Saturday, December 30, 2017

December's Tunes

I'm in the midst of a goal of writing 50 tunes in the span of a year that I could then, presumably, have as a repertoire to play for fun going forward.  In December, six tunes were added to this project.

Pass Code
Pass Code was written on December 6, 2017.  I don't recall the inspiration behind the A-part.  I had spent the first part of December attempting to "transcribe" melodies out of some of the longer jam sections from Phish's Baker's Dozen run.  The A-part of Pass Code came to me independent of that, but for a B-part I looked to the notes I had transcribed from the Phish jams and saw how it could be directly applied, albeit with a different cadence and rhythm.  Pass Code should have a little lilt to it.

Snow Crawl
Snow Crawl was written over a two day period - December 9 and 10 - when we had a very pretty and non-disruptive snow fall in our area.  This was also the weekend of a local beer crawl that I did not participate in.  Instead I stayed home and this melody flowed out in full.  Show Crawl arrived to me as an existing composition that I simply had to transcribe from my own head by what felt like memory.

Tasting Room
Snow Crawl came to me unexpectedly.  I had been trying to write a sequel for Pass Code, or at least a tune that could be paired with it.  It took over a week of labor to come up with Tasting Room, although the end result seems fairly natural.  I'm not sure if it is original, but it serves my needs for a tune of this sort.

Matching the Breeze
Twenty to twenty-five years ago, long before I ever played a musical instrument, I would write little poems that were more like song lyrics than poems.  None of those writings have survived the years, but I can still recall snippets.  So this month I tried setting some of those to music.  I think it worked out in this case, even if I did steal a little bit from Bob Dylan (musically, not lyrically!).

The Gretchen
It's an annual tradition at my house to play Kokomo Jo's Caribbean Christmas album while putting up the Christmas tree.  The tree usually goes up on the night of Winter Solstice.  There's actually a song called Caribbean Christmas on that album and it got stuck in my head this year.  I don't know or care if I properly transcribed it, but I somehow managed to alter the lyrics to that song and apply it to fit words and themes from song lyrics I had written 20+ years ago about the characters Ray Hawk, Kelly Rainbow and The Gretchen. 

I thought I was being pretty creative to take something written in G-major and alter some of the notes to make it more like an Eastern European scale.  What I ended up with though, were the notes in a B-flat major scale with a tonal center of G, which is the same thing as G-minor.  Anyway, I've got a few traditional tunes in major keys from the West Indies and I pulled from aspects of a couple of those to accidentally put together this minor key AA/BB piece which I am calling Domovoi.  A domovoi is a protective house spirit in Russian folklore.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Playing Advice: A Re-cap of Musical Principles

At one point this blog was partially about the experience of learning to play music as an adult.  I did that even while knowing that my approach and viewpoint was a bit too peculiar to suit such a universal purpose.

With that disclosure, here are some musical notes (to self) - really just a re-cap of musical principles I've been keeping in mind over the last year or more.

Playing Music On An Instrument Is Like Whistling, or A Melody Can Be A Standalone Piece of Music
This stems from the belief that a melody is not something that is derived from or played over a set of chord changes, but that a melody is the music.  When you whistle a song what are you whistling?  Usually it's the vocal melody line.  You whistle it naturally without thinking about it intellectually or theoretically.  Instead of strumming chords and singing, I pluck instrumental melodies on tenor banjo to accomplish what is essentially the same thing as whistling.

This belief in melody also comes from my exposure to Irish music, where the traditional tunes are already complete pieces of music when played as melody lines by an individual on violin, or accordion, or flute, and so on.  My preference for melody may also come from listening to the playing of Jerry Garcia.  His "solos" on almost any conventional Grateful Dead or JGB song were really just further expressions on the vocal melody line.

Tell Your Subliminal Mind That Playing Your Instrument Is A Very Natural Thing To Be Doing
Basically this is simple - loosen up!  Playing and learning music should not be stressful or frustrating.  If you are tense or awkward during the playing of music your body will start to associate that activity with those feelings.  Posture and alignment are important.  Music playing should be a time of enjoyment, comfort and relaxation.

Scale Fingerings For Instruments Tuned in 5ths, or There Are Various Different Ways To Finger A Scale
I once took some mandolin lessons from Dennis Elliot in Richmond, VA, who I highly recommend.  Dennis introduced me to a complete, well thought out technique of closed position scale fingerings for the mandolin that could be applied to any position on the fretboard, starting on any note in the major scale.  This stuck with me even though it's not always easy to implement this technique on the longer scaled tenor banjo.

Then I discovered something called the Never Ending Scale by Dave Haughey, which is kind of like the cello version of the mandolin closed position scale fingerings that Dennis Elliot showed me.  Since tenor banjo is somewhere between cello and mandolin when it comes to scale length, an understanding of both the mandolin and cello closed position scale fingering best practices could lead to a hybrid form that could be fluidly applied to tenor banjo.

There's also the ongoing question of Irish tenor banjo fingering, pertaining most specifically to frets 2 through 5 (or 2 through 7) when playing in first position using open strings where available.  Some use a mandolin technique that assigns the middle finger to frets 3 and 4 and the ring finger to fret 5.  Others, like myself, try to use more of a one-finger-per-fret format that puts the middle finger on fret 3, ring finger on fret 4 and pinkie finger on fret 5.

The Major Scale Is The Foundation For Most Western Music, or Melodies Are Really Just Scale Exercises
The idea of scale fingerings described above really opened me to the section called Seven Worlds in David Reed's extraordinary book Improvise For Real.  The tonal center can be any note of the scale -- seven harmonic environments.

Learning the mnemonic I Don't Punch Like Muhammed A Li has helped me remember the seven modes.  The major scale from note 1 to 1 is known as Ionian, 2 to 2 is Dorian, 3 to 3 is Phrygian, 4 to 4 is Lydian, 5 to 5 is Mixolydian, 6 to 6 is Aeolian, and 7 to 7 is Locrian.  There are two scales that start with L but it's pretty easy to remember that 4 (the Phishy Lydian scale) is the one that you might actually play, while 7 (Locrian) is more theoretical than musically practical.

Melodies are really just scales arranged in a certain order.  Any melody line can be broken down by figuring out which major scale it is using.  A song in A-minor (a key signature with no sharps or flats) is probably using the C-major scale with note six of that scale as its tonal center.

