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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Playing in a duo with a vocalist

I've been in my studio mixing and preparing a session for mastering tomorrow. We are going to be using a new method for mastering which is called Separation Mastering. Instead of mastering the 2-mix or final stereo mix we are separating tracks into stems. We will have a stem  mix for drums, bass, vocals and all other instruments including background vocals. We will also have a stereo mix of my final mix which we will reference as we are mastering the stems we have created. Looking forward to it. I've never prepared a session for this kind of mastering and it's very time consuming as you have to basically bounce or make a print track for every stem group (4) in real time plus the final mix track. If the song is 5mins you will have to spend 25 minutes making these tracks. Oh well, it gives me a chance to update my blog!

I work with lots of vocalists and have had the chance to work with some really great ones. One thing that has helped my guitar playing is working as a duo with a vocalist. Having to cover bass lines as well as harmony and rhythmic shots can be very challenging but has really taught me a lot about bass function. I listened to bass players like Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Ron Carter etc. to try to get a better grip on what they are doing. It not only helped my guitar playing in these sort of naked, exposed playing situations but also my composing.

Here is a video of me playing in a duo format with Vincent Wolfe on a television show from about seven years ago. The song is the jazz standard "Indian Summer".

I've been listening to the Keith Jarrett Trio "At The Blue Note" in New York CDs recorded in 2000. They recorded six sets of music on this box set and it's amazing. The usual trio mates Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock and they sound inspired and inventive as always. I listened to disc three and four. Standards like "How Deep is The Ocean", "Autumn Leaves", "Things Ain't The Way They Used To Be" and "When I Fall In Love" etc.

I also listened to:

Vocalist Nancy Wilson's "But Beautiful" from 1969 featuring Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Grady Tate on drums and Gene Bertoncini on guitar. Nice record.

Guitarist Peter Bernstein's 1995 recording "Signs of Life" with Brad Mehldau om piano, Christian McBride on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. I really like Peter Bernstein's playing. He's a younger guy with a modern sensibility but embraces an older guitar sound and style.

Joni Mitchell - "Shine" (2007) featuring ex-husband Larry Klein on bass, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Brian Blade on drums, Bob Sheppard on tenor and soprano sax, Paulinho Da Costa on percussion and
James Taylor on accostic guitar on "Shine". Beautifully composed and recorded album. I love Joni Mitchell. Makes me proud to be a Canadian!

Mark Knopfler / Emmylou Harris - "All The Road Running" (2006). Great recording featuring ex-Dire Straits guitarist, composer and singer Mark Knopfler and country songstress Emmylou Harris. I love Knopfler's guitar playing singing and writing. Very talented guy and his solo career has been fruitful to say the least. He seems to put out a record every year and a half. His solo recordings are fantastic, filled with rich storied lyrics, great guitar playing and well crafted tunes with a strong country/folk influence. I've always been a fan of Emmylou Harris.

That's all for now. Back to Pro Tools for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Composing, creativity and counterpoint.

Composing is one of the most invigorating, fulfilling and stimulating endeavours one can do in my opinion. It's much like writing a fictional story. The canvas is empty, so to speak, and is begging you to fill it with your imagination. Some of my instrumental compositions have come out of practice sessions where I will be trying something like playing over different time signatures or different harmony combinations and a song germ will emerge which I will try to make into a composition.

A composition of mine where I did just that was a song I entitled Cane. I was playing around with some counterpoint writing where one melodic line fits over another melodic line. Both work well together but also work well independently. This particular type of counterpoint is called 1st species counterpoint where it's single line to another single line. 2nd species is single line to two lines etc. In this case I wrote a bass line that was strong melodically and then wrote the melody line to fit into the bass line. The melody fits over the bass line being played twice. I play the bass line with the bass player first to establish the groove and then play the melody while the bass player is playing the contrapuntal bass line if you will. It works great and the two lines sound great together. I applied a reggae groove; hence the name Cane, one of Jamaica's major exports sugar cane. I thought of naming it after it's other big export but thought Cane was a better choice. I have kids.

Check out this video of my trio playing this song in London. Ted Warren on drums and Mark Dunn on bass. See what I mean about the counterpoint melodies.

