Friday, December 9, 2016

Jazz Age Phish

I sometimes wake up feeling widely different about music than the day before.  The happened again a week or two ago.  At the moment I feel like I’ve figured out in a very concrete way what I want to devote the majority of the immediate future of music learning to.  I don't think I've ever had this clear of an idea.

First, let me reference the Ran Blake book Primacy of the Ear. I’ve mentioned this book before. The main point of the book is putting your ear, rather than the fingers (technique) or the brain (theory) at the center of your musical learning. In doing so you are encouraged to focus on a couple divergent musical interests and study them both in depth. For one person this might be the music of Eric Dolphy paired with Cretan traditional music, for somebody else maybe Arvo Pärt and Aretha Franklin.

It’s taken me years to develop the mindset to give learning anything by ear a legitimate shot. Almost one-hundred percent of the music I’ve played in the past was learned with the aid of written tab or notation, combined with the audio. Last month I decided to see if I could transcribe the vocal melody line to some Phish songs on my tenor banjo just by listening and assigning a note to each sung syllable in the lyrics. To my surprise and delight, this came rather easy. Years of familiarity with Phish’s music probably helped.
I soon thought of Primacy of the Ear and for the first time considered abstractly following that advice by focusing directly on Phish’s songbook as a means for improving my ear as well as my tenor banjo skills. Then I remembered a 2012 album called The Jazz Age by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, where Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry songs are re-imagined in a 1920’s big band style. A musician named Martin Wheatley plays what sounds like 4-string banjo on most of the tracks on that album.

I had never heard of or listened to Roxy Music before discovering The Jazz Age, but I created a playlist in Spotify where I alternate the original song with the 1920’s jazz version, just to hear the comparison. These artsy pop/rock songs work incredibly well as 1920’s jazz numbers (or standalone pieces) and it sounds like Martin Wheatley didn't really change anything about his banjo technique for that recording. He is using the usual 1920's style rhythm playing.
This made me wonder if I could learn Phish songs while simultaneously learning traditional New Orleans/Creole banjo techniques by combining the two into one study?  I am trying to do this completely by ear.  Freedom through limitation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Travel Mandolin by Robert Collins (Tin Guitar)

4-string model in maple and spruce
The idea of a travel mandolin might seem unnecessary because mandolins are already small and can usually fit into the overhead bin of an airplane with no problem.  In my case I play GDAE-tuned "Irish" tenor banjo but no longer owned a mandolin.  Since it was going to be used primarily for travel, I wanted my next mandolin to be one specifically designed with that in mind.

After some research, I reached out to the English ukulele luthier Robert Collins of Tin Guitar in Hebden Bridge, United Kingdom because I liked the design of his travel mandolin. I placed my order in March of this year for a left-handed 4-string model in maple and spruce: maple for the integral neck/body and spruce for the top, with a walnut center stripe down the neck for both looks and reinforcement. The neck is carved into something of a "V" profile to give it more of a mandolin feel, compared to the flattened D profile of Rob's uke necks.

Tin Guitar 4-string Travel Mandolin Size Specs:
Overall length = 21.25"
Lower bout = 6"
Upper bout = 2.75"
Body depth = 68mm
Scale length = 14"
Nut width = 30mm

Sound Sample:

The strings it came with are light gauge, D'addario J62. Note: single course light gauge mandolin strings can be sharp to uncallused fingers. Playing it some more will help me with that. I chose the 4-string model mostly for minimalism (it shaves an inch or two off the length and cuts down on neck weight) but also because it mimics the number of strings on a tenor banjo. This mandolin will fit into a soprano uke gig bag. 

There’s no truss rod, but Rob says tension shouldn’t be a concern. Being a relatively short neck in hard maple and with the walnut skunk stripe as well, the neck is pretty strong and with 4-strings it's only handling 50% of the tension that a regular mandolin would take, so GDAE tuning is fine.

