Northern Daydream 3: Future Proof Past… the concept for my next jazz fusion covers album project takes shape

In late 2019 and early 2020, I recorded Northern Daydream, a collection of covers of some of my favorite jazz fusion-ish songs. Then in the summer of 2020 I created Northern Daydream Volume Two: Miles Behind, a self-deprecatingly titled album of Miles Davis covers.

Not long after that, I came up with a title and tentative track list for the third album in the series: Northern Daydream 3: Future Proof Past. But I lacked the momentum to see it through. When Chick Corea died, I finished an early outtake from the first Northern Daydream project, 500 Miles High. And then I went off on a tangent with my Senioritis album, which ended up including that Chick track along with Pat Metheny’s Minuano (Six Eight), which I had originally been planning for Future Proof Past.

I also decided a couple of the tunes I had planned for the project were perhaps just a bit too ambitious. As challenging as “Minuano” was, it was no comparison to either Don Grolnick’s “Minsk” or Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof.” Was I really going to try to tackle that one???

This summer I decided to take a less structured approach, and instead of preparing an entire album project, I just recorded a few one-offs. A couple of Herbie tracks that had caught my ear, and a Keith Jarrett tune I had already been tinkering with for Future Proof Past.

The thing that got me really interested in revisiting the album concept was a great screenshot from the “Wiggle Waggle” video, which seemed perfect for a new album cover. So, as is often the case, I created the cover before I recorded most of the music:

I had decided I would record a side of Herbie Hancock tracks… then I considered going with all Herbie tracks… but now it seems clear to me that I need to really highlight the contrast between these two great jazz pianists, both of whom were at the peak of their powers in the 1970s.

I find the juxtaposition interesting because both played key (pun… intended?) roles in the development of Miles Davis’s electric style that really represented the birth of jazz fusion, but while Herbie Hancock was always eager to embrace the newest technologies and incorporate them into his music, Keith Jarrett rejected electric instruments entirely after his time with Miles, and ended up being one of the strongest proponents of the continued evolution of acoustic jazz through the 1970s, even though the majority of the genre’s purveyors had firmly embraced electric instruments and the fusion sound.

So, what are we talking about here exactly? This is my planned track listing:

Side H
Sly
Wiggle Waggle
Tell Me a Bedtime Story
Mashup: Rockit / Hidden Shadows

Side K
Le Mistral
Grow Your Own
Sorcery
Mashup: Long as You Know You’re Living Yours / Gaucho (Steely Dan)

“Sly” is from the 1973 classic Head Hunters, arguably the second-biggest jazz album of all time after Kind of Blue. “Wiggle Waggle” and “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” are both from the 1969 soundtrack album Herbie recorded for the first “Fat Albert” TV special, and released on his Fat Albert Rotunda album.

I’m planning a radical de-techno-fying of “Rockit” (from 1983’s Future Shock album), to mix with the esoteric Bitches Brew-esque “Hidden Shadows” from the 1972 album Sextant.

“Le Mistral” is from Keith’s 1974 Treasure Island album. It was the first Keith Jarrett track I heard that made me think, I really want to play this myself. “Grow Your Own” is from Keith’s 1971 album with Gary Burton, and it just sounds to me like music that would’ve been used in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the early ’70s that I would’ve heard a lot as a kid, and which makes it a nice counterpart to the Fat Albert Rotunda tracks!

“Sorcery” is an interesting one I’m still researching… I’m only aware of it existing as live version on a Charles Lloyd album. I really should probably consider making it a mashup with Herbie’s track “The Sorcerer,” which appeared as the title track of a 1967 Miles Davis album and a year later on Herbie’s own Speak Like a Child album. (There’s also a small fragment of “Sorcery” that reminds me of Coltrane’s “Impressions” so maybe there’s something there I can work with as well…)

The “Long As You Know”/”Gaucho” mashup is a bit cheeky… Keith Jarrett famously sued Steely Dan over the similarities between “Gaucho” and his own track from 6 years earlier (from the 1974 Belonging album), so why not mash them up?