Include Time In Practice For Improvisation, or Play Free
This quote comes from a 2011 JAZZed interview with pianist John Medeski:
I also recommend playing free as part of your practice. First do your technique warm-up and then sit down and play free. You can sit down and play a sunset, you can play an emotion, you can play a scenario – it can be programmatic, it can be romantic, it can be whatever but do it every day as part of your practice. Then you can go work on learning tunes, writing, studying harmony, lines, approach tones – all that other stuff that you need to learn – but first get yourself in a warmed up state and connected to your instrument and then play free. That’s how you find your voice and stay connected to it. That way you know what all these sounds mean to you. You can’t be taking your cues from everybody else – we need to know what every chord and every note means to us and what every combination of those notes means to us. Then when we play them it is coming from us. (John Medeski)
Lastly, Be Open (To All Influences), and Write It Yourself
Melodies can be mined from endless sources:  15 minutes into a Phish jam, sounds from nature, a theme song to a children's show or a TV jingle, adding music to a spoken phrase like “you are tearing me apart Lisa!”.  If you are open at all times the inspiration can come from anywhere.

By Write It Yourself I don't necessarily mean write your own songs or music, although that is one aspect of it.  What I mean is put it in your own words.  Take musical knowledge you are gaining and treat it as if you came up with it yourself.  A hobbyist musician probably doesn't need to have a strict by-the-book music school understanding of all aspects of music theory.  Music theory is really just an attempt to define what is already going on.  So just define it in your own terms.  That may lead to creating your own music under your own terms, which is great too!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Five 2016 Albums I Didn't Hear Until This Year

My best of 2016 list was just five new albums.  Had I known about these five additional recordings, it could have been 10.

Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids - We Be All Africans
Learning about Strut Records this year was a treasure trove of great music.  One of their best newer releases was this album by Idris Ackamoor.  I don't really know much about it other than it sounds good.  Once discovering Strut Records, I checked out every single recording on that label, and this is one of the ones that stood out.  Part African traditional music, part experimental jazz.

Psychic Temple - Plays Music for Airports
Music for Airports, as played by Bang on a Can Allstars, is one of my favorite all-time CDs.  When I learned of this interpretation of that music I was all ears.  Psychic Temple has taken Brian Eno's classic minimalist composition and loosened it up in electrifying ways.  The bonus track, Music for Bus Stops, ventures even farther into Electric Miles territory.  I only wish I had been able to order this on vinyl when it came out.

Kevin Morby - Singing Saw
Morby has put out another album since Singing Saw - called City Music - but for now I'm still catching up on this 2016 release.  There's a reserved, unresolved nature to the songs, waiting to break free.  Kevin Morby's secret weapon might be guitarist Meg Duffy.  She plays that instrument with a skill and depth that seems increasingly hard to come by.

Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom - Otis Was A Polar Bear
From the tradition of great albums with drummers as the band leader.  I may be naive, but the music here sounds as good as anything I could find by digging decades deep into a jazz catalog.  Otis Was A Polar Bear should have more recognition than it has received.  Cornet, clarinet, violin, bass and piano - those instruments combine with Miller's drumming to give this an almost chamber music, Third Stream type of feel.

Nolatet - Dogs
Yeah, this sounds modern but I really can't tell you why.  On the other hand it should be from another time.  The tunes come across as familiar even on first listen, like they are culled from some kind of public domain of the mind meld.  Dogs always seems to go by too fast - ephemeral...not even there.  I swear I heard this in the 90's.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Six Water Grog's Best Albums of 2017

Albums have been around for 70 years, but this list is only about ones that came out in 2017.

Courtney Barnett / Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
This one ended up being my favorite of 2017.  At first I laughed at it sounding exactly as expected: witty yet abstract observational songs about writing songs and playing guitar.  Then it grew and grew into something warm and fuzzy all over - just what was needed this year.  It's debatable as to whether Lotta Sea Lice is more like a Courtney Barnett album or a Kurt Vile album.  Let's just say it's the perfect mixture of both influences.  The drumming on here is great, by the way.

The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
A Deeper Understanding could pass for an ahead of its time 1986 album by a German band trying to sound American.  Its expansive, 66-minute running time follows a pretty consistent path throughout, relying more on atmosphere and sonic delivery than on variations in song form and time signatures.  The overall mood is one of cautious optimism.

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan - Small Town
Small Town might now be my all time favorite Bill Frisell record on account of song selection, demeanor, instrumentation, arrangements, and more.  This is an intimate live album of just Bill Frisell, guitar and Thomas Morgan, bass from a March 2016 run at the Village Vanguard.  The sound is clean and sparse, occasionally adorned by the clinking of cocktail glasses.  Not since East/West has Bill's artistry been so clear.  Thomas Morgan's impeccable bass accompaniment is subtle and psychic.

Ches Smith's We All Break - We All Break
Primarily a percussion album, We All Break combines traditional Haitian drumming with the avant-garde. The band/concept of We All Break is the creation of Ches Smith, a New York city based jazz drummer. Smith composed this music for drumset, two hand percussionists and acoustic piano, and recruited Daniel Brevil and Markus Schwartz - two of his early traditional music mentors - to play the rada and petwo tanbou (Haitian drums) alongside adventurous piano player Matt Mitchell. Success!

Jenny Scheinman - Here on Earth
It is one thing to compose new fiddle tunes, it's a whole 'nother thing to do so from a place of legitimate inspiration that elevates such a traditional practice into an artform.  The music on Here on Earth was inspired by footage captured between 1936 to 1942 by a North Carolina photographer who traveled across the Piedmont, taking short movies of ordinary, small town folks living through the Great Depression.

Conor Oberst - Salutations
Over half of Salutations is a re-do of 2016's brooding solo demo Ruminations. All ten songs from Ruminations plus seven additional ones make up Salutations, now with more polished full-band folk-rock arrangements (thanks to the Felice Brothers).  It's boozy, dark and druggy.  Not really a background music kind of album.  Best for listening with your full attention, hanging on every word.

Afro-Zen Allstars - Greatest Hits
Ready to groove? Then check out this release by Richmond, Virginia's Afro-Zen Allstars. Despite its title, Greatest Hits is the studio debut by this 8-piece+ that channels the psychedelic-soul sounds of 1960's/70's Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. With horns at the forefront, Afro-Zen Allstars' tunes frequently jump out out of the gates with arresting melodies, but also have a way of settling into reflective jams - hence the "zen" part of the band name. The all star band members are cut and pasted from several renowned RVA groups of the past and present, including Bio Ritmo, No BS! Brass, Hotel X, Rattlemouth, and more.