I been listening to Pat Metheny Group's First Circle CD which came out in 1984. It's a beautifully composed recording and the individual playing as well as the ensemble playing on it is stellar. Pat Metheny plays several different guitars, Lyle Mays on piano and keyboards, Steve Rodby on bass, Paul Wertico on drums and Pedro Aznar on percussion and vocals. The song First Circle is a desert island pick for me. 6/8 time signature can emulate flying above the clouds like no other time signature.
Also listened to vibraphonist Mike Mainieri The American Diaries Vol. 2 The Dreamings CD. Deep ensemble playing and rich arrangements. New York tenor and soprano saxman George Garzone also plays clarinet with Marc Johnson on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, Dave Tronzo on guitar and slide guitar and others. If you haven't heard this recording or the first American Diaries with Joe Lovano instead of Garzone you must buy them.

That's all for now. Busy week teaching, some studio mixing and a gig on Saturday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Crazy session

I really enjoy studio work and thoroughly love playing different styles of music. It's funny, although I'm playing different styles of music I still sound like myself. I always strive to bring myself into the song instead of just copping a style rendition. Usually the producer or artist is totally happy with that and will actually ask me to "do some of that jazz thing of yours", even if it's a country or blues or pop session. I guess you get known for a certain thing and mine is being a jazz guitar player even though I play a lot of different styles of music. I always approach improvising as just that and even though I might be playing a country tune, my resources that I'm drawing from are predominantly jazz oriented.

I have played on some pretty diverse projects and jingles. I have played on commercials for Toyota, FAN 590, CHAY FM, Dunkin Donuts, CTV Sports etc. I have also played on a lot of records as as sideman but one of the weirdest sessions I played on was for a guy who sang "The Stalker Song" for Paula Abdul on American Idol. The wacky song received such huge press that the singer Paul Marcurano, who also wrote the song, contacted Nelly Furtado's management company in Los Angeles to produce a studio version of this song. My friend Darryl Moen has worked with Nelly as a recording engineer and recommended me to play guitar on it along with other members of Nelly's band.
Check it out. It's a strange world sometimes. I just found this on the net. Check out the harmonics at the beginning. They were harder that they sound. Played my Strat on this session.

Listened to:

Steely Dan's "Aja"  which is one of my top ten recordings of all time. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are geniuses if you ask me. They not only write amazing music but also have a real vision in the studio. They pick just the right guy for each tune. This album features the New York and LA A-list session guys from drummers Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, Ed Greene, Bernard Purdie, Jim Keltner and Paul Humphrey to guitarists Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Dean Parks, Steve Khan, Jay Graydon (who plays one of my favourite guitar solos on Peg) and Denny Dias. Saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Tom Scott as well as bassist Chuck Rainey also play on the recording.

Pat Metheny's "Still Life Talking" which is an amazing record. Pat is one of my favourite guitarists and composers. This record mixes Brazilian influences with Americana and it is stunning. Lyle Mays on piano. Came out in 1987 and I must have listened to it about 100 times over the years.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Scales in intervals

Busy week of teaching and practising as well as writing my music book. The book will be focusing on the intermediate to advanced guitar student. The market is flooded with beginner books. Still wrestling with Sibelius but I think I'm finally winning I think.

I have always been an avid listener of music. I feel it is an education for me as well as pleasure and I really don't like genres or categories even though I still use them sometimes to describe a band or song style. I like all kinds of music and categorize my music collection by the alphabet instead of genre. John Coltrane lives next door to Eric Clapton with Johnny Cash and Chopin on either side of them. I never understood people who categorically shut out a music genre. I've heard people say "I love all music except country and opera". Really? I've heard opera that brings you to your knees with it's beauty and country music can be so straight to the heart. I must say I usually don't like rap music and I find the vulgarity of a lot of rap insulting and disgusting but I have heard some rap that is quite amazing. Keep your mind open and your horizons wide.

On that topic, I listened to:

Sarah Vaughan "The Gershwin Songbook Vol. 1 and 2" which was initially released under the name "Sings George Gershwin" in 1957 but was later renamed upon re-release as "The Gershwin Song Book". I guess they realized poor brother Ira had a lot to do with it as well. I love Sarah Vaughan. What a big, beautiful voice and amazing phrasing.

