Week 36 – Open Road, Closed Door

I wrote “Open Road, Closed Door” just a couple of weeks after moving from New York to Portland in November of ’07.  If I remember correctly, the first performance of the song was at the Portland Jazz Festival in February 2008 when I was featured at Darrell Grant’s young artist series at the Old Church.

The song looks complicated on paper — lots of changing time signatures and chord changes, but they all serve the purpose of supporting a rather simple melody — it’s not just complexity for the sake of complexity.  But, while the melody may sound simple, it’s a hard tune to play.

We stick to the stereotypical jazz form on this one — melody, solos, melody, with a vamp at the end — no overdubs, no through-composed sections.  While I definitely enjoy putting together the compositions where we push those boundaries, it’s also nice to get back to a more simple layout like this sometimes.

Week 35 – Another Noon

This week continues my trend of writing pieces that were influenced by specific writers or compositions.  “Another Noon” was heavily influenced by a piece called “Hi Noon” by Justin Morell, a guitarist that I’ve been playing with in the Damian Erskine Project.  Justin’s composition uses a set of drop-two voicings (I’m not going to go into the theory here, but the technique leads to chords that cover a wide range and have a fairly open sound to them) that sound rather melodic on their own, with another melody that seems to float on top of it.

For my composition, I employed the same technique of drop-two voicings with an additional melody, and then filled out some of the inside parts using a woodwind choir made up of flute, soprano sax, alto sax, and bass clarinet.  The result is a simple but lush harmonic foundation for the piece — so simple, that you might not even notice that it’s in 7/4 at first.

In the second half of the composition, the piano part gets rhythmically and harmonically more intense, while the woodwind parts turn to more long, held-out notes than the melodic phrases they were playing earlier.  On top of that, we added a second piano track that has no written part — it’s a sort of abstract solo on top of everything going on with the woodwind and piano ostinato figures.

Seventeen weeks to go and we still have plenty of ideas we’re looking forward to trying out.

Week 34 – Souvenirs of Memory

This week’s video was shot at the home of a friend who has a very nice Steinway piano and some colorful artwork. Location recording can be more tricky logistically, but having done this for a few weeks now everything went surprisingly smoothly.

There is a theme of dualism this composition. First the two alto saxophone tracks. Then in the solo section trading between the piano and alto. I relate this to idea of memory, whether long-term or short-term. How accurate is either really? is memory tied to experience? Does that change over time? Really depends on personal perspective I guess.

Music definitely triggers memory and vice versa. I have listened to a piece of music that I haven’t heard in a while and heard it quite differently. Maybe hearing new things. One thing is for sure, even though music is experienced in a linear-based timeframe, memory can be timeless or even fragmented jumping from place to place.

Have any of you listeners had experiences relating to music and memory?

Week 26 – Any Which Way (But Loose)

Some of you may recognize the title of this tune from a Clint Eastwood movie from years ago. Although not a great movie, I like the title and thought it summed up this weeks tune musically.

About ten years ago I started using manuscript paper notebooks to write down composition ideas, chord voicings etc… Kind of like an artist using a sketch book I suppose. Occasionally I will be browsing through or looking for a particular idea I’ve written down in the notebooks. This weeks tune came about through an idea (first two bars of the bass line) that was a sketch for something else that was from years ago. From there the bass and melody line developed pretty quickly, but I intentionally kept the chord structure open, harmonically speaking. In fact I didn’t really write in chord changes. Not that this is a free tune (music without predefined chord structures.) Rather I thought the melody and bass should imply the chord, giving the improviser freedom and to get away from the chord/scale relationship that sometimes seems too present to me in the improvising processs. In talking about how to approach improvising with my students, I think it is important to remember that a scale merely represents possible note choices to a given harmony, vertically. Musical lines are linear, they exist in time. The challenge is how manage note choices to form these musical lines in time (linear) and also imply the chord changes.

Week 25 – Rejuvenation

“Rejuvination” is a simple tune that I wrote based on the keyboard groove you hear in the intro – sort of an “Afro-Pop” type thing.  Simple chord changes, simple melody, but a good feeling, thus the title.

If you check out the sheet music, you can see that we ditched the original melody that I wrote in favor of having us both play the keyboard figure.  I also play along with the montuno on the bridge some of the time.

Hope you enjoy it – make sure to stick around for the “reprise” at the end.

Week 23 – One Foot Forward

When going through some of our past episodes, I realized that we had very few songs where we can stretch out on our solos over simple chord changes.  Most of our pieces navigate through complex chords (some more than others) rather than just giving us something simple to explore.  Especially since many times one of us gets a first look at the song just a few minutes before we record, we end up devoting a lot of concentration to getting through the changes without mistakes.

In order to give us some freedom from the page, I wrote this song based on a McCoy Tyner sort of vibe with long stretches of D minor to play over.  Of course (because we just couldn’t resist), we added in some complexity in the melody and how we dealt with the form of the piece.  Nonetheless, I think we came away with something a little different than what we’ve done in the past.