Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Latin Beats

Latin transcribed from professional international bands is tough. I'm spending quite a bit of time practising figures and montunos. Montunos are fairly specified as to 2 - 3 or 3 - 2. In many of the charts there are no indication of 3 - 2 or 2 - 3. I'm trying to learn them from the mp3s. All I have to say is that the latin music I'm playing is definitely worth spending the time. When I've been practising to the tracks, I'm finding it really intense but the more I do it the clearer it becomes of course and it's starting to get that wonderful broad sweep with rhythm units falling in place.

We have an upcoming rehearsal after the first where I played new charts with just three percussion players with no bass. I was quite unprepared and figured I could manage if the bass player was there laying down the Timbao; but no... I was on my own and playing on the tinker toy of electric pianos—I'm taking my own keyboard tonight. It should go better. I feel really connected to a few of their tunes.

The piano's role is really central what with montunos getting quite creative and beautiful on the tracks that I've heard. I'm doing more practise today. The big thing is to be able to synchronize with the complexity and magic of that groove. It's very specific and presents a narrow door into the paradise awaiting once the feel is truly achieved. One of the most common features is the '2' feel in most of the songs. You're either playing on the beat—quite often just one on-beat note in a 2 bar pattern, or, you're anticipating the down beat in 2. Either anticipating beat 1 or beat 2 (n the 2 feel) or, there is an 8th just after the beat. As long as it's felt in 2 it will be easier to play it just right. Most of the time it's pushed 8ths in montunos all the way. Sometimes 2 pushed 8ths and commonly variations on supper-imposed dotted quarters.

The thing I find so encouraging is the overlap that the salza feel, timbao, and montunos bring to other songs an pieces I've been playing. It's quite a revelation.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Beginning of a Moment

The very beginning of a moment is such a continually eluding thing to conceive. Music appears to 'travel' through time and is somehow preconceived by the intention of the musician. The flow of the beat-'space' (groove?) gives us the expectation that a succession of beats will be on time and from that impetus, a larger and still accurate conception of the beat-space can be felt and deduced through multiplication/reduction. One beat, One bar, One section, One chorus and beyond—all eventually can be strongly felt in 'ONE'. How can I say this:? by working with extreme slow tempos. Slow drag ballads are not heard so much and I remember playing a gig with Big Miller and someone from out of the province sat in on drums.

This man (he was a veteran player from Winnipeg) could really really lay down a slow drag ballad. He played brushes and was very at ease with it and was only slightly disturbed by my panicky vibe which didn't throw him but reminded me to buck up and try to get to his space. Big M. had noooo problem singing to that long but palpably strong broad beat. That was beat-space I'll tell you! and of course a lesson in humility for me—but essentially a most important event in my playing history. I'd never played with that kind of a beat—so hard to grab hold of but so at ease.  I felt a little like a ghost who was trying to touch (grab more like) the 'real' physical world realized in that broad playing of that ballad. Yeah it was peace and yet such a challenge to relax to it and most of all trust it !! I was obviously in the presence of a Master player and I hadn't played with someone with that particular kind of depth and subtle conviction. I guess I got through it but I felt then, like I had hardly started to play jazz. Maybe I haven't yet! Getting good at something requires you to do it. We all lament the lack of playing-paying gigs that are such a mainstay for the development of this musical art form.

During my UBC years in the BMUS program (a long time ago) I often practised dead-slow, at times with a metronome and, also, played many adagio/lento movements in Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, so I wasn't unfamiliar with those long slow beats. Practising slowly and accurately with dynamics, even tone, and nimble and precise fingers, playing all the notes of a chord precisely together are a part of the regimen of all serious players—in both classical and jazz. Does this help us with faster tempos? Karl Berger once stated to a class of MacEwanites, the now obvious fact that rhythm and meter are in a matrix or part of a matrix in which double time, half time etc. are laid out. Even if you're playing an uptempo jazz feel, behind that, is the subdivision or multiplication or meter (slow 'under'-beat) that helps one keep the form even though the main meter/rhythm element may be going at breakneck speed.

