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  • Hot Jams from Recently

    2015 - 03.29

    So it looks like I have the ability to embed audio files, which is sweet!  I should post more jams on here.

    Here is a recent one (1/25/15) that’s a pleasurable odyssey based on the Steve Miller Band classic “Fly Like an Eagle”.  The recording from this session had several issues, so this mastering leans heavily on the room mics.  Don’t judge my audio quality here.  But the playing is pretty awesome I think.  I’ll call out my highlights to make it a more interesting listen:

    start-2:45 guitar driven intro opens it up

    3:50 some cool delay time changes while playing, culminating at 4:02 (these knob turns produce a high pitch sound that’s like lasers or record scratches)

    4:45 nice buildup into the guitar solo handoff

    5:37 interesting scale/tonal guitar soloing

    6:28+ bitrate distortion on the horn, most obvious at

    7:20+ trumpet/bass/guitar all sync up on unison line, sweet descending bass chords at 8:13 while the guitar is pitched shifted up

    10:07 intense bitrate dips on the horn, leading into huge guitar delay section

    11:22 dynamics come way down for a nice chill section.  Singing bowl taps come in at 11:33+

    12:54+ slow guitar swells of new chords build into the next section, neat bass vibes

    15:00 snare drum comes back, ending the slow buildup, 1/4 chord switch begins

    16:21+ pretty happy with this soloing

    17:11 phrase that jumps up/down, then 17:31 descending phrase that jumps down for final note: both these are “outside my box” figures that were gratifying to hear.  New vocab.

    18:34 meaty guitar punctuation that’s cool

    19:28 first identifiable “into the future” riff from Fly Like An Eagle… I can trace tiny moments of the rhythm for a couple minutes prior but they are quite camouflaged

    19:39 incredibly triumphant “Time keeps on slippin / into the future” this moment,oh yeah.  And the switch to the 4 chord halfway through seals the deal.

    21:06 very mysterious, reverbed-out “into the future”

    21:34 new feel on the drums opens up another chapter of the jam

    21:52 cool descending guitar riffs with the Steve Miller “doot-doos” from the intro the to tune, using the harmonizer although faint

    22:49 “Time keeps on slippin” with a totally unreasonable amount of delay

    24:23 “most people think that / great god will come from the sky / take away everything / and make everybody feel high” Bob Marley quote, played with ascending notes instead of the way he actually sings it.  Hard to hear this but I really enjoy it when listening

    24:42+ cool repeating line on the guitar and varied staccato trumpet trickery; I really dig the complexity and the bounce through this section

    25:48 drums switch over to hip-hop style rimshot feel.  I’m a sucker for this type of groove.  Open 5ths on the trumpet harmonizer

    29:29 self-proclaimed “scale-wankery” on the guitar closes out the final section.

    All in all, it’s a pretty killer jam with a lot of creative quoting and unusual choices in terms of the soloing phrases.   And just because, here’s this awesome album cover with the “Fly Like An Eagle” theme to it, from an earlier session…

    100% Juice

    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 2

    2015 - 03.14

    An update on the pedalboard I’ve been building:

    aluminum ground plane beneath main board

    As you can see in the image above, I’ve installed an aluminum sheet beneath the main board to act as a ground plane, hopefully to dampen any noise and RF interference from the power supply platform mounted below it.  I’ve also rounded off the corners using my router and belt sander, then applied three coats of 2-in-1 stain+polyurethane, with two coats of a wipe-on poly after that.  I liked the 2-in-1 but I’m not so sure that the wipe-on poly really added much.  I didn’t really shoot for a mirror finish though.

    The second image, below, shows the pedal setup for our session on 3-7-15.  There are three new pedals here which I’m renting from  PedalGenie.com, which is a brilliant service that loans out pedals for people who might want to experiment with different effects setups like myself.

    Pedal setup for 3-7-15 session

    The signal chain is:

    Trumpet >

    Eventide Pitchfactor >

    Boss OC-2 Octave >

    Morley Power Wah >

    Fulltone Cylde Deluxe Wah (loaner) >

    Caroline Icarus Clean Boost (loaner) >

    Malekko Bit sample rate reducer >

    A-B splitter forms two paths >

    A: Damage Control Glass Nexus > Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler > Maestro Phaser > Damage Control Liquid Blues drive > Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler > Moog Bass MuRF >

    B: TC Electronic Flashback delay (loaner, on its own signal path for evaluation) >

    stereo summing pedal >

    DI Box

    (Also seen on the floor are an Ernie Ball expression pedal to control the Pitchfactor, and a generic Korg tap tempo to control the MuRF)

    Tycho Monitors, phase two

    2015 - 03.08

    So I’ve been slowly progressing on the small bookshelf speakers that I’ve been building.  Here are a few progress pictures 1. after the front/back panels were routed and glued on and 2. after staining.

