Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Recent Listening: People Playing Ornette

The passing of Charlie Haden back in July led me to listening to plenty of his work with Ornette Coleman. Starting with some albums I am quite familiar with (The Shape of Jazz To Come, Change of The Century and This Is Our Music and the duo record Soapsuds, Soapsuds) and moving on to one I hadn't heard before (In All Languages). That led me to some albums of Haden playing Ornette Tunes sans Coleman - two volumes of The Montreal Tapes. The first with Paul Bley and Paul Motian and other with Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, which in turn led me to a few other albums featuring the work of Coleman.

Paul Plimley and Lisle Ellis
Kaleidoscopes (Hat Art)

I was unfamiliar with both Plimley (piano) and Ellis (bass) but my keenness to hear various takes on the music of Ornette Coleman led to grab this album. According to the liner notes, they started working as a duo since 1980. By the time Kaleidoscopes was recorded (1992) the had developed a great rapport. Ellis' tone is rich and woody (the bass sounds unamplified), complementing Plimley's light touch. Both musicians can swiftly fly around their instruments but I never felt it was "chops for chops sake."

I wasn't surprised that seven of the 11 tunes come from the quartet recordings on Atlantic, but I was pleased they included some less common tunes. Yes, "Chronology," "Peace" and "Beauty Is A Rare Thing" are present but so too are "Street Woman," "Long Time No See" and "Moon Inhabitants."

I believe this album is out-of-print (my copy came from Academy Records on 18th St. during a recent trip to NYC), it's been getting a fair fair bit of airplay in the apartment and I encourage fans of Coleman's music to hunt it out.

Paul Bley - Notes On Ornette (Steeplechase) 1997

Paul Bley is one of my favourite pianists and listening to the album above made me give this trio disc (with Jay Anderson (b) Jeff Hirshfield (d)) a spin too. Comparing the two, Bley's is probably more approachable for those coming from a "straight ahead" background - it's more conventional with the rhythm section walking and Bley blowing on top. Okay, so that description sells the album short, but I'm speaking in very general terms - there's a lot more to it that.

Whereas solo works by Bley tend to be somewhat reflective (at least from what I've heard so far), when playing with a rhythm section there's an energy and rhythmic push that Bley puts into his notes that differs from the solo works.

Bley contributes one original (which fits the flow of the album) with the rest of the material coming from Coleman. Five tunes from his albums on Contemporary Records and one ("Crossroads") that was captured live at the Hillcrest Club in 1958 (with Bley on piano) and may have appeared later on Atlantic (I'm writing from memory). It seems to make sense that Bley would choose material from the period in which he was playing with Coleman. As a long standing champion of Coleman's music it is a shame that there are no studio recordings of the two together.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Practice Journal: October 13, 2014

Here's what was up last week. For previous entries see here and here.

And now for something completely ... slightly different..... An hour (or so) of tunes. It was getting late in the evening by the time I had a chance to play and I felt like playing some of my favourite tunes - "My Melancholy Baby," "All The Things You Are," "These foolish Things," "Out of Nowhere," "I'll Remember April" and "What Is This Thing Called Love."
There was straight melody, improvising on the form, free improvising, improvising on the song phrases (length of phrase) One thing I didn't do (but occurred to me as I was drifting off to sleep) was improvising on the melodic rhythm of the tunes. This is something I want to explore further.

Warmed up listening and playing with "Wild is the Wind"from the Connie Crothers/Bob Casanova album Just For The Joy Of It. I'm not sure what made me head to this tune today, it was in my head so I went with it. Today I listened to the tune a couple of times (just the melody chorus) and then played along adding in notes here and there - not really really working it out, just feeling things out.
Modus Vetus - 1 phrase in all keys. Singing and playing.
I followed this up with a bit more of "Wild Is The Wild" - getting bit of a feel for the melody on my horn.
Tried to do some work with Modus Novus but after about 5 mins it just wasn't happening so I scrapped it and so improvised a little before moving onto Bach Invention #2. I was a little tied sounding at first but things picked up as I dug into it.
I finished things of with a little bit of improvising - held tones and economic note usage. And wound up the night with what I could play of "Wild." 

Quiet long tones - various notes held out at lower dynamic ranges.
Modas Novus - 1 phrase interrupted with the arrival of the plumber.
Overtones - page 13 from the Rascher book (not too bad considering I picked up the horn cold).
Bach Invention #2
Pure Rhythm - page 5, variation 4 on the bongos.  Then alternated between playing some rhythm and then playing Bach Invention 2. This was interesting and I think I will do more of this.
I ended with bit of a noodle and came up with an idea to improvise a group of notes (say 5 notes) and repeat it, then change 1 note (and repeat the new configuration), then change another note (and repeat the new configuration) etc etc. Maybe something to delve into later on down the line.

