Words and Music

This is my personal blog, where I can document my interests in words, music, concerts, travel, and guitar-building.

Gary Burton Quartet at Berklee

September 25, 2011 – As soon as I heard that Gary Burton was playing at Berklee with his “new

Poster from concert

quartet”, I knew I had to go. I had seen Julian Lage at Passim with his band and was looking forward to hearing him in this setting as well. Plus the band includes Antonio Sanchez, drums (also plays with Metheny) and Scott Colley, bass (also with Metheny). The story goes that Burton lined up his drummer first and then asked him to choose the best bass player to go along with them and he immediately said, Colley.

In addition, Gary Burton was one of my earliest introductions to jazz, having heard him in 1977 at an Arcosanti festival in Cordes Junction, AZ. I know I have the program book from that festival, but cannot locate it in all the usual places I’ve squirreled away mementos. 🙁

Back to the concert…

Since this was at Berklee, everyone seemed very comfortable on that stage, probably from having played many concerts there over the years as faculty and students. Gary did most of the talking, of course, as the leader. I like that he actually talked to the audience and explained some of their tune choices(Light Blue: “musicians can play these Monk tunes over and over”) and it’s background (Afro Blue: “the first tune written for the new latin jazz genre”).  Here’s the entire set list:

  1. Afro Blue
  2. Never the Same Way (Colley)
  3. I Hear a Rhapsody
  4. Last to Know
  5. Etude (Lage)
  6. Light Blue (Monk)
  7. Common Ground
  8. My Funny Valentine
  9. Did You Get It?

They started with a quiet introduction to Afro Blue by Burton alone, before getting into the melody (doubled by Lage) and solos. Burton is certainly a master of rhythm and melodic improvisation and his bandmates kept up, supporting him throughout the ebbs and flows of a solo. I love how the really great improvisers (and the bands, in general) can move through a song from very quiet and mellow to building up intensity to a crescendo and then transition to the next phase of the tune. That is definitely a sign of both great musicianship and communication among the band members.

Never the Same Way, from the group’s album Common Ground, begins with a bass ostinato introduction before moving to the next section of the melody, a rhythmic vibes melody on top of a blues-y chord progression. This is an extended composition with plenty of room for solos and was actually the longest selection in the concert at over 12 minutes.

“I Hear a Rhapsody”, another standard tune, was a pretty straightforward rendering with solos by Burton, Lage, Sanchez, and Colley. It’s always good to throw in something familiar to keep the audience on your side, so you can expand their range elsewhere in the concert. Burton told a story about how Michael Brecker hated playing at Berklee because of all the musicians likely to be in the audience, Gary says, “but I don’t care…”.

Etude was written by Julian Lage as an exercise for his students (“I feel sorry for his students”, said Burton.), and you can find him playing it on youtube here. Burton said, “When I recorded this on the record, I promised myself I’d never play it again!” and “We started playing this live last week and I think I played it right the third time.” Yes, he even had a very long and wide score in front of him to read thru, which cracked the audience up as he unfolded it on the stands. It was kinda funny watching him shift the paper along as the song progressed. Of course, then they proceeded to play it in unison perfectly. The guitar and vibes have a nice blend to them, both being percussive in attack and in the same range.

Light Blue is an obscure Thelonius Monk tune that had the typical twists and turns of a Monk tune. “He wrote these short, simple, quirky songs that just stick with you.” Apparently he only ever played it once in a concert at Town Hall. I was searching through my iTunes library and turned up a version of Bill Frisell playing it in a live recording I downloaded from ‘who knows where’. I think people like playing these tunes because the melodies are so strong they force you into playing to the strengths of the melody when you solo.

My Funny Valentine opened with an extended intro by Lage, solo. This went on for 6 whole minutes of guitar brilliance, not having too much to do with My Funny Valentine. 🙂 However, the ideas seemed to be endless! There were many different variations on a theme, ranging from folk music to classical until he finally hinted at the real tune the last time through, then passed it off to Burton to state the melody, more or less, with the band backing him.

The encore was “Did You Get It” which is on the Common Ground album. This was a fitting end to the concert and gave everyone a chance to stretch out on their solos. I went home and immediately bought the album. Highly recommended.

Chris

The Splinters Music at Nourish

J Johnson and I did a mini-set at Nourish Open Mike run by Ellen Schmidt. That means instead of the usual one song per act we got to do three songs before the feature act. We started with the fast fiddle tune, June Apple, then slowed it down a bit with Ook Pik Waltz, and ended up with the crowd-pleasing (we hope) Cluck Old Hen. These three songs pretty much sums up what we’re about.