    Tycho Mons assembled

    Tycho Mons stained

    Pacifc Coast Extension: Progress Pics Pt.4

    2015 - 02.18

    Time for an update on the Pacific Coast Extension model railroad progress! When last we left off, I had just completed the upper deck benchwork and subroadbed (i.e. flat plywood) over the staging. As you can see in the photos, I’ve now completed the entire upper deck benchwork and subroadbed, which, like many things in this hobby, is a simple sentence to say but a huge amount of work to actually do.

    I’ve also completed the inclined subroadbed which leads from the lower deck to the upper, although all the track is not yet in place there. A small section remains where three tracks of singled ended staging branch off. I added this area since I do enjoy running very long trains–long enough that some of them need to be broken up to fit in the double ended staging below. The wiring is installed for all new track mentioned in here as well. I did miss my self-imposed deadline of completing all mainline trackwork by the end of 2014 although since I only missed it by a couple weeks, I’m going to call that a win. Such deadlines are created to motivate oneself, and in that regard it was a success.

    the mountain loop (furthest "right" in these images)

    An autoreverser has been installed on the newly-completed mountain loop (shown above), although I’ve been struggling to get it to work correctly with the snap-coil switch motors which will allow a train to automatically run endless loops on the upper deck. Right now I’m thinking something just isn’t wired correctly and I need to spend the time to figure that out.

    The incline between decks never exceeded 4.5% as measured with my Micro Mark precision level, an invaluable tool. However it does appear quite steep visually and I know certain trains are definitely going to require helpers or multiple trips to make it up the grade between levels. That’s alright though, I’m okay with that. Real life worked the same way. Now if only MTH would hurry up and make some Boxcab motors.  Shown below is the large curve which will eventually be built into the Mine Creek trestle, and the incline between decks.  The plexiglass is there because that ledge is open to the living room, probably like 20 feet below!  This photo is looking just to the right of the one above.

    Mine Creek and deck connection

    To continue looking to the left of the photo above, here is another view, showing how the laypout wraps around the desk with a window behind it:

    IMG_7131 v2

    Speaking of the trains themselves, there are a few great new additions to the railroad. Foremost of these would be a Milwaukee Road creek series observation car, something available only in brass although fortunately it has been produced several times by different makers in the last several decades. I believe mine comes from the 1980s although I’m not sure. It has already been sent off for a custom paint job to match the Walthers cars, and I intended to further customize it by building an interior and adding lighting.

    Another beaut I’m delighted to have around is an MTH Little Joe in the orange and black freight scheme. Although my railroad is set in Washington state, there is a large amount of scenic overlap between Milwaukee’s Coast Division where the Bipolars ruled, and their Rocky Mountain division where the Joes ruled electric operations. That’s as far as I intend to ‘bend the rules’ at least at this point. Besides, any self-resepecting Milwaukee electrics modeler has got to have a Joe or three around; they’re debatably the most iconic of all Milwaukee Electrics, lasting from the 50s right up to the end.  You can see E73 in the picture below, which shows the staging area:

    IMG_7151 v2

    A few interesting things I’ve learned: Micro Engineering flextrack is great, especially if you use Peco track fixing pins along the edges of the ties, as opposed to large Atlas spikes on the center of the ties. This hides the spikes quite well and makes the track look more realistic. However it does hide the spikes so well you may accidentally do some damage trying to reposition the track later, by overlooking that hidden extra spike you put on the far side of the rail which is nearly impossible to see. ME flextrack also has a very annoying way of shortening the far end when bent even slightly–always check BOTH ends of the track before you cut any rail. And I do mean always.

    I’ve also ordered the supplies to commence with rock building on a large scale, which is a stage of construction I’ve LONG been itching to reach. I will have more details on that stage later this year.

    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 1

    2015 - 02.15

    In tandem with the ongoing speakerbuilding project keeping my garage dusty, I’ve also been working on a custom pedalboard for my electrified trumpet setup. This was born out of necessity since I’ve outgrown the footprint of my hardshell Rockcase board, which itself is getting worn out from years of schlepping. I make take some time to recondition it for any music that happens outside my living room. But since I’m a lucky dude who mostly gets to jam at home, I’ve started working on this:

    electric trumpet pedalboard

    Yep, it’s a jungle of wires and nothing is securely attached at this point, it’s true. Consider this a “version 1.0″ photo. My goals here are 1. to accomodate more pedals at waist height for easy manipulation 2. to achieve a cleaner signal by isolating the audio cables away from any power supplies and power cables and 3. to hopefully make it look nice?

    As far as goal #1 (capacity), adding a second level was a slam dunk for me, which allows interactive pedals to be accessible on top and neccessary but non-interactive components to be stashed underneath. I’ve got a signal combiner and a DI box, both of which are key parts of my setup but neither of which need to be touched during an entire session, so these can be hidden away without taking up valuable real estate.

