takes Moondog's music and places it in a pretty easily digestible format.  The instruments used include vibraphone, bass clarinet, cello, and tympani drums.  You wouldn't really call this jazz ala 1956 because swing and improvisation are mostly absent.  The time signatures, rhythms, contrapuntal melodies and a general sense of kitsch are at the forefront here.  The 2nd half of the album is Kenny Graham's original music written in the style of Moondog. It holds up quite well, actually.

I definitely hear the influence of Moondog in the band Tortoise, especially their TNT album.

Moondog and Suncat Suites is almost tied back to Exotica.  Moondog and Sun Ra are related in a way - atmospherically if not cosmically.  Another band that has interpreted Moondog's music is Hobocombo.  This Italian trio is worth checking out.  They add a modern twist to Moondog's timeless music.

Augustus Pablo - East of the River Nile
This is not a new one to me.  I had it on CD many years ago and it was one of the first vinyls I got when starting an LP record collection.  I just listened again yesterday and boy the Side A of this record is strong!!!  Augustus Pablo certainly knew what sound he was going for - the heartbeat of the earth apparently.  It's not the most complex music, but it is very enjoyable.  His chosen instrument is the melodica, which you could put into a novelty category like the steel pan, kalimba or K-Board.  I can relate to that.

I haven't found much instrumental Jamaican/reggae music made before or since East of the River Nile that can match the essence distilled here.  I need to check out more Augustus Pablo.  Maybe also some Mad Professor, Dub Colossus, and Soul Sugar. There's a German(?) band called Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band whose album 55 is a bit of a jump but there is a connection to what Augustus Pablo was doing.

Those are the five albums.  This covers a lot but not everything, obviously.  There's a bunch of funk and groove type music in my ears recently that may or may not fit into anywhere mentioned above.  Bands like Bixiga 70, Soul Jazz Orchestra, Orchestra Baobab, Magic In Threes, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Ikebe Shakedown, Polyrhythmics.   Oh jeez, I've also been enjoying the old school Soul, Gospel, Rhythm and Blues of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and The Impressions.  Plus the music of Guadeloupe and Martinique.  That is most definitely not covered in the above.  Make it stop!!!!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Could Sun Ra Be Your Next Music Obsession?

Sun Ra's music has what it takes to be a lifelong obsession.  Music for the long haul.
His Catalog is Deep
Over 125 albums.  Over 40 years of output.  Over 500 compositions.  However, with new compilations and vinyl re-issues being put out, along with digital streaming options by the dozens, Sun Ra's music has never been more readily available.  The future is catching up to him.

His Personal Brand and Philosophy is Fascinating
Sun was from outer space - Saturn to be exact.  As an alien of the angel race, Sun Ra was dedicated to spreading peace on planet earth.  His interplanetary consciousness included elements of Egyptology, cosmology, numerology, the occult, the bible, black civil rights, gematria, ancient cultures, the space age, word play, and more.

His Music is Weird, But Not As Weird As You Think
There's a misconception that Sun Ra is freeform, freakout music.  Despite its cosmic outward presentation, much of Sun Ra's music is rooted in jazz - big band, hard bop and trad.  It doesn't stop there though.  If you were to put all of his recorded music on shuffle play you'd hear a range of exotica, doo-wop, deep groove, ambient, trance-like drones, ritual drumming, Moog synthesizer ditties, chants, straight-ahead sophistication and yes, plenty of out there sounds as well.  It can be very challenging to consume in the beginning.  Eventually it all just becomes part of the Sun Ra Omniverse.

He's the Original DIY Artist - Punk Before Punk
Lo-fi.  Indie.  Primitive.  Self-made.  Home made.  Found sounds.  Non-conformist.  Experimental.  Playing instruments you don't know how to play.  Pressing and releasing your own records.  Waking up.  Staying awake.  Prolific recording at all hours of the day and night.  Playing anywhere and everywhere.  Military/monkish levels of discipline, devotion and rehearsal.  Not the mainstream.  Why did he record and put out that?

Sun Ra took his spirit music to great lengths.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Why Money Jungle Might Be My Favorite Jazz Album

Money Jungle might be my favorite jazz album.  Here's why:

Time Period
It seems like a favorite jazz album should be from a certain time period where jazz was at its height developmentally and creatively.  That period is probably between the mid-50's and the mid to late 1960's.  Any earlier than that and it's either naive or chaotic.  Any time after 1967 or 1968 it just feels late to the party.  Money Jungle is from 1962.