Bass Desires "Bass Desires" which is bassist Marc Johnson's band in the '80's with two guitars (John Scofield and Bill Frisell) and drummer Peter Erskine. Amazing music. These musicians were a huge influence on me when I was younger and still are today.

Toronto band of internationally known jazz players called JMOG which stands for Jazz Men On the Go. Terrible name but great band. Tenor sax man Pat LaBarbera, pianist Don Thompson (who also plays bass and vibes but not on this record), Neil Swainson on bass and Pat's brother Joe LaBarbera on drums. If you can find this CD get it. It's on the Sackville label which is a Toronto label.

Marty Stuart's "Soul Chapel. Great country music recorded the old style way in a Nashville studio with a big recording floor. Marty Stuart is a great vocalist plus a really good guitar and fiddle player. He was the guitarist in Johnny Cash's band for a number of years. Kenny Vaughan is also on guitar and he's fantastic along with Glenn Worf on bass and Chad Cromwell and Paul Griffith on drums. Nice record.

Check out the following lesson on practising scales with intervals to make them sound like melodies when using them to improvise with. Nothing worse than a scale sounding like a scale when soloing. It's all about playing melodies when soloing.

Bye for now!

Friday, November 11, 2011

11 11 11

A very fitting day for such a rare grouping of dates. Remembrance Day is a very important day and should always be recognized.

Took my Gibson ES 339 into the Twelfth Fret to get a neck tweek and now it plays even better. Change of season can be unfriendly to guitars. Any guitar player who hasn't been to the Twelfth Fret is missing out!! I love this store and lucky me, it's at the end of my street.

Finished mixing singer-songwriter Tracey Dey's record and it's now ready for mastering. Should be out soon. The recording sounds amazing. Great songs ( Tracey wrote 4 and co-wrote one with me plus a Sade tune), amazing musicians (Mark Kelso, Chris banks, Kevin Turcotte and Jake Chisholm on lap steel) plus Tracey sounds great. I produced the record plus played guitars, mandolin and back up vocals and mixed it. I really enjoy producing, especially when the artist allows me lots of artistic freedom. It gives me a chance to play different styles of music which I might not get the chance to play live.

Listened to:

Donald Fagen's Nightfly. Great guitar playing from Larry Carlton and a beautiful tenor solo from Mike Brecker on Maxine. I'm a huge Steely Dan fan and Donald Fagen's first solo album is fantastic. Great writing! Listened to Wynton Marsalis' Thick in the south - Soul Gestures vol.1  with Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, who always sounds great, Robert Hurst on bass and Marcus Roberts on piano. Drummer Elvin Jones and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson appear on one tune. Really like this record and Wynton sounds great. What a trumpet player.

Country singer Alan Jackson's Freight Train with the scary Brent Mason on guitar along with the Nashville A team. Man, Brent Mason can really play.

Buck Owens and the Buckeroos. I loved that Bakersfield sound made famous by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and later by Dwight Yoakam. This style of country music started in Bakersfield California in the mid to late '50s and was a stripped down sound with electric guitar (usually a tele), an acoustic guitar, bass, drums and pedal steel as well as harmonized vocals. It was quite different than the more lush, string laden sound coming out of Nashville at the time. The Bakersfield sound has produced some great guitarists like Don Rich (Buck Owens), Roy Nichols (Merle Haggard and his band The Strangers) and Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam).

That's it for now.
Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rootless Pentatonic Scale

A nice Fall day here in Toronto. The weather has been very nice so far this Fall but I know Winter will be coming down the pike at some point. I guess there's not much I can do about it.

Recently picked up a great little amp called the Lunchbox Amp made by a company called ZT out of Berkley California. This thing is stunning! It weighs 9lbs and is the size of a lunch box hence the name. It's solid state which was a deterrent at first as I always use tube amps but I though that the portability counted for a lot. I must say that this amp is just great. 200 watts believe it or not and it sounds like a much bigger amp than it is. I thought I would say "this thing is so light and portable and it sounds pretty good" but ended up saying "this thing sounds fantastic and it's so portable". I've used it on a country gig at the Gladstone Hotel's Melody Bar which is a really big room and it filled the room with much to spare. I just placed a SM57 in front of it and ran it through the house PA. I used it on a few jazz gigs and it gets a beautiful warm jazz tone, again with lots of head room if needed and I used it on a blues gig and the overdrive on this thing sounds great. Buy one now!!!!!!!

