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  • Posts Tagged ‘Microcosmologist Official Recommendations’

    Vinyl Review: Visit Venus “Music For Space Tourism, Vol.1”


    2012 - 06.11

    I’m going to try to restrain myself from indulging in a deluge of superlatives to describe the bit of wax in question here, but that intention may not be able to last long. Behold:

    Visit Venus is a duo of German composers Mario Cullmann and Mario con Hacht. In the liner notes for the album it tells a story about how the source material for this was a forgotten 96-track NASA-commissioned musical space odyssey from the 60s, made by the fathers of the two composers responsible for this album. I’m not sure whether or not to believe that. I’m like 70% sure that’s just an awesome fish-tale, but then again, there’s really something about these tracks.

    I discovered this gem a couple years ago courtesy of the DJs on Groove Salad radio from soma.fm but the album originally came out in 1995. Let me say that again: this album came out in NINETEEN NINETY FIVE. That’s just… man. Head-exploding. I look back and think about whatever I was listening to in ’95 and I can safely say that it wasn’t half as hip as this. It’s pretty rare to find an album that you can listen to from start to finish and feel like every single track fits right in, with zero fluff to fill in spaces between the juicy bits. This is one of those albums. And not only that–the sound of this record is so ahead of its time, that if I hadn’t said it twice, there’s no way anyone would guess this came from the 90s. Really the feeling captured on here is some perfect slice of the 60s, mashed up with a very tasteful downtempo production from maybe a few years ago. That doesn’t do it justice either. It’s more like music from an alternate universe, an alternate historical timeline where the space race never ended, men still wore hats, women dressed classy but sexy, and everyone hung out in Eames-designed swank pads that orbited the moon sipping cocktails and looking svelte. But with modern drum machines and samplers too. It truly sounds like the name, Music For Space Tourism.

    What do I mean by that? Well the recipe here is start with a bountiful heaping of buttery-smooth rhodes piano, pour on a diverse mix of mellow flutes, horns, vibraphone and xylophone that are smooth but never cheesy, fold in some sophisticated basslines, twist it up in a series of retrogasmic instrumental samples, and then bump things up a couple notches with deftly tasteful electronic drums. It’s genuinely sexy. Oh and it grooves. Overall It’s the retro sonic-palette that ‘sells’ it. That said, I will comment that the drums are as well-selected as you could ask for; they don’t sound dated in the least, and I know that in 10 more years, these tracks will seen just as fresh to anyone hearing them for the first time. Similar to say, Mushroom Jazz, I don’t think it’s something you’d really dance to in your living room, although at club volumes, I do wonder if it wouldn’t magically transform the same way Farina’s music did when I saw him live. Unquestionably though, you can/will feel like a total badass mackzin & relaxzin to this.

    In short, this is an utterly genius masterpiece of laid-back. This album is ‘the vibe’ that someone envisioned when the genre of smooth jazz was born (and before it went horribly, ghastly wrong), ‘the groove’ that downtempo/lounge producers strive to achieve, and through its samples, invokes the ghost of an era when mankind was doing incredible things. And as you can see from the images, I’m a very very lucky boy to have my very own copy of this archetype on vinyl. It’s instantly one of my most prized pieces in the collection. This copy came from the UK and I believe it’s a German pressing, across a trio of 33RPM LPs. It even includes a bonus track which is not present on the CD version! A bonus track which does, in fact, not suck, and is worthy of this master class in chill. I cannot recommend this work enough. The downtempo genre simply does not get any better than this.

    Rating: 10/10

    Album Art Feature: Cali Fever


    2012 - 04.30

    Here is one of my favorite LPs in my collection, still in the original plastic wrap, Cali Fever by the band Orgone, from LA.  If it weren’t for the New Mastersounds, I think these guys would probably hold the title of the hottest thing happening today, in my taste.  Vintage production styles, superbly written funk tunes, and a killer instrumentation (namely a super-tight trumpeter & trombonist) round out the reasons to love this band.  Cali Fever’s got a number of gems on it, including the title track.  Get onto Spotify (where you can listen instantly and free) to check out the album Bacano if you’ve never heard these guys.  Also a stellar offering.  Seriously, love, love, love this band.