Greg Saunier/Mary Halvorson/Ron Miles - New American Songbooks, Volume 1

Recorded for the magazine Sound American, this concept album documents a first-time meeting between cornetist Ron Miles, Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, and guitarist Mary Halvorson.  The idea was to suggest new standards for the American Songbook: songs with simple, catchy and easy-to-sing melodies that were open to interpretation.  Selections include pieces by Elliott Smith, the Partridge Family and from the score to Star Wars.  The instruments function well together and no one musician outshines the other.

Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse
I had a thing for trumpets, world fusion and vibraphones this year.  All three of those elements combine on this album by London-based trumpeter Yazz Ahmed.  On La Saboteuse, Ahmed takes modal style jamming and applies it to middle eastern scales, and then adds a level of modern production acumen beyond what you might expect from jazz.

WOLF! - 1-800 WOLF!
This actually came out in October 2016 but I didn't hear it until this year.  On record, WOLF! explores guitar driven micro-jams over simple themes inspired by surf rock and spy movie / spaghetti western soundtracks.  Nothing too complex here or overly serious.  Lots of fun.  I bet they can really take these out there live.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Seven November Tunes

Back in June I set a goal of writing 50 tunes in a year's time.  With 7 tunes added in November, I'm now up to 33 total - on the way to having 50 tunes by the end of May 2018.  Calendar-wise, this is the half-way point (6 months in).  The act of writing tunes is now more familiar, however, the concern over when is this going to get difficult is now apparent.  Am I repeating myself?  Falling back on repetitive patterns, characteristics, or intervals?  Is that wrong?  I had these concerns a few times in November.

The first November tune was actually written on November 1st.  To compose it I took some personal catchphrases from my childhood and added melodies to the rhythm of those nonsense sayings.  That supplied an A and B part.  Then I tacked on a winterish melody I had been playing around with to make a C part.  I don't always care if parts go together musically or thematically.  If I was writing them both around the same time then they fit together for other reasons.

Fall Winter Cold

After writing Fall Winter Cold, which arrived almost effortlessly, most of a week went by with no tangible results.  For several days I played around with an idea inspired by the sound of a children's TV show theme and/or a 1950's girl singing act.  I almost gave up until I realized that I might have something there.  What I arrived at was almost too minimal - more of a jingle than a fully fleshed out tune - but I really like it. 

Virginia Fur

I have a book called Musical Scales of the World by Michael Hewitt.  If/when I run I run out of ideas, my thought was that I could refer to that book and see if any melodies could be derived from an unusual scale.  On the morning of November 14th, I had about ten minutes to spare before I had to leave for work so I opened the book randomly to the page on the Major Blues Scale, which, believe it or not, was brand new to me.  The very first thing I played upon looking at that scale has become the A-part to The Sparrow Blues.  It seemed good enough to me.  I wrote down those notes before leaving for work.  By the time I had gotten home that evening I had an idea for the B-part: take a Russian folk melody and alter the notes to conform to the Blues Scale.  I walked in the door, got out the banjo, and within 30 minutes had the B-part.

The Sparrow Blues

The Sparrow Blues was ridiculously easy to come up with and it is super fun to play.  A tough act to follow.  Whatever I came up with next was going to be my 30th tune, so that made things a little more difficult.  It took a few days of ruminating, but I pieced together an odd, chilling melody called Change for a Thirty.  Something I've been doing recently, which really helps, is to quickly make up words to go with the melody.  In this case those words are (A part) "hey now how 'bout you, have you had enough to do, did the seasons change, be the change you're looking for", and (B part) "take it easy don't look back, it's the same old song, be the change you're looking for".

Change for a Thirty

There's a screw in my bed roll isn't anything I had to write - it was just....there.  Words and melody.  It was a non-premeditated improvisation that I played on 11/20/17 in real time out of the blue by thinking/singing the words "there's a screw in my bedroll" (whatever that means) while simultaneously playing a melody to go with it.  Without pausing I added "and it's nailed shut doors ten fold", then "all the people there complain about things that they don't know", then returning to "there's a screw in my bedroll".  I played that part again and knew I needed to go higher for the B-part, so without hesitation I went higher and improvised the words/melody "there's a brighter side I know, through open doors once closed, not ev-ry one needs another one, there's a brighter side I know".  Done.  I played it again, and again, and again to make sure this could legitimately be a composition.  Then slept on it.  I might have ultimately changed one note.  Will this ever happen again?

Screw in my Bedroll

At this point I was good for the month of November.  Five tunes.  I felt pretty sated, but the inspiration kept coming.  Change for a Thirty and Screw in my Bedroll are both pretty dark and cold, so I pulled a switcheroo with a cliche Jamaican-style melody called Job To Do. (formula = melody first > then words > name of tune taken from words).  Before I decided to write and play my own tunes, I had been learning and playing Caribbean melodies.  The 5th tune I wrote - Bougainvillea Moon - is a Caribbean melody, but Job To Do might be the first overtly Caribbean feeling tune since then.  I try to write melodies without any discernible relation to a style of music other than my own, but with Job To Do it's inevitable that it sounds Jamaican.

Job To Do

I was home sick on November 30th with a cold, but not too sick to play the banjo.  So with instrument in hand and the general sound of three songs in my head (I'm A Lonesome Fugitive by Merle Haggard, As I Went Out One Morning by Bob Dylan and Greenville by Lucinda Williams) I started plucking out a melody, with no intention of actually composing a tune on the last day of the month.  Four hours later, after having being sucked down the creative wormhole and forgetting to eat or drink or dwell on the fact that I was congested with a sore throat, I had something.  I love that feeling of churning out a melody.  After letting it sit for 48 hours, I just played through Night Time To Day again this morning and it can stay, having gotten in on the last day of November.

Night Time Today

That was the November re-cap.  I'm 66% of the way at the half-way point.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

John Prine Live Concert Review - The Singing Mailman Delivers

Pretty good, not bad, I can't complain

Actually, every John Prine concert review should be just about the same.  Fully invested audience members are going to be taken on a 90+ minute emotional journey that includes laughter, tears, love and sorrow.  That was the case with the show I saw on 11/11/17 at the Altria Theater in Richmond, VA and it was also the case with the last concert I saw him do about 10 years ago, and yes it was pretty much exactly the same when I first saw him live during the summer of '95.