I been listening to Ed Bickert's Trio on a recording called "Out of the Past" which is certainly does not sound like. Don Thompson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. This is a great guitar trio record. All three are masters and to hear Bickert's tasteful, expressive, inventive comping and soloing is always a lesson for me. I love Ed Bickert and he is definitely one of my favourite guitar players. Also listened to Patsy Cline. What a great voice and such an important figure in the history of country music. Being a big country music fan there is always some country mixed in to my weekly listening. Must be my Calgary roots.
Also listened to Miles Davis' "Cookin" which was with John Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on bass, Red Garland on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Miles just signed with Columbia Records but still owed Prestige 4 records. Before anything could be released on Columbia Miles had to fulfill his contractual obligation to Prestige which he did in typical Miles fashion. He went into the studio and cut four records in just two days. These were Relaxin', "Cookin', Steamin',  and Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. These four recordings are probably my favourite jazz recordings ever. They are first or second takes, no rehearsals and just pure improvisation genius. Great tunes as well like "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from "Oklahoma"plus "My Funny Valentine", Old Devil Moon etc.

Check out the lesson video. I talk about using the rootless major pentatonic scale (at least that's what I call it) over a blues. Works great over a soul/RandB,Ray Charles sort of blues. The scale replaces the root with the b7 resulting in 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and b7.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Soloing over Diminished Chords

Tuesday Nov.1/11

Other than getting over a cold and surviving Halloween (not my favourite holiday by any stretch), I have been practising and teaching as usual. I 'm looking forward to a gig I have this Thursday with my old friend and great vocalist Vincent Wolfe. I haven't played with Vince for quite a long time so this should be a good time. We always mix in a lot of laughter in with good music. Bassist Mark Dunn is also on the gig which is nice. Great player and good friend.

Been listening to more Keith Jarrett Trio as well as the Brad Mehldau Trio "Art of the Trio II Live at the Village Vanguard".  I was actually there in the audience when they recorded this record. I was down in New York with a friend of mine John Pucic and we had no idea that the gig was being recorded until we got there. Great night of music. I remember waiting for the band to get on stage as the club was packed plus the added energy of a recording crew ready to capture some incredible music and onto the stage walks this guy with messy hair and a plaid shirt and jeans. I thought he might be either the janitor or maybe the piano tuner as he touched a few keys. He then sits down and starts playing and wow, that is no regular piano technician. He played solo for a couple of minutes before being joined, in the same manner, by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. The trio is smoking and has that high level improvising but moving as a group thing as the Jarrett trio. Brad Mehldau is one of my favourite pianists and this group is definitely one of my favourite piano trios as well. Brad joins the ranks of Bill Evans, Jarrett, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays and Herbie Hancock in my books for sure.

Here's a lesson tip that I show my more advanced jazz students. Improvising over diminished chords can be problematic as they can be quite predictable when using either the arpeggio of the chord or the diminished scale (half step/whole step).  An approach that works for me is using the fairly uncommon major pentatonic b2 scale which is made up of the Root, b2, 3rd, 5th and 6th. Notice the 2nd has been lowered a semitone from the original major pentatonic scale. You can then use this scale a semi-tone down from the root of the chord as well as it's other three sister notes. The diminished chord is symmetrical which means it's made up of min. 3rd intervals which start again after you have reached the fourth note. Since there are 12 notes in the western major scale and four of the notes are really from the same chord, there are only three different diminished chords essentially. (G, Bb, Db, E) (Ab, B, D, F) and (A, C, Eb Gb). In the video I am using a Imaj7 iidim7th ii-7 V7 progression in G. The diminished chord is Ab diminished 7th and the major pentatonic b2 scales that you can use to improvise over that chord are G ( a semi-tone down from the root), Bb, Db and E.