Another short Frank Zappa influenced piece to open up my 2nd CD. It was the first piece written for this record though in the beginning, I was looking at it as possibly the last one for the debut. That, along with the Zappa influence helped inspire the title, since FZ and I are both December babies. Plus, it's just a cool word/name. I like the irony that the out of 12 tracks, the name of the 12th month is the 1st song on the album!
The A section is in the uncommon (though seemingly not for me) time signature of 17/16. The phrasing came to me half asleep in bed. It's a 4-bar phrase with the 17 beats broken up in different fashions. Even though the initial groove was written on drumset, I quickly abandoned the drums and wrote the piece solely on marimba.
For the body of the piece I envisioned a “Black Page” sort of section, Zappa's famed drum solo piece with crazy polyrhythms. I kept mine shorter and simpler, but there are a lot of advanced rhythms and some challenging melodies going on. The woodblocks and cowbell rolls ended up reminding me a bit of the old NY supergroup Screaming Headless Torsos.
The title of this piece comes from Bronx based baseball and human interest writer Todd Drew and was the name a column he wrote. Todd was a gem of a person and was taken from us far too early. This is my tribute to him and it begins with a big hands/feet fill I call “The Stampede,” to show my anger for his life being way too short. Todd appreciated “heady” music and loved jazz, funk, and Latin. I did my best to combine a lot of this in his honor.
The A section is an advanced linear version of the “Purdie Shuffle,” and each phrase ends in a drum fill. The first half of the melody reminds me of Eric Dolphy (another one taken too early), while the second half strangely reminds me of Fleetwood Mac. Todd would love the dichotomy!
The B section is a Latin-jazz groove in the Elvin Jones vein, circa his 1960s work with the brilliant Wayne Shorter. This leads into a straight Latin section, based on the Afro-Cuban 6/8.
I'm proud of the big solo section, which begins with a Tony Williams (who also died too soon...) influenced swing and leads into a long marimba solo, enhanced by vibraphone and supported wholly by the drums.
I was wanting to get back to my roots, drum set wise. In my formative years, with the band (plūv), I used to play a lot of 2-handed 16th note based hi-hat grooves that featured diddles, rolls, accents, random ride bells & splashes, and tom melodies. About a half decade later, when I was feeling the same desire, I came up with the crazy groove for the song “Ennead” by The YETI Trio. It was in odd meter, like much of the (pluv) material, and quite difficult. The groove for my new piece, while still challenging, was decidedly simpler and in common time.
Thinking about my roots, naturally takes me back to my hometown in New York, near JFK airport. I've had a lifelong love affair with the Statue of Liberty. I'm also a big fan of things like justice, freedom, and democracy. “Liberty,” is a most fitting title!
The intro and recurring lick is in 5. A & C sections feature the aforementioned characteristics, with the B section connecting the 2 parts. Apparently, I write a lot of “double bridges” and for this piece the two parts could not be more different. A dark, brooding double bass section makes way to a majestic 6/8 melodious theme, via the motif in 5.
Every one of my albums has to have an epic Latin piece! (The one for the 3rd disc is already recorded and the one for the 4th CD is already composed.)
The main A section is loosely based off the West African groove called Adowa, from Ghana. I adore Highlife music as it's very light-hearted and joyous, like its name implies. Ghana, is called the “Gold Coast” and it's flag is a black star (which is also the name of its 'football' team). I combined the names to title this piece.
Claves double up the bell pattern and the rolls are to assimilate the villagers chanting. A wooden shaker completes the vibe. The fills within this section are triplet based but grouped in numbers not divisible by 3 or 6, which create some interesting phrasing. The hi-hat continues to step on 2, 4 to let the listener keep the pulse.
The B section is melodic but it's a stretch to call it Latin. It has a slight Latin flavor but the snares are on and it's on odd meter. The transition to get back to the A is a big, rhythmic unison lick.