    To achieve goal #2 (a cleaner signal), I have relocated the power bricks, 9v power supply, and the power strip all to beneath the pedalboard, on their own little board. Moving all that away from the pedals was the most important step. To go further, I have bought a thin sheet of aluminum, which will cover the bottom of the board and then be electrically connected to the ground pin of the power strip so that it can serve as a ground plane to shield against any residual noise from the power supplies beneath it and maybe dampen any local RF. That has not been installed yet. Finally, wiring is obviously a jungle at the moment, but ultimately I want to route all power cables thrugh holes in the board so they come in contact with the audio cables as little as possible.   Interestingly, when I initially built the board, I had the elevated section on the right side, which I immediately realized was a terrible idea when I started to play in front of it for the first time–my LEFT hand is free to move knobs, not the right.  So I’m not in a tremendous rush to make things permanent, since I want to try some experimentation to find the best physical location for as many of these pedals as I can.  I’ll make a detailed breakdown of what I use at some point in the future.  Haven’t gotten to that yet.

    Making the board look good will be accomplished with wood stain and some stainless steel accents. And cleaning up that mess of cables! I’ll post another shot when she’s further along.  For now, here’s my perspective when playing on it:

    electric trumpet pedalboard - pilot's perspective

    Tycho Monitors, phase one

    2015 - 02.05

    As alluded to long ago in 2014, I bought some Scan-Speak drivers and associated hardware needed create a pair of hi-fi bookshelf speakers. I am just now finally getting around to building the enclosures for these guys. A few build photos are probably in order.

    Tycho Monitors in progress

    craftsmanship level = MEH.Everytime I build a new set of speakers (which doesn’t happen too often) I try out some new philosophies and these are no exception. Instead of solid MDF, this time I went with Red Oak. I’m not sure this wood is as great as it could be in terms of quality–I got it at Home Depot and if I were to do it again, I think I’d spend the extra to go get it from a legit lumberyard.

    This time I’ve also attempted to join each side with a 45 degree joint, which I don’t think I’d try again.  As you can see in the photo above, I used the 45 cuts as joiners on the inside as well.  Maybe I’m lacking the right tools to really pull this off. I did take probably a half hour or so playing around and dialing in my tracksaw to cut what I thought was a perfect 45 degree angle. I measured it with a level, protractor, and used two pieces pressed together with a carpenter’s square to verify they joined perfectly. Which they did, and yet, when I put the boxes together there is a thin line of open space around almost all sides, which I found equal parts surprising and disappointing. Somewhere in the process there was some looseness that prevented everything from lining up perfectly despite the fact that I took great care and worked slowly. Like I said, maybe a circular saw and track just can’t achieve perfection here.

    In any event, I’m forging onward and going to router out holes for the drivers next. Then there will be some variety of staining and/or lacquering before they’re ready to be used for real. Delayed gratification……

    First Impressions on the Samsung Gear VR

    2015 - 01.03

    Gear VR

    This thing is… compelling. Awe-inspiring. Thought-provoking. I feel lucky to have it. It’s a virtual reality headset that uses a Samsung Note 4 smartphone as the processor/screen.  This is my first experience with real virtual reality–never tried Nintendo’s Virtual Boy from back in the day, and I’ve never put on one of the Oculus DK1 or DK2 headsets. Honestly my expectations were kind of high going in… and it delivers. Something you see is going to make you smile, something else you see is going to force you to shout out loud. It’s a glimpse into the future. Sure there’s nitpicks or quirks here and there but overall, dang. We’re living in the future. This is the next “thing”. It’s hard to even describe it. That’s my biggest takeaway: this is a new medium. Like movies, music, photos, paintings–those are all artistic mediums of capturing stories. This is a whole new medium of telling a story. VR.

    Right now this is a somewhat exclusive club: the Gear VR only works with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. I had the Note 2 and loved it, so when my 2 year upgrade time rolled around, the Note 4 was a logical choice. Once I read that Samsung had partnered with Oculus to create a virtual reality headset accessory for it (wait, what?!), the deal was sealed. I picked this phone just so I could get the Gear VR.

    The hardware is refined and still young at the same time. On one hand, a lot of technical challenges have been addressed; head tracking is smooth, responsive, and accurate. Overall it’s comfortable enough for long sessions and there is some great content already here. The screen on the Note 4 is pretty great! It’s been interesting to read reviews of the device around the web. One observation about these reviews needs to be emphasized: anyone who cares enough to make a review of the Gear VR is probably a MAJOR gadget geek. That is to say hyper-critical of technical minutia and hung up on details that honestly have little effect on the overall experience. Many reviews say the pixel count is still too low, the content isn’t there yet, that it’s not comfy enough, or that motion sickness may be an issue for people. Alright yes, there is something there which may disqualify the whole deal for certain people. And yet–guys, if we can stop fixating on pixels, there is something utterly mind-blowing going on here!!

    You can put on these goggles and stand on top of the Empire State building. You can go to Egypt. You can go to MARS. You can explore imaginary worlds or sit inside of a IMAX theater on your couch at home. You can dive with dolphins and tour the solar system. You can watch a ballet performance from on-stage and share dinner with a family in Mongolia. You can literally do all of those things straight out of the box with this device. And it’s all happening ON YOUR PHONE. With no wires.