My overall impression is that it is an efficient, well-conceived, minimalist design...crafted with the same care and attention to detail that I imagine all of Robert Collins' instruments must receive. It's hard for me to find a flaw. As you can hopefully hear from the sample above it has a pleasant sound that exceeds expectations for such an instrument.
Neck and body sides are integral
Curly figure on back
Walnut skunk stripe on neck


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Making Room for Mercury on Phish's Big Boat

Phish has several top-shelf songs that have never made it onto a proper studio album, including Harry Hood, Slave to the Traffic Light, Tube, The Curtain, Halley's Comet, Carini, Strange Design and more.  Now we can add Mercury to that list.

The multi-part composition was recognized as an instant classic when it debuted in July 2015, so it seemed like a shoo-in for inclusion on Phish's new studio album, Big Boat.  However, producer Bob Ezrin cut the fan-favorite from the track-list, presumably due to time constraints.  This is a questionable decision, especially considering that there are much weaker songs on the finished product.  Mercury could have taken Big Boat from good to great.

If time really was an issue, then what other songs could have been cut to make room for Mercury?

Big Boat kicks off with Friends, a Fishman sung number that doesn't get any less bizarre the more you listen to it.  Maybe it's about alien conquistadors?  Although it's not a monumental song, the opening notes to Friends do start things off in a bold, distinctive fashion.  Songs with Fishman on lead vocals are rare, so this one earns its keep on that fact alone.

Breath and Burning is the first of many Trey Anastasio contributions.  It has a tropical vibe, which is a bit unusual for Phish.  The lyrics are strong and the TAB style horn part adds the right amount of hook.

Home is the first of three Page McConnell songs on Big Boat and it's the least compelling of those three.  Home might be catchy, but I don't know that there is a strong need for this song in the Phish oeuvre.  The experimental part at the end isn't enough to save it.  Although, cheers to Page for the burst of creativity.

Track 4 is Blaze On, which would not sound out of place on a 1970's Little Feat album.  This is a feel good, grooving song that borders on jamband 101 territory, but because this is Phish that rudimentary path has a lot of skill behind it.  Blaze On qualifies as one of the best new songs in Phish's repertoire.

Trey was obviously trying to write a Motown song with Tide Turns, and from what I can tell he succeeded.  For a song that may not always go over well in a live setting, it works well enough in the studio and adds diversity to the styles represented on Big Boat.

There's always room for a bluegrass song at a Phish show, so Page's Things People Do will easily fill that void.  The low-fi demo version that ended up on the album would have easily fit on 1992's Picture of Nectar.

Waking Up Dead is a total Mike Gordon song and you need at least one of those on every Phish record.  It has potential and the spicy sonority is appealing, but more time could have been spent fine tuning it.  Mike's other new song, Let's Go - which like Mercury was left off of Big Boat - might have been a better choice for him.

Running Out of Time is OK enough, if a little lightweight, but hasn't Trey already written other songs that sound like this and dwell on the same themes and emotions?  Apparently this song dates back to the Round Room writing sessions and finally found a home here.

For some reason I'm not a huge fan of No Men In No Man's Land, although a song with this type of improv potential is an asset.  The looseness of the studio cut captures some of its off-the-cuff versatility.

My appreciation of the ballad Miss You grew tremendously after hearing the live recording from 10/18/16 in Nashville with Bob Weir sitting in and tackling the lead vocals.  That interpretation took the song from insular to inclusive.  Phish has struggled to add crowd-pleasing ballads in recent years, but this one might do it.

Now that it's been played live, I Always Wanted It This Way has perhaps had the warmest fan reception of any of the songs from Big Boat.  Hopefully this synth-focused all-star burns its way into our collective consciousness with just as much merit as the decades old Phish classics.

It may always sound cheesy, but More, with its "gotta be something more than this" refrain, is a timely reflection on the current Phish worldview, in much the same way that "was it for this my life I sought" captured our emotions decades ago.  Even cynics occasionally need to vibrate with love and light.

Petrichor gets an A for effort.  It succeeds where Time Turns Elastic tried and failed.  This ambitious composition hearkens back to the Junta days when Trey studied with composer Ernie Stires to create complex masterworks that formed the foundation of all things Phish.  In Petrichor's case, the sophistication of the music is offset by the zen koan simplicity of the lyrics.