In all these years the setlist and arrangements haven't changed that much.  A few new songs have trickled in over time, equally as brilliant as the ones before, while a few of the old standards have been left behind.  It doesn't matter.  John Prine is really, really good at writing John Prine songs.

I've been wanting to say something about this most recent concert ever since it happened, but I really can't find the words.  "Nostalgia" isn't exactly what I'm looking for.  Prine's songs have always been loaded with nostalgia, even on his first album when they were new songs.  So it is nostalgia, but it's also not nostalgia.  There was something incredibly enriching and cathartic at this point in time to be completely engrossed in the concert experience.  It felt like a time-jump that could have been any decade among Prine's performing career, and/or a quantum leap to any point along my concert-going life up 'til now.  Time went out the window.

This audience was right there, with him one-hundred percent, just like I remember in Roanoke many years prior.  The energy in the Altria Theater was tingling, same as it ever was.  Prine's genius and delivery perhaps even more apparent than ever before.  His songs are so simple and yet so genuine, the lyrics embedded deeply into the minds of anyone who has ever taken the time to enjoy his music.  Every word hit home and every note rang true on several levels.  I was entertained, to say the least.  Maybe that's part of the nostalgia as well?

ECM Records Catalog Now Streaming

My music nerd intuition told me that the news I learned of last Friday that the entire ECM Records catalog was now available on streaming services such as Spotify was a big deal. The knowledge registered as important - I had a sense that ECM was "cool" - but I honestly didn't know much at all about the German label until the last few days. Previously, I was probably only familiar with ECM because I knew it was the company for which Bill Frisell made some of his first recordings.

I hadn't really even thought about the fact that ECM wasn't streaming before, but past unsuccessful searches for some Pat Metheny and Vijay Iyer records make more sense now.

Over this past weekend I did some research into the ECM catalog and jumped in with open ears ready for discovery. One thing that quickly became apparent is that the music on ECM isn’t quite what I expected, because I wasn’t expecting it to be so “new agey” and “fusiony”, or maybe so minimalist and atmospheric. I’ve only scratched the surface, checking out about 2.5% of the more than 1,600 ECM titles, but so far it’s more Windham Hill than Tzadik; more Kenny G than Coltrane. That perspective will change I'm sure as I hone in on specific areas of interest.

One of the first albums I listened to was A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke by Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith because I had already been hoping to hear that one and it turns out that it is on ECM. Bill Frisell's new double album with Thomas Morgan called Small Town is among the many now streaming. I already own a copy of Small Town on vinyl. It's superb! And of course, my life-long neglect of Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life came to a satisfactory end. That one is a headphones jam for the Jaco effect.

Some other things have had my initial attention. A band called Codona featuring Don Cherry is definitely worth a listen. They offer a global music take on free jazz - bird sounds and sitar. Bassist Dave Holland has made a lot of recordings for ECM. His album Conference of the Birds under the name the David Holland Quartet is the first one of his I've been listening to. It features Anthony Braxton in a surprisingly melodic mood. Charles Lloyd is another ECM guy - at the least the latter half of his career. I don't know where to begin there...maybe The Water is Wide. Come to think of it, Charles Lloyd might be a pretty good example of the ECM sound.

This interest in ECM also offered an opportunity to finally listen to the legendary experimental group Art Ensemble of Chicago. I've run through Urban Bushmen and Nice Guys so far. You definitely have to be in the mood for this and already be accustomed to avant-garde music to appreciate, but I really liked Nice Guys on the second listen. It was too much the first time though.

I should have known about him already, but I learned of guitarist John Abercrombie through this ECM discovery. I can't say that I love his stuff so far, but there's a certain wah-wah funkiness to Gateway that's appealing; similar in some ways to the Jerry Garcia/Howard Wales album Hooteroll from that same time period. Oh's not on ECM, but becoming aware of Abercrombie led to an early band he was in called Stark Reality that I really like so far! Stark Reality reminds me of a zonked-out take on Zappa style music.

There are some mainstays of ECM Records - people like Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem. The early Jan Garbarek stuff, like Afric Pepperbird, has a hip, driving sound. Garbarek's more recent recordings run dangerously close to Kenny G-land, but his keen sense of melody - often from a folk perspective - keeps even these New Age works interesting. In the case of Brahem, it is fascinating to hear his oud in a jazz context but I need more time to develop a better opinion on this type of world fusion music. At times it can sound like a hodge podge.

Other names on the ECM "to do" list include Chick Corea, Eberhard Weber, Paul Motian, Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich.  

Jazz and experimental music is pretty male dominated, but I was reading how ECM is known for featuring female artists. Carla Bley, Meredith Monk and Agnes Buenas Garnas are names that have come up.

I'm glad that ECM has put this music out there, allowing it to be heard by a wider audience. Obtaining vinyl copies of favorite standouts is the next logical step.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

I Wrote Seven More Tunes In October

Mose Tolliver - "Blue Bird"
In June of this year I happened upon a Mose Tolliver painting at the Taubman Museum in Roanoke, VA. Mose Tolliver was an African-American farmer and laborer from rural Alabama who took up painting after a work-related accident crushed his legs and left him unable to walk without crutches. As an adult in his late 40's he became a prolific self-taught artist who would sometimes produce ten or more paintings a day on plywood or fiberboard using house paint. Simple, expressionistic birds, plants, turtles, fish, "Ladies on Scooters", and more were the subjects of his work, painted with an oddly limited palette. I was impressed by Mose T's art brut originality and his outsider status.

At the time of that museum visit I had just begun writing my own tunes and I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. Now, five months and 25+ tunes later, I’ve reached a critical mass where the act of playing/practicing music can now be the same as writing my own tunes and playing the music that I’ve written. Mose Tolliver didn't "cover" Picasso or van Gogh or try to re-interpret their paintings, he created his very own Mose Tolliver paintings.

I think it was Steve Earle who said something to the effect of “they can’t tell you you’re doing it wrong if you write it yourself”. In every situation except for a tune I’ve written myself, there is going to be a source recording (or multiple sources) that sets a standard that I can't live up to. But, what I've realized is that if I take Ornette Coleman's words to heart and make a sound that has no parents, then there is no version other than my version; no better sounding version to compare to my inferior take. The only way for this to be the case is to write the tune myself and consider it a unique piece.