    Man.

    Let’s highlight a few of the things that resonated with me during my first couple weeks with this spiffy device…

    The included 360 photo library:

    There’s TONS in here. Each photo seems crisp and although you can see the individual pixels of the Note 4 screen if you stare at it, when you move your head around, the sharp resolution of the original image is clear, since the original has more pixels in it than the display can physically render. Some of my favorite photos I already described but there are plenty of them to examine, with each photo being rich enough that you can stand inside of it (yes, wrap your head around that!) and study all the details for quite some time if you want to. Ancient Amphitheaters, coral reefs, beehives, the top of the Eiffel Tower, Buddhist temples, the ruins of Chernobyl, take your pick. There’s whole worlds inside here, and you magically teleport around the globe at the flick of a finger. JEEZ.

    Strangers with Patrick Watson:

    I keep coming back to this 360 video, where you sit in the studio-space of a lone musician and he plays you a tune on the piano. What makes it are the casual, seemingly unscripted bits: the sounds of traffic from outside, the way he scrounges for a cigarette before he begins. Then he starts the song over because the drum machine is too loud and asks his dog, “yeah, that’s too loud isn’t it?” As he appears to finish, his phone rings. He grabs it, sees the name and laughs before hitting decline and continuing to sing a last final outro. It feels like a real moment. Believable. It puts you THERE. More than the other movies (which were all awesome in their own ways) this video showed me the possibility of what immersive VR video could bring. I wanna see the inside of a smokey jazz club or get strapped onto a guy in a birdman suit with this… the potential scenarios are dumbfounding.

    Playhead:

    It’s a game similar to Frequency, or Guitar Hero where you have note lanes you have to do things in conjunction with. Only now you’re inside of it! It’s the first music-based titled I’ve played and like “Strangers” above, this one shows you the promise of what’s possible. The whole experience is not very long, but the song is cool and there are two sections where you emerge from the note lanes into an expansive open landscape with cliffs on either side of you, a winding river far below, and eventally a rising pyramid before you. All this seems to groove with the music in a real neat way and it feels good! I look forward to more levels within this game or more games like it.

    Darknet:

    Okay, here’s the meat. Darknet is a slow burn, starting out as a nifty hacking puzzle game that borrows from many cyberpunk influences to create a dazzling world of stylized computer networks you stand inside of. At first it seems easy and bite sized. But then you complete your first hack and you do another one, and another one… and the brilliance of this game slowly reveals itself. It keeps getting harder and the time alloted doesn’t get longer. You unlock new options and you start to see there’s a lot of subtlety to how you can approach the puzzles, which have themselves added on new roadblocks. More than anything else on the Gear VR, this one has legs as an addictive way to spend time. The music sets a pitch-perfect vibe and when you experience that barely-made-it hack that only gets beaten in the last minute, the bug will bite you. If Gear VR has a “killer app” so far, this is it. As I write this, I’m excited to get back in and hack some more!

    looking at the inside of the lenses with the phone in... you're looking at the matrix code although it's too distorted to see from this distance.
    Returning back to the overall device, Oculus has been posting updates to the available content every Tuesday, which is fantastic! Each batch of new VR jams is a set of other dimensions to step inside of… because in VR a photo is not just a photo, it’s a place to be. It’s a new frontier in the way we view things. The content and the experiences may be just a few drips from a tap that’s slowly opening but what’s here already is mesmerizing, spellbinding. It really does feel like a kind of magic trick. It’s exciting to be in-on-the-scene here, with this technology that really feels like it is on the cusp of exploding. When you stand inside of it, it sweeps you up and you want to show it to other people. Everyone should see this. It amazes. And you wonder “why is this not everywhere?!” Pretty soon it will be. It just has to.

    Hitting the High Notes: Bear Creek 2014

    2014 - 12.17

    Nicholas Payton blows it up on Trumpet & Rhodes at once

    IMG_6994 Dip Dat Shit In GOLDAs we’ve done for the last 5 years, my buddy Bill and I made the pilgrimage to Bear Creek music festival in Florida. Every year this fest is dynamite, dipped in gold. That might be selling it short. Bear Creek is really the only place on planet Earth where you can get this concentrated of a dose of funky music in the span of 3 days. Not even Jazzfest in New Orleans can match the density of pure funk-per-minute that goes on here. There is no peer. From my standpoint, 2014 may be my favorite yet. Let’s rap about it:

    Right off the bat I’ll mention a few groups whom I’d never even heard of prior to BC14 that took me there. First thing we saw when we arrived was a band called Turquaz who came in with something to prove. Their punchy horns and funky vibes immediately set the tone for the rest of the fest. It was a positively ideal first act to catch. Their street team was walking through the crowd handing out slap-koozies–which are exactly what you think they are. This idea is so brilliant that it is somewhat baffling that I have never heard of it until now. Well played Turquaz.  They had a peppy sound and ooh, their trumpet player also had some effects going on, which was a running theme to my delight.