Quiet long tones - a few to ease the reed in and get some air in the horn.
Melodic Rhythm - took the melodic rhythm of "My Melancholy Baby" and improvised the notes. I want to explore this further.
Modas Novus - sing and play 1 phrase in all keys (chromatically). This is the one I could get into the other night but this morning it wasn't too bad.
Overtones - page 14 of the Rascher book. Today I was trying to play them quietly.
Alternating Bach Invention #2 with work from Pure Rhythm (tapping on my legs variation #4 on page 5)

Singing and playing with "Wild Is The Wind." Today I listened and then sang with the melody. Then broke it down into phrases that I would sing with the recording then try and play on my horn, the play on the horn with the recording before moving onto the next phrase. This is how I often go about learning melodies.
Pure Rhythm  variation #4, 5 and 6 on page 5.
Singing with "Wild Is The Wind"
Rhythm - variation #4 alternating counting in 3 and 4. This morning I alternated between whatever I am working on and some rhythm stuff.
Modus Vetus - 1 phrase in all keys around the cycle of 4ths. Currently I'm working from the 3rd to the root.
Rhythm - started on variation #5.
Modus Novus - 1 phrase in all keys descending in Major 2nds.
Sound work - Letting It Fall and page 14 from the Rascher book. I played most of the page today - more than I normally would on it but I was on a roll.
Bach Invention #2. Felt like it was coming together today. Played it at a few different tempos.
"What Is This Thing Called Love" - taking the songs melodic rhythm and improvising the notes. This is a lot of fun and leads to some different places. Sometimes I found myself taking a few too many liberties with the rhythm - it's hard not to get carried away.
To finish things off I played around with the idea I came up with on Wednesday - improvising then altering groups of notes.

Rhythm - alternating counting in 3 and 4 on variation #5 and #6. Usually I find adding the count in throws me off. More to work on!
Sound - Letting It Fall (a great place to start). Page 14 from the Rascher book - today I focussed on just a couple of lines. Playing on only the mouthpiece (chromatic scale, major and harmonic minor scales, some arpeggios).
Modus Vetus - 1 phrase in all keys (sung then played as usual) around a cycle of minor 3rds.
Modus Novas - as above but in Maj 3rd cycles.
"Wild Is The Wind" - alternate singing a chorus of melody and playing a chorus of melody. Sometimes I muddled the lyrics so a sang with the record a couple of times to straighten me out.

Jeremiah Cymerman Podcasts

Clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman has some great podcasts on his website - 5049 Records. Earlier in the week I had a listen to him chatting with bassist Trevor Dunn.
Among the saxophonists interviewed are Ellery Eskelin, Jon Irabagon, Darius Jones, Ingrid Laubrock, Steve Lehman and Chris Speed. There's plenty of others too - Jim Black, Anthony Coleman, James Falzone, Mary Halvorson,  Joe Morris,  Eivind Opsvik, William Parker and Matthew Shipp among others.

Edit: 26 Jan 2015 - the podcast series wrapped up today with the final instalment featuring the microphone turned on Cymerman himself. I listened to Episode 82 the other day - it was great hearing Andrea Parkins fondly recalling her time studying with Harvey Diamond. It's been a great series and hopefully someone picks up Cymerman left off.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Practice Journal: 6 October 2014

Modus Vetus - 1 phrase in all keys. I'm sticking with this although today I only had time work on the tonal material.
Overtones and Tone Matching - for me, these always work best once I have played for a little while.

For some reason Bach Invention #2 was on my mind so I tried to play what I could remember. It had been about a year since I last played it and was surprised how much I could remember. Perhaps the Inventions will return to my regular practice.

Those of you that have worked with Jerry Coker's books will recognise a familiar lick in the opening phrase.  I was immediately taken back to Improv classes at university with the class playing licks from Coker's Elements of the Jazz Language along with Band-in-the-Box, a play-a-long album or even a rhythm section. The "3-b9 lick" (see left) was one of those licks. It has been quite some time since I have worked on "material" in that manner. I can't really say I miss it.

Modus Vetus and Modus Novus - singing and playing 1 phrase from each (in all keys).

Rhythm - 2 against 3 and 4 against 3. Swapping between hands and swapping between counting 3 and counting 4.

Bach Invention - worked on it slowly. Breaking down into phrases then linking them together.

Singing with Roy

"September" - Still not really feeling the harmony so this was my focus.

