A tribute to Chick Corea (1941-2021)

This week we lost one of the all-time great jazz musicians: pianist, composer and bandleader Chick Corea. He first came to prominence as a sideman in the ’60s, eventually joining Miles Davis’s Lost Quintet around 1968, and very notably playing on the revolutionary fusion album Bitches Brew. In the ’70s he formed his own highly influential jazz fusion band, Return to Forever, and he continued to play a major role in both the fusion and traditional jazz scenes for the rest of his life.

He was also a Scientologist, which… well, I’m just putting it out there.

My introduction to Chick was, sadly, probably the least enduring of his work, the extremely ’80s (in a bad way) Elektric Band. I bought the newly-released fourth Elektric Band CD in high school when I was just discovering jazz, and it did nothing for me, so I kind of ignored Chick for many years, until the classic Return to Forever lineup (Chick, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White) reunited to tour in the 2000s. I saw them live and was blown away, and then I began to explore Chick’s amazing work from the ’60s and ’70s… all of the RTF albums, plus albums like 1978’s Friends (which featured Smurfs on the cover, before they were “a thing” here in the U.S., at least), Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968) and my absolute favorite, Light as a Feather from 1973.

In addition to that Return to Forever show, I also got to see Chick play with Steve Gadd at the Dakota Jazz Club here in Minneapolis in 2017. That show was a lifetime music highlight for me… two of my favorite musicians in an intimate venue. (We were sitting in the mezzanine, directly above and behind Steve Gadd’s drum kit, so I could watch everything he was doing!)

Last year when I was working on my Northern Daydream album, there were two additional tracks I had originally intended to include but abandoned midway through: Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” and Chick Corea’s “500 Miles High,” from Light as a Feather.

Yesterday I decided I needed to pay tribute to Chick by finishing my recording of “500 Miles High” with an accompanying video. Problem is, I had not started doing video yet when I recorded the fretless bass and electric piano parts (the only parts I had recorded) last year, so I had to start over. Luckily I still had the Logic project file, so I had a head start on doing the re-recording. I managed in one 8-hour blast to record new bass and electric piano parts, as well as the tenor sax and drum parts I had never gotten to the first time around, mix and master the recording, edit together the video, and even add an animated opening title sequence! It was definitely the fastest I’ve ever turned around a project like this, but I wanted to keep the momentum going.

Here it is!

In case you’re wondering about this weird orange space I record in, a bit of the secret is revealed near my sock-feet in the keyboard shot.

Sadly I do not (yet) have a proper recording booth built out in my house, but I do have a freestanding space in the basement, created by hanging four heavy moving blankets from the rafters, to form a 5′ x 5′ “booth” of sorts, with a fifth blanket above as a ceiling. A patchwork of rugs on the floor completes the sound dampening effect. It is most definitely not soundproof, but it is acoustically “dry,” which I have come to realize is more important!

The only downside is it’s right next to the furnace, so I do have to turn the heat off when I’m recording with microphones! But any other noise from upstairs — talking, walking around, etc. — does not get picked up noticeably by the mics.

This is better than the sound booth I created in a small closet at the shop I was renting for several years. I spent several hundred dollars on acoustical foam to cover every inch of the inside of that closet, but it could not compensate for the fact that Pizza Hut’s walk-in freezer was directly on the other side of the wall!

Pat Metheny’s orchestrion project

What’s an orchestrion, you ask? Wikipedia (of course) has the answer:

An orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra or band.

Legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny recently recorded an orchestrion-based album, and he’s taking it on the road. A friend and I are going to see the show when it comes through town in May. I can’t wait!

A Room 34 Christmas — Updated

This is my official submission for the RPM Holiday Challenge. Same idea, completely different recording. I didn’t quite like the direction my first version of “Greensleeves” was taking, so I started over from scratch, mixing up the rhythms a little (changing it from 6/8 to 9/8) and going for more of a straightforward jazz waltz vibe.

This recording features me on tenor sax, keyboards (electric piano and Mellotron), 5-string electric bass and drum programming.

Apologies to Miles Davis. You’ll know it when you hear it. And if not, so what?

[audio:http://blog.room34.com/wp-content/uploads/underdog/room34_greensleeves.mp3]

Download the MP3
(Right-click and choose the appropriate menu option to save the file.)

OK, winter, we get it

I knew it was probably coming, so it wasn’t a total shock. But still… I woke up this morning to this:

Ugh. It will most likely have melted by noon, I suppose. Not that that will do much to repair my severely damaged psychological state.

Even worse, I’m annoyed that the default CSS for the new WordPress gallery functionality uses float: left so when there are only two images, it doesn’t center them, but leaves a nice, perfectly-sized void where a third photo would have gone. I’ll have to fix that. Speaking of voids, my annoyance (and distraction) at snow and CSS is somewhat compensated for by the smooth “electronic breakbeat jazz” grooves of Revolution Void.

Update, 8:13 AM: Great, now it’s actually snowing more. Take that, global warming! (Yes, please check out that site, if for no other reason than to prove that just because your URL is “globalwarming.org” doesn’t mean you’re a benevolent non-profit trying to save the world.)

Stirring up the “Bitches Brew”

Miles Davis - Bitches BrewThere are some albums in my collection (such as Relayer by Yes, of all things) that I have purchased multiple (and I mean many) times over the years as new and improved versions have been released. But for some reason, after 15 or so years, I’m still stuck with the quiet, murky, horribly mastered original CD release of Bitches Brew, one of the most influential of all Miles Davis albums (all of which are influential in their way). Why? Well, that’s a good question, especially now that I’ve ripped off paid tribute to it with a track on my latest CD, Unnatural Disasters.

The price has probably been the biggest deterrent. Since it’s a double album, and most versions now feature copious bonus tracks, it’s almost impossible to find for less than $20. Even for download. iTunes has it priced at $19.90, and since all but one of the tracks are at least 11 minutes long, you can’t just scoop up the 7 individual tracks for $6.93.

Amazon MP3 Downloads has it priced at a more reasonable $16.99, but here’s the catch: you can still buy all of the individual tracks, even the 27-minute title track, separately for 99 cents each. It requires some more cumbersome clicking around (since ease of use has never been Amazon’s strongest suit, strangely enough), but it’s worth the extra calories burned by your right index finger, and the minute or two all of that takes, to save ten bucks!