I've been checking out Charlie Parker recordings listening to the ease with which a tune like "Dizzy" Gillespie's tune, "Bebop" is handled by those players. It definitely has both elements: back breaking speed and a relaxed confidence that could be interpreted as being a broader beat. It's intense and in the moment but almost elusive. The first time I heard Charlie Parker was in 1957 in junior high. There was this interesting teacher (known as Mr. Kennedy) who formed a discussion/art/music club and he played Charlie Parker material for us even though he said he didn't know much about it—can you imagine that happening today except perhaps by a music teacher—this guy wasn't— he was just interested! Very cool, looking back on that. Around that time, I bought a 45 record of Charlie Parker "At the record store" (along with Elvis et al). One side was 'Kim' a 'Rhythm' tune and 'Cheryl' on the other side. I gotta say, I was mystified—Charlie Parker's playing was So fast to me, that I couldn't really make it out, in spite of listening to it many times. I'm not sure if I eventually understood it. It was ELUSIVELY fast !! It has taken all this time for things like that to 'slow down' a little.

Here's a somewhat relevant quote from the 'Gospel' of St. Thomas—attributed to Yeshua who said: "Blessed are those that abide in the beginning" which was preceded by "Where the beginning is, the end will also be." All this was about that, I trust.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Two kinds of music: Latin and .....

'Hear' I go again. I had the privilege of being asked to play in a salsa band: Timbao Vibe. I have less than three weeks to prepare to become an authentic latino-montuno-eating-timbao-feeling-getting-with-the -complexity of the charts and the groove. I'm going to practise the style and learn these charts: yes-sir!
More than anything, its the brotherhood of intensity. Intensity and absolute drive and conviction and this group will settle for nothing less. I'm hoping the lead singer will be happy and not say: "this is not right." My contact person with the band has sent me a book full of montunos and clave exercises that now, I'd wished I'd been practising for a couple of years. Happily, I have mp3's of the entire show.

I had played with them before and kind of handled the gig and even contributed to the energy and that felt good. So maybe (just Maybe) there is a growing future for this music. If I could only speak Spanish a little, that would help a little! I love the way the singers just seem to spit out the lyrics with such a remarkable emphasis. It's very stirring really. It gets to the 'nub,' i.e. where you live.

Jazz is definitely incorporated into this music and that is fun. To be able to play jazzy chords and reflect the jazz chords in the horn arrangements is a challenge but is also kind of a requirement. OK so here's the thing, I know there are lots of aspects to music and people expressing themselves in each individual way, but if I have a vision (not a tragic one), it will be that there might be '2' kinds of music (I'm  kidding a little here). I'm borrowing from the famous Alberta joke, that for some there is only 2 kinds of music: Country AND Western:). So I'm thinking what with all the great latino players in the city (for which I call for a 'Hallelujah'), that there will be roughly 2 kinds of music that might sustain both instrumentalists, and, singers: Latin/salsa definitely, and, Country/folk musics of all dimensions. Of course there is classical and all kinds of jazz and those are often my first choice in listening (There is something called Rock that is popular too [I like that too]). But people of all walks of life will dance to that mighty committed, 'celebrational,' groove that Latin/Timbao brings to the table. So it is on one hand a sophisticated and complex music and on the other it is (keyword here) Accessable.

Truthfully, as I'm struggling to go through this assignment, I'm finding the Timbao so irrepressible that it merges into the jazzier standards I've been playing. It is just so strong. The Clave, Timbao bass-line, and the ever present montuno create a really joyous and powerful rhythmic urgency that at its best, keeps the players/singers/dancers involvement close to a trance-like state. So is this good! (?), of course it is. Adding to this is the icing on the cake: horns/band shots, and lines, and soloist, and vocals, contribute to this unstoppable beat and ecstatic melody—phrasing, that creates music that truly has a life of its own. Now if I could only play it !!!

I'm always impressed by the horn players in the band. They play shots and lines but also on occasion, play these impressive sounding arpeggio patterns that really move with individual parts that really lays down the chords and the rhythm all at once—it blew my mind when I first heard it.