I really felt I had to include tracks from both Treasure Island and Belonging — both recorded in 1974 — because at the time Keith Jarrett had two working quartets, one in the U.S. and one in Europe, and it’s interesting to hear the different directions the two groups took.

I’m also going to try to compose two new originals, respectively in the significantly different styles of these two artists. We’ll see what happens with that.

My timeline for this project is fairly long-term since I don’t expect to work on any more of it until after I finish playing in the pit orchestra for a community theater production of The Addams Family in October. But who knows?!

Here are the videos for the three tracks I’ve finished so far:

Getting out of my comfort zone… on bass and in the world

After two years of mostly not performing (or even interacting) with other people, suddenly I find myself thrust deeply into both.

I’m currently rehearsing on bass with the Minneapolis South High Community Jazz Band for a concert in the park on June 3, and I’ll also be playing bass in the pit orchestra (which is neither an orchestra, nor will it be in the “pit” for this show, but on stage!) for Summerset Theatre‘s production of the Queen jukebox musical We Will Rock You in Austin, Minnesota at the end of June.

Going into this, I figured the jarring proximity of other people in the post- (or, ongoing-) covid era would be the hardest thing for me to handle about the experience, but sight-reading sheet music for bass is reminding me of a much more enduring challenge.

I formally studied clarinet from 5th grade through my senior year of college, and I played saxophone in school jazz bands throughout high school and college as well. I was a music major, to boot. But I am entirely self-taught on bass (including reading bass clef), having mostly just played it in rock bands since first picking it up as a sophomore in high school so I could emulate Geddy Lee and Chris Squire.

I would label my bass skills as “intermediate” in general, maybe “intermediate-plus” if I’m feeling generous to myself. But I have three major weaknesses: occasional struggles to coordinate my left and right hands, less-than-instant recognition of notes above the staff in bass clef, and most significantly, a fear of the 6th to 11th frets.

It’s amazing how far you can get playing rock music and rarely venturing above the 5th fret (or outside of the 12th to 17th frets, which are easy to mentally map to the first 5). I have an immediate, instinctive recognition of where the notes on a piece of sheet music in bass clef are on the bass neck, if I’m thinking about the first 5 frets.

The problem is, jazz and musical theater expect a bit more out of a bassist. The past few years of playing in the jazz band (and having played in the pit for Summerset’s production of The Little Mermaid in 2019), along with numerous gigs as a part of 32nd Street Jazz, have forced me to finally learn the middle of the neck. But I still don’t have that immediate instinctive recognition of where the notes are.

And the weird thing about guitar and bass, compared to woodwinds, is that there are multiple places to play just about every note. So when you’re playing, say, a second line B-flat, you need to consider, “Am I going to play this on the 1st fret of the A string, or the 6th fret of the E string?” That consideration depends a lot on what comes next. If the line suddenly soars up to, say, a D above the staff, you really need to be on that 6th fret.

So far so good. If there are just a few sporadic notes, or a repetitive pattern, that sits best in the middle of the neck, I can get that down. But when there’s a fast run with a bunch of accidentals, I’m still just not tracking fast enough to pull it off. Until I have a part down cold, I often find myself in rehearsal panicking in the middle of a measure and quickly dropping back to the first 5 frets, where I immediately know a top-line A-flat is the 1st fret on the G string, for instance. Never mind the fact that in 2 beats I’m going to need to be up at the 9th fret. Eek!

It’s easy to get stuck for a long time as an “intermediate” bassist, especially if you’re in your 40s and not making a living as a musician, because there’s a big bump in the learning curve to get to that advanced level.

But maybe I’m just being too hard on myself. After all, other people are letting me play bass in these situations, so I must be doing it adequately. Right?

New synthwave-y album: Cyan & Magenta

I’m not sure why I’ve gotten out of the habit of promoting my new music here on the blog, but anyway… in addition to a bunch of crazy videos I’ve been posting on YouTube since the pandemic started, I also just finished up this new synthwave-y album called Cyan & Magenta, out now on Bandcamp!

