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 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 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 33 – Cascade

When I was thinking of possible titles for this piece of music, flow is a word that kept coming to mind. Flow, in how it relates to water and also the flow of information or knowledge. By definition the word cascade fits perfectly. One of the definitions for cascade is: “a small waterfall, typically one of several that fall in stages down a steep slope.”  I imagine this slope might be slippery as well. The flow of water is also linear, like a live music performance. There is no going back. Each decision leads to the next musical moment. The flow of water is a also seamless in a way that makes time seem irrelevant.

A four-part chorale-like section bookends this piece. I was imagining a 20th century version of a Bach chorale if you will. Instead of a vocal choir,  I orchestrated for soprano saxophone, flute, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. John adeptly creates this woodwind choir through overdubbing. in fact, I think this is his Duo Chronicles debut on bass clarinet. Such a cool sound.

Week 22 – Common Ground

The initial idea for “Common Ground” came pretty quickly and then details like form and instrumentation came together more slowly. A few things come to mind about this tune. One, is how ideas come about in the composing process. I have tried off and on to write away from an instrument altogether. Mostly unsuccessfully unfortunately. There are a couple of reasons why it might be good though. After playing an instrument for a while your hands tend to fall in certain patterns instead of relying on your ear to guide you. So without your instrument you have to really hear your ideas. Also when I’m writing for instruments other than the piano, it really helps to have some knowledge of that instrument’s range, sound etc… In that respect I’m glad I had the experience of playing the trumpet for many years in school bands. One definitely cannot play the trumpet without taking breaths or other woodwind instruments as well for that matter. In this tune I thought some kind of interplay between the soprano sax and flute might be interesting sound and it seemed to work pretty well orchestration-wise. Recently I was playing an instrument that I hadn’t played in a year or so, an old Wurlitzer electric piano. For some reason the sound and feel of the instrument drew out some of the musical ideas in this tune. I think sometimes a certain instrument can do that, not sure why. So perhaps this music wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t been playing on the Wurlitzer? Hard to say.

Lately I’ve listening to music by the Brazilian guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti and I think some of that sound seeped in unconsciously. Also I was thinking about how Antonio Carlos Jobim develops his melodies and harmonic structures. Definitely one of my all time favorite composers. In fact when playing with jazz musicians and it comes time to play a Latin-type tune, most of the time a Jobim tune is suggested. I think there is a reason for that.

As for the title and its meaning? Well not sure if there is a definitive answer but, I am always trying to find a balance (musically and otherwise) between being tied to ideas and being open to unfamiliar ones or the ones that emerge unconsciously. This music seemed to reflect that to me.