That's a rundown of all the songs on Phish's Big Boat.  So, which one(s) should get axed to make room for Mercury?  I think you could easily drop Home and still have two great Page songs in Things People Do and I Always Wanted It This Way.  Mike Gordon's flawed Waking Up Dead needs to stay because without it you wouldn't have a Mike Gordon song unless you replace it with Let's Go.  Of the Trey selections, Running Out of Time is the most expendable, although I still kinda like it.  If I had to give up two songs to make room for Mercury, it would be Home and Running Out of Time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pacific Coast Highway Vacation Highlights - Best Food, Lodging, Towns, and more

Having recently completed a thousand-mile coastal road trip from Lincoln City, OR to South Pasadena, CA, I thought I'd post about some of the highlights.  The Pacific Coast Highway, as it's sometimes called, is basically a combination of US-101 in Oregon and CA-1 in California.  (The two meet in Leggett, CA).  You're not constantly in view of the Pacific, but significant portions of it are the idyllic, winding, ocean-kissed wonderland that have given this roadway such a poetic place in American culture.  

Best Stretch of Highway
There are many contenders for this, but the best I saw has to be the 140 mile stretch from Port Orford, OR to Trinidad, CA.  It is quintessential West Coast.  In the Oregon portion you've got Battle Rock in Port Orford and the unbelievable Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor farther south.  Into California there's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Patrick's Point State Park, to name a few attractions.  (I'm leaving out a bunch in between).  It seems like this entire section is either impressive ocean vistas or redwood groves.  The 75 miles from Lincoln City to Florence was pretty striking as well.
Samuel H. Boarman State Scenic Corridor
Best Food
Small town West Coast dining is a notch or two above what you might expect.  Many communities have at least one exceptional restaurant ready to meet the needs of the foodie.  The most surprisingly stellar consumption happened at the Trinidad Bay Eatery and Gallery in the town of Trinidad, CA - a diner-like experience until the sumptuous food comes out!  Also great were Redfish in Port Orford (what a view), the North Coast Brewing Taproom in Fort Bragg (excellent beer too), River's End in Jenner, CA (out of the way gem) and The Raymond in Pasadena (world-class cocktails).
Conde B. McCullough bridge near Depoe Bay, OR
Best Lodging
The Inn at Arch Rock in Depoe Bay was the first place we stayed on this journey, and it was perfect!  Our cozy and comfortable room featured a panoramic view of the cove below - where whales could be seen out in the water.  The decanter of cherry waiting as we arrived at the room was a nice touch.  It's walking distance to town.  Equally deserving of the title of best lodging was Castaway By the Sea in Port Orford, OR, which has to be one of the better values on the whole Oregon coast.  Our room featured a kitchen, bedroom, living room and porch with a dramatic, unobstructed ocean-side view.  Our final spot, The Bissell House in South Pasadena, CA, was easily the best bed and breakfast I have ever stayed at.  This beautiful Victorian house wasn't too much of a splurge when you factor in the quality of the breakfast, the pool, and the overall ambiance.
View from inside room at Inn at Arch Rock
Best Town
My favorite place is still Trinidad, CA.  We stayed there 15 years ago, and again 13 years ago, so it was nice to return and see that it hadn't changed that much.  Of the places I've seen in California (and elsewhere in the world), nothing tops Trinidad in terms of visual charm.  I should also mention Yachats, OR.  We didn't stay overnight there, but it did look like a place to spend more time on a future visit.
Late evening view in Trinidad, CA
Best Hike
We tried to do some kind of hike every day but by no means even began to scratch the surface of the hiking opportunities along coastal Oregon and California. That said, the best walk we did was the St. Perpetua Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, just south of Yachats, OR. From the visitors’ center, it’s a winding and somewhat difficult 1.5 miles to the lookout shelter at the top. The views are spectacular and the walk back down was a piece of cake. That was one of many hikes in the area. Another very enjoyable hike was the Prairie Creek Trail through the redwood forest at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick, CA. Options abound there was well.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Can't wait to go back!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

After a One Year Break from "Traditional" Music

Mountain Thistle at Grelen Trails - Somerset, VA.  By Laura Fields.
Around this time last year I began to quickly lose interest in the traditional Irish and Appalachian tunes that had mostly been the foundation of my repertoire to that point.  Granted, I wasn't that good or anything near authentic, but I had been spending many hours per week (over 150+ consecutive weeks) on this obsession that involved familiarizing myself with dozens of tunes so that I could sit in at Irish sessions and old-time jams without feeling like too much of a poseur.