Recorded In One Day
Like a lot of great jazz sessions, Money Jungle was recorded in one day.  Three individual jazz giants - Duke Ellington, piano, Charles Mingus, bass, and Max Roach drums - got together on September 17, 1962 in New York's Sound Makers Studio to make music.  It captures the music made in that moment.  Warts and all.  There's nothing polished about it other than the skill and life experiences each participant brought with them that day.

Tension and Aggression
Money Jungle is synonymous with tense, aggressive playing.  This notoriety work's in the album's favor.  It's not often you hear musicians playing this way.  These guys are definitely not always agreeing but somehow making discord sound very appealing. Sometimes it's a mess.  Sometimes it doesn't click.  Those become attributes.  There's a good amount of space between this tension though.

The Participants
Duke Ellington would have been 63 years old when this recording was made.  Charles Mingus was 40 and Max Roach was 38 - not exactly newbies but definitely of a different mindset than their elder Mr. Ellington.  In Ellington's outspoken playing on Money Jungle you can hear the whole history of jazz.  Meanwhile, Max Roach's drumming is always right on allowing for Mingus to dance freely.

The Improvisational Style
Often in jazz what passes for group interaction is just a dude waiting for his turn to solo.  However, on Money Jungle the piano, bass and drums improvise collectively.  Collective improvisation is an aspect of early jazz and somewhere along the way it lost out to extended soloing.  Not here.  This is equal parts collective and improvised.  The structure of the song but a sketch, how you get there unknown.  Music for music's sake.

The Instrumentation
A trio format seems like the right number of instruments for a jazz ensemble.  With three instruments you can cover the rhythm, the harmony and the lead melody.  Here we have piano, bass, drums.  Two of those three instruments are percussion instruments - drums and piano.  Two of those three instruments can handle the low end - bass and piano.  And three of those three instruments can switch roles on the fly.  The way these sounds interact is worth paying attention to.
Right Time Right Place
Money Jungle hit me at the right time and right place.  I was ready to claim it as my favorite.  It's an unusual but not unlikely choice.  I'm definitely not an educated jazz listener, or a savvy listener, or even an experienced listener.  It sounds right until proven wrong.  Hey wait a second, what album is this?  Oh right the Duke Ellington and John Coltrane album recorded 9 days after Money Jungle.  My bad.  It's so silky, smoothie smooth.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Formative Years for Music

People tend to look back fondly on the music they discovered during formative years - teens and early twenties.  Lately I've been wondering if the same is true for me and I suppose it is.

The music I was interested in uncovering during my teens was the music of a generation earlier: Janis Joplin, The Byrds, James Taylor, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, and Hank Williams Jr.  I had cassettes by each of these.  That soon led to The Grateful Dead, John Prine, Norman Blake, The Allman Brothers and Little Feat.

It wasn't until the jambands came along that I started taking an interest in current music.  Phish, moe. and Leftover Salmon were the first ones to grab me.  By age 24 - when the acquisition of musical tastes peaks - my favorite bands would have likely been The Grateful Dead, Phish, moe., Leftover Salmon, and Medeski Martin and Wood.

I still have a great appreciation for that music today.  However, not represented in the groups listed above is the music I took great lengths to learn about from the categories of folk, blues, bluegrass, Americana and world music.  I owned an early printed copy of the All Music Guide and would pore through it to discover CDs to get - everything from The Red Clay Ramblers, to Cephas and Wiggins, and Fairport Convention.  A pursuit of this type of music has stuck with me.

The main difference between now and then is jazz.  Once upon a time, I didn't give myself the opportunity to appreciate jazz.  However, over the last 15 years, by fits and starts, I've let that become a primary interest.  In today's world, for the cost of a monthly subscription fee, a motivated listener could spend several weeks going through every important jazz album from 1954 to 1967, and in the process develop an individual take on what's really important.

It's funny that 25 years ago it was the rock music of the late 1960's and 1970's and now in the future it's gone even farther back.  Why just this morning I was listening to Washington Phillips.