    Turquaz

    The singer from the Fritz; kinda reminded me a little bit of Living ColourAnother band which made an instant fan out of me was The Fritz from Asheville NC. They mixed 80% funky dance grooves with 20% tricky synchonized unison lines, which was totally a formula for success in my book. Centerstage was their keyboard player who also did main vocals and brought a lot of showmanship to the spectacle. Although they were young guys, they really knew how to play. I’d love to see them again. They were almost prog-rock at times, which I generally shy away from, but their funkyness always brought me back.

    Completing the trifecta of winning first introductions was a band called Tauk. Bill bought their CD which we listened to on the way back to the airport–it was very Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck inspired, which is cool and all, but not really my thing. However their live performance was great. Most notably they played a double-length version of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles that slammed absurdly hard. Bill commented that as hard as Soulive has rocked that tune in the past, these guys dialed it up a notch further, which was an accomplishment.

    The Nth Power was fun to watch, bringing their vocal driven comtemporary soul to life on the Purple Hat stage which was the best-sounding stage of the fest this year. At the climax of their tune “Only Love” maybe ten people suddenly appeared in the crowd holding up big placards with the word “LOVE” on them, which was a synergistic moment for sure.

    BC’14 was one of my favorite Creeks in a long time–possibly ever–because of the TRUMPETS! Me, being a trumpet player myself, I’m obviously very biased by this aspect of the music and 2014 was the year those brass players collectively decided to get the hell up in there and deliver. In terms of both veterans and newcomers alike, the trumpets of Bear Creek delivered a delicious, heaping platter of excellence, which warrants a through digression:

    The Heard Horns w/ extras!

    The best awesome new thing (which I knew beforehand was going to be awesome) was The Heard, a horn-section driven band from my old stomping grounds in Chicago. Those three horns (tenor sax, trombone, trumpet) brought a lot of rambunctious energy and very tight section playing. They had a polished, rehearsed-sounding feel to their hits, with a pleasing length to their punches. A section like the one in Lettuce tends to clip their hits super short, which is great for their style, but it was nice to hear the Heard Horns deliver some fatter punches by comparison, a choice that seemed deliberate. Anyone could have predicted their set was gonna be hot simply by the oh-so-enviable late night Saturday timeslot they were given, and indeed that contract went filled. The horns also sat in with the New Mastersounds on both their sets and lended some very well-executed performances of familiar lines. In particular, the nimble melodies of “Fast Man” sounded right on the money: notes were clean, articulations were tight, and the three players were together in their timing. It was a real treat.

    Orchestra at Large: Bernard Purdie, Roosevelt Collier, Taz, Grant Green, Jen Hartswick, and some other badasses too!

    Jen Hartswick w The HeardJen Hartswick is a perennial representive of the trumpet community at Bear Creek and this year she too delivered bigger and better than before. In previous years I felt underwhelmed by her playing; the power/chops were adequate but not strong, and her phrases were unfocused, trailing off–like a speechgiver who was obviously winging it, unsure of what she was going to say next and clumsily tripping over sentences. Not this year. Her tone was brighter and clearer, with more strength. And her phrases were well-spoken musical ideas which connected between the pauses. Musically there was just a lot more substance in her thoughts… I’m sure my listening has probably improved as the years have passed but it certainly wasn’t just that.

    In prior Bear Creeks I watched the trumpet players and thought to myself “man, I could be up there. I can do those things these guys are doing and I can hang with the level of improv that’s being put forth.” Not this year. One man who firmly put his foot down and said “here’s the bar” was Nicholas Payton. His group was introduced as being “at the forefront of modern American music” and correspondingly he blew me away with his talent, playing keyboards and trumpet at the same time–and doing it WELL. Payton understands how to handle the Rhodes in particular, and his trumpet is customized with a short metal stand coming off the bottom of his valve casings, so that he can rest the weight of the horn on the keyboard edge, and play both instruments without the weight of the trumpet fatiguing his right hand. His tone was loud and powerful, with clear, searing highs which he used as violent punctuation against the tones of his well-seasoned jazz trio who had put on their funky caps to tackle this festival. After a long stint on keys, mainly between Rhodes and B3, he’d re-enter on the horn with a piercing high note, like a burst of lightning from the sky, out of the blue. His solos were those of a jazz player who knew the real book, knew how to play changes.

    Nicholas got up centerstage with Lettuce during the last set of the festival and proceeded to play the most “out” solo of the weekend. Watching the facial expressions of the string instrument players was almost comedy: Jesus on the bass and Schmeens on the guitar looked at each other with some alarm, their expressions seeming to say “Does he know what key we’re in? Should we… should we change the key? Wait… wait, no? Okay there he’s in. No. Now he’s off again. Okay. Ummm. There, he found it. No, he’s out….. Alright, well he’s obviously doing his own thing here, just let him go.” Personally I always enjoy a mostly “in” solo more than I enjoy a mostly “out” solo but heady jazz cats always love the out. Watching Nicholas’ jazz-rooted trio take things in-and-funky was a treat for me, someone who lives on the funk side of the fence, but seeing him solo with Lettuce was the inverse! I imagine that would have been a treat for someone who really loves an outside soloist; if Skerik was around and listening, I bet he ate that moment up.