When my focus shifted, I think it was due to a realization that traditional music is like a big wheel that is already spinning and continues to spin.  As an outsider, if you want to join in that hobby, you have to jump on that wheel and hang on for dear life until it becomes natural.  For me it was a constant struggle, like I was trying to steer a ship that couldn't be controlled.  You either conform to its predetermined structure or jump off.  I jumped off.

After years of grappling with frustration and disappointment I finally realized that there's a different amateur musical track that could be a lot more fulfilling based on my personal interests and goals as an introvert who treats the playing of his instrument as the equivalent of watching TV, gardening, or doing a crossword puzzle.  When the road forked I took an alternate one that that is severely crooked, but not in the Southwest Virginia type of way.

I needed music that I could play my own way, at my own pace, free from over-the-shoulder judgment (real or imagined); without regard for which key you're supposed to play it in, what instrument you choose to play it on, what speed you're supposed to play it at, how many times through you're supposed to play it, what type of tune or music it's supposed to be, how you're supposed to play it, where it comes from, what fingerboard position to play it in, what fingering to use, to what degree you can safely improvise, and so on.  I cleared all that away and then searched out for a personal repertoire that allowed me to play freely without any hindrances beyond ones that I choose to impose.  That list, as it stands today, is below.

Amarillo Barbados - A Caribbean sounding tune by Bill Frisell, learned out of his An Anthology book.

A Moda da tal Anquinha - From Neym Rosauro's Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for Solo Marimba.  I only play 2 of the 3 parts.

Aurore Bradaire - A Creole song from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Back Down to the Tropics - From the 1944 booklet Calypso Rhythm Songs: Authentic Tropical Novelty Melodies by Lionel Belasco and Leighla Whipper.

Bad Woman - From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.  Written by Venezuelan/Trinidadian composer Lionel Belasco.

Balalaika Gap - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Bananas and Blow (intro) - By Ween.  Learned this by ear(!) by listening to Ween's Long Beach Island Tapes where a demo version of Bananas and Blow features an intro melody with an extra little B-part which makes all the difference.  The fact that I learned it by ear means that I'll never be sure if I'm playing the "correct" notes but it sounds OK for what I'm looking to get from it.

Belle Layotte - A Creole song from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Billy Gray - By Norman Blake.  I just play it as an instrumental single-note melody, as I do for all of these that might otherwise have words.

Bonne Humeur - By Haitian composer Arthur Duroseau.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Brasilia - From the Baja Marimba Band Rides Again album.

Bruca Manigua - A Cuban song that I got from Irish fiddler Yvonne Casey's CD.

Calinda - A Louisiana Creole song from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Carnaval En Margarita - By Lionel Belasco.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Cha Bai - A tune from Cape Verde that was was included in John Philip Sousa’s 1890 book National Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands, but I got it from The Rhythmia.

Chinita - By Lionel Belasco.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Dessan Mouillage - A Martinique folk melody from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Dupree's Diamond Blues - By the Grateful Dead (Garcia/Hunter).  Even though I love the Grateful Dead, this is currently the only song of theirs that I am trying to play as a single-note melody line.  A work in progress for sure.

Dodo Li Pitite - Haitian folk tune.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Friday - By Phish.  I have seen Phish live more than any other band (57 times as of this writing), but there are only a couple Phish songs that I enjoy trying to play portions of.  This song, from Round Room, is one of them.  I just play the main vocal melody line, "I crashed, I burned, but then I learned to keep my eye on you...".

Gandzia Polka - This fantastic 3-part Eastern European sounding tune came to me by way of the Irish CD Barr Trá by Mary Custy and Quentin Cooper where they mistakenly titled it Costumi Siciliani (track 2).  Special Ed and the Shortbus used to play this one.

Gordjieff's - This is purported to be a Russian tune, but it also comes from that same Barr Trá CD by Mary Custy & Quentin Cooper.