Why I’ve made the snap judgment that Apple Music is crap

First, let’s begin with several paragraphs of me explaining, in general, why I make snap judgments

As I’ve gotten older, my life seems to be more and more about resisting complexity. I want things to be simple. Part of that comes out of the aesthetics and principles of my job. The web has a tendency towards over-complication, and it’s my job to fight that.

Also, more generally, as you get older there are more and more decisions to be made in a day. Every hour, every minute, every second, you have to make a decision about something. It’s overwhelming and drains your soul. I have to prioritize the things that matter to me, and, more and more, cast the rest aside.

When something new comes along, I have to make a snap judgment. Not necessarily a permanent judgment. That would be foolish and self-defeating. But I do need to make that initial choice: whether or not to let this new thing occupy more of my time right now. Essentially, whether or not to give it a chance.

Sometimes I revisit things I never gave a chance the first time around. On rare occasions I discover that I missed out on something good, and I welcome it in. Most of the time, though, I just confirm that I was right to dismiss it in the first place.

Enter, Apple Music

This week’s biggest choice has been whether or not to embrace Apple Music. On the surface, it sounds like a no-brainer. Apple and Music are two of the biggest parts of my life. I have gulped down my glass of Apple Kool-Aid and asked for a refill, please and thank you. I was a music major in college. I make music, I listen to music. Over a span of 30+ years I have collected and pored over and obsessively thought about music.

Come to think of it, that’s probably the problem.

Apple Music seems like it’s for people who don’t already own a lot of music. I suppose all of the streaming music services are. After all, if you owned it, why would you stream it, other than convenience? But even then, you’d probably just stream it from your iTunes or Amazon library (both of which I have done, often).

From my perspective, owning a music library of over 23,000 songs (enough to play for 75 days, 9 hours and 39 minutes straight, 24 hours a day, without repeating a track), the subscription streaming services have never had much appeal, so I’ve never even tried Spotify, Rdio, etc. But, being an Apple fan, I somehow thought their service might be different. Might be for me. But I guess not.

What would a post like this be without a bullet list?

So what is it about Apple Music that has turned me off? It’s many things, actually:

  • The initial experience of picking, by tapping on hovering bubbles, your favorite genres (from a very narrow and mainstream set), and then favorite artists (from suggestions it pulled in from the selected genres), is basically the same as it was in the old Beats Music service, which I had also already tried and abandoned within 24 hours when it first appeared. This process did quickly home in on many artists that I like, but I reloaded at least a dozen times trying to get it to refine the selections further. Even then, the best it came up with were only what I’d really call “second-tier favorites.” (Also, the UX with the bubbles sucks and needs to be fixed.)
  • Once everything was set up, the “For You” screen did offer me a lot of music I like. But, guess what. Almost all of it was music I already own. And of the 2 or 3 selections it offered that I don’t already own, I was either mildly disinterested or they were musicians I actively loathe.
  • Beats 1. What the hell is this? I mean, OK. The chance that I would actually like what they play on a single, worldwide “radio” station that Jimmy Iovine has anything to do with was already less than zero. But I have actually given it a chance 3 or 4 times, and every time I turn it on, it’s the same “underground” alternative hip hop vibe. This is music I do not dislike. I mean, I wasn’t repulsed by it. It wasn’t Celine Dion or Kenny G. But it’s just not what I’m into, and maybe I just didn’t listen long enough but there was no variety in styles. (Granted, other than the one time I listened to it in the car, I haven’t bothered to leave it on for more than one song. But the first song that’s playing when I turn it on is always in this style.)
  • The return of DRM. I can’t say it any better than this, so I won’t even try.

All of that led me to one simple conclusion, and my snap judgment. I do not want to give Apple Music any more time or attention, at least right now. I just want the same convenient access to my own extensive music library that I’ve come to appreciate with iTunes Match. So I’ve turned off auto-renew on my Apple Music subscription. I’m going to make sure I don’t cancel iTunes Match. And, just to be safe, I’m going to re-download and back up my entire library from iTunes Match just in case… you know… someday.

I love Apple’s hardware and, usually, their OS software. But cripes, they just cannot get online services right, can they?