This realization feels like an arrival, especially now that I've got these 25+ tunes under my belt. I thoroughly enjoy the act of creation, of bringing something into this world that didn't exist before. In this case it's melodies, and I don't have to worry about any of the things that tend to frustrate me about music. I just turn on the tap every day and see what's ready to come out.

OK, all that said here are the seven tunes I wrote in October.

Iguana Bridge

Skull Provider

Take It or Leave It Bloom

Common Carriage

Loco Motion


Looks on the Ground


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

CD Collection (Then) vs Vinyl Collection (Now)

My CD buying years were from about 1993 to 2006.  I still have a bunch of these discs in a couple plastic bins.  (For the liner notes, of course).  This collection has a disproportionately large number of Phish and Grateful Dead CDs, followed by Frank Zappa, Norman Blake and John Prine.  Other prominently represented artists include Ween, Medeski Martin and Wood, My Morning Jacket, Gillian Welch, Miles Davis and Leftover Salmon.

It's safe to say that this old CD library is dominated by jamband and Americana music.  During those CD years I subscribed to both Relix and No Depression magazines, gaining music recommendations from each.  I also read Dirty Linen magazine on a regular basis, so there's a fair amount of folk and world music mixed in as well.

After about a ten year span of non-physical music buying - iTunes, online downloading, Spotify - I got on board the retro vinyl trend.  At first I sought out vinyl versions of desert island discs, like The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi, My Morning Jacket Z, Ween The Mollusk, Frank Zappa Grand Wazoo, Culture Two Sevens Clash, The Grateful Dead Reckoning, Tortoise TNT, and Camper Van Beethoven Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

However, with the possible exception of Tortoise, I don't find myself putting on these old favorites very much, if at all.  Instead, the type of music that dominates my record player tends to be both instrumental and older - jazz or jazz-like.  Lots of Sun Ra, plus Mulatu Astatke, Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver, Grant Green, Mary Halvorson, The Souljazz Orchestra - stuff like that.

I don't know what triggered this shift in preferences, but I think it has to do with honing in on an agreeable sound rather than an isolated focus on disparate bands.  For example, I'm sure I could make a Pandora channel centered around Sun Ra or Eric Dolphy and like a much higher percentage of the music it selects than a channel based on Phish, Steve Earle or Wilco.  Another way of looking at it is a festival like Knoxville's Big Ears seems much more appealing at this point in my life than Lockn' or the Newport Folk Festival or DelFest would be.

As I write this, I am sensing a gravitational pull towards music of the 1980's that isn't really nostalgic in my case due to a lack of exposure to it or genuine interest in it until now.  I just listened to The Smiths' first album for the first time last night and enjoyed it a lot.  New Order, The Cure, Joy Division and Bowie must be next.

I'd really like to find some cool instrumental music albums from the 1980's.  Something sorta trippy and groovy with synths.  Maybe like the STS9 or Maserati of the 1980's.  Does that exist?  I checked out some of Herbie Hancock's mid-80's output last weekend and that was getting closer to that feeling.  Arthur's Landing has that dancey, disco sound but that's newer.

There's lots and lots to check out and one thing always leads to another.  New revelations are happening quite frequently.  Music that I never would have considered listening to during the peak of my Grateful Dead related obsession now seems interesting, while The Grateful Dead and all of its offshoots feels momentarily(?) stale due to overexposure.

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Driving Vacation - Nova Scotia in Nine Nights

I've been wanting to visit Nova Scotia for some time now.  In 2018 I hope to make this happen.  The coastal drive I did in fall 2016 from Portland, OR to Los Angeles, CA was one of my favorite vacations of all time.  From the looks of it, Nova Scotia has enough coastal roads to be a North Atlantic Maritime equivalent to the Pacific Coast Highway.

Since this will be my first time in Nova Scotia I feel like I need to see as much of it as possible in the course of the 9 nights I have to spend there.  Much of the tourist information focuses on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton and from what I gather this loop lives up to the hype.  So despite some inclinations toward just spending a leisurely vacation in and around Lunenburg and Wolfville, I am driven to add the 700+ miles it would take to see Cape Breton.

After much rumination, here is the plan I've come up with.

Fly into Halifax. (If I lived closer to Portland, ME I'd consider taking the ferry to Yarmouth).  First two nights in Lunenburg, which is about 70 miles from the airport.  Most flights, after one or two stopovers, arrive to Halifax relatively late in the day/evening and by the time you rent a car and make the drive to Halifax the day is pretty much done.

For the first and only actual full day in Lunenburg my plan is to drive west along the South shore, visiting Hirtle's Beach/Gaff Point and then taking the ferry across the LaHave River, then continuing along 331 toward Broad Cove and Cherry Hill, passing Crescent Beach, Rissers Beach and Green Bay Road along the way.  Then backtracking along 331 with a possible side trip to Petite Reviere Vineyards.  Instead of taking the ferry back across, a fun drive might be continuing along and around the LaHave River, maybe stopping for a walk at Miller Point Peace Park.  I'd want to be back in Lunenburg by mid-afternoon to check out Ironworks Distillery.
The next morning could start with a mission to Blue Rocks just outside Lunenburg before making the 90 minute drive from there to Wolfville.  I need to figure out a couple wineries to check out among the many to choose from in the Wolfville area.  If there's time, an afternoon hike in Blomidon Provincial Park might be possible before checking in to a waterview hotel.  The next day a block of time will need to be set aside to do the Cape Split hike.  I think it's about 5 miles each way on a trail that leads to a rewarding view.  There will need to be time for a post-hike drive to the coastal town of Hall's Harbour, returning along scenic roads back to Wolfville.

The next day could require a lengthy, time consuming drive from Wolfville to Antigonish, especially if I take 215 which passes by the Walton Lighthouse and Burntcoat Head, and continue on to 245 and 337 to the destination of Cape George Lighthouse.  The scenery around Cape George on 337 is supposed to be among the best in all of Nova Scotia.  The town of Antigonish to the south of there should be a decent stopover for the night.

The next day's drive from Antigonish to Baddeck will be a little less demanding, so there should be time to see beaches near Mabou and do a hike in the Mabou Highlands, while also stopping off at the Glenora Distillery for a tasting.
Due to its location along the famed Cabot Trail, Baddeck is a likely choice for an overnight or two.  Driving the Cabot Trail as a loop from Baddeck to Baddeck is about 185 miles, so it's doable in one long day.  I plan on doing it counter clockwise.