    Of course, it’s featured here because the album cover is a neat piece of artwork unto itself.

    The Perfect Camera is the One You Have With You


    2012 - 01.15

    For a long time now, smartphone cameras have been eating up the camera market for pocketable cameras. It’s easy to see why; smartphone cameras are ‘good enough’ for most people, and why carry around a possibly redundant second thing in your pocket? This week in gadget nerd news, I see that Polaroid will soon be introducing an android-powered camera. This is flirting with a dream object of mine: the awesome compact camera that so happens to have a phone built into it.

    For a long time now we’ve seen thousands of high-quality smartphones… that happen to have a decent camera on them. But there still does not yet exist a high-quality camera… that also happens to have a decent smartphone in it! It’s so obvious. Why has no one does this? For serious guys. It’s a photo nuts dream machine. Slam. Dunk.

    There’s even companies who already make excellent smartphones AND excellent cameras, like Samsung or Sony. Man. How hard can it be to combine these things? Apparently, impossible.

    There have been a few halfhearted attempts, like the Samsung sch-w880 (Asia only, and not Android), or the Panasonic Lumix Phone 101P (shown above) which is Japan only, but it IS Android. That lumix comes the closest to what I’m wishing for. You could probably import one, for like a thousand dollars. That’s so sad. This new Polaroid SC1630 is actually nothing more than a rebrand of a phone that’s been on the market in Asia for a long time now, called the Altek Leo. I was kind of excited by the Polaroid phone until I figured that out.

    While all these phones are interesting, I would still posit that none of them are doing it RIGHT. All of them are still trying to compete with phones on slimness and not offering the features that would make the photo geeks salivate. By that I mean no product exists that offers a serious high quality lens with a phone… in a fat body which barely fits in a tight jeans pocket, one that is brazenly and unapologetically a still a camera first and foremost.

    And so, just for fun, I’ve decided to make a fake advertisement for cameraphone of my dreams that would cater to the hardcore photo niche. If you know what “Av” stands for, and have level 10 Photoshop skillz, this is for you. Since Kodak has been in the news lately for their almost-bankruptcy, I’m imagining it as a comeback product for them: a sexy vintage rangefinder that could steal people away from the Fuji x100 AND the ‘Droid-of-the-week in one fell swoop!  And one that relied heavily on advanced knowledge of what made film so beautiful.  (If this website is slow, the same file is also hosted at Flickr here)

    Maybe I’ll clarify a couple things: I envision the camera and the Android section as essentially independent entities. They both use the same SD card, and they both use the same Android set of buttons, but with different functions depending on the position of the camera/android switch. Also observe that there is an AUTO setting on the ISO dial… this means you could set it to Av, pick your aperture, and have the camera autoselect your shutter speed AND your ISO. That would be super duper nice, to help avoid camera shake. When distracted, I get caught by slow shutter speeds in Av mode all the time, it happens easily.

    A few final thoughts: the body isn’t exactly what I wish it could be, as I was limited by my ability to find a rangefinder camera that had high resolution photos taken of it from the front, top, and back. Given the boring backsides of many film cameras, finding the back image was surprisingly tough. It would definitely be two-tone though. No question there. Another limitation was my own Photoshop ability and how much time I wanted to invest getting an idea across. If I were sketching this thing from scratch, I would’ve probably laid out the controls slightly different, but this conveys all the features I wanted, maybe just not in the exact right positions. I thought a edited photo would be a lot more enticing than a sketch though, so I went that route.

    For anyone who’s curious, what’s here is a touched up version of a Zorki-4, an old Soviet rangefinder. I also used the spun dials from my old Marantz amp, a photo of the screen on my Droid X, and the camera/play switch from my old Canon A60 (that switch always felt so sure and right under my finger, with a satisfying click into each position). There’s a few things that did get left out; I would’ve liked to add a neat looking lens cap that tethered to the body with a small cord to stop it from getting lost. Also I would’ve liked to mock up pictures of the accessories, but it would’ve taken a lot of time. It’s hard to translate something in your mind to something visual.