But see, here’s the thing. Remember how I said I sometimes revisit things I hadn’t given a chance the first time around? I feel like here I am revisiting something. I’ll admit I don’t have extremely vivid or extensive memories of it, since I had only initially looked at it so briefly, but to me Apple Music feels very, very much like Beats Music was. To the point where I find it hard to believe they spent much time at all changing anything about it other than simply fusing it into the iTunes ecosystem. Oh, and adding that pointless radio station.

I may still give it another try at some point before the free trial period ends. Maybe I’ll change my mind. But I doubt it.

Follow the money

One last thought, as I try to make sense of what this is really all about. Apple is a big company, and so are the record labels they had to negotiate with to get permission to offer all of this “content.” My very brief experience listening to music through Apple Music consisted mostly (and, rather strangely, if you think about it) of listening to music that I already had in my library. But because I was listening to these songs through an Apple Music subscription instead of playing them directly from my library, Apple was making micropayments to the record labels for the streams.

So, yes, indirectly, I was paying again for music I already purchased. Just a few fractions of a cent really, but still. That’s the business model here. Especially with the concern I mentioned above (this, if you weren’t paying attention) over Apple Music replacing iTunes Match’s “matched” files with DRM-restricted ones (only if you’ve canceled iTunes Match, apparently), I am left feeling pretty cynical over this whole enterprise, and disappointed that Apple would take things in this direction.

But, then again, they bought Beats, so I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Update: HEY, WAIT! Don’t go. This is important.

I’ve discovered a small change in the new version of iTunes for the Mac (version 12.2) that has a huge impact on all of this. This is the version that introduces Apple Music and changes the icon from red to white.

The ability to tell iTunes to download multiple songs at once is gone. It used to be, if you selected multiple songs in your library — like, all of them — and right-clicked (Ctrl-click), the contextual menu had a Download option, right at the top. Click that, and it starts downloading all of the selected songs.

Um, yeah. That’s gone.

The little icon of the cloud with an arrow is still there. You can click it. You can still download songs. ONE. AT. A. TIME. Good luck with that. So, here’s the important thing: If you haven’t upgraded to iTunes 12.2 yet, DON’T. At least, download all of your music first.

Lucky for me, I have access to multiple Macs, and one of them hadn’t been updated yet. Even as I type this I have my external hard drive hooked up to it, and I’ve begun the process of downloading all 23,000+ songs. Should only take a week or so. (Thanks, CenturyLink!)

In light of the above considerations about money and playing ball with the record labels, I can only interpret the removal of this feature in one way.

Update to the update (August 26, 2015)

Regarding my panic in the update above about the removal of the ability to download “make available offline” multiple tracks at once, I should note that in a subsequent update (not sure which; I’m currently running 12.2.2.25) Apple restored this feature. You can now select multiple tracks, and “Make available offline” appears in the contextual menu. And it works.

I think little by little features are going to get rolled back in that those of us who don’t wholeheartedly embrace streaming services in general, and Apple Music in particular, are asking for. But whether or not those restored features will come with improvements to the interface (especially in the iOS Music app) remains to be seen.

Introducing my new album… a ROCK OPERA no less… 8-Bit Time Machine!

Anyone who’s following me on the social medias knows I’ve been working for the past couple of months on what is probably my most absurdly ambitious solo music project to date: a rock opera with a retro-geeky theme.

The album is finished. I’m still working on perfecting the masters before I release it for download and get CDs pressed, but you can now immerse yourself in the full 8-Bit Time Machine experience over on the new website I’ve set up for the album:

8bittimemachine.com

The website features a page for each of the album’s 11 tracks, where you can listen to the track while reading the lyrics and notes about the story. (Note: As the audio is in MP3 format, it will work in Firefox. Any other modern browser that supports HTML5 audio will play the tracks automatically.)

Stay tuned for more information about a final release date!

8-Bit Time Machine

P.S. Yes, there is a track (a rather musical one at that) consisting of nothing but sounds from Atari 2600 games.

P.P.S. Yes, there is also one track with full-on autotuned vocals. How do I rationalize this use of one of my most despised audio technologies? You’ll just have to listen to figure it out.