Monday, July 28, 2014

Groove o' the day: Elvin Afro 6

All I can say is, we're all going to be masters of the 6/8 Afro groove by the time we're finished here. That's fine. It's a lot of fun to play, to listen to, and (probably) to dance to; and while it's got a long history of usage, it shows no signs of becoming worn out any time soon. It's just a very tight fit with the human body, the human nervous system.  

So here's another way of playing it, from Elvin Jones's album Very R.A.R.E., a Japanese release you'll have a very hard time finding:

Elvin's cymbal pattern is what's often called the “long” bell pattern, in African percussion parlance— our usual bell pattern, more common in Afro-Cuban music, would be the “short” bell pattern. If you listen to the recording, there is a strong pull towards other rhythmic subdivisions— it's a common aspect of Elvin's playing which doesn't get talked about much, and accounts for much of what is often perceived as sloppiness, or general looseness in his playing.

Here's the track:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Toy cameras

When I started taking pictures, I was following the made-up Lomography “ethic”, in which you're supposed to take your camera with you always, and get pictures of everything and nothing, all the time. The idea was to get a lot of uncontrolled, accidental art, using the crummy Russian Lomo LC-A camera, which tended to take arty, screwy-looking pictures. After messing around with the Lomo a little while, I started exploring some of the other cheap/junk/toy camera options, which each have their own visual quirks. I finally mostly gave up the toys because I started getting an idea of what a good picture is, and how to make them, and I started wanting more control over the outcome. To the point where it was becoming counter-productive; I was only taking pictures when I had a definite project or job, or when I thought I could get some special pictures. So I've been coming back to the toys again to get myself producing a lot of images again. And because I took some really cool pictures with them, and I'd like to be doing more of that.

So, here are some of the standard options for toy film cameras:

A way sexier picture than this
extremely humble camera merits.
This is the original artist's camera— back in the early 70s, photography students were picking these up from Woolworth's for  $1.49 and going crazy with them. They are true pieces of lowest-possible grade plastic junk, sold under dozens of different names including, hilariously, Champion, or, more fittingly, Rosko. They had a level of quality control you usually find in toys you get out of gumball machines— even the lens, which is made out of plastic. They're also really cool, weird distortions and smears of light, and heavy vignetting, and each camera is a little bit unique. It uses medium format roll film, but only exposes a 4.5 x 4.5cm portion of each 6x6 frame of film— approximately; the frame is a little skewed on mine. I usually shoot E-6 slide film, and cross-process— I ask the lab to process the E-6 like regular C-41 negative print film, which generally increases contrast and distorts the colors.

Shot with the Diana, in Paris, in 2009

For a long time they were stupidly expensive, but I was lucky enough to inherit one from my brother Scott— over the years he picked up several of them at the Goodwill, basically for free. Now the Lomography people have reissued them, with some added features, and prices on the original cameras are now much more realistic; this week I was able to get one on eBay for $10 in pretty short order.

If you want to get one of the new ones, this forum user had this to say about them:
The new Diana [...] is vastly different [from the old]... Its lens was carefully designed (yes, designed!) to mimic the old look and, to my mind, is a bit too intentionally bad, but in a good way, with lots of astigmatism on the edges, sometimes a bit too much, but it's not bad.

Holga 120N
The Holga, first available (or first popular?) in the 90's, is sort of the successor to the Diana. It's almost as primitive and shoddily-constructed, but with a little better construction— unlike the Diana, it doesn't feel like you could crush it by squeezing it hard— and a better plastic lens. Vignetting, light leaks, and softer focus near the edges of the frame are the notable artistic interest. Since they've become popular with the artist crowd, a bunch of variations have been made available, but I would stick with the straight black 120N. Like the Diana, it takes medium-format roll film. There is a 35mm Holga available, which you might be tempted to get, but it is really worth the small extra hassle to use the MF/120 version— 35mm film with a junk lens just looks crappy, and not in a good way.

Holga: Use the 120 version. 