    Nicholas Payton & George Porter BLOGSIZE

    the mascot of bear creek, seen here without sunglassesSpeaking of Skerik, he got up with The New Mastersounds and played a pretty “in” solo for his usual tastes. Although he’s a brilliant tenor player, his tendency is to get up and go nuts, squawking and squealing like a madman–which he pulls off well, ratcheting up the overall intensity of what’s happening onstage. But it was cool to hear him get inside the groove and do something a bit more thoughtful. My comment at the time was, ‘okay, I guess you can play like that too, you just always choose not to.’

    So as an aside, last year I didn’t write about Bear Creek, mostly because it was a bit of a “down” year. The weather was rainy and the mixing on the main amphitheater soundboard was… regrettable, leaving many potentially great moments seemingly unamplified. This year we did do a fair amount of moving around during the shows, and as Bill discovered about the main amphitheater, “something is off about that bowl”. Indeed. You actually don’t want to be close to the stage for the best sound. There are some definite “dead zones” where a soloist seems to disappear into the back of the mix. Walk back toward the soundboard another 20 feet and surpise, you can hear everything again! Maybe it’s the wide distance between the left and right speaker arrays, maybe it’s the absorbtion of the crowd when it gets densely populated? In any event, the takeaway is that location is pivotal for getting the most out of those shows. They also keep changing their other stages around every year and bafflingly they did away with Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage this year which was unfortunate since that one clearly had the best sound quality every year. I’d be willing to bet money they just walked that sound system down the hill over to the Purple Hat stage, since it sounded better than it ever has. That stage was the hot place to be this year.

    And about that Purple Hat Stage: probably my 3 favorite acts of the fest all tore it apart there. Predictably: The New Mastersounds, Lettuce, and Soulive. The Mastersounds were their usual selves, serving up tasty versions of their classics with a few new treats from their bag of endlessly refilling compositions. Simon declared “as is customary, we will fill the stage with incredible guest appearances” and so they did. Highlights were the aforementioned “The Heard” horns, and Bernard Perdy. Two years ago their Keyboard player Joe Tatton couldn’t make the journey due to passport issues so B3 wrangler-extraordinare Robert Walter filled his seat for the duration, which was a special treat. Those kind of special permutations of your favorite acts are a hallmark of BC. Having seen NMS live shows too many times to count anymore, I was greatly pleased with their sets although I wouldn’t say they did much to catch me off-guard. But that’s alright. Sometimes a great show is exactly what you expect it to be, and NMS fell into that category this year. I bought a zip up sweatshirt with their logo on it at the merchandise booth but barely got a chance to brandish it. Friday was long-underwear weather, Saturday was jeans, and Sunday was shorts-all-night weather, which was splendid.

    NMS @ main amphitheater w/ George Porter & The Heard Horns

    Try as you might....A familiar act who did catch me off guard was Lettuce, with a half-dozen or so forays into dub territory–something I’ve never heard them do as prominently or repeatedly as in their two sets at BC14. I completely endorse this new playing field for their repertoire. Dubbing out with some trippy delays and free spaces gives some nice breathing room to contrast against their dense, in-your-face slam tracks. The horns each had little effects units they were tweaking during these moments, which was straight up my alley. Returning again to the excellent trumpet playing this year, Eric Bloom has taken over Rashawn Ross’ old shoes, which are some mighty big shoes to fill. Rashawn has a searing, cutting high range that slices authoratively through any sound known to man so he can’t really be outgunned in that regard, but Eric sounded better than ever this year with clear, clean chops and better solo ideas for sure. Where Rashawn always seemed to build up to some high note climax in his solos but then didn’t really have anywhere to go, Bloom had lots of ideas, lots of places to go. Which is maybe not as dramatic, but more intellectually stimualting as a player. Lettuce was maybe at their peak shortly after the release of “Rage!” and two years back they owned the festival with their explosive, razor-sharp funk. Indeed at the time the comment was made “If god himself had a funk band, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” A sentiment I still stand by–they still gots it.

    My one complaint–and complaning about anything that happens at Bear Creek is like saying the bread that came with your flawless surf’n’turf dinner was maybe too doughy–was that we didn’t get enough Eric Krasno. He was “Space Krasno” this year with Lettuce, standing literally in the back and fiddling with some weird noise-making keyboard that was only sometimes audible when he wasn’t neck-deep in some oddball effects setting on his guitar that turned it into a dubbed-out sound machine. And yeah, that’s awesome and all. I enjoyed this strange-flavored, alternate reality Lettuce from outer space. Outer space is definitely a part of the big bad funk sound for sure. But it’s just that, c’mon, this is the guy–in my eyes more than anyone else here–who can deliver that throat-grabbing, oh-my-god, face-melting solo freakout that gives you that feeling. You know the one. That feeling that takes you to another place. So Krasno was around, but he was more of a wheel on the train rather than wearing the engineer hat. Only twice did he step up for a “big” solo and having seen what he is capable of in the past, I think he only took it to like 65%. On this note I miss his Chapter 2 project with Nigel Hall on vocals. That was some real take-me-to-church get-down action which needs to come back again.