    Last thing I’ll add is that it’s sort of wild that Kodak is even in the position it is… I learned on Wikipedia that in 1976 Kodak had a 90% market share of photographic film sales in the United States.  That’s a lot.  Maybe they should draw on that colossal expertise and build a camera like this one, instead of inkjet printers and digital picture frames.  It’d be cool to see them turn it around and make incredible gear.

    Interview with Eric Krasno


    2011 - 11.21

    Last week I had the good fortune of being able to do an interview with Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno via telephone.  Our discussion is reprinted below, with my questions in black, his responses in red.  I’d like to specifically thank Kevin Calabro for getting this arranged.  I’m a pretty tremendous fan of this guy so it was a special treat to ask him about all things musical!

    *   *   *

    I want to talk about; musicianship, specifically about improvisation to start off with. Over the course of the last, idunno, seven years or so, I’ve caught many of your performances. Out of my favorite musicians who form the contemporary funk scene, I think you in particular seem like your approach to soloing has consistently and considerably been evolving. Every time I see you, I feel like you’ve gotten more and more in touch with whatever it is that sends the listener “over the edge” during a solo, so to speak. Can you talk about how your improvisation has changed over the years?

    I guess it’s about having more tools to expand. I listen to a lot of different stuff, a lot of singers, I listen to a lot of different types of music, I try to add to my toolbox I guess you would say. And I try not to think about it while I’m actually performing. I’d say most of the stuff that I play, I didn’t sit necessarily down and learn note for note off of something, but I’ve probably absorbed it from somewhere. As I evolve as a musician I get better at hearing things and translating them into my own language. Also just being around great musicians, and seeing their approach to things—I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of great musicians and see them in action. Every time I play with somebody great I feel like I catch a little bit of what they’re doing and try to hold on to it.

    Can you speak a little bit about what you do to shape your solos? Is it through dynamics, and the density of notes, or are there other things you’re concentrating on? How do you guide the intensity level of a solo?

    I mean that totally depends on the moment. That’s really a hard thing to explain. It has a lot to do with who I’m playing with, and people listening to the vibe of the moment—not to sound too cosmic—but it is kind of a cosmic thing to a certain degree. I’m very much affected by my environment. If the band is playing really loud, and the people in the audience are loud, talking or raging or whatever they’re doing, then I’ll just start from a higher point and go from there. There’s not maybe as much to go. Whereas if the band has much more of a dynamic sense, they’ll know certain times when I want to start really soft and slow and minimal and take my time building it.

    But I do feel that I’m usually anxious to build it in some way or form. Whereas some guys if they’re not feeling it they won’t do it at all. Which I’m starting to do more of. I’m starting to be a little more picky, and certain times if I’m not feeling like being completely aggressive, I’ll just stop before I get there. Although I’d say 90% of the time I get fairly aggressive at some point in a solo.

    But again, it depends on what’s happening underneath and what the groove is. If someone’s pushing me to take it there then I will.

    What is one thing that you’re working on right now that you want to improve upon in your playing?

    Seeing people like Scofield—I actually just watched this video of me playing in 2001 with Mark Whitfield and it was really interesting to watch what I was playing, and then what he was playing there. He was just killing this bebop stuff. I’ve never been a jazz, jazz player, but I feel like there’s certain elements of that I really dig. The way he was moving around the chord progressions was really interesting to me. For a long time I’ve been more into playing more like rock and roll and blues. Weaving between that—bebop and Stevie Ray Vaughn-like type of blues. Developing more of a combination of those things, being able to blend them together without being too obvious about it.

    Kind of a balance between the soulful and the cerebral then?

    Yeah, yeah, exactly, without overthinking it. That part of me has evolved, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement and finding new ways to do it.