Both the Holga and the Diana have one shutter speed, and a couple of apertures, and the world's roughest zone focusing. The reason these cameras are usable at all is that a) print film has pretty wide latitude; meaning you can get a usable image even if your exposure is pretty wrong; and b) they tend to have smaller apertures, giving you more depth of field, so you're more likely to have your subject to accidentally be in focus.

Continued after the break:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New drum day

OK, my rig just got about 40 pounds heavier.

Mainly, my new late-80's Sonor Phonic jazz set has finally arrived. I've been coveting a set of these since I played one, loaned to me by a great drummer, Teun Verbruggen, in Belgium in 2012. I did a tour with my own jazz quartet, and made a rock record with my girlfriend Casey Scott, and also did a loudish gig with her, unmiked, and they performed exceptionally well in all those settings. I haven't been that excited about a set of drums in a long time. This one has the black wrap, as opposed to the more coveted rosewood finish, but that's fine— no need to get greedy. And these are totally mint.

The Phonic line were Sonor's standard pro drums through the 70s and 80s, with very fat 9-ply beech shells. Their ad campaign at the time featured a large German man squatting on a Phonic shell to illustrate their strength, stoutness, heavy-duty-ness. And they are heavy— clearly they didn't go out of their way to compensate for the very robust shells by slimming down the hardware. At that time way-too-heavy hardware was all the rage, and I suspect they actually wanted to communicate their seriousness on this point in a visceral way, by making their drums way too damn heavy.

But then around the late 80s suddenly everyone decided that thin shells were really what it was all about, and the line fell out of favor... I don't think it helped that many of the Phonics floating around were sized-up; lots of 24" bass drums, 13/14" mounted toms, lots of drums with the absurd super-power-tom depth— with the depth greater than the diameter. And a lot of their hardware was kind of goofy. Suddenly Sonor Phonics were to drums what the 70s Buick Riviera was to cars— big, outlandish, and in rather poor taste:

Happily, they also made a fair number of bop sets— with 12/14/18" drums in standard depths— the drums I played in Belgium. A few of those made it to the US, which brings us back around to where we are today, to me unpacking MY NEW SONOR PHONICS...

...sorry, I've been using a lot of all-caps lately, and I'm excited...

...and testing them out. They're absolutely ridiculous. I have them tuned down, and the sound is just gigantic— the bass drum, and everything... stay tuned...

The other new item is a custom snare drum built by Johnny Craviotto back in the late 80's. It's a 7x14", with a thin birch Eames shell (1/4", 6-ply, “Finetone”), finished with that classic Eames finish you see on a lot of these drums— a light brown stain— with triple-flanged hoop on top (which I like for rim shots), and die cast on the bottom (not sure why that choice, but it's fine with me). The lug casings are from a 1930's Slingerland Radio King bass drum, and it's got a Radio King badge, which is just atmospheric; Slingerland never made a drum like this, and they're obviously not meaning to pass it off as one. I already own one early Craviotto drum, from his company Select (also briefly called Solid, or vice-versa), so I kind of had to have this one.

If you don't know about the Eames company, they've been making high-end custom drum shells for many decades. For some reason they never broke through with the little custom drum builders in the same way as Keller did, but they've hung around, and have maybe preserved their brand mystique a little better. Keller makes great shells, and always have, but maybe with success has come a little bit of overexposure, and their name doesn't inspire people that they are getting a unique, custom product, the way it used to.

Anyway, I needed a drum for a session in Los Angeles next month, and guessed correctly that this would be the right one for it. Right out of the box it sounds great. I don't think I'll even take off the moleskin the previous owner installed on the batter side. Just a perfect, refined, moderate-volume backbeat drum. Also a great concert snare drum, which I'll be using in lessons.

By the way, to pay for these suckers, I am selling a number of items, including an excellent Keller-shell(!) Slingerland bop set. Checkum out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Snare drum workout in 2/4

Easing back into posting stuff, this is a short snare drum workout in 2/4, based on a simple accent pattern, developing a quasi-rudimental, flam drag/flam accent/flamacue-thing I improvised while warming up on a practice pad. If you don't have your flam drags together, it should be fairly challenging.  