    Lettuce @ Purple Hat

    And all this finally brings me to the Soulive set.

    I’ve seen Soulive many times, again too many times to count anymore. Maybe my all time favorite was at the House of Blues in Chicago circa 2006 when the Shady Horns were backing them up with Rashawn on trumpet. And then their Bear Creek set shortly after the release of “Rubber Soulive” where they played all the great Beatles tunes, that was something special. But this set, this set… knocked me out. Like I said already sometimes a great set is where you get just what you expected like NMS this year, or when a familiar act goes a new direction like Lettuce with the dub. But for a very familiar act to blow you away again like you’re seeing them fresh, for the first time, they’ve got to really come out of left field with something unexpected and that’s what Soulive did. Out of all the sets I saw this year, theirs covered the widest stylistic range. They came out swinging with three well-chosen originals including Aladdin, a personal favorite of mine. Bill commented that he wished they had horns up there, and yeah, there were the unlimited resources of Bear Creek horns probably standing around backstage so that was maybe a questionable choice to keep it just the trio for that moment but even so, they brought the energy. Between tracks the comment was made, “Fire. Breathing. Monsters… and there’s only 3 of them!” Which sums it up. And I’m guessing that’s the point they were trying to make.

    But from there-on-out the pendulum started to swing wildly; a slow bluesy gospel section, followed by Eleanor Rigby with a ripping guitar solo. When the music paused at last I leaned over to Bill and said, “submitted for your consideration by Eric Krasno; his entry for best guitar solo of the fest.” And maybe it was, for my tastes. Out of all the many possible things a guitarist can possibly do–everyone is looking for a certain blend of stylistic rootings and phrasing sensiblities–Krasno barks right up my tree with his pentatonic/blues roots and thick application of bended notes, so I am inherently biased toward his playing. This year he was awash with phaser, even over sections he typically play clean. As previously mentioned he didn’t really step out front and *grab it* with Lettuce this year, so Soulive was his best moment. When I interviewed him a few years back, he commented a bit on what factors will push him to “take it there”. To paraphrase I’d say there has to be three things: A. the internal motivation to rock it B. the available sonic space to fit (the sound can’t be too loud or crowded) and C. the band behind him pushing it.

    When Eleanor Rigby had seemingly run its course with solo section completed, out comes rap artist Talib Kweli. He did some freestyle on the verse sections and then made the crowd sing along for the chorus of the tune, which brought a whole new energy. It was like this build up/intensify thing with the rhymes then when the choruses dropped it felt even more anthemic. Pretty rad, and unexpected. When that was done, they did a rendition of Talib’s tune “Get By” and one other jam I didn’t recognize. A decent foray into hip hop territory. After that, the trio dove deep underwater into some dubbed-out seas which resonated big time with this guy since my own musical project has been messing around with dub too. This was before either of the Lettuce sets so it had the impact of surprise. But the biggest surprise of the whole fest was immediately after the first dub moment.

    Soulive, droppin that dub science

    For a rendition of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” the trio brought out… an 11 year old guitar-playing boy with the stage name Taz. Who then proceeded to genuinely blow everyone’s mind. “How old is this person?!” exclaimed Bill. From where we stood in the crowd it was hard to tell if this was a kid or a young looking midget, or even a male or a female with a pretty rocking afro who was mostly facing Krasno. After struggling to discern who or what I was looking at, one thing became clear: this little boy could rock. Like no other kid you’ve seen, ever, anywhere. On TV or the internet or anything. He new how to play tunes, he knew how to solo with fast notes or with bends and tension, he knew what facial expressions to make, he knew how to pay attention and respond musically. He just… had it all. I even found out later that he had his own shirt in the merchandise booth! Disbelief would be the best word to describe the collective reaction to this kid. I’ve seen child prodigies before but this kid, this is something else. And as a piece of the Soulive performance, this clinched it as the set that just defied all predictions. They played their classics, they played the Beatles, they featured a hip-hop star, they dubbed it out, and then they brought out a little child who proceeded to deliever a blistering guitar solo you never thought was even possible from someone that age. Mind = blown.