    What were the most valuable things you did to get to the level you’re on today? Like practicing certain phrases in all 12 keys or transcribing solos that you really dug? Or was it simply playing as much as possible with the best musicians you could find?

    I would say that most of it is playing with the best people and playing as many shows as I can. Definitely sitting through and thinking about chords and combinations of notes. Being able to play the pentatonic in every key, in every position, is really important. And just to know where you are at all times and what’s possible. The way I think is less in terms of modes and scales, and more in terms of pentatonics as the home base and then all of the different ways to go off—there’s only 12 notes, really 11. You can simplify. I feel like a lot of people overcomplicate things, when really it’s all about hearing how each note feels against a particular chord.

    I guide myself by using pentatonic. Honestly a lot of the time what I’m playing is pentatonic. What I’ve worked on is knowing which notes within that will feel a certain way. I know where the pentatonics are relative to whatever chord that’s going on at any time; that’s what you gotta do. From there you play with tensions. And see how they feel against what you’re doing, and hope that other people hear it and respond.

    Do you have some favorite ways of doing that, playing with tensions?

    I do it differently all the time. When I practice, which honestly isn’t enough—Most of the time I’m playing I’m either rehearsing something or writing something—but when I do practice, I try different tensions and see. There’s no real format to it. Sometimes I like to take a chord and play triads against that chord, up and down the neck. That’s an exercise I like.

    Take the chords of a Lettuce song like “Breakout”, and play a triad at any position that works over those chords and never stopping with 8th notes or 16th notes—not stopping. Another good exercise, if you have someone who can play chords with you, is to have them change those chords, and you try not to stop. That’s a good exercise for your ear, to play 16th note arpeggios, never stopping and keep moving with different chords. It makes your ear work.

    That was one thing I noticed listening to that video where I was ten years ago: I was playing a lot more notes than I do now. At the time I thought I was gonna cry, because Mark Whitfield had played the best solo. Then I watched myself and thought, oh wow, I’m playing a lot of good stuff, but I’m not listening the way I listen now. You know, I was just playing as much stuff as I could, probably because one of the greatest guitar players in the world had just played and I had to play next. So part of me was anxious play a lot.

    I was honestly playing more proficiently than I do now, which is a little scary, but I listen a lot more now, and I’m a lot more choosy with my notes. I think that’s probably age. You watch BB King now and he plays like three notes, but they’re all very tasteful.

    I am not a religious man, but there is something undeniably spiritual about this music; where does that come from, or what is the root of that?

    I think it’s meditation. Some people go to church, and some people pray, and some people… play music. I think it’s a vibration thing. You connect with a certain vibration. Some people are more instantly in tune with that than others. When you vibrato, whether you’re singing or playing a trumpet or a saxophone, you connect with certain sound waves or vibrations that are around you—it’s powerful! People feel it. It’s definitely spiritual, but it’s somewhat scientific as well. There’s vibrations surrounding us at all times.

    What does it mean to “have soul”? It’s more than just playing with emotion—it’s also about connecting with your audience as well, right? What grants that label: soulful?

    I think that everyone’s soulful. Some people have more ability to communicate that soul. Or a way to kind of ride that. A lot of times it’s coming through whichever person. And they just have this skill or… the channel—that they can tune into that thing. Everyone can feel that. I don’t think anyone can deny that when Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Jimi Hendrix played, they were channeling something bigger than themselves. Some people are more in tune to it.

    I was watching John Scofield play, and his drummer Sandy Powell. And all weekend he had been watching all these drummers rip, playing all these notes. He got up there, and he was playing the most simple. Groove. Each thing he was played had such power to it. It wasn’t power like he was hitting hard—he felt every little thing he was doing. I think that’s partly him doing it, and I think it was him connecting, in a certain way. Like you said before it’s somewhat spiritual. Some people just have it. An innate ability.

    What’s the best way for younger players, coming up, to get in touch with that?