After two nights in Baddeck and having checked the Cabot Trail off the list, things may start to get a little more uncommon as the road takes me to Nova Scotia's less traveled Eastern Shore.  Liscomb is about a day's coastal drive from Baddeck. There is supposed to be good hiking there too.

Lunenburg is such an appealing town that it makes sense to spend the first two nights there.  The village of Mahone Bay looks almost equally as enticing, yet it is only seven miles from Lunenburg.  In thinking about the logistics of this trip, I don't mind the idea of spending the last night in Mahone Bay.  It's a very plausible driving distance from Liscomb the night before and only about an hour to the Halifax airport.  If a later flight out can be arranged, then after the night in Mahone Bay there may even be time to see the tourist mecca of Peggy's Cove.  Saving this popular lighthouse for the very end might be a good way to judge its awesomeness.

That's it.  Since I'm only planning for nine nights, I'll have to cut some things out - most noticeably any time in the city of Halifax.  But the point of this vacation is to do scenic coastal drives between rural areas, do some hiking, visit a winery or two, and stay in small waterside villages.  I'm also cutting out the whole western edge from Liverpool to Yarmouth around to Digby and Annapolis Royal, as well as the northern Parrsboro/Advocate Harbour side of the Minas Basin.  Sydney, Tatamagouche, Bras d'Or Lake, Kejimkujik National Park...lots of places.

I have a feeling that I'm going to like Nova Scotia, so after this fact finding high-mileage road trip I'll be better equipped to hone in on a smaller area the next time after this one.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Six Tunes Written in September

I continued to come up with melodies in the month of September - adding six new tunes.  Also in the last month I got a McMillen K-Board, which has had a creative influence.

Here are the six latest tunes.


New Burteeb

Lip Service



Bird Dog's


Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Poor Man's Electric Vibraphone

My fantasy instrument is some type of mallet percussion instrument - like a xylophone, vibraphone or marimba.  Whether being used in the Brazilian Classical/Folk recordings for Ney Rosauro or Uakti; in the jazz of Bobby Hutcherson, Walt Dickerson and many others; in the indigenous music of Guatemala's Marimba Chapinlandia; or in the rock-like settings utilized by Tortoise, Frank Zappa, and more; I just love this melodic yet percussive sound.

I especially like the idea of an electric version of this type of instrument, but considering the costs of a Marimba Lumina, malletKAT, or Xylosynth, I don't think I'll be spending that kind of money on a musical whim any time soon.  A decent quality piano keyboard like the Roland GO:KEYS can be had for $300 or less, so you'd think that someone would have produced an electric synth vibraphone/marimba/xylophone at a similar price point.

Enter Keith McMillen Instruments.  While their $79 K-Board isn't intended to be an electric vibraphone, it comes close to scratching that itch.  In fact, it might be just what I am looking for!

I'm used to playing melodies on an acoustic 4-string tenor banjo, so when I came across the K-Board through an online search last week I wasn't quite sure what technology it was supposed to be.  I assumed an instrument like this would have its own internal sounds, built-in speakers, and power source/battery.  None of that is the case.  After a little bit more digging, I learned of MIDI sound modules like the Midiplus miniEngine  and the MidiTech PianoBox which could provide the necessary power and sounds, as alternatives to a computer or iOS device.

I took a chance and ordered the K-Board, along with the Midiplus MiniEngine Pro and a couple cheap, tiny rubber mallets.  I already own a little speaker that can plug into the headphone jack.  These items arrived yesterday and worked right out of the box!  Here's a sound sample:

The K-Board features 25 chromatic keys, making it super compact and portable.  The bottom row contains the white piano key notes C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C from low to high, while the top row contains the black keys C# D# F# G# A# C# D# F# G# A# (also known as Db Eb Gb Ab Bb Db Eb Gb Ab Bb).

Before ordering I thought about the tunes that I like to play and realized that almost all of them contain melodies that live within that 25-key range.  On my GDAE tuned tenor banjo, it is rare for a tune to have a note higher than the high B of the 7th fret of the E string (the 2nd to highest "white key" on the K-Board) and it is fairly unusual for these same tunes to have a note lower than the open D on the D-string (the 2nd to lowest "white key" note on the K-Board).  Basically, my tunes would fit.

I wasn't sure how that MidiPlus MiniEngine pro would sound, but considering that it looked like the exact same same design as the supposedly German made - and twice as expensive - PianoBox, I opted for the cheaper version and it sounds OK to me.

The K-Board is described as being unbreakable - designed to withstand drink spills and being run over by a vehicle - so I figured it could handle being struck by mallets.  The 25 chromatic keys are designed like mini drumpads anyway, so it wouldn't be that unusual to hit them with a mallet or drumstick.

Having now tried playing it with mallets, I'm not sure if that will be my preferred method or if it will be more enjoyable to play with your fingers.  As someone who once took a typing class and can type on a computer keyboard, I like how the layout of the K-Board's keys - while based on the setup of a piano - could ultimately lend itself to a typing influenced approach.

Despite having less than a day's worth of experience with this instrument, I'm thinking that the K-Board will be fun to play.  It will also be a handy thing to have around for working out melodies by ear.  As a left-handed stringed instrument player, the layout of a keyboard like this is very non-intuitive at first, so it's a great brain exercise to realize that higher notes are to the right, if that makes sense.

My hope is that Keith McMillen Instruments does come out with something actually designed to be an electric vibraphone, at a price range well below the few other items currently on the market.  However, at the moment I don't mind pretending that the K-Board is already that instrument.  I probably would be a two mallet player instead of four, and key size and authenticity aren't as important to me as simply being able to play melody lines in a fun and easygoing way.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding

Labor Day weekend was the perfect time to be introduced to The War on Drugs’ new album A Deeper Understanding. Its expansive, 66-minute running time matched the open-ended luxury of a three-day weekend.

An initial attempt to deride their perceived similarities to other artists - as in trying to sing Tom Petty's "Learning To Fly" lyrics over the "Up All Night" melody - quickly subsided after the first song.

This album was my first proper exposure to The War On Drugs.  It's almost impossible not to draw comparisons as you take in a new (to you) band for the first time.  The best I can come up with is A Deeper Understanding sounds like that late-great 1980's Bob Dylan album that never existed.  The War On Drugs have the uncanny ability to sound both new and familiar.

There is a static nature to the music on A Deeper Understanding that I am finding to be extremely refreshing at this moment in time.  The lack of peaks, boldfaced hooks, rousing sing-along choruses, recycled folk-song lyrics and melodies, crazy time-signatures, and key changes keeps the focus on atmosphere throughout its hour-long plus running time.

