Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Reed Packaging Blues

Saxophone reed packaging
This is a follow on from a post from over a year ago (forgive me for repetition). Over the past year and a half or so (probably longer… rust never sleeps), I’ve been making efforts to minimize waste. I’m not hardcore about it, just little steps here and there, and I feel I’ve made some good steps (here's a thank you and plug for Be Free and Hopper). One thing that has bugged me for a long time is the excessive plastic used in packaging saxophone reeds.  

I would describe myself as a long term Vandoren user. Over the 26 years or so I’ve been playing saxophone, I’ve used Vandoren more than any other brand. Of all the Vandoren models, V16 tend to work best for me – although I used Traditional a lot too and had a bit of luck with Java as well. I never really understood why reeds come with the plastic reed holders/sleeves. Once you take the reed out of the box and start playing it, the plastic sleeve is never used again. The ‘new’ packaging didn’t do anything for me (I forget when it was introduced… it’s been several years now). Vandoren started individually wrapping the reeds in plastic (I think they claimed it kept reeds at a better humidity level). All it seemed to do was make the box larger and add another layer of plastic. I still have a few boxes of reeds in the old packaging and I’m not sure if I have noticed any improvement with the newer packaging. 

Vandoren Soprano Reed Comparison
So, even though I have a few boxes of Vandoren left, during December I made the move to Gonzalez. I had expected to go with Marca, but they are harder to get here and more expensive. Compared to Vandoren, Gonzalez have WAY less plastic (only the outer wrapping on the box) and the price is better too (downside being I can’t buy them from my preferred retailer). I had played them on alto for a bit back in the day but never settled into them. And back when I was hunting for soprano reeds I tried a couple of boxes and then moved on - and now I'm back. I got a box of each model and I’ve gravitated towards the RC (regular cut). Early days yet, but it’s working out okay (I'm still on my first box). I would like to try a quarter strength softer, but my plan is to stick with them and see how it develops.

I'm not much of one for new year resolutions ("I'm gonna play as well as Steve Lacy by the end of the month!"), but perhaps 2021 will be my year of Gonzalez.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Jazz | Pint | One Down One Up

North End Brewery Waikanae
I'll happily admit that John Coltrane isn't my favourite saxophone player. Unless I'm looking at something specific, I need to pick the right moment to kick back and dig it. And tonight was the night, with One Down, One Up - Live at the Half Note taking care of the Coltrane fix. It's not really music that I strive to emulate, but I get why people love it so much. Intensity is the first word that comes mind. An outward intensity. Maybe if I binged on it and really spent time working it, some of that may bleed into my playing. Who knows. It's not really where I am at the moment, but you never know.

The hook up with Elvin Jones is something else, and there are long periods of Trane and Elvin in duo. The only downside to this is the lack of Jimmy Garrison! (never fear, he's always present during McCoy Tyner's solos). The more I listen to him, the more I enjoy his playing. Is he underrated? Underappreciated? Maybe - I don't know. Not in my book. In the accompanying notes (he barely gets a mention!) there's a great photo of him on the bandstand at the Half Note. The lucky few in the front row could have reached out and touched his bass. I can only image being so close to that sound and feeling. Physically that would have been an interesting experience.

Usually when I tune it to Coltrane I'm focused on his soprano work. And considering it's a live recording, his soprano tone is pretty well captured here. I know a lot of people rave about My Favorite Things, but I prefer his soprano from a bit later on. One Down, One Up is a fine example (on "Afro Blue" and "My Favorite Things") as is The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (check out "Chim Chim Cheree"). Both were recorded in 1965, once he'd spent more time on the straight horn.

So my spur of the moment pick worked out well tonight, and two discs of live Trane made for a nice Christmas Eve Eve. In the words of Alan Grant, the announcer on these broadcasts, "Stay beautiful".

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Jazz | Pint | Monk Plays Ellington

Houblon Chouffe

I was listening to Pablo Held's interview with Ben Street earlier today (be sure check out Held's other interview too - great series), and had bass players on my mind when it came to tonight's listening. I didn't have anything in mind, but when I spotted the Monk set in the pile, the Oscar Pettiford/Kenny Clarke pairing was the first thing that came to mind. And here were are. Of Monk's discs on Riverside, it was be a toss up between Monk Plays Ellington and Brilliant Corners as to the album I've listened to the most. It just so happens that Pettiford is on both. (Thelonious Himself would more than likely be third if you're wondering). Pettiford and Clarke have such a great flow - it sounds effortless. As the bass was on my mind, I tended to focus in that direction tonight. Such clarity in his lines and his tone. Tonight, the brief moments when his walking lines moved into the higher register seemed to pop out at me. And the buoyancy of "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" really appeals to me. And the 3.57-4.10 mark during O.P's solo on "Caravan" always sticks out to me. Kenny Clarke is very understated throughout - in the best way possible. Economy of swing at its finest. Fantastic brush playing. Actually, he spends the vast majority of the album on brushes. The sticks aren't missed at all (they make a brief appearance on "Caravan"). Super tasty. Of course it's not just O.P and Klook grooving - Monk plays his part too!

The Houblon is not by favourite of the Chouffe beers, but it made a change and I hadn't had one in ages (actually it was my first Chouffe since moving home). Maybe not a great match with the music, but it really didn't matter.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Jazz | Pint | Tethered Moon

Another weekend comes to a close, so it's time to kick back and relax with music and a beer. Early on in 2020 I "discovered" Masabumi Kikuchi. I'm pretty sure I had heard him previously on a Paul Motian recording, but for whatever reason, it didn't stick with me. I'm not sure what led me to him this year, but I picked up Black Orpheus (solo), Sunrise (trio), and a few of the Tethered Moon albums. And I'm glad I did. Actually, the Tethered Moon recordings led me listening to a lot of Gary Peacock this year - with Jarrett, some other sideman work, and as a leader too - a rediscovery of sorts. 

Morte Subite
Tonight, I gave First Meeting another spin. The trio's first recording... but not their first to be released. The music is unhurried, with opening track slowly unfolding and setting the mood for things to come. I enjoy the sense of space throughout the album. The sense of balance between the trio is also particularly notable. The last month or so I've been playing in a trio (albeit with different instrumentation) and balance is something that is becoming more and more apparent to me. How are the three of us interaction? Not to overplay. When to contribute sound and when to contribute silence. Can the use of silence turn the trio into a quartet? It playing a part as vital as the sounds we make. Just a few of the thoughts that popped into mind during tonight's listen. And how about the groove of Motian and Peacock on the title track? I'm also enjoying the recorded sound. Of the three Tethered Moon albums in my collection, I've listened to First Meeting the most. Does that mean it's my favourite? I don't know, it's early days yet. Still, it's a very nice album.

There is a slightly dark quality to Tethered Moon (and Kikuchi in general) - but I like that in their music, and it seemed that Morte Subite would be an appropriate accompaniment - in name mostly, but it's mix of sweet and sour (more of the former than the latter), and effervescence seems to tie in with the sounds bouncing around the apartment.