    A lot of it is just listening to what’s out there. That’s the thing about right now, you can go on YouTube and watch so much amazing stuff. That’s part of it. Part of it is playing. Singing what you play. That’s what soulful is to me—you sing what you play. I don’t mean physically singing it, not making notes with your voice, but rather than playing arpeggios and scales… that’s important, but when it comes down to it, that’s never made me a better player. It’s given me more technical proficiency, which allows me to have more vocabulary when I’m speaking. It’s really about playing as much as possible, with people.

    Or whatever your thing is. If you’re a person who plays by yourself, go play by yourself every day. If your thing is playing with a band, go play with your band every day. Or play with different people every day. My thing, I like writing, performing, composing, and producing with people. I can play by myself but that’s not my thing. So what I’ve been able to do is play with so many different people that now when I play with someone, I’m ready. I’m used to this, I’m used to feeding off of other people or supporting them when I need to or vice versa.

    I’d like to riff on the topic of ‘jams’ for a little bit. Both this year and last year I saw you sitting in at the late nite treehouse pick-up session at Bear Creek. I personally find that really inspiring; to see these extremely successful musicians still passionate about jamming; or more specifically, passionate about the magic of what happens when a hot jam slides “into alignment” if you feel what I’m saying—I mean that’s what got all of us into improvisational music in the first place! Right?! Can you talk a little bit about what motivates you to keep on jamming?

    That’s moment by moment. If there’s something going on right then that I feel like, “oh yeah, I can do something with this, I can really add to this right here!” I always want to do it. I don’t care if it’s people I know or not! And then there’s times when I feel like I’m gonna add anything. The jam this year, there was so much going on, that there was only a couple moments when I really wanted to play. Not putting down what was going on, it’s just there was so much going on. That it was like there was no open spaces. I like open spaces, that’s my thing, man. If I hear a groove that’s got a lot of open space in it, I’m gonna jump in there.

    So yeah! If you lose that—if you lose that then you’re kind of screwed! You gotta always wanna play, you gotta always want to play! Music is all about playing. It’s all about jams. For what we do, it’s all about that spontaneous moment. Even when we have songs—when Soulive performs we have tons of songs, and sure you like playing the songs—the fun part is when you find something new that’s never happened before. So when you’re in a room with guys playing that’s all there is—finding something brand new. And I’ll say whenever Lettuce performs, it’s all about finding those moments that are brand new. Whenever we show up to jam sessions and guys want to play songs off our record, I’m always like no way, man, that’s why we did that. We did that at the concert, now let’s just play. Let’s find something real.

    You can’t really force a hot jam. By that I mean, you can’t sit down your favorite musicians and say “right, we’re going to have a jam here, and it’s going to be the sexiest, phattest jam any of us have ever had.” That doesn’t work. What is it that makes a session come together?

    It’s gotta just happen. There’s so many elements. The comfort level, the respect for one another. It’s different every time I suppose, what makes it happen. Whatever makes up that moment. It definitely has something to do with who’s playing, their level, and their ability to listen. I think a lot of it is your ability to listen to what’s going on. At the level of the people who were at the Bear Creek festival it was pretty easy, because everyone’s on that level. All those guys have jammed together so many times, or if not together with so many other great people. Put those guys in a room—it’s gonna be great.

    Switching gears: recently you’ve taken some forays in to the world of DJing; what prompted this?

    Really it was the discovery of this program Ableton Live. I’ve been kinda DJing for a while, but more just like hanging around doing stuff. I’ve been producing beats and making hip hop for a long time, so I always had a turntable and a sampler and all that type of stuff. But then when I got into Ableton I was like ‘oh wow’, I do a lot of my own remixes and stuff, I need somebody to hear this! I’m not gonna put it out, because it’s someone else’s music essentially; I’m just taking the vocals and remixing it over different beats. So then I was like, oh I’ll start playing it out. Eventually I actually put a mixtape out. Which was a combination of some of my favorite music, all across the map: hip hop, rock, funk. People started hearing me do it and they were like, oh you should do that! I started doing some shows, opening for Soulive, then people heard the mixtape and started booking me for festivals and stuff. So it’s something I’m just totally doing it for fun, I’m not like extra serious about it, but it’s fun, ya know? I’m having a good time.

