Year 2, Month 1 – January

This Duo Chronicles theme is called “January.”  It’s about marking time.  While our personal life cycles rarely fit neatly into the calendar year, January does feel like a marker–both a time to reflect on the past and a time to start fresh.  January is two-sided in this way, just like the Roman deity Janus, the god of endings and beginnings whose two faces look to the past and the future.  This is what I had in mind as I was writing this music.

The piece starts with an open bass solo — a meditation or reflection on the past over a single, minor chord. This is followed by the saxophone’s rubato melody statement that transitions us to the piano’s improvisation on the present.  Here, the form has changed slightly and some chords are extended.  At this point, there is a musical conversation occurring that leads into the future, propelled by the saxophone, over a suspended chord whose open sound contrasts with the minor sound we heard during the bass’s opening reflection on the past.

Bassist Dave Captein joins us on this tune.  One would be hard pressed to find a more solid and versatile bassist anywhere. Thanks to Dave for taking part in this.

In this year’s project, we’ll compose, record and disseminate one song a month for the next twelve months.  While not as rigorous as the last series in which we produced  a song every week for a year, this current project will present its own challenges. We plan to arrange pieces for more instruments and include a variety of guest artists.  We’re using four cameras now (two Flips and two iPhones). This presents John with more video editing options, but also makes it more challenging.

We hope you enjoy this Duo Chronicles 2012 project.

Holiday 2011 — O Tannenbaum

A year and a half after finishing the year-long Duo Chronicles project, Clay suggested that we get together and put together a video for the holiday season this year.  After returning from almost three weeks in Europe on tour, I returned home and quickly wrote out an arrangement of “O Tannenbaum” (also known as “O Christmas Tree”).

Just a couple days before Christmas, we found a couple hours in our holiday schedules, dug the lights and cameras out of their boxes and put together this video.  Both of us were excited to be back to the project and doing a recording.  I’m hoping that in 2012 we’ll have some time to work on new projects together.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Duo Chronicles iPhone/iPad app released!

It’s been a while since we’ve had news on the Duo Chronicles front, but today, I have an announcement that we’re pretty excited about: the Duo Chronicles iPhone/iPad app is available in the iTunes app store.

Writing an app has been a goal of mine since I got my first iPhone a few years ago, but I had never devoted the time to learn the new programming skills, partially because I didn’t have an idea for an app that I really wanted to make.

In December of last year, thinking that I was going to have a slow January (which didn’t turn out to be the case, slowing the timeline down a bit), I decided that making a Duo Chronicles app could be a fun learning experience and at the same time give our audience a new (and maybe more fun) way to browse our videos and sheet music.  It started as just an iPhone app, but I quickly realized that the project would be even better viewed on an iPad.  The version that ended up in the app store is a universal binary, which runs on any iOS device.  I think that the experience navigating through the videos in the app turned out really well — it’s fast, easy, and provides a great viewing experience for the videos and (especially in the iPad version) the sheet music.

Within the app, users can view our videos, read the descriptions, see the sheet music, share with friends through email and Facebook, mark videos as a favorite to come back to later, and on the iPad version, even view and post comments to our website.

The app is free, so please download a copy and explore our videos!

Week 52 – The Final Week

Well, we made it.  52 weeks later, we’ve put up a new video every single Tuesday.  Every week, a new arrangement, a new recording, a new video, and most of the time, a new composition altogether.

Most people’s reaction to me mentioning that we’re finishing the project is that they can’t believe it’s been a year already.  In some ways, I agree — it doesn’t seem like that long ago that Clay and I were first trying to figure out what we wanted to do with this series and how we wanted to make it happen.  On the other hand, I’ve learned so much, written so much, and spent so much time uploading and editing video that it really does seem like a year has gone by.

Now that we’re finishing up, I can already tell that I’m going to miss doing this.  Getting the chance to record new music this regularly has been a pleasure.  Learning how to play better as a duo has been a great learning experience — something that will carry through to other projects as well.  In fact, I think that there were plenty of lessons from this project that I’ll be putting to use later, whether they are technical things like how to best compress a video to make it look good on YouTube or more metaphysical things like musical interaction with just two voices.

For the last video, we decided that for the first time, instead of presenting a new piece, we wanted to bring back some of the music from past videos.  Each choice has a bit of a metaphorical reasoning.

Part I is a piece called Chrysalis, which was from week one of the project.  At that point, Clay and I had barely figured out what we were doing, especially in the technical sense.  The original was recorded with one camera, no sound equipment besides the mic on the camera, and the editing was done with iMovie.  We thought it would be fitting to go back and redo the piece with all of our technical and production advancements, as well as with a new musical direction.  If you really want to get metaphorical with the title, you could look at the project emerging from the chrysalis over time and growing.

Part II is Clay’s composition Always April.  Ever since we recorded it, I’ve felt like this piece well represents the musical goals of the project.  It’s certainly jazz-related, although not in a typical swing fashion.  It’s focused on a beautiful melody, with the type of chord changes that we both tend to gravitate towards when writing.  The title also seemed to fit for a piece about the middle section of a year-long project.

Finally, we transition into Part III — a composition of mine called One Foot Forward.  We chose this because of the upbeat energy the piece has, and once again, the metaphorical meaning of the title — we’re finishing this project, but we both have one foot forward into the next already.

Try to make it through all 10 minutes — we’re proud of the last installment that we’ve done.  If you’ve been watching since the beginning, you may enjoy seeing the different directions we take the pieces.  If you’re relatively new to the project, this should give a good glimpse into what we’ve done for the past year.

Thanks so much, new fans and old, for watching!