There are 2 bridge sections in this piece as well, but they act more as separated parts that are distanced from each other within the composition. Both are very Latin based and part of a long line of original Latin grooves I've come up with over the years. It's important to know the history, background, and cultures of the geographical locations where specific Latin beats originated. I've studied this rather extensively. For my purposes as a growing individual musician, I like to bastardize these grooves (with all due respect, of course!) and come up with my own twists.
The first, has a 3-2 rumba clave played with the left foot on a pedal (cowbell affixed to a gajate bracket). The cascara is in the right hand on the bell of the ride and tumbao is on the bass drum. This allowed my left hand to fill in and create a melody around the drums (snare drum, with the snares turned off, rack tom, and floor tom). I recorded myself playing this groove and was struck by the melody the inner voices created. After that, it was easy to match it up on the marimba.
The second, is a mozambique in 3. There are 2 parts, each played 3 times. Combined, there are 3 phrases.
The last A incorporates all the altered triplet patterns from earlier in the piece.
This was the last song I wrote for the first batch of compositions for Esoteric Music. My recording session was already booked and I couldn't believe I was trying to complete a brand new involved piece so quickly. Alas, it was meant to be and it's one of my very favorite pieces!
This one came together very quickly and rather nicely. My brain was being flooded by all these different grooves in 5. I kept jotting down quick transcriptions on little pieces of scrap paper. When I got to the studio to work it all out on the kit it flowed very nicely. After the intro, the first 3 sections each have an open hi-hat on beat 2. This was unintentional, but it really ties the sections together nicely and helps the listener identify the meter.
Another double bridge, of course. I believe this is the first time I played in 13/16. It was so natural that I've been able to adapt this - and a nice fill - to 4/4 time. Of course, the hardest part was the groove in 4/4 time, (with its displaced 16th note)!
On Your Six
This piece reminds me a lot of (plūv). 6/4 is such a beautiful time signature. It's not “odd,” but it is uncommon. It's straight, but can feel as though there are either 2 beats too many or 2 beats too few. I think it's just right! Best of both worlds.
Three grooves make up your “verse/pre-chorus/chorus” compositional formula for commercial music. The bridge is pretty and has a classical vibe to it, played in a half-time feel with an “echo” effect the second time around.
Earlier in the day, before I composed this piece, I was talking with a friend about a couple of cool song titles that had the number 6 in it. Later at night, after I worked this piece up, I was watching a show and heard the phrase “On Your Six” - there it was! It's a military term that means “got your back” or “right behind you.”
Another fun, short piece that has quite a bit of humor in it and silliness in the open drum solo, which acts as the body of the piece and is based on some old jazz and folk tendencies. A simple melody plays over a snare drum driven groove with a light-hearted feel bookends the drum feature. There are four 4-bar phrases each slightly different with some odd measures thrown in for good measure.
The title and its spelling is a fun story. I couldn't stop singing the melody in my head and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was but I was pretty sure it was something. I wracked my brain for what it could be – different styles, artists, what I had been listening to, concerts I had just seen, et al. When I convinced myself it was my own, I came up with the aformentioned phrasing and the piece was really coming together. Then it dawned on me – I figured it out... It was “Johnny One Note,” which is the hilarious title that leads into “The Exciting New Toothpaste From Mars” by the brilliant Frank Zappa protege Mike Keneally from his incredible debut album, “hat.” The feel, melody, phrasing, and time signatures are enough my own that it's not a blatant rip off. Coupled with the fact that I've had the privilege of playing with Mike, I'm hoping he's honored by the tip of the proverbial...hat.
I still haven't told you about the title! The Keneally tune was in my head because the week before it was the last song I heard on my ipod as I flew into NY, before the dreaded “you must turn off all electronic devices at this time” line came over the planes' PA system. The week before that one of Keneally's drummers, the unbelievable Marco Minnemann, performed a clinic at the Atlanta Institute of Music, where I'm an instructor. Marco also played with my of my favorite and most influential musicians - the mind blowing rock guitarist Paul Gilbert. Paul does a lot of short classical pieces on guitar and initials them for titles, e.g. G.V.R.O. = Goldberg Variations Rip Off. This is my “Mike Keneally Rip Off.” It's a short piece so there's the double entendre for “micro”; the “k” is there for “Mike,” hence - “Mikro”
Shapes is an incredibly involved piece of music. The body of the piece is based around 4 linear grooves, all of which are difficult to play. I hope it sounds flowing and not too challenging, but please know a ton of work went into playing these grooves properly. Listen for the ghost notes and especially hi-hat “melodies.” The intro/outro has all kinds of crazy time signatures and changes. I figured this out as I was coming up with a proper click track so I could practice (16th note based) and also for purposes of charting out the mallet part.
I tend to have a lot of drum 'breaks' in my music; kicks then fills. I decided to switch it up here and allow the mallets to take a turn. There's an ubiquitous double bridge that follows. The first is a fun groove played on the toms, then a fusion groove where my left hand roams around between the snare, rack tom, floor tom, cowbell, icebell, and china.
All the different sections, replete with angular linear parts, sharp accent attacks, melodic contours, and seemingly unrelated grooves that flow into and grow out of each other, had me seeing different lines create different shapes as I played and listened to it, hence the title.
With the exception of the Latin tinged double bridge, I consider this piece in 3 to be on the heavier and darker side. “Trace Evidence” plays on the word 'tres' for three and evil crime related business.
The intro/outro can be dizzying with the slight changes in rhythmic accents. Its inherent circular motion makes it challenging to know where the downbeat is. The chromatic nature of the A section creates tension, which leads into a heavy open hi-hat section that gives way to a release into a nice major melody, only to be followed by a minor chord set with snare drum rolls which set the mood in motion to repeat the cycle.
The double bridge is based on the Brazilian samba. This groove is usually not played in 3, but I love breaking musical rules! The first part is more subdued, while I feel the second, more traditional samba (though still in 3), is a major highlight of album, spiced up with shaker & triangle. The tricky rhythmic interludes are based on the Indian concept called Tihai, which I discussed in these notes for Percussion Discussion. Here, I work a rhythmic pattern in 5 to work out perfectly in 3.
I extend and alter the B section to ride out the heavier ending while hinting at the changing accents of the intro.
Riverflow is the jazziest number on the album. The happy melody will have you snapping and singing along! The B section is in 7/8 and is a vehicle for the drums to play over. The last bar is in 4, which leads into the spacious C section, in waltz time. The last bar of this part is in 4 the first time, as it sways its way back to the swing. The next time it's in 5, leading into the rubato bridge, which is classical in nature. It's also in 5, at the end.
The story behind the title does not flow nearly as nicely as the piece of music. It combines a heavy metal group from the north, a college jam band from the south, and a poem I once wrote.
Tribal in nature, the toms flam their way through a relentless double bass pulse. A new instrument is introduced every phrase, which is where the title comes from. First, there's woodblock and shaker, then the bass introduces the pitches. Ripple rolls come next, followed by high pitched, 4-voiced chords to accentuate the phrases. Finally, a rhythmic melody is brought in and matched by an extra set of higher pitched drums.
Strong chords over a powerful drum beat with quarter note snare accents and fast triplets on double bass drums follow the tribal climax and lead into a memorable melody in shifting meter. The odd meter continues in the next portion of the bridge, in a half-time, heavy double bass feel with the washy sound of riding on a crash cymbal. The building block theme of the piece is not lost on the bridge as each of the last two sections adds a doubling part the second time through.
Please click on the section devoted to “Hero”, where you can hear the full audio and read about this solo marimba piece.
There were 3 other pieces written and recorded during the Esoteric Music sessions. I'm saving them for the 3rd CD. I feel as though a dozen tracks is the perfect amount. Having 15 complex pieces, clocking in at just under an hour, is a lot music to digest and I didn't want any of the compositions to get lost in the shuffle. he 3 pieces that are being heldover are: a Latin number, an odd meter piece, and a linear fusion based track. All of those styles are represented on this album already and now will have counterparts on the following one.