One of the trepidations I had apart from the sheer challenge of the music, is the volume that this group plays on stage. It's got to be hard-driving but this is a band that plays pretty Loud. Little did I think when I was young, that I could lose my hearing, but it has definitely been damaged over 30 years of ensembles at MacEwan (this is documented). I loved to play drums and rim shots were my 'weapon' :) of choice when trying to get a class full of piano players to play with some authority, but now I don't. The hearing damage was noticeable when I was 50 and now 19 years later it's not getting any better if you know what I mean. So 'hear' I go again. Believe me, I wear custom ear plugs (25% reduction) which save my hearing every time I use them but they are not quite a match for these high decibels. We're playing Teddies in Edmonton on Sunday July 21 @10.00 PM and off to Calgary the next day for some sort of festival. It's going to be intense and I'm going to stick my head (and heart) into the roaring flame emitted by this great Salsa band.

One of these days I will write and seriously advocate that we all play softer. The range of expression that is available takes a quantum leap when we play softer. Each note can be an expression of individuality in a line. Playing softer can bring one's playing to life. So that's a topic for another time, but I am very happy to participate with this group because they really sizzle. Thank you one and all for reading this.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Is there enough Music out there?

Well, thanks to my team of partners, I have managed to get an album on itunes, of songs I had recorded in 2003. I wanted to praise the engineer, Pat Strain, and our dearly departed friend, Colin Lay who redesigned the sound of this solo piano recording and in effect 'Mastered' these tracks. I have been blessed by the time and effort invested in this project and others, by my friend—and now pretty much a mentor in many areas, CKM, who continues to amaze.

It's a marvelous feeling to arrive at this point. For years I could not get it together to record myself what with the responsibilities that MacEwan U. demanded (rightly so). Once a recording is on 'tape' it's a question of getting the 'mechanicals' and licensing as most of the songs on this particular album were well known standards, save one, an original: Song For Bill Evans.

Someone (local player of high repute) who has quite a number of CDs in his discography, spoke to me on this subject, that every musician should record, basically, because it's a soul building experience and every new album, even if it costs a lot to produce, is worth it. It's worth it even if the venture doesn't break even. I think this has to be true. I guess one has to have a plan—I confess that I didn't really have a plan for this project but thought I should do it regardless, even if off the cuff (that was the feeling 9 years ago). One of the pluses for me was to be able to play on a good quality grand piano. So I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play on the Con Hall Steinway. That was such a gift. I'm looking forward to playing on the fine quality grands in the various studios in Edmonton if and when I can.

"All" one needs (apart from practising preparation), is mental(/emotional) and spiritual preparation (being responsibile)—there has to be something a lot more that notes. How about a single impetus, a beat, that becomes a 'subdividable' wave of feeling, thought, that floats with an assurance and any beat or melody that is emphasized or, led to by a dynamic, comes from that original impetus and only fuels the surge of this wave. Maybe it's the big beat, but what ever it is, it's a necessary element and it's ultimately a release even though the mind should truly be more involved in the process. Perhaps it could be called an engaged release or as David Liebman called it: 'a relaxed tension.' I once had a 5 minute conversation with Mr. Liebman (in Boston 1992) about a (100 pp) book that I had put together. I outlined the book (The Sound) I had sent him. He's a nice guy and he let me talk him through it.

Timing was everything too—having to fit it in with family duties and teaching.
With this solo piano album, I was kind of living in a dream world and mostly just enjoyed the experience. I wasn't exactly prepared, but did find glimpses of inspiration from the sound of the piano and the fun accrued by my normal on-going piano time—something learned or learned-better every time one sits down to play is a good thing. Which is one good reason why we all need (good) gigs! I'll take a background 'jazz' gig any day if they are to be had. Something interesting always happens.

Costs would be a major factor if I were to record with a trio but I would definitely love to do that—it's a soul building experience after all. Is there enough music out there? There certainly is a lot that is worth listening to and worthy of support. Bill Emes once said to me (sarcastically) when I told him he should record: "Oh sure, just what the world needs, another jazz record." How I would have dearly loved to have heard more from him—an original thinker and profound talent that he was. I'm hearing gifted jazz players who have astounding talent and abilities so that is always inspiring. I guess we've got to like what we do on a deeper level, and that seems to create the feeling that enables the mind to be creative. I find I can get inspired by any music or thought that has some deeper meaning. Music art or any art can be all-consuming and as younger musicians struggle to make a living in music, many still manage to come up with original poetic thoughts and find their voices in the expression of music, besides it's fun and "Soul Building." P.S. check out the next blog up, it features a video of Dave Liebman.