Week 17 – Holiday Music

This week, we’re bringing you two songs instead of just one.  Also, instead of doing original material, we chose to do arrangements of traditional holiday songs.  With the way that we approached them, I think they still sound like Duo Chronicles – not a total departure from our usual sound into the some-old way that these songs are normally played.

My arrangement of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (video above) has the typical form of the old carol, but departs harmonically into dense chords.  The melody is kept pretty true to the original, though.  In the video, you’ll see footage from Portland, Oregon’s own Peacock Lane.  If you’re not from around here, I’ll explain:  Peacock Lane is a stretch of about four blocks in Southeast Portland where all of the houses get decked out in holiday decorations through the month of December.  People flock to the street to drive or walk through and admire the festivities each night, causing what I’m sure is a nightmare for the residents of the lane.  Clay and I were remarking as we drove past last week that it must be tough on the realtors on that street when they’re about to close the deal on a house and they have to explain that there’s just one more thing to mention – they probably won’t be able to drive up to their house or get any quiet time in the evenings for 1/12th of each year.

Clay’s arrangement of Silent Night is in a similar vein – the basic form of the tune, but with new chords.  That is, until the end when we start trading.  This video has footage from the Heathman Hotel’s holiday decorations.

Happy holidays from Duo Chronicles.

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.

Week 9 – Traveler

I wrote Traveler back when I was in New York going to the Manhattan School of Music.  When played with a full rhythm section, I usually try to go for a Kenny Garrett type of vibe with the piece; the last section of the form lends itself particularly well to that style.

When Clay and I play it as a duo, we take a little more of a subdued approach until the end when we start taking it out a bit more.

A side note: Clay’s piano was tuned just before this session and sounds amazing.