Year 2, Month 10 — October

Clay and I have both had plenty of occasions to playing with Tim Gilson on gigs, but always when he’s playing bass.  For this video, we decided to take advantage of another one of his many talents: playing the cello.  As a side note, people who have seen Tim play bass may have noticed that he tunes his bass in an unusual way.  Rather than tuning in 4ths, like a bass guitar, he tunes in 5ths, like the cello.

The piece I wrote to feature Tim is a genre-bending classical/jazz hybrid.  It has long through-composed sections and two “solo” sections that are really more “improvising” sections than they are “solo” sections, since they don’t feature one musician in particular.

Year 2, Month 4 — April

April’s Duo Chronicles + brings in someone who I had been hoping to collaborate with for a long time.  In fact, when we did our first year of Duo Chronicles videos, we had toyed with the idea of doing an occasional video where we would play duo with someone else and throw it into the series as an extra.  As it turned out, one video a week with the two of us was enough to keep up with and we never did the extra videos, but it seemed like with our guest series during our second year, it was a perfect time to bring in Mike.

Mike has a great ability to fit into a role while still sounding like himself.  He plays piano and vibes and can play old-timey swing just as well as he can play modern jazz.  I decided to take advantage of this and write a tune with a variety of harmonic devices.  The tune overall has a very modal feel to it, but the individual changes add some complexity that Mike handles in a great way.

Year 2, Month 2 — February

It’s the end of February and time for our second video in the Duo Chronicles + series.  After doing one a week for the first year of Duo Chronicles, one a month sure seems like a long time goes by between videos.  Still, though, it seems like we end up scrambling to meet the deadline.

This month’s video features Paul Mazzio on flugelhorn.  Paul is a staple in the Portland scene and has a beautiful tone on both trumpet and flugelhorn that people always want to hear.  There’s a lot of character in his playing, which carries through to the personalities of the bands that he plays with.

Since we’re still in the winter months, the composition is fairly dark and lyrical.  Elements of melody, harmony, and time slide back and forth, rarely settling for more than a couple of bars, much like an Oregon February where you never know quite what to expect, except that it’s probably not going to be a heat wave.

Week 27 – Still Going

Sometimes simplicity is nice.  This week’s song doesn’t have any complex chord changes, any odd meters, or strange phrasing.  It’s just a little pop tune that feels good.

The title, “Still Going,” is a reference to the fact that this song is kicking off the second half of our year-long project.  As we move into weeks 27-52, we’ve just finished the Portland Jazz Festival where we got to see some amazing Norwegian musicians that performed as headliners of the festival.  The most apropos to the Duo Chronicles project was the saxophone/accordion duo of Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli.  They played a beautiful set of melodic music intertwined with sound and texture-based improvisation.  I know that in the second half of our project here I’d love to explore some ideas that they inspired.

Look for new explorations coming in the next few weeks.

Already in the bullpen ready to go is a through-composed song that I wrote based on some of the sounds I heard from the Christian Wallumrod ensemble — another Norwegian group made up of piano, harp, trumpet, cello, violin, and percussion.

Week 15 – Truth

This week’s Duo Chronicles video is a departure from what we’ve done before. Instead of doing a live recording of the tune, we chose to record a basic track of just piano and saxophone, and then layer more parts on top of it.  The whole process took quite a while, but we ended up with:

  1. Piano
  2. Three saxophone tracks
  3. Organ (Nord Electro)
  4. EWI (EWI4000s)
  5. Percussion

We had video of all of the tracks, so the video production is a bit more…involved than it has been.

Regarding the title, I think every composer writes something called Truth at some point in their career.  The great thing about that title, is it means something different and personal for everyone.  For me, Truth in music means not playing something super intellectual because I can, or playing something that fits in the “jazz tradition” (whatever that means) because that’s what I’m supposed to do.  It means writing and playing music that is true to myself.  Sometimes that means a simple tune like this.


If you’re reading this during the week that it comes out, please come to our December 14th show at Jimmy Mak’s!  8-11 PM, no cover.  It will feature Duo Chronicles, the Upper Left Trio, and combinations of members from both groups.

Dec 14th Poster small

Week 14 – New Turns

This week, we take a stab at a tune of mine called “New Turns.”  Actually, we take a couple of stabs at it.  But, instead of posting just one take of the tune like we normally do, we decided to post a regular take and the alternate take.

We keep the melody and form of the tune the same through both takes, but our solos and the trading at the end take pretty different directions.  Each take has its own advantages, but tell us what you think!

Week 13 – Curveball

In baseball, a pitcher uses a variety of different pitches to get batters to miss hitting the ball. With a curveball, the ball appears to be in one place and suddenly moves, possibly to the batter’s dismay.

The element of surprise can be effective in music too. Not necessarily random change, but in taking chances both rhythmically and harmonically. Sometimes the composition presents that itself. The main section for improvising in this week’s tune, “Curveball,” is an 8-bar section where the chords change each measure. Harmonically, they are more related to modes in my mind, both from the major and melodic minor scales. Harmonies are changing quickly here, although repeating in a pattern.  The trick is create a line or texture that uses the notes in common between them. In this case, John and I start out trading a set number of bars then eventually it dissolves into more of a polyphonic texture.

To me this song is a little darker in mood, mainly due to the harmonic tension perhaps, somewhat ECM-ish for these shorter, grayer days.

Week 12 – Always April

The composition this week was originally arranged for solo piano – that is every note written out as in most classical music. Rearranging it, and adapting to a lead sheet form went pretty smoothly and I’m happy with this recorded version. It is more open, breathes, and has a greater range of dynamics. Stylistically, the inspiration comes more from Brahms than Bebop. More theme and variations than free form improvising. Harmonically was trying to achieve a balance between consonance and dissonance. Even a Major 7th chord (usually consonant sound arranged in 3rds) can be rearranged so the interval structure creates more dissonant sound (minor 2nds, 5ths.) After all, intervals are the building blocks of chords. Maybe these are subtle harmonic changes but one that can quite effective I think.

I have named various compositions for months of the year. For me April represents the change that occurs from winter to spring. The change that is always constant.