Assume an alternating sticking , except where indicated. A complete workout with this thing would be to play each exercise 4-8 times, going on to the next one without stopping until you've finished the page. I would do that at two tempos: one comfortable, one challenging. Then repeat the entire process leading with the left hand.

Get the pdf

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lots of other business to tend to

New CD, out now! 
My apologies for the lack of blogging. I haven't forgotten about you. We're in the middle of the big publicity push for my new CD, Travelogue, and have been busy the last few days updating my own music site with new airplay, reviews, and such, and finishing a written interview for the Italian All About Jazz site (note to self: book some dates in Italy). And it's the super, duper, really, for sure, not-fooling-around-this-time crunch time for filling out a few open dates on my little October Belgium tour. As well as being hey-buddy-time-to-get-serious-time for my not-so-little April '15 Europe tour.

I'm also selling a lot of stuff to pay for my new set of Sonor Phonics (and an older, Craviotto-built custom snare drum), which takes some time. And the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival is this week, so there's lots of action in Portland related to that...

BUT: Next month I'll be doing a recording session in Los Angeles with my old friend, songwriter and bassist Kirk Ross, and on the session will be the pianist Geoff Keezer; so I'll be practicing my fool head off in the coming weeks, which always means lots of new stuff on the blog. So stick around, more stuff coming soon...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You're improvising wrong

Or so says blogger, and composer Aaron Gervais. I thought he was mainly into trolling artists on economic issues, but then I saw this post, “Most Artists Don’t Really Get Creativity”, and I thought, OK, guy, tell me about it. 

The myth of free improvisation 
by Aaron Gervais

OK, I can dig it. If you really want to get philosophical, I think freedom in music is a little bit of a false concept. You are always a servant of the music, and you are never really free to do whatever you want independent of that. You can be, but it's bad practice— it causes bad music. All the word free really means is that you're making the whole thing up on the spot, and not playing a pre-composed piece in the traditional sense. It can also be a matter of degree— taking more or fewer liberties within a style. Philosophical questions like what is musical freedom? and how free are we improvising, like, really? are somewhat academic, and I and the players I know don't dedicate a lot of energy to them.

Certain types of free improvisation also have a tendency toward substituting actual creativity for mysticism. When people say they’re doing free improvisation, most of the time the thing they’re actually doing is not so much free as it is habitual. Unless forced otherwise by some structure, we have a tendency to do what is most comfortable. Non-improvising interpreters put effort into learning music that pushes them in new directions and leads to self-discovery. Similarly, more traditional improvisers work within boundaries that force them to stretch themselves, again leading to self-discovery. Free improvisers, on the other hand, are at much greater risk of falling back on clichés.

To say that free players (if we're going to treat them as a distinct group) are at a much greater risk of relying on clichés than someone who improvises within traditional structures— like, say, a blues saxophonist. Or even a bebop saxophonist. Or a non-improvising musician, who never creates anything— is absurd. You don't want to just barf up pre-packaged licks all day, but clichés, learned material, and favorite ideas are part of the terrain of music with any degree of improvisation; their presence is not a bad thing.

I don't know what he's talking about in re: “self-discovery”; since when is that the major purpose of a musician?

This is why so many free improv performances sound essentially identical. Yes, they’re technically all unique little snowflakes, but the human mind does not have an infinite capacity for appreciating shades of grey. You could say that, in actual practice, there are a handful of “pieces” in the free improv repertoire that are known collectively and interpreted, with minor variation, by the vast majority of practitioners—there’s probably less variety in free improv than in a jazz fakebook.

There's a lot of variety in a jazz fake book, so that's not as minimizing a thing as he's trying to make it. Like, there are hundreds of tunes in there, in many styles, by many dozens of composers— composers like this guy is supposed to be. I find it highly strange that a composer would speak so dismissively about some of the greatest people of the last 100 years, in his own field.