    What records would you say really influenced the way you want to play guitar? What did you hear made you say, I wanna sound like that!

    The first thing ever was Led Zepplin. Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, then eventually Stevie Ray Vaughn. Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix was what I grew up upon, really inspired me to play guitar. The first thing I ever learned was Zepplin. Over the Hills and Far Away, I think that was the first thing I ever learned. From there, that was it.

    Who out there is doing it right for you? Not people that you’re working with, but people that are inspiring you?

    As guitar players, definitely John Scofield, and Derek Trucks, there’s a guy named Gary Clark Junior who I love. He’s amazing. Definitely people are going to be hearing about him, for sure. There’s a group out of New York called the London Souls, amazing band. I’m always looking for new stuff.

    I mostly listen to songwriters. I do a lot of songwriting for other people and stuff. When I’m not on tour, I’m generally in that mode.

    How did you guys settle upon the name Royal Family for your collective of musicians?

    I don’t really know! When I was putting together a band with Nigel, which ended up being Chapter 2, we were going to call that Royal Family. As I started thinking about it I was like, oh, that’d be better for the collective, for the whole crew. We have so many musicians and bands in our crew, we needed an umbrella, so people knew where to find out what’s going on.

    I don’t remember exactly how I came up with that name, but it was when I was here—I’m in Florida right now. This is where I was when I thought of it. I used to stay at a different apartment and I was riding my bike past there with my girlfriend yesterday and I was like, oh that’s right, that’s where I was when I came up with the idea! I don’t know where exactly it came from, to be honest. It was like, Royal Family, that’s it!

    You guys have got your own festival now, the Royal Family Affair. That’s pretty rad. What do you hope that fest will grow into, or be known for in future years?

    Part of it is to make it a family vibe, people sitting in with each other. In the same way that Bear Creek is. I want it to be very unique from other festivals in that there will be a lot of collaboration going on. It’s also got an educational element to it, there’s going to be a lot of workshops, where people talk about their craft and their music. It’ll be like the fans’ portal into the world of these musicians to a degree. It’ll be more intimate than going to a big Bonaroo or something like that. We don’t want it to get that big, we just want it to be a real music-lovers’ festival, for the real music-heads.

    It bums me out that I was not there to witness those workshops, and I’m certain there are many others who feel the same. Are there any plans to document these workshops and make them available either on DVD or online for those who couldn’t make the journey?

    We documented these last year and we’re going to do it again. We’re already putting the ideas together for next year. I’m really looking forward to where it goes from here. I’ve been watching different edits of it, and hopefully we’ll have soon. In the next few months we’re going to be putting out pieces of it as promotional material for the next year’s festival. We’ll be dropping each segment throughout the next coming months.

    You play in billions and billions of different groups; what’s one recent gig that stood out in your mind as particularly enjoyable, for you personally?

    I really enjoyed Bear Creek. The Lettuce set—I mean, The Chapter 2 set actually on Saturday was awesome because Lewis was there and I haven’t been able to play with him for a while. So that was really great. And that was kind of a reunion because Nigel’s been on tour with Warren Haynes and Lewis has been on the road with Marcus Miller, so the four of us with Adam Deitch came together, hadn’t seen each other in a long time, got together and just… right off the top it felt amazing.

    That version of “Get Back” was just awesome. That finale with the half time swing; did you choreograph that in advance, or did that just kind of happen?

    Yeah! That’s happened before, but we didn’t talk about it that day. I remember getting to that moment—oh I remember we used to do this! I think we had done it at gigs in New York or something.

    Last question: You’re a driven man. What is it, when you wake up in the morning, that makes you keep saying to yourself: I wanna do this again, I wanna get up there tonight and I wanna make that funky shit happen! What is it about this music that keeps you always wanting more?

    At this point, I don’t know anything else!

