Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting ready for NUVO Chamber Trio's performance

Group rehearsal, personal practice, logistics, plan B's and C's. 
Getting everything ready for this Sunday's NUVO Chamber Trio at the Chapel of the Chimes.

Sunday July 20th
Jazz At The Chimes, Oakland

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thank you KCSM

Had a great time chatting with Harry Hall on KCSM last Sunday. Plugging the NUVO Chamber Trio performance this Sunday at Jazz at the Chimes as well as news on my upcoming KRIYA octet album Essentions, which is getting its final touches.

Here are the tracks that were featured on the show: a mix of tracks new, newish and old.

KRIYA Octet - Counterpoint

Cut from the new album, coming out later this year.
NUVO Chamber Trio - Homage a Gismonti, Y'vonim
Chamber jazz trio with me, Sam Bass and Brian Rice. 

The first track is dedicated to Egberto Gismonti, Brazilian composer and master of the ten string guitar.  
The second is an arrangement of a Sephardic piece - hear these and other pieces live this Sunday!

Michael Smolens - Last Rendezvous
From my chamber jazz album, featuring Zakir Hussain on tabla and Oregon reed player Paul McCandless.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hommage a Gismonti (excerpt) - NUVO Chamber Trio

It's really fun doing Hommage a Gismonti with cello versus sax. The cello can play so many functions besides just the melody (like bass lines and counter melodies) and it's great to hear that instrument at high speeds. My piano part (except for my solo) is the only piece in that group's repertoire that is written out note-for-note and is quite demanding ! When I listen to the current video and compare it to the Live Vol. 1 Limbo Eruption duets with Sheldon Brown from 2000, it proves to me that any piece can become manageable given enough time and patience to breakdown the problem areas (particularly around 'grouping'). It's like a very fast car ride through Sao Paulo !

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Composing–Isn’t It Just Like Ironing Your Shirt? Part IV

In this post, we examine Games and Free Writing as tools for the composer.

Here is where Self-Analysis gets applied. Let’s say you’ve noticed that you have a strong tendency to compose songs that start with an 8-bar rhythmic introduction (generally referred to as a vamp ) with your guitar. Also, your lyrics are usually written after you’ve created your vamp. This is likely the reason that your songs don’t have the variety that you’re searching for. A quick way to address this tendency would be to compose three different sets of text, four lines each, on completely different subjects, and create a melody for each without any accompaniment. This game is designed to force you to deal with the inherent differences in text without the distraction of your guitar playing. 

Working on (and even creating) compositional games that focus on a weak area has many advantages. One is that each project can be short, quite short, in fact, so it will feel less intimidating. The next is that no real inspiration is needed for this; you treat it more or less just like a crossword puzzle, something you might do nonchalantly. Another is that it is easier to maintain a sense of detachment when reviewing your efforts because it’s fundamentally an exercise, though you may find yourself surprised to notice ho w invested you’ve become! Lastly, your game needn’t be developed into a completed piece or even performed, so this is a great way of taking the pressure off of the process. I recall one of my composition teachers saying to me, “Michael, your problem is that you think everything you compose has to be made public.” Point taken... 

Free Writing 
Composing without any restrictions is, in a sense, like breathing. It’s essential to maintaining a healthy sense of self-expression and artistic autonomy. If you have the time and focus to be able to fit in your other writing projects (and instrumental and/or vocal assignments), I generally recommend that you always keep it in your schedule to some extent. Depending upon your temperament, you’ll prioritize free writing to suit you, and this will almost certainly fluctuate over time. 

Occasionally, I’ll recommend that a student only listen to and write in one particular style, or in the style of an influential composer, or some specific parameter (a tempo, form, etc.) to address some imbalance in their writing. Let’s say that a writer tends to always write fast pieces with many chord changes. I might suggest that they compose a minute-long, unaccompanied melody where occasional quarter notes are the fastest events in the piece. I might also suggest that they listen to very slow pieces from various folk, classical, and world music traditions to help support this new-found sensibility. A comparable situation would be assigning a student to only make slow “hu” sounds to relieve chronic vocal tension. It’s amazing what a short immersion experience can yield! 

In Part V, wrapping it up with the final two modalities, Skill Building and Listening.