I used my little Canon Elf camera to record it and it came out pretty good, except for the annoying glare from the mirror. Maybe I’ll get the official video from the soundman instead. I’m going to try to replace the audio on these videos with the one from the sound board – we’ll see how that goes in iMovie. 🙂

Enjoy. Here’s June Apple, a traditional fiddle tune in A.

Ook Pik Waltz, by Frankie Rodgers.

Cluck Old Hen, traditional old time song.

Chris

 

Stauffer Style Antique Guitar

I recently picked up this funky little guitar. I put some new strings on it (D’Addario Nylon Folk). Below are some pictures and a brief rendition of Freight Train – sorta – so you can get an idea of how it sounds. It is surprisingly loud for such a little guy. Of course, when it was built some 100 years ago, it was probably used for classical music, but I need to practice that before unleashing a recording. 🙂 The neck is a lot narrower than my other guitars, so fitting my hands on it was my biggest challenge. The strings are fine to play up to around the 5th fret before they get pretty high.

The guitar has maple back and sides and a spruce top. You can see some of the cracks in the top, but they look to have been glued up a while ago. I couldn’t find any markings on the guitar even with a mirror looking around inside.

Stauffer style guitar

Showing the neck

Here’s the recording I made to give you an idea what it sounds like: Freight Train. I didn’t use any effects, just a couple of mikes about 2 feet away recorded to my Xoom H4N digital recorder.

Chris

Hot Club of Cowtown at Club Passim

Went to see Hot Club of Cowtown again on Oct 4, 2011, this time at Club Passim. We first saw them at the Lowell Folk Festival in 2010 on a hot, sweaty summer day and jumped on the chance to see them again in this setting. Club Passim is a great venue for music – the sound is almost always really good and people are there to listen. I think it might be my favorite place in the Boston area to hear live music.

This band is both tight and loose. Tight in that they are locked in synch on the music; loose in that they don’t seem wedded to a particular arrangement or set list. They seem to move freely from improvised sections and even have short discussions on what to play next, probably depending on the audience mood (and their own moods, of course). I feel a little odd taking pictures at this place because it is sooo obvious, so I didn’t get any good ones, except of the set list below….this keeps me from trying to write down every tune as the concert goes on. 🙂

Set List

If you are not familiar with them, there’s always youtube! They are very engaging performers and you should definitely check them out! They easily move from classic western swing (Sweet Jenny Lee?) to fiddle tune breakdowns (Orange Blossom Special!) to jazz swing (Limehouse Blues). Everyone gets a solo turn and they mix it up between the ballads (Someone to Watch over Me) and burning down the house instrumentals (Acorn Hill Breakdown). They really look like they are having fun on stage; and what’s not to like??

Another good part of Passim’s is you can talk to the performers if you want. They usually hang out by their CD stand and sign stuff or chitchat. I did have to chat up Elana, well, cuz she was just standing there outside! I think I mentioned the Lowell sweatfest and she said, “which year?” “doh!”

All for now!

Chris

 

Bob Dylan at House of Blues

Bob Dylan Tour PosterOn August 21, 2011, the whole family, boys included, went to see Bob Dylan at the House of Blues in Boston, in the shadow of Fenway Park. I had to get tickets through stubhub for more than face value, let’s just say, because even though I had looked on ticketmaster/livenation the minute tix were available to the public, none were. I have a brief rant about that, too – Dear Livenation.com, if the concert is sold out, don’t make me search for tickets only to find out there are none left.

Anyhooooo….

The concert started at 8 and since HOB is one of those places where you have to stand, I wanted to make sure we got a decent spot when the doors opened at 7 pm. Lucas and I got dropped off early and got in line. Apparently, you could pay another $10 to get in the OTHER LINE, which meant you could go before the plebes in the real line. What a rip-off. We were about 10 people back in the line, and I already paid enough!  Money buys access, no surprise there.

One stressful part was that I had forgotten to bring the tickets with me when we got dropped off, so I was sweating bullets until Emily and Zach showed up. Once the doors opened, the process was fairly orderly and we got a standing spot about 15 people back or so. Other than the standing around part, it was all good. The crowd was a mix of old and young. They were enthusiastic, but not obnoxious. Typical of a Boston crowd, there were some folks who tried to move in on our space, but we put up a good blocking strategy, at least until the concert started. Then the short woman in back of us asked if she could move ahead so she could see and I let her.