    *   *   *

    To watch Sir Eric Krasno in action, taking a solo with Lettuce at the Bear Creek music festival, check out the footage I captured in the previous post.

    To read more about Bear Creek 2011, or read about FUNK music in general, check out the funk tag.

    Orgone: The Grand Finale That’s Actually an Intro


    2011 - 11.15

    Out of the many excellent bands on the contemporary funk circuit, I personally think that L.A.’s Orgone is one of the greasiest and most underappreciated groups doing it today. Each one of their albums is heavy-laden with meaty cuts that you might swear came from 1977 if you didn’t know better. I’ve been evangelizing about this band for a while now to anyone who will listen, and was anxious to see their deliberately crafted retro sounds in motion again.

    Orgone played twice last year at Bear Creek, although the first show seemed under-attended and the second was early in the afternoon. That being my first time seeing them, and knowing full well the extensive size of their catalog of gems, I was quite cross to find that they actually repeated maybe three to five songs between their two sets at BC’10–a big no-no for back to back festival performances! Don’t get me wrong, their performance was excellent, but it just wasn’t…. what I knew it could be!

    This year, on the other hand, was exactly the Orgone show I’d been waiting for. They dropped a great mix of new tunes and old, with a ferocious amount of energy on stage. Unlike last year this set was outdoors after sunset, and a giant, enthusiastic crowd had gathered to move to those west-coast grooves!

    Their keyboard player, whose solos really did a number on me at their previous shows, never really quite stepped up to the intensity level of which he is capable. But as seen in the photo collage above, artist at large Robert Walter stepped in to provide that B3 hotness.  The horn section certainly was as powerful and brazen as ever–a central component to the signature punch Orgone delivers. Being partial to brass horns, these guys with their tight articulations and well-crafted harmonies are an inspiration to behold. Seeing their trumpeter and trombonist work together is a treat.

    There’s been some personell changes since I caught them last, although from the looks of their website I think the band may just have several players who swap out depending on availabilty. That makes sense since these guys have a positively brutal touring schedule. If you get a chance–and you will–go check them out. Seriously. Top shelf grooves, this stuff.

    It was certainly great to get in the crowd and feel the energy their music was stirring up amongst the people. When the performance ended in a climactic frenzy, Bill commented “That felt like some kind of grand finale.” to which I roared with excitement, “And this is literally just the very beginning of the must-see shows at this fest!”

    ‘Late Nite Chill on the Lake’ downtempo mixset


    2011 - 10.09

    Servin’ up another mixset to add to the list of original content around here; I call it the “Late Nite Chill on the Lake”. This is another byproduct of the Bill’s Boat Cassette Project, only unlike the previous two “Cactus Vinyl Funk Mix” and “BOATCHASE!” this one is a descendant of the mix which was imprinted to ferromagnetic tape, labeled “Heady Downtempo”. The tape was version 1, this is version 5. Click on the image below to stream it from the music player on the navigation bar!


    This mix is intended to be something you’d put on after a long day of cruising around on the lake, tubing, drinking, goofing off, enjoying the sunlight and the fresh air. The sun goes down, you turn on the running lights, pop open one last brew (or maybe the second or third to last), and slip this tape into the deck. Or this could be what you put on the stereo after you get back to the lakeside house after a day on the water. In any event, it’s the soundtrack to the end of a long day of good times.

    Tons of artists suffer from the desire to keep tweaking their works ad nauseum, to the point where one begins to wonder, “Will it ever be ready”? This mix was suffering from the same nagging feeling that I could still improve it, but finally I decided to just shove it out onto the stage and say okay, OCD adjustments OVER, this is it. Some of the neat tweaks you guys might appreciate knowing about:

     the sounds of the Mediterranian Sea can be heard between tracks 2 and 3. I recorded these on MiniDisc in 2004. Finally I put them to use here.

     the very start of the mix begins with the sound of me taking a cassette out of its plastic case, opening my cassette deck, putting the tape in, closing the door, pressing the power button, and hitting play.

     