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?

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.)