Guyute - I don't even begin to do this Phish song justice, but the vocal melody line "Guyute was the ugly pig..." passes for an excellent folk tune and actually could be a jig, in the Irish sense.  The rest of the composition...forget about it!  I'll leave that to Holly Bowling.

Haiti Cherie - A Haitian popular song written by Othello Bayard.  I, of course, got it from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD where they called it Souvenir d' Haiti.

I Am Not A Farmer - An ambiguously homespun piece that is the signature recurring theme on Bill Frisell's Disfarmer project.

I Dream A Highway - This is arguably Gillian Welch's greatest song and the album version on Time (The Revelator) is a prime example of how a simple melodic idea can be stretched out over 14 minutes without getting old.  It didn't occur to me to try playing it until I heard Sarah Manning's brilliant exploratory jazz version of I Dream A Highway on her album Harmonious Creature.

Katyusha - A Russian tune I learned directly out of the 2016 book International Mandolin Method by Philip John Berthoud.  I wish he included details on the history of and sources for the tunes included in that book.

Korobochka - Another Russian tune from Philip John Berthoud's International Mandolin Method book.  It pairs well with Katyusha.

La Douceur - By Haitian composer Arthur L. Duroseau, who also wrote Bonne Humeur (see above). As with about a dozen other numbers on this list, I got it from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD. More recently, it was recorded by BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet on From Bamako to Carencro.

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream - An anti-war folk song written by Ed McCurdy in 1950.  I was inspired to try and learn the melody after hearing this song on Charles Lloyd and the Marvels' new release I Long to See You with Willie Nelson singing it.

Lisette - By Haitian composer and pianist Ludovic Lamothe.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Mosaico Tradicional - A tricky melody from Venezuela that I got from Philip John Berthoud's International Mandolin Method book. 

My Little Suede Shoes - This is attributed to Charlie Parker but it may actually be a French-Caribbean tune called "Mes Souliers De Daim" that Bird picked up in Paris during the early 1950's.  Instead of the AA/B/A > improv structure common to jazz, I instead like to play this as a repeated AA/BB head melody in the key of E-minor.

Opening Theme - The first track on Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie CD.  One of the weirdest tunes I am trying to play.  It sort of reminds me of Frisell's Amarillo Barbados.

Opi Rides Again - This is the instrumental portion of the Opi Rides Again / Club Med Sucks medley from the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  It almost sounds like cartoon music when they play it.

Paloma Blanca - This comes from the repertoire of Southwestern fiddler Cleoffes Ortiz, but I heard it on Little River Stomp by The Buckhannon Brothers.

Payed Vacation: Greece - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Pirulito que Bate Bate - From Neym Rosauro's Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for Solo Marimba.  I only play 2 of the 3 parts and I modified the mallet arrangement of a few bars to work better on tenor banjo.

Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine - A verdant miniature bluegrass composition found on Bill Frisell's Blues Dream CD.  To add interest I alternate between playing this in major and minor, and also add a snippet from its sister piece "Pretty Flowers Were Made for Blooming" at the end.

Sam Polo - A piece from the Virgin Islands that was played by the U.S. Navy Band of St. Thomas.  I got it from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Skinhead Stomp - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  

Song for Sidiki - By Jenny Scheinman from her album Crossing the Field.

Soulful I - A perfect example of exactly the type of tune I am looking for and would have loved to have written myself.  Oddly, it is by Lee "Scratch" Perry and comes from his classic 1969 The Upsetters Return of Django album, although I first heard it on Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin's album Boss Reggae (also recorded in 1969) which has recently resurfaced.  Having now heard both, I prefer the original Upsetters version.

South of the Border - Somehow I don't think I was familiar with this well known song until I heard Greg Cohen and Bill Frisell play it on the Greg Cohen record Golden State. The entire Golden State CD is worth checking out, as it features Cohen on acoustic upright bass and Frisell playing an unusually clean, non-distorted electric guitar.  No other musicians, instruments, overdubbing or production - just stripped down, straight-ahead tunes recorded in one studio session on December 3, 2012 in Brooklyn, NY.