This article was written while listening to Nefertiti by Miles Davis.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

50 Tunes in Less Than Nine Months!

I had a goal to write 50 tunes in one year.  The first tune of the 50, Toca Paseo, was completed on June 14, 2017.  The 48th tune, Frosted Cherry, was written on January 31, 2018.  In a little over 230 days I had come up with 48 new tunes to play.  Just two more to go.

I spent the first few days of February in a state of malaise, with subtle waves of illness making their presence known.  Although I never fully succumbed to whatever malady was horning in, it did stifle my interest in playing music and being creative for a few nights.  Instead of holding a banjo, I just wanted to hold a book and then go to sleep.  Some part of me may have been wanting to delay this process to hold on to the chastity of a project nearing consummation.

More and more, I've been applying words to a melody - a syllable for each musical note to use as a reminder.  I hadn't tried it the other way around - adding a melody to words - but I knew that for one of my last two tunes I wanted to try doing that for a Marosa di Giorgio poem.

The Curtis Mayfield/Impressions song People Get Ready had been stuck in my head recently.  With that in mind, early in the morning on February 8th I opened the Marosa di Giorgio book of poems I Remember Nightfall to page 197 and all of a sudden the words on that page began to sing.  It begins:  All of a sudden, gladioli were born. In a high place, in the North. I know that there are red gladioli, and blue, and black gladioli. Around my house there are only white ones.  I begin to walk toward them.  

Just like that I had found the poem I needed for inspiration.  I extracted a few other lines from the poem and in a manner of minutes had arranged these words on a scratch pad and appointed musical notes for each syllable, without concern for scale or theory or form.  I left for work thinking that I would edit later, but by evening the notes I had selected that morning seemed to solidify.  All of a sudden, there were gladioli.


Getting over the complex hump of tune number 49 made me want to make tune number 50 as effortless and lighthearted as possible.  Upon re-listen to Steve Earle's The Mountain, I took notice of the little instrumental track Connemara Breakdown with new ears.  It's sort of a bluegrass/Celtic mandolin tune, with possible similarities to Red Haired Boy.  

Yesterday morning I played around with the same general theme and came up with something similar, but different.  To add a little meat to it I referred to some scribbling from the night before based on a melody from Jean Ritchie's Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians.  It all fit and as simple as that, without overthinking it, I had tune number fifty.  

To give this tune a name, I thought back fondly on the tiny Irish village of Roundstone in the Connemara region that I had visited twice over a decade ago.  On one night there in Roundstone I might have set a personal record for most Guinness consumed in one "sitting", but that's another story that I'll have to hash out later.

This Irishy sounding tune provoked Laura to get out her bodhran for the first time in over a year and play along.  A mini Cardinal Puffin reunion of sorts.  I hit record to capture the moment.


What happens now?  I suppose I continue to enjoy the 50 tunes I've written, but also consider it done and start a whole new batch of tunes.  No need to rush though. 


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Steve Earle's Song By Song Description of The Mountain

After spending a few years removed from it, I had the urge to listen to Bluegrass music this week.  The first album I turned to was The Mountain, Steve Earle's 1999 masterpiece that featured the Del McCoury Band as his backing band.  As I listened to it I realized that for me, this is my all-time favorite bluegrass CD.

Other top contenders for favorite bluegrass album include Manzanita by Tony Rice, Hot Rize's self-titled first album, Old and In The Way's self-titled first album, and Aero-Plain by John Hartford.  I could go on, but you can tell I'm not exactly a purist.  The Mountain has a slight edge up on all of these for me.

Here are some liner notes and a track by track description of The Mountain written by Steve Earle.

Steve —
I wish I were as sure about anything as Bill Monroe was about everything.

Of course, Mr. Bill came by his self-assurance honestly.  He alone, as far as I know, could claim to have single-handedly invented an American art form.  We are a "democratic" society, don't you know, where musical idioms are normally arrived at by committee.  The great Bob Wills merelydefined western swing at the helm of the Texas Playboys, after serving apprenticeships with Milton Brown's Brownies and the Lightcrust Doughboys.  The race to invent rock and roll ended in a dead heat between two outfits, one working in Memphis (Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black) the other in Chicago (Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Johnny Johnson, Jasper Thomas and Jerome Green).  Not that "the Father of the Bluegrass Music" didn't have influences.  There was of course his uncle, Penn Vandiver, and the other local musicians he grew up listening to in Kentucky as well as people he heard on records.  I find it hard to believe that Mr. Bill never heard the late, great blues mandolin player from Mississippi, Yank Rachele.  In any case, when Bill Monroe switched from guitar to mandolin he decided that he was going to play his newlyadopted instrument like no one else had ever played it before — and he did.