The lyrics, when you take time to catch them, are effective at conveying the overall mood of the album, which seems to be cautious optimism.  The lyrics can also be, at times, inconsequential in a (good) way that blends in and serves the music.   

The static consistency I mentioned above does of course have some fluctuation that bubbles out with repeated listens.  Melodies and colorings that weren’t obvious at first start to take shape.  One gets the impression that these little synth keyboard and vibraphone(?) sounds are very carefully placed.

Sequence matters. Like a lot of albums, A Deeper Understanding leads with what could be said are the best three songs back to back. It could also be said that the uniformity of the remaining songs makes the latter half of the album start to drag. 

In actuality, the last 30 or 40 minutes of the album are where it really starts to open up and take form. While songs like "Thinking of A Place" don’t stray too far from the formula, these tracks definitely aren’t trying to be singles and are allowed room to breathe as necessary.

It's been a long, long time since I've heard a new rock album as good as A Deeper Understanding.  I think I prefer to start it mid-way through (side 3 if you have it on vinyl) and let it play through to side 2.  It's just one big loop.  


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Five More "Original" Tunes (There's 13 Now)

On August 5th I posted about the 8 tunes I'd written over the previous 8 weeks.  These were the first 8 tunes I'd ever tried writing.  Well, here it is 4 weeks later and I have 5 more melodic compositions to add to the list.


Phigure It Out



We'll Hum


Saturday, August 26, 2017

How To Get Into Classical Music (A Question, Not A Statement)

I think I like the idea of liking classical music more than I actually like it, if that makes sense.  It can be an enticing, challenging, and artsy style of music to get into for those tired of the same old, same old.  The stiff, stereotypical way in which classical musicians usually perform and present the music - both in their dress and body language - is one of the obstacles a gen-X-er has to overcome, especially if you're automatically drawn to the black t-shirt and corduroy pants adorned, scruffy haired, relaxed coolness of a Jerry Garcia type of vibe.
Answering the question "how to get into classical music?" is different than answering "how to get into rock n roll?"  Rock and roll is such a part of the pop culture that most people from my generation and the one prior couldn't help but be exposed to the commonly held belief that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are the best rock bands.

Being a skeptic, cynic and contrarian, I didn't trust or accept the notion that The Beatles or Stones were the best, so I explored deeply and obsessively only to find out that for my taste that title should go to Phish and then backwards down the number line to various other artists who may or may not fully align with the rock classification but who appeal to me.

Delving into jazz is a bit different too, because you are instantly going to encounter Miles Davis and then it's pretty much downhill from there.  Almost without argument it's easy to see how he is the best ever to define, conform, refine and expand that style of music.  And yet, no one could have told me that I would develop a slight preference toward Sun Ra's eccentric and prolific output over Miles' more tailored approach.
Harry Partch
One tactic for classical is to research the composers that artists like Frank Zappa and Eric Dolphy were listening to.  That'll lead you to people like Stockhausen, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Varèse, Boulez, and Moondog.  In my experience, further research will dig up names like Penderecki, Harry Partch, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, Raymond Scott, Arvo Pärt, Pablo Casals, Philip Glass and Steve Reich.  A bunch of old white dudes.

One thing about classical music that can be confusing is do you seek out the composer, who may have died so long ago that there aren't any actual recordings of him or her playing his or her own music, or do you seek out the group/performer (AKA symphony, AKA orchestra, AKA ensemble, AKA violinist, AKA cellist, et cetera) and focus on their recordings/performances?

Rather than star with Mozart, Beethoven or Bach, I'm assuming that I'd like to start contemporary* and then work back (or forward) from there.  I haven't exactly found my Phish or Sun Ra of the classical world yet, but I'm still looking.  Suggestions are welcome.  Maybe I'll discover that more mainstream movie soundtrack composers like John Williams, Alfred Newman or Ennio Morricone are where it's at.

*None those composers or classical musicians I namechecked above are what you would call new, even the modern ones.  By contrast, in the rock world and even the jazz world I'm aware of artists under 40 who are making great music.  Is there a relatively new composer and/or classical music ensemble offering a vast reward to those who find them?

Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh, Nostalgia Acts, Missed Opportunities

At one point in his life Phil Lesh was an adventurous musician.  He's often described as being some type of weird, mid-20th Century avant-garde composer prior to becoming a founding member of the Grateful Dead.  Then there's that whole head-scratching Seastones thing with Neg Lagin in the 1970's - quadraphonic electronic music.

There's no question that Phil Lesh is/was one of the most influential bassists of the rock era, and perhaps even the best electric bass improviser thus far (looking at you Jaco).  Phil's distinctive low end was certainly an integral part of the Grateful Dead's synergy and drive.  Unfortunately, there aren't many examples of him playing music outside of the Grateful Dead canon.  If there were, I'm guessing that Phil's brilliance would be even more apparent.

For sure, the Grateful Dead took up the majority of his time for the 30 years that they were a touring band.  Difficulties with alcohol during parts of that stretch might have also cut back on Phil's output.  But, in the post-Jerry days since 1995 you'd think that a clean-living Phil might have found some other outlets for his creativity.

However, it seems as though Phil has spent these last 20+ years wrapped up in nostalgia.  Yes, his various Phil and Friends ensembles have consistently found new ways to explore the Grateful Dead songbook, but it's always just been that:  the Grateful Dead songbook.

The fact that Phil never branched out to work with artists outside of the jamband community, and/or never really pursued an original, compositional path post-Grateful Dead is a major loss for the music world.  Just imagine if Phil had revisited his interest in the avant-garde by doing an album of free jazz with the late Ornette Coleman - an artist who remained vital right up until his 2015 passing. Or what if Phil had indulged his composer persona by writing music for one of the many impressive "new" music ensembles around today, such as eighth blackbird.

I recall a Phil and Friends show with guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Billy Martin, but instead of it being an all improv trio set of those two guys + Phil playing all new music, it turned into just another Phil and Friends show where the skills of Frisell and Martin were not really utilized or called for, and we still didn't get to hear Phil in a more experimental context.

Bill Frisell just released a beautiful duo album with bassist Thomas Morgan recorded live at the Village Vanguard (called Small Town).  Thomas Morgan sounds fantastic on it, but just imagine for a moment if it were essentially the same material but with Phil Lesh filling the role of bassist.  It definitely would have modified the vibe to have Phil in that historic room due to the expectations of the crowds it would have drawn, but I would love to have a recording like this.