Uele - An African (Congolese) children's song. The full title might be Uele Moliba Makasi. There's a video of a Bill Frisell concert from the Barbican Theater in London 2/29/2004 featuring Djelimady Tounkara, Greg Leisz, Jenny Scheinman and Sidiki Camara where they play this tune. That's where I heard it. I don't think it's on any officially released Frisell recordings. I treat this as a loose, evolving interpretation that comes out different every time.

We All Love Neil Young - Probably my favorite Bill Frisell composition.  So basic and yet so beautiful.  It's from Frisell's Big Sur project where it shows up in multiple incarnations ("Song for Lana Weeks").  Check it out.

Yanqui Go Home - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory

Mountain Thistle at Grelen Trails - Somerset, VA.  By Laura Fields.
Even though I didn't write any of these they very much feel like my tunes.  I continue to add a tune or two per month to this list, and some occasionally drop off, but I try to play through at least 5 or 6 each evening and also try to get to all of them within every two weeks or so.  I also use these as launching pads toward exercises in improvisation, transposition, scale theory, and more.  Even if I stopped here and never added a new melody to the list, I would probably have enough for an endless pursuit of music. 

I'm sad to report that I have tried to play the occasional one-off Irish tune over the last 6 months and each time it feels increasingly ill-fitted, like a pair of shoes or jacket that is not for me.  I'm very fickle and prone to phases and stages, so it would not be surprising if all of that changed at some point in the future.  For now I'm riding this wave.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ten Takeaways from the 2016 LOCKN' Festival

Photo by @jtolg
My Morning Jacket Crushed It
The best set of the weekend belonged to My Morning Jacket.  It was all about love, sweet love.  That Steam Engine was maybe the best thing I have ever heard.  All that set was lacking was a cover of "Love TKO" by Teddy Pendergrass.  Next time, Yim Yames, next time.

My Love for Ween was Rekindled!
To the surprise of Ween fans nowhere, Ween's Thursday headlining slot quickly went deep and dark.  The elemental notes coming out of Deaner's guitar that night were the work of a master.  Friday's set contained even more Ween songs.  Behold...the Boognish.

Phish Was Disappointing
The king of jambands was not a personal highlight of the Lockn' festival.  I loved every minute of My Morning Jacket and Ween, but Phish just didn't hit me in the same way.  Phish could have sprinkled their sets with more weird songs like Weigh, Guy Forget, Glide, Manteca, Mock Song, Lengthwise, Fikus, et cetera.  Phish might have also been better off conforming to the standard festival formula of one long set that starts immediately after the previous band.

Is Vulfpeck Some Kind of Joke...Band?
I only saw Vulfpeck's Thursday set but it was awful, right?  Two thumbs down.  I will say, that upon the 10th listen, it does start to be less awful.  Wait, why do I keep listening to their stupid set!!!???

Twiddle Rhymes with Did Ill
OK I get it.  You sound like a jamband heavily influenced by Phish who also likes to throw in the occasional reggae groove into every single one of your songs.  Your lyrics are uplifting in a way that should be more ironic than it is.  You've got a cool looking guitar (not a Languedoc) and a cool hat and Page hangs out in your trailor (note: trailer is spelled trailer).  Mr. Twiddle, you've been around for ten years so none of these observations are new, I'm sure.  Yeah I'd probably go see you guys again if you came through town on tour, but I might also double dip and go see Vulfpeck too.  That's your competition right now.

JRAD is the Best Thing Going in the Grateful Dead World
Aside from whatever Phil Lesh continues to do, which is bound to be good, JRAD is the best thing happening in Grateful Dead music right now.  Maybe Brown-Eyed Women doesn't always need to go Type II, but I'll take that over a manlike sexpot playing generic blues licks in a nostalgia act or a post John K DSO.  The way that JRAD toys with these songs through fearless full band improvisation is what makes it so endlessly entertaining.