This is my interpretation, to the best of my ability and with all of my heart (as well as the assistance of the best bluegrass band working today) of the music that Bill Monroe invented.  Some of it I think he would have approved of ("why that's a fine number").  Some of it probablyhas him turning over in his grave ("That there ain't no part of nothin' ").  Of course that's all speculation.  I do know this — Mr. Bill was very kind to me whenever we met during what turned out to be the last few years of his life.  In December of 1995 he honored me by walking out, uninvited, on to the stage of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center twenty minutes into my show and remaining to sing five or six songs with Peter Rowan, Roy Huskey, Jr., Norman Blake and myself.  It was the biggest thrill of my life.  When I look back now, I believe this record was reallyborn that night.

My primary motive in writing these songs was both selfish and ambitious — immortality.  I wanted to write just one song that would be performed by at least one band at every bluegrass festival in the world long after I have followed Mr. Bill out of this world.  Well, we'll see.

The Mountain:  track by track
I've been asked to sort of breakdown where the bodies are buried on these songs, basically because I made the mistake of doing it before and everyone thought it was cute...

Texas Eagle:  Every single word of this song is true.

Yours Forever Blue:  Every other word in this song is not.  My Jimmy Martin impression.

Carrie Brown:  This song went through several rewrites and three different melodies.  It was important to me to include at least one real-live-bad-tooth-hillbillymurder ballad on this record.

I'm Still In Love With You:  Merle Haggard says Iris DeMent is one of the "best damn singers" he's ever heard. I agree.  She's also one of the best songwriters I know.  I was standing in the audience at a festival in Australia last year listening to Iris sing and I decided right then and there I was going to write something for us to sing together.  My obsessions are becoming more practical in my old age.

The Graveyard Shift:  We had to have a blues.  That's what the "blue" in bluegrass is all about.

Harlan Man / The Mountain:  These two songs were conceived as a kind of suite - one set in the past and one in the present.  Harlan Man (past) itself is a rock song on bluegrass instruments.  The Mountain is one of the best songs I've ever written.

Outlaw's Honeymoon:  I wrote this tune a couple of years ago for a great film called Niagara, Niagara.  Then the producers said they would have to have the publishing on the song and I told them to kiss my Texas ass.  I recorded a solo version of it for El Coraz√≥n which sucked.  It's finallyfound a home here, I think.

Connemara Breakdown:  A little mandolin tune I made up.  Basically, bluegrass fantasy camp.

Leroy's Dustbowl Blues:  Your basic pinko folk song at bluegrass velocity.  Gene Wooten digs into that dobro and Del peels the paint off the walls — god, I love my job.

Dixieland:  I stole this character from the late Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, the best civil war novel I've ever read.
Paddy on the Beat:  Do you detect an Irish theme developing?  Oh well, maybe the next acoustic record….

Long, Lonesome Highway Blues:  Wherever you go - there you are.

Pilgrim:  I wrote this the morning of Roy Huskey's funeral because I couldn't think of anything else to sing.  When we got everybody together to sing it and listened to the playback - all the girls cried.  Us men-folk all made mental notes to cry later.

One more thing.  This is not my last bluegrass record.  I make a lot of different kinds of records because I write a lot of different kinds of songs and I'm a writer, first and foremost.  As I get older and more set in my ways however, this format becomes more comfortable all the time.  More everyday, this is my favorite kind of music.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

January's Tunes: Numbers 40 Through 48

I'm getting close to reaching my goal of writing 50 tunes in a year. Very close. There's 48 now in a span of 8 months.  In January I added 9 new pieces of music.

Goodbye Carnival
If I achieve this goal of writing and playing my own tunes, then a possible negative is giving up the Caribbean melodies I had been playing for enjoyment.  So Goodbye Carnival (and Domovoi from the month prior) is an attempt to carry over elements of those Caribbean tunes into this new format while also leaving them behind.

Tropical Tango
You can see this Caribbean trend continuing in the naming of this tune at least: Tropical Tango.  When I was writing it I wasn't concerned with what key or what scale/mode I was using.  I intentionally didn't analyze it and just let the notes fall and resolve where they wanted to.  I naturally ended up with a very common scale (the Major scale) in an unusual key (F#).  The B-part might have an unintentional Beatles similarity.

Latin Lover
Domovoi (12/29/17), Goodbye Carnival (1/1/18), Tropical Tango (1/4/18), and Latin Lover (1/6/18) were all written within a span of 10 days so they feed into each other.  Latin Lover might be more in a Slavic/Balkan territory than the Caribbean, but the first time I played it the name Latin Lover was assigned.

On 12/29/17 Phish played an exceptional version of their song Chalkdust Torture. At about the 16-minute mark Trey goes into a really fetching melody that is reminiscent of Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel.  Those few measures stuck in my head and I found myself playing similar notes on the banjo - the beginnings of a new tune. I kept hearing the words "Gone, just like a train" in the melody. That is of course the title of a Bill Frisell album which I then listened to.  The 2nd track on Gone Just Like A Train is called Verona, and I took part of the Verona melody and did my normal mixture of getting it wrong and further tweaking.  Now I had a B-part and an A-part...another tune!  Meanwhile, during all this process I was also hearing and playing a melody that is similar to a section of The Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias. I slapped that on as the 3rd part and voila - a three part tune!

The Fox That Was Too Foolish
My whole point with writing my own repertoire is to have tunes that are uniquely my own, but it's also fun to carry over aspects of my favorite music into this format.  That's what I've done here with The Fox - perhaps too obviously.  This is definitely veering into Scents and Subtle Sounds territory, but it toys with that spirit just enough to veer in and out of it.  As an aside, I've been loving my K-Board recently.  It's such a fun instrument to play!

Brown Eyed Rig
When I first started playing a musical instrument - tenor banjo - back in 2006 one of the first things I instinctively did was try to write an "original" tune called Brown Eyed Jig, based on the melody to Beautiful Brown Eyes.  Eleven years would go by before I tried writing anything else.  A couple weeks back I found that year 2006 tab for Brown Eyed Jig and realized that by combining some portions, changing the key, and changing the rhythm from a jig to more of a rag, then I could have something of interest.  That became the B-part to this new tune called Brown Eyed Rig.  The A-part I added on 1/18/18 was fairly effortless, and a surprisingly good fit if you overlay them.

Montegno Cedeno
My tunes are instrumentals, but I've found that by adding phonetic, top-of-mind lyrics to them I can better remember how they sound.  Basically, each note in the melody equates to a syllable in the words I insert as reminders.  Sometimes now the rhythm of the words comes first.  That happened here with "Montegno Cedeno, the merchanteer", or "Montegno Cedeno, a merchant she".  It doesn't have to mean anything other than the sound it makes.  More syllables/notes followed "Danced for the guard-yun of the Redwood tree" / "Trained with the master of the Wu tai chi".  The B-part - where I heard the words "the soul of the sphere, the soul of the sphere, pumpkin of the patchwork, the giant hunts the deer" - matched up to portions of King Pharoah's Tomb by STS9.

Coffee and Tea
This whole time now I've been wanting to write something in 6/8 time that could be thought of as being jig-like.  That might have happened with Coffee and Tea.  Better yet, I was able to incorporate a minor-key vibe I had been wanting to laud.  I can tell where I got the second half of the tune from, but the first half is cloaked in a mystery that even I can't unpack.

Frosted Cherry
That was going to be it for January, but then Frosted Cherry turned up.  I already had the name Frosted Cherry and was fairly certain that my next tune - to be written in February 2018 - was going to be called that.  However, it got written and completed by January 31st.  It's so diluted that even Trey Anastasio may not be able to find it, but some of the notes in the first part of this tune are lifted directly from the Phish song Horn.  The B-part is lifted from what I believe to be a super obscure track called Margarita by Honore Bienvenu Et Son Orchestre from a record called Zouk Vol. 1. Together they are Frosted Cherry.  To record this example of it, I downloaded an app called SampleTank, randomly found the sound Synth Flute and recorded the first (and second) takes.

I'm at 48 tunes now.  I expect to write the last two this month, and already have ideas for those.  Then I'll have 50 and be done, right?