Week 51 – Long Way Home

I had been working with the elements of this weeks composition “Long Way Home” for a little while. I was hearing other elements besides piano and saxophone to fill out the arrangement. The programmed drum loop was created in a software application called Ableton Live which we played along with, kind of like playing with a drum machine albeit a little more intelligent. This is something I have been wanting explore a little bit more is combining electronics with acoustic instruments in a live setting. This requires thinking about the process much differently than the traditional one track at time in the recording studio way of doing things.
I often think of traveling when I hear music. A lot of my favorite music has that kind of quality to it. Home is a common concept to all of us, although it might mean different things specifically. Getting out of a familiar environment is good and can be inspiring, but arriving back home can comforting. Unfortunately that path is not always linear, hence the long way home.

I had been working with the elements of this weeks composition “Long Way Home” for a little while. I was hearing other elements besides piano and saxophone to fill out the arrangement. The programmed drum loop was created in a software application called Ableton Live which we played along with, kind of like playing with a drum machine albeit a little more intelligent. This is something I have been wanting explore a little bit more is combining electronics with acoustic instruments in a live setting. This requires thinking about the process much differently than the traditional one track at time in the recording studio way of doing things.
I often think of traveling when I hear music. A lot of my favorite music has that kind of quality to it. Home is a common concept to all of us, although it might mean different things specifically. Getting out of a familiar environment is good and can be inspiring, but arriving back home can comforting. Unfortunately that path is not always linear, hence the long way home.

Week 50 – Common Roots

One of the reasons that the Duo Chronicles project has been so much fun for me is that Clay and I have similar approaches to playing jazz and similar influences that guided us to that approach.  “Common Roots,” for example, has a modern-gospel style, similar to something you might hear from Russell Ferrante and the Yellowjackets (the working title was “Ferrante-ish” while I was composing it).

It’s not meant to be a complex song — it’s just meant to feel good.  While experimenting with complex harmonies, rhythms, and melodies can be fun for us to explore, it’s nice to occasionally play something that feels good without pushing into something esoteric just for the sake of complexity.

Week 49 – Aurora

“Aurora” is an attempt to do something new in the Duo Chronicles project — a way to use some techniques that we haven’t yet explored in the 48 previous tunes.

The song is based on a simple melody (in fact, the sheet music we used had the temporary title “Simple Melody”) with an equally simple harmonic underpinning.  If one wanted to analyze it from a jazz point of view, the form is derived from the blues, although you might not realize it without stretching your ears a bit.

The first track we recorded was acoustic piano and flute, but we layered on quite a few other instruments to fill out the sound, including piccolo, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and electronic keyboard (playing a celeste type of sound).

If you listen carefully to the opening sound, when the screen fades to white, the chord that sounds like a synthesizer is actually a technique that Clay suggested that we record after we happened upon it by mistake while warming up.  The chord is actually made by recording the resonance inside the piano made by playing saxophone pointed towards the piano while holding down the sustain pedal.  It took quite a bit of audio editing to make it audible in the mix, but I think it was worth it for the interesting texture.

Week 48 – Law Of Averages

As we head to the final few weeks of the Duo Chronicles project, musically we have covered many different styles of jazz. This weeks tune, “Law Of Averages” has a meditative-gospel sound to my ears. Often music defies one singular category so descriptive terms are piled on and on like, acid-electronic-fusion-contemporary jazz, for example. At a certain point too many adjectives render musical description more confusing than useful. This descriptive process usually varies quite a bit from individual to individual.

The form is based around a repeated six bar chord progression that repeats and is varied somewhat to give a more through-composed feel. Subtle, but effective I think. Just to give a little bit of forward momentum. John and I both take short solos. The music doesn’t necessarily need virtuosic-type solo improvisations, shorter more thematic solos do just fine. Also, I added a track of organ, just to fill out the overall sound, a little bit of musical “glue.” John had a nice idea to trade soloing over the the final chords of the composition; some musical dialogue.

Week 47 – Up in the Air

This New Orleans-inspired piece is a blues of sorts (in the Kind-of-Blue sense) with a second-line type groove.  If I remember correctly, I wrote it just before a jam session, where I tried it out for the first time.  Despite the simple sounding melody and chord changes, it can be a challenge to keep together on the first performance because of a time signature change in the middle of the piece.  It makes perfect sense in context with the melody and the chord changes, but it can throw people for a loop the first time they read it.

Clay and I have been playing this song for a few years now, in a number of different formats, including in an acoustic combo (including with Clay’s group, the Upper Left trio), in an electric fusion group, and as a duo.  In fact, we played this song on our first appearance on a podcast, when I appeared on Strange Love Live for the first time.

For this performance, we rethought the form a bit, but all of the familiar elements are still there.

Week 46 – True North

True North, is thought of as the direction along the earth’s surface towards the geographic North Pole. This the title for this weeks composition. Throughout this project it has been more challenging to write about the music than to work on the music. There is no time really for analysis in the moment, one can be more objective after the fact. Not to say that I  haven’t  found ideas in words and their combinations, because I have.  I think of true north as a metaphor for looking for truth in a direct way. In this case, true north being the path and the North Pole the destination, or the direction of travel at least. In general my aim in composing to capture the essence of a time, place and thought, which also is what recording happens to do.

In thinking about the music from the music point of view, there are elements from classical, jazz and pop in this composition. The influence of jazz, in the harmonies and improvisation, classical, in the through-composed form, and pop, in the repetition of a musical “hook” throughout. That’s just me looking through the lens however, you the listener can draw your own conclusions, and decide what sound means to you.