Bringing Water, Food and a Pop-Up Shower Saved The Day
Our campsite was literally a mile walk to the stage.  No joke.  It was probably almost a half-mile to the nearest porta-potty and still farther to the closest water spigot.  Not exactly convenient.  Friday was the hottest day I have ever spent entirely outside.  The mission that day was to stay alive.  My drink of choice was a Coors Light - on ice!  Fortunately we had plenty of water and food and I had brought a pop-up shower for, well, showering by virtue of a DIY pump sprayer.  The shower proved to have at least 1 other important use.
Photo by Vickey Higgins Goff
Some People Can Dance For Hours In the Hot Sun and Still Rage Late Night (Not Me)
The intense heat crippled my interest in making more than one trip per day back and forth to the stage.  This meant that I missed a lot of the bands that played before Ween on Friday, including Turkuaz and Charles Bradley, but energy had to be conserved.  On Saturday I finally made it down for the whole day of music and found a shady spot to take it all in.  There, from the comfort of a low-profile chair, I could witness crazies dancing in the mid-day sun for hours on end.  My apologies to those mofos if they were still on their feet for MMJ. I had saved my energy so I could let loose a little bit by the end of the day on Saturday.

How You Feeling Out There?
Thanks for asking Michael Franti, I mean Galactic.  If you really want to know...I feel like I have a dangerously high core body temperature and an altered mental state or behavior.  I've been sweating excessively for days, have flushed skin, a rapid heart rate, a headache, and I feel kind of dizzy, as if I'm car sick but I haven't been in a car for over 48 hours.  It's 3:30 in the afternoon in August in Virginia and the heat index is above one hundred degrees.  If you really want me to get up and dance right now then you don't have my best interest at heart.  I feel bad for you Galactic for even being on that stage.  It's the best I can do to put my hands together.  I suppose I could make some noise.

That's Only Nine
Go listen to 12 Golden Country Greats.  Actually there is a ten.  I made a LOCKN' music mix for listening at the campsite and for some reason it called for vintage rhythm and blues and soul, such as the Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, Allen Toussaint and more.  So it's had an unexpected impact on my future music listening.  Hitting the record stores tomorrow to search out more of this.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ney Rosauro - Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for solo marimba

I was listening to the first hour of the public radio show Performance Today on July 15 when I heard some really cool sounding music that turned out to be "Brazilian Fantasy: Bach in Brazil" by Ney Rosauro.  It was an in-studio live recording of the Seattle Marimba Quartet performing this nine minute piece.  I loved the melodies and rhythms and it immediately occurred to me that I could maybe adapt parts of this for tenor banjo.

I learned that Ney Rosauro is a Brazilian composer, percussionist and vibes/marimba player.  His Brazilian Fantasy is a duet for two marimbas that mixes original music, traditional Brazilian folk tunes, Bach melodies/chord structures, and melodies by Brazilian composer Carlos Gomes.

Further research on Ney Rosauro uncovered a project he did about twenty years ago called "Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for solo marimba".  These are kind of like études he wrote based on melodies and rhythms from Brazilian folklore, for the purposes of developing basic four-mallet (marimba) technique and increasing the musicality of the person practicing them.  Despite (or because of) this, they sound like the kind of melodies I like to play.

These Children's Songs are numbered 1 through 7 (there are seven of them) and you can buy the sheet music from Lone Star Percussion.  Upon listening, my instant favorites are No. 3 Pirulito que Bate Bate and No. 6 A Moda da tal Anquinha.  The music for Pirulito que Bate Bate is available for free download on Ney Rosauro's website.  Here are some YouTube videos of a young woman playing these songs very well.

A Moda da tal Anquinha

Pirulito que Bate Bate

Although these pieces were written for marimba, for the most part they can be played as tunes on tenor banjo or any chromatic instrument.  Sometimes what I hear as the melody is actually written as the bass-line, but to me it still serves as the melody whenever there isn't a simultaneous treble clef sound happening.  This is especially true for A Moda da tal Anquinha.  

For Pirulito que Bate Bate there is a sequence of double stops at the end of one section that doesn't quite translate in an interesting way when played on the tenor banjo.  I've been experimenting with playing a little melodic run in its place.  At least part of this melodic run is based on a transposition of something that is happening elsewhere in the piece, so that may be why it seems to fit.

Eventually I would like to learn more of these Brazilian Children's Songs, or go back to the Brazilian Fantasy: Bach in Brazil piece that sparked this interest in the first place.  For now I'm enjoying making two-part fiddle tunes out of Pirulito and Anquinha.  Here are my takes on them as of this morning.