I'm also wondering how he figures that these improvised pieces all sound “identical”. Do they all feature the same instrumentation, the same players, with the same textures? Are they all played in the same key (or no key), the same meter (or no meter), the same defined or implied tempo? With the same overall structure? Same emergent melodies and accompaniment? That shit is supposed to matter. The specifics. And even if the music did all sound kind of the same, is that not also the case with, say, any random selection of late 18th century Viennese string quartets, or British Invasion songs, or Delta Blues 78s, or American Songbook tunes? What am I supposed to make of a composer who talks about music in such stereotypical terms?

Continued after the break:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Some cymbals FS, too...

UPDATE: Pictures added! It looks like the Bosphorus and the Zildjian 16" may be sold— just waiting to complete that sale.

While we're at it I'm going to need to sell some cymbals. Here's what I'm willing to part with, barely:

SOLD — 22" Bosphorus Turk Original Ride — 2670 grams
Light, jazz-weight cymbal. Records great, good for very low-volume live settings. All normal-light Bosphoruses sound great. $250 +shipping.

It's the main ride on this track— on that entire album, in fact. And Little Played Little Bird, and Travelogue. Why am I selling this thing, again?

19" Meinl Byzance Jazz Ride
Unsure of the weight in grams, but I'd call it a light medium. Gives a beautiful, lush, full crash. $190/shipping

20" Paiste Sound Formula Full Ride

I'd call it a medium heavy. Dense layer of overtones, high pitched, but darkish, and fairly complex. I've written about this cymbal before— it's sort of a poor man's Sound Creation Dark Ride. Also makes a good Billy Higgins cymbal. Used this on my 2012 Europe tour, playing jazz. Drilled by Gregg Keplinger for six rivets. $150/shipping

SOLD — 16" A. Zildjian Medium Ride 

Late 70's? It's tiny, but handles exactly like every other Zildjian Medium Ride you've ever played. Nobody's playing rides this small any more, but if you're playing a lot of Bossa Nova, this would be a really cool cymbal. Or trad jazz/dixieland, whatever. $90/shipping.

Oh, and a snare, too:
6x15" Slingerland TDR Concert King snare drum
Slingerland's top of the line wood shells at the time, which were 5-ply maple and mahogany; nice modern (and original) TDR strainer. This model has single lug casings. With new Evans heads, and Puresound snares. $250/shipping

Drums for sale!

At a recording session in 2011.
SECOND UPDATE: Pictures added! 

UPDATE: I went ahead and got those drums, a Sonor Phonic bop kit, so I will be needing to sell the Slingerlands. You can hear them on my Bandcamp page— they're on both Travelogue and Little Played Little Bird. Let's say $1300, plus shipping, if anyone is interested. Email me if you have questions, want to see more pictures, whatever...

Considering selling my early-90's Keller-shell Slingerland jazz set to finance the purchase of another set of drums I reeelly want. Because of the sizes, quality, and the fact they were selling relatively cheaply at the time, there were a lot of New York jazz guys buying these during the few years they were available, I'm told.

The set includes an 18" bass drum, 10 and 12" mounted toms (with RIMS mounts), and a 14" floor tom, all in standard depths. Includes a bass drum mounted cymbal holder, which I really like. Finish is a white marine pearl wrap; they look great, but pearl finishes aren't really my thing, and I was intending to get them re-wrapped, or de-wrapped and refinished at some point.

These are really good drums. Because of the better hardware and Keller shells, I actually prefer these over any other Slingerlands I've played. I believe DW is making their own shells now, but for a long time, like when they were considered to be the absolute shit, they were getting their shells from Keller. Since I got this set, I sidelined my late 80's “progressive jazz” configuration Gretsch set, and have used these on my last two records, and everything else. I could've played these quite happily for the rest of my career, but these other drums are something of a Holy Grail for me, and I can't bring myself to sell the Gretsch...

More pictures after the break: