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.
One of the goals of this years Duo Chronicles project is to feature a different instrument each month. Guitarist Dan Balmer certainly needs no introduction to people here in the Pacific Northwest. Dan has been a fixture on the Portland music scene for many years. I have collaborated with Dan in the band “Go By Train” for the past ten years, and am familiar with his playing and compositions. He can generate a huge amount of improvisational energy in his playing.
In writing this composition I wanted to create a vehicle for improvisation, but also have a singable melodic line, with some modern jazz harmony underneath mixed in for good measure. Everyone gets a little solo time and we trade ideas at the end of the piece. It was fun to play off John and Dan’s musical ideas.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.