Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Sock Thief

The Sock Thief (mp3) (pdf)

I usually find some time over the Thanksgiving weekend to work on music. This year I came up with (among other things) a waltz that I'm calling "The Sock Thief."

This tune is at least partially inspired by the great new book Timeless: the music of John Abercrombie (with commentary by the composer), a collection of original tunes by one of my favorite musicians. I've been a big fan of Abercrombie ever since I bought the first Gateway album (his trio with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette) back in the Seventies. I have dozens of recordings of him, either as a leader or a co-conspirator. I especially love the two duo records he made with Ralph Towner (another of my favorite musicians and composers)  and I have a great memory of seeing/hearing the two of them in concert long ago in Louisville. His playing is awesome and his tunes are always interesting. So I love this book.

Time after time in his commentary Abercrombie talks about one of his tunes as being "simple." I have no doubt that he sees these tunes that way but, for me, they are beautifully complex. On Thursday morning I sat down on the bed with my mandolin and, after playing bits of some of the tunes in the Timeless book, I set out to write a simple, but interesting, tune.

Simple is not usually a problem for me and this one started out nicely. I turned off my inner editor ("Oh please, not another A minor arpeggio!") and had a lot of fun. Trouble was that I pretty quickly veered off into multiple sections and lots of notes. Over the course of the next couple of days I whittled most of that away until "The Sock Thief" is now about where I like it. Hope you enjoy it too.

On the technical side, if you sometimes suffer from the "other" MAS (in this case "microphone acquisition syndrome", rather than the more common "mandolin acquisition syndrome") you might be interested to know that I used a brand new MXL 991 mic to record my old Gibson (still with the same Thomastik strings I put on back in September). I purchased it this week as part of holiday special sale, together with the larger MXL 990, from Musician's Friend for only $70 for the pair. They aren't Neumanns but the 991 seems to be a fine mic for only $35. (No commercial interest on my part.) I haven't even plugged the 990 in yet, so I can't vouch for it.

Anyway, give "The Sock Thief" a spin and see what you think.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cake On Fire - Waiting (On a Train) - Walk On Dry Leaves

Cake On Fire - Waiting (On a Train) - Walk On Dry Leaves (mp3) (pdf1) (pdf2)

Preparing for a rehearsal day with my friends in Contratopia on Monday I have been looking at recent and older tunes. I put this set of three together this morning as a demo for Patrice, Pat and Erik and then figured I might as well use it here as well.

"Waiting" has a long story behind it, ask me about it sometime. It also has me making a few mistakes in the repeat of the first A section. You can think of them as variations if you want.

"Walk On Dry Leaves" has appeared in this blog before, in October of 2012. It's played faster here and I've changed the melody to make that easier to do.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Brush Pile Birds

Brush Pile Birds (mp3) (pdf)

A tune from a month or so ago. I've already forgotten how I chose the title but I can easily picture the brush pile in our backyard a couple of years ago with a gaggle of little birds waiting their turn at the feeder.

If you are in the Decorah vicinity I will be playing the mandolin as the guest of pianist Tom Bourcier this coming Tuesday (the 19th) from around 6:00-8:00 in the lobby of the Hotel Winneshiek. We actually rehearsed some the other night and we may play a couple of my waltzes as part of our set on Tuesday.

Stop in if you are downtown that night. The music is free and promises to be fun.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Smitten, once again

Smitten (pdf lead sheet)

Above is a video of Mark Davis and myself playing my waltz "Smitten" at the end of the Saturday afternoon open mic session during the 2013 Classical Mandolin Society of America convention in Regina, Saskatchewan. Michael Tognetti has done a great job of making a whole series of videos from the convention available. You can find them (along with dozens of excellent photos by Kelly Paul) here:

This particular performance came about because Col Bernau & Lea O'Brien came all the way from Australia to the Regina convention. When I met them Lea reminded me that, years ago, they had contacted me about using "Smitten" and my "Wedding March Set" as part of their wedding festivities in Oz.

Late on Thursday of the convention I was playing some music in a group that included Mark Davis and it occurred to me that Mark would make an ideal guitar partner for a duo performance of "Smitten", and that we could possibly surprise Col and Lea at some point during the convention.

So, I asked Mark and I pulled up the lead sheet of the tune from the Contratopia Tunebook on my tablet for him to look at. We ran through the tune once that night and it was fun. I then signed us up to perform at the Saturday open mic.

Things don't always go smoothly and a larger than usual number of groups wanted to perform on Saturday. Time was short and I told Mark and Jonathan Rudie (who was managing the lineup and keeping time) that we could skip our piece and play it for Col and Lea in a less public forum later.

At the last minute Mark (who was playing in the final group of the concert) suggested we quickly do "Smitten" as the very last piece. So what you see on video begins as a fairly hurried performance (remember Mark had only seen the music once before a couple of days earlier) but settles into something pretty nice.

"Smitten" is a tune I've played hundreds of times with Contratopia but always on guitar. I almost never get to play the melody on mandolin. So this version is fun for me to hear too. I'm usually pretty critical of recordings of myself, especially video, but I quite like this one. I hope you do also. (btw, Lea and Col were in the front row and I think they were pleasantly surprised as well.)

Historical note: Long time readers of this blog (all five of you) might recall that "Smitten" appeared back in June, 2007 in a different youtube video. That one featured a performance of my mandolin orchestra arrangement of the piece by my English friends the Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra. The original link to that video seems to have been disabled but I believe you can still view it here:

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