    Soulive w/ Taz

    Walking away from the show to go see the New Mastersounds at the amphitheater I was shouting to Bill, “What did we just watch!? No, really, what was that? Did I imagine it?” But no, I did not, and over the rest of the weekend Taz went on to be the toast of the fest this year, making brief appearances with all the major acts on classic rock hits with screaming solos like you’ve never heard from a kid. A humorous moment happened during the Orchestra at Large set when a bee flew up to him and he got scared. Taz stopped playing and his eyes widened as he backed up slowly until it flew away. “A BEE!” he mouthed to the crowd as he started up again, rocking the wah on his Pedaltrain Jr. “From the mouthes of babes!” exclaimed Ivan Neville from Dumpstaphunk, shaking his head. Eddie Roberts chuckled that “I had just STARTED playing guitar when I was 11.” Every year you bump into some memorable faces at the fest and there is a guy who always wears a peanut shell as an earring whom we’ve made friends with. Mr. Peanut-Earring commented “Look at the other musicians on stage. Half of them are looking at him so proud like he’s their own son, and the other half are just mad! Like, what the hell!? I had to WORK for this!?” I burst out laughing because he was so right.

    Mr. Peanut-Earring has been a fixture of the fest every year and this year when we bumped into him in the crowd he seemed very excited to see us. He gave both Bill and I a big hug and we talked music for a while. You meet all kinds of funny characters at fests like this so I shrugged it off when he seemed strangely emotional that we remembered him and was loving the conversation. It wasn’t until after he walked away that Bill told me Mr. Peanut-Earring had informed him he was diagnosed with cancer. Here I thought maybe he was on something but no, the emotion was genuine. It was a sobering moment, and I felt sad for him. But maybe also happy too. After all, he was here, and he had been here many times now. This place, for people who love this kind of music, is a spiritual gathering, a religious experience. I don’t think that’s exaggerating it. Sure it’s a meeting of the minds, where like minded travelers from parts far-flung unite under a groove but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dance like you mean it, it’s a cathartic escape into some other dimension with the hippest soundtrack imaginable, flooding into your ears and mind, controlling your legs. It’s a place where you forget everything that’s wrong and let the sound take you away. Where all the musicians push it to their top level and that does something to you too, watching that magic when the performers themselves seem to become infected with this viral euphoria that feeds back and forth between everyone in the whole forest. I said to Bill, “you know some day they’re going to stop doing this fest for one reason or another. And we’ll look back on this like it was some kind of golden age or utopia where everyone who was anyone all just had to be.” I know Mr. Peanut-Earring knows exactly what I’m talking about here and damn, if you gotta go out, one last dose of that sweet Bear Creek gospel sure would be comforting. I know I’d want it. We’ll be looking for you there next year buddy.

    Back in Action: Pro-Ject Debut III USB

    2014 - 11.04

    Probably for the last three months now the nicer of my two turntables turntables has been in the service center.  It was seemingly destroyed by a power surge although nothing else in the house was damaged.  Right after a big storm I tried running it and it was dead.  Multimeter confirmed no juice from the power supply and the “protected” light on the surge protector it was hooked up to had gone out.  Upon replacing the power supply with a generic one, either my off-brand replacement destroyed the motor, or the motor was already toast too because it just made a bad smell and refused to turn.  So three months later, my Pro-Ject is back and back in action.  I broke it in with a clear 45 of Orgone.  It’s good to see this guy again!

    Pro-Ject Debut III USB

    Hi-Fi Entry Point: The Marantz HD-440s

    2014 - 10.25

    Marantz HD440s rightyThe other day at work I was talking with a coworker about stereo equipment and the brand Marantz came up.  I wanted to show him what their amplifiers look like so I did a Google image search for the word Marantz and what do you know, a photo that I took came up in the first couple pages of results!  That’s pretty neat, I thought.  Maybe I ought to post more photos of cool audio equipment that’s made its way into my house.  And thusly begins the first in a series of posts…

    First up is another piece of Marantz gear, the HD-440 speakers.  These actually belong to the drummer I jam with.  He scored them locally for $50 with worn out foam on the woofers.  We spent a couple hours drinking beer and re-foaming them and viola, pretty damn good speakers on the cheap.  They look pretty svelte too, as you can see in the pics.  Those aluminum trim pieces really make them look great with the grilles off.

    While we had the woofers removed for refoaming we took a peek inside.  There’s a lot of foam batting and the crossover consists of two large capacitors, that’s it.  Clearly the Marantz engineers were thinking ‘let’s use good components but use as few parts as possible’.  Since there are only caps that means neither the woofer nor the midrange have a high-cut filter.  They must have purposely selected drivers that had roll-offs close to the capacitor high-pass frequencies.  Either that or they depended on a summed response where the two drivers would combine to form a mostly flat curve.

    This was also my first time trying to re-foam an old woofer.  It wasn’t very hard although it was time consuming.  We also used scotch tape to try pulling out the dustcaps which had been pressed inward.  It worked decent on the woofer but the high range woofer had a dustcap made of fiberous material that started to lose some strands even from the light tug of scotch tape so we quickly gave up on that idea.  I would do a refoam operation again if I found some speakers which I knew were oldies-but-goodies and just needed a new surround to make their triumphant return to greatness.  As with the HD-440s…

    Marantz HD-440