As to the music, the band was tight and Dylan looked to be in a good mood. His singing, if you call it that, was not so good. I describe it as a Miles Davis rap. You can get an idea by watching this video from the concert that someone posted on youtube. I didn’t even know what song he was playing until the chorus! It sounded worse out front, too. The concert was well worth going to, however, but certainly the first thing you notice is how the voice had gotten worse.

Dylan Concert

The band was killer! I think the 2 guitarists each had guitar techs with them. They were constantly changing instruments. In addition to the guitars, there was a multi-instrumentalist who switched among steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and who knows what else. Bob himself played some electric guitar (with some mighty fine solos) as well as the ‘cheesy’ organ and harmonica.

Here’s the set list, courtesy of Harold Lepidus.

1.  Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2.  Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
3.  Things Have Changed
4.  Tangled Up In Blue
5.  Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
6.  Mississippi
7.  Summer Days
8.  Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
9.  High Water (For Charley Patton)
10.  Simple Twist Of Fate
11.  Highway 61 Revisited
12.  Blind Willie McTell
13.  Thunder On The Mountain
14.  Ballad Of A Thin Man

Encores
15.  Like A Rolling Stone
16.  All Along The Watchtower
17.  Blowin’ In The Wind
Here’s the Boston Globe review and an excerpt from Jonathan Perry:

“A loose and rollicking reading of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’’ kicked things off on a promising note. In fact, for much of his 110-minute set, Dylan was an animated (for him) presence, alternating between organ and electric guitar, and playing a good amount of bleating – and bleeding-around-the-edges – harmonica. A knotty pair of expressive, satisfyingly cluttered harp solos imbued the slow simmer of “Tangled Up In Blue’’ with a disheveled fervor, while the newer “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’’ also benefited from Dylan’s harmonica coloring a gospel-tinged groove.”

There’s a bunch of videos of the concert on youtube, all illegally shot, but who cares? Check it out and buy his music.

The last time I saw Bob Dylan (I think) was in 1976 in Fort Collins, CO from which the album “Hard Rain” was recorded. Let me tell you, it was not a good time being outside in the rain and mud. This was much better!

Chris

Boston, MA

Lowell Folk Festival 2011

The Lowell Folk Festival was held once again in Lowell, MA on July 30, 31. We ended up going on Sunday and met J and Jennifer there. There is always, always, always something interesting going on and new music to discover. Past groups I first heard at Lowell were the likes of Hot Club of Cowtown, Sierra Hull, Kekele, John Doyle and Liz Carroll, La Vent du Nord, James Hand, and a few I’ve forgotten (which is why I write these things down!)

This year there were a few groups I had already heard of that I wanted to see. It’s always hard to plan the schedule…I did hear a bunch of the groups on Saturday on WGBH radio, so some I was okay with missing.

First up was the fiddle traditions workshop with Michael Cleveland (bluegrass), the Quebe Sisters (Texas Swing), and guys from La Vent Du Nord (quebecois) and Dervish (celtic). This was really interesting because they went around and took turns playing songs in their own style. They also played together on a few common tunes that cut across the traditions.

Here’s the list I wrote down:

  • Yellow Rose Waltz
  • Sally Goodin
  • Fisher’s Hornpipe
  • Yearning
  • Flatbush Waltz
  • Sweet Georgia Brown
  • St. Anne’s Reel (and we were at St Anne’s Church!)

You could tell the Quebe Sisters were not too comfortable playing outside their carefully arranged songs for 3 fiddles in harmony. They really could not jump in a jam – or they were too intimidated to do so. They were good at what they did, however! It was fun to hear everyone together in this setting.

After that, we went to Boardinghouse Park for the Birmingham Sunlight, a gospel group, who were sensational. Very engaging group.

Next up on the same stage was Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper. They played some hot bluegrass, including his signature tunes – Orange Blossom Special (“a guitar player killer”) and Jerusalem Ridge by Bill Monroe (J and I are tackling that one next…). He did that one as a duet with the mandolin player. I’d seen him do it like that at the Joe Val Festival earlier in the year – very exciting and fast.

As you can see, we were right up close, which is usually not possible at Boardinghouse Park. Maybe it was because we usually go on Saturday but this time was on Sunday = less people there = more space for us! Yay!