Last night I tuned in to a few minutes of the LOCKN webcast.  After waiting for that awful Warren Haynes set to finish 30 minutes past its allotted time, I watched a couple songs of the Phil/Bobby Terrapin Station set.  If performing an entire album you recorded in the late 70's song-for-song isn't nostalgia, then I don't know what is.  What I saw was not a good performance or interpretation of the music.  The only guiding light was that - amidst all the missed cues, flubbed lyrics, lack of direction, confusion and other sorts of Bobby-related failure - there was Phil's pristine bass guitar, sounding just as incredible as always, if not more.

It was bittersweet to hear this man in this context, on stage part of a group that is trying (and failing) to make something interesting when it is not.  And yet, with every note he played, Phil conveyed an artistry that belied its surroundings.  Too bad we'll never get to hear that side of Phil to its fullest extent.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Deep Post-Phish Late Summer 2017 Music Queue

During the three weeks of Phish's Baker's Dozen Madison Square Garden residency - and for at least a week after - I listened to almost nothing but Phish music.  Mostly live recordings from that run as they were happening and then some.  I emerged from that binge with not just a modern love of Phish, but a sobering and possibly unprecedented drive toward musical exploration.  Here's a summary of where this is leading.

Sun Ra
Several years ago I acquired CD copies of Sun Ra's mid-to-late 70's albums Lanquidity, On Jupiter and Sleeping Beauty.  It's time to revisit those as well as some other Sun Ra records that have been released from Saturn, including In the Orbit of Ra, Jazz in Silhouette, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy, and Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow.  Bonus points to obscure albums where Sun Ra performs as a sideman:  Walt Dickerson's Impressions of a Patch of Blue and Billy Bang's A Tribute to Snuff Smith.  While on subject of Ra, it's time I ordered the Living Lanterns LP New Myth/Old Science.  This is sort of like a Sun Ra tribute featuring such heavy-hitters as Mary Halvorson, Tomeka Reid, Ingrid Laubrock and Tomas Fujiwara.  How bad could it be?

More Jazz
I love listening to vinyl records, but as I recently found out some albums like the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots have TOO MUCH BASS when played out of my Audioengine A5+ speakers.  Classic jazz, however, sounds great through those speakers.  Lee Morgan Sidewinder, Eric Dolphy Out To Lunch!, Horace Silver Song for My Father, and Bill Frisell Small Town are in the queue.

Da Funk
It's gotta be OK to groove out to albums such as Grant Green Blue Breakbeats, Donald Byrd Ethiopian Knights, Miles Davis Tribute to Jack Johnson, Herbie Hancock Head Hunters, and New Mastersounds The Nashville Session.  And if time ever allows...Mwandishi, Agharta, Pangea...aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!

I put on the 2nd LP of the Circles Around the Sun Interludes for the Dead record the other day, containing the tracks Kasey's Bones (side 3) and Space Wheel (side 4), and I don't remember this "background music" ever sounding so good!  There may be nothing new under the sun, but I still haven't found anything else that sounds quite like Circles Around the Sun.  However, just today I was poking around and discovered a recording called Psychic Temple Plays Music for Airports.  Remember that name.  Bang On A Can's interpretation of Brian Eno's Music For Airports is one of my all-time favorite CDs, so I was eager to hear this loose version which approaches it from a Miles Davis In a Silent Way point of view.  The 2nd track - Music for Bus Stops - is pretty killer too.

Continuing on; learning about Psychic Temple led me to a band somewhat associated with them called Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet.  Yep.  This needs to be listened 2!  I should also mention a brand new release by Spafford called Abaculus: An Improvisational Experience.  This recording follows in the one-track jamband album tradition pioneered by Phish's Headphones Jam and moe.'s Meat, and manages to sound on par with those two classics.  Lastly, this style of space jam music brings to mind Rhyton Kykeon and Khruangbin The Universe Smiles Upon You - both of which are worth returning to.

Kronos Quartet
Like Sun Ra, Kronos Quartet gets to headline its own category.  More alimentative than their counterparts Turtle Island String Quartet and Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Kronos Quartet is a group I probably had penciled in to listen to 20+ years ago in the pre-digital age but never quite got around to.  With albums like Pieces of Africa, Caravan, Music of Bill Evans, Monk Suite and the newly composed collaboration with The National's Bryce Dessner called Aheym, Kronos Quartet can open that classical door.

I'm pretty ignorant toward classical music, and, as such, I don't have a strict definition of what it is and what it is not. Nonetheless, late last night I went down a rabbit hole - determined to uncover some satisfying recordings in what you might call "contemporary classical".  The most rewarding find in that search appears to be Primal Light -- an album of Mahler music by Uri Caine.  It. Is. Trippy. (!) This search also led me to an Norwegian band called Jaga Jazzist, which sounds like a mixture of neo-classical, jazz and post-rock.  I was digging their album One-armed Bandit because it reminded me of Tortoise.  You could also put String Trio of New York, featuring Billy Bang, into this quasi-classical category.  They seem to have existed in an avant-garde area between chamber music and jazz.  Area Code 212 that is.

After going in this classical direction, I was reminded that quite a few years ago I had done similar research that left me with knowledge of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, Terry Riley's In C (as done by Bang on a Can), and the aforementioned Music for Airports.  Good stuff when the time is right.  Now there's a newish recording of In C by musicians from Mali (Africa Express) worth checking out.  Additionally, as a Phish fan I shouldn't ignore the fact that our very own Trey Anastasio has put out at least two classical recordings: Seis de Mayo and Time Turns Elastic.  How is it that I had never listened to Seis de Mayo until this morning?  That first track Andre the Giant is so good!

Regular Music
If regular music means artists who sing and perform songs in a rock n' roll and/or singer-songwriter fashion, then the two in that category who I am currently the most interested in would have to be David Bowie and Lucinda Williams.  Until recently the only David Bowie album I had ever listened to was Ziggy Stardust, and my primary Lucinda Williams familiarity was stuck on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.  I'm ready to expand beyond those starting points.  Hello Low and Ghosts of Highway 20!  Shit.  I almost forgot, and it's kinda stupid to admit this, but Phish's cover of Everything in its Right Place from 8/4/17 prompted me to give Radiohead another spin, and for a few days there I listened to Kid A on repeat.  I get it now.  At least I think I do.  OK.