Singing with Glenn Gould playing Bach Invention #2

Long tones on low B and then octaves against pedal tone
Letting It Fall

Modus Vetus - 1 phrase all keys (random)
Modus Novus - 1 phrase all keys (random)

Bach Invention #2
Finished off with some free improvising which ended with a chorus of "My Foolish Heart"

Modus Vetus - 1 phrase all keys (minor 3rd apart). I have been playing these in time and, for the most part, quite slowly.

The other day I went to do some work with a tuner but couldn't get it going (and didn't have any spare batteries) so I downloaded this app - Practice + Tuner, Metronome, Recorder and More....

B(s) against pitch generator and tuner (played some other notes against tuner but mostly focussed on B)

Overtones focused on alternating fund a 1st overtone. This is always a bit confusing (fundamental (Bb) 1st (Bb) 2nd (F) or 1st (Bb) 2nd (Bb) 3rd (F) etc. Ive seen it both ways.

Finished off the morning session playing on September (the melody and then a choruses improvising)

Modus Vetus - one phrase in all keys. This time I tried something a bit different - singing and playing the line against a pedal tone (which acted as the root and also doubled as some tuning work).

Overtones - focused on overtones from B fundamental which was went pretty well today. Then played through some lines in Top Tones.

Bach Invention #2 - pretty much have it memorised just need to smooth things out a bit. Tried it at a few different tempos and then had a crack playing along with Glenn Gould.

Rhythm - tapped out and counted 2 over 3 and 3 over 4 alternating hands and counting while I was waiting for to meet my wife downtown. It's feeling pretty good now so time to move on.

Modus Ventus - one phrase in all keys moving by a tritone and minor 2nd (F - B - C - F# - G etc).

Letting It Fall followed by some Overtones and then playing on the mouthpiece.

Modus Novus - one phrase in all keys (moving in the same cycle as above).

Bach Invention #2 - it's feeling better each day I work on it.

"September" - Alternated melody chorus with outlining the harmony. The harmony chorus started off pretty straight (arpeggiating the chords) and then things got a bit more flexible (less set patterns, chromatic passing notes etc).

Rhythm - In between each of the above I worked on a couple of rhythm patterns (see pic). These are from Adam Rudolph's book Pure Rhythm. Earlier in the year I was doing a bit of work with this - day I started getting back into it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Straight Horning: Steve Lacy - Sands

Steve Lacy Sands (Tzadik)
solo saxophone recordingUnaccompanied recordings (this one is from 1998) are a great way to delve into a players sound. Lacy’s tone is complex, rich and full of overtones shaded with varied articulations, vibrato, a growl or two and subtle dynamic shifts. There is a reedy buzz surrounding the note with the breath becoming prominent at times along with the occasional touch of saliva. Nothing is fixed which, in my opinion, is the mark of a great improviser - repeated notes change in colour with every attack, vibrato ebbs and flows etc. On Sands his low register struck me in particular – “fat” doesn’t do it justice. Detail in his tone exists at all dynamic levels, albeit different details (his pianissimo playing great and an area I wish to explore further in my own playing).

The album has one non-solo track – a duo with vocalist Irene Aebi. The two create a remarkable blend (no doubt helped by decades of playing together).

Friday, October 10, 2014

Practice Journal: 29 Sept 2014

I've kept a practice journal periodically ever since I was at university. They come and go and vary in detail.  Last week I started a new one possibly sparked by the arrival on a new soprano (a Buescher True Tone) a week or so before.

It's been fun getting used to the new horn. Overall the ergonomics are not nearly as bad as some would lead you to believe. The transition between low B & C# is taking a bit of getting used as are the different fingerings up top (not front f key). I haven't really looked into the quarter tone fingerings but I know I will need to make some changes as the mechanism is different. I've found that getting the horn well warmed up helps the intonation tendencies to settle down a bit. Here's a rundown of the week.

Terrace Dynamics (a la Sigurd Rascher's Top Tones for Saxophone) on Low E.
Rascher's "Uniformity of Tone Character" - worked between low A and middle F.
Descending octaves without the octave key (aka Letting It Fall) from Low F-Bb
Overtones. Up to third overtone. Including tone matching the regular fingering with 1st, 2nd and 3rd overtones.

Ear Training:
Modus Vetus - taking a line, singing and playing it in all keys (and registers) (round the cycle of 4ths)
Modus Novus - ditto (in whole tones)
I've had these books a little while now but have only just started working with them. Expanding on the work I have done singing/playing interviews and chords.

"September In The Rain." This tune popped into my mind one day (perhaps it was raining) so I felt it was a good sign to start working on it.
Looped melody, sang melody, played melody in a few keys. F, C#, G.

All of these were played on bongos.
Warmed up on a 6/8 rhythms - counting 4/4 and 3/4 against the 6/8 accent.
Revised 3 over 2 and 3 over 4 (and vice versa).
Bell pattern over 4 pulse.

Letting It Fall
Overtones and tone matching
G with iTablaPro drone. Terraced dynamics, swells. then G and D (all registers) against drone.
Mouthpiece only - chromatic scale up and down. major scale up and down. Range is about a 10th

Sing with Nate King Cole "Star Dust"
Roy Eldridge "Star Dust" - singing with his solo (at half and full speed).

Modus Vetus - sing and play a phrase in all keys. Used iTabla Pro as a metronome.
Modus Novus - sing and play a phrase in all keys.

"September In The Rain."
Sing with Frank Sinatra
Alternate Playing Melody and sing melody.
Started learning harmony.

Rhythm - 6/8 and some 3 over 2.

Dynamics on high G
Tone Uniformity - middle F- high Bb. 
Letting It Fall
Overtones. Lots of tone matching overtone to regular finger (up to 4th overtone)

Modus Vetus 1 phrase round cycle of 4ths
Modus Novus 1 phrase round diminished cycle
September in the Rain melody in keys of E, Eb

Tune - "September In The Rain"
Alternate singing and playing the melody. Root Progression of Harmony. Outlined harmony - no set patterns - some choruses were in time others were rubato. Alternated melody with free improvisation.

Sing - Roy on "Stardust" (1/2 and full speed)

Started today singing with Roy Eldridge on "Stardust."

Letting It Fall. I find this a nice place to start and find myself returning to it during practice sessions when I want to clear my mind or relax my embouchure.
Bending notes - taking a note and lowering it a semi-tone, whole-tone, minor third, as far as I can go with it. Taken from Steve Lacy's book Findings - I forget what he calls the exercise.
Mouthpiece only.

Rhythm - 6/8 counting 4 and 3.

Modus Vetus - 1 phrase in whole tones.
Modus Novus -1 phrase in min 3rds.

"September" - sing/play melody, outline the harmony. Improvise on the tune to finish things off.

Rhythm - alternating hands between 4 pulse and bell pattern. Worked on this throughout the day in short spells (taking a break from school work, practice break etc).

Warmed up with a couple of minutes freely improvising.

Modus Vetus and Modus Novus - one phrase each in all keys around the cycle of 4ths.

"September" - alternating sing one chorus, play one chorus. This always brings back memories of my lessons with Richard Tabnik.

Singing with Roy's solo on "Stardust." My version seems to be a semi-tone-ish high. I found some versions on youtube that seemed to be at the correct pitch. I may switch over to those versions.

Warmed up looping the melody of "September." I then returned to work on tune in various ways (melody/singing/Harmony/Improvising) in between my other work.

One phrase from Modus Vetus in all keys moving up in whole tones.
One phrase from Modus Novus in all keys moving down in whole tones
Overtones - Once I worked with the first 3 over tones of various fundamentals I focused a little on the top end (4th/5th/6th overtones) off Bb fundamental.
Mouthpiece only.
Rhythm - bell pattern , alternating hands, various tempos

Saturday, October 04, 2014

2014 Blackface Ad from D'Addario Woodwinds

D'Addario Woodwinds (Rico Reeds) posted this "Happy October" message to its Facebook page  yesterday, Oct. 2, 2014.

By the time I took the screenshot and began writing a comment about its blatant racism, the post was removed without acknowledgement or apology from the company that supposedly supports an art and jazz community so deeply rooted in the African-American experience.

**** Updated October 11, 2014****
 On October 7, 2014 I received this email from the social media manager at D'Addario:

I wanted to reach out to you further to our post from the D’Addario Woodwinds Facebook page. First let us apologize for the lack of sensitivity regarding that post. We had brought on a new consultant/intern this past month and had just granted them the ability to post without our micro-managing. It would seem we were premature in that judgment.

I was not in the office when this transpired but it was brought to my attention this morning. I had to dig around to find a few peoples comments and of course, stumbled upon your thoughts as well. Our Woodwinds product team saw the post and took it down as soon as it was observed. We have already spoken to the party involved and are determining how we will proceed.

Please accept our apologies and appreciate that you took the time to voice your opinion on your blog. If we can be of further service, please do not hesitate to contact us.

This morning I replied: 

Thank you for your email. It is reassuring to hear that D’Addario does not consider such a depiction appropriate to share, and unfortunate that your consultant did not recognise the image for what it was. On the other hand perhaps it is indicative of a generation unfamiliar with blackface and racism as a whole in the history of jazz - and your intern may have just thought it was a fun picture of a pumpkin playing a saxophone. Some education may be in order.