This band is really tight and I immediately went home to pick up their new album, called “Fired Up!” but pronounced “Fahrd up” of course. The guitar player does most of the singing and is a fine singer, indeed. They also seemed very humble and genuine, even thanking their festival handler and playing a song dedicated to her. Sounds like they treat the artists right at this one.

After this set, we wandered over to the dance tent to check out the zydeco, but no one was really into dancing anyway, so we moved on to Eddie Pennington (and his son). I’d seen him before at Lowell and since I’ve been known to do a little finger-pickin’ this appealed to me. (Plus, it turns out his guitar is a rare Henderson!) He seemed to be tired to me and kinda mailing it in. Just my impression…that was at the small Market Stage, then we moved on to the Kennedy Plaza for some Quebecois!

Le Vent du Nord was next. I saw them last year and really enjoyed it. It’s a fun group, and they were even on the opening of Prairie Home Companion last weekend!! JFK Plaza is an awful place, similar to Boston City Hall Plaza, only smaller. All concrete and sun! Anyway, lots of people were dancing and they were joined at the end by the Irish band Dervish for some numbers, which was fun. And yes, it was hot, too, at the end of a long weekend of music.

Until next year at Lowell….
Yours truly,
Chris

Splinters at IBM Centennial Celebration

As previously tweeted and facebooked, J and I played at the IBM Centennial Celebration at the Museum of Science. Both of us being IBMers made it convenient, for sure. The event was an “IBM’s Got Talent” show with about 10 acts, ranging from rock and bluegrass to show tunes and dance numbers. I especially enjoyed the Indian dances – one traditional and one Bollywood style. (Somehow I ended up without a program, so I don’t have all the details!)

Each performer had 4 minutes to get it done. This required quite a bit of editing on everyone’s part. That was a common comment backstage, for sure. For our part, we decided to string together 2 fiddle tunes: Salt  Creek followed by Whiskey Before Breakfast. We did the math and as long as the tempo was right, we’d be about 4:15. 🙂 I guess it makes you focus and get to the point to have a time constraint.

We were fourth on the program, which was good – right after the solo singer doing “Memories” from Cats. After us was one of the Indian dances. The venue was the Cahners Theatre, which holds about 300 people. It was standing room only in there, maybe because there was no alcohol served at the party! Anyway, in addition, they also simulcast the show to screens throughout the museum.

Bottom line: we had fun and we nailed the transition to our satisfaction. One of J’s colleagues took a video on his iphone and posted it to Vimeo.


The Splinters at the Boston IBM Centennial Celebration from Paul Beaulieu on Vimeo.

Chris

Lucas got a camera

It looks like Lucas got a camera in Jerusalem yesterday. Photos are starting to appear on Facebook, including this one, that I screen captured. He’ll probably be adding some to his own blog later to help tell the story. This looks like it’s at the Temple on the Mount.

There were a bunch more pics on Facebook. I’m sure we’ll hear more. The blog is quite entertaining.
Chris

(HA! Lyle Lovett’s “Penguins are so sensitive…” is now playing on iTunes! LR is a fan, in case you didn’t know…of penguins, that is.)

Lucas Has A Blog

Follow his adventures in Israel here.
I wish he had a camera!!
Chris

The Splinters Live

J Johnson and I have been hanging out in my basement for a while shedding fiddle tunes. We debuted at the West Roxbury Open Mike night and have played at Roslindale too. One of these days, we’ll get more than 2 songs to play at a real gig. 🙂 We typically include some form of improvisation after playing the melody a few times; and it’s fun to trade 4’s back and forth.

We’re making our way through the bluegrass top 20 tunes like:

  • St. Anne’s Reel
  • Salt Creek
  • Red Haired Boy
  • Billy in the Lowground
  • Whiskey Before Breakfast
  • Cherokee Shuffle
  • E.M.D.
  • Blackberry Blossom
  • Arkansas Traveler
  • Soldier’s Joy
  • Temperance Reel
  • Prisoner’s Waltz (from Tone Poems 1)
  • I Am Pilgrim
  • Shady Grove

We still want to add some more vocals and probably some more swing. We’ve played All of Me and Sweet Georgia Brown, for example, along with Minor Swing, which seem to be popular with the bluegrass/newgrass set. I picked up the Fiddler’s Fakebook recently, so I’m ready to mine it for some of the more obscure tunes to go along with the fan favorites.

We have been influenced by Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, David Grisman, Chris Thile, Bill Frisell, and Frank Zappa, among others.

We put up a web site under The Splinters name. Check it out to listen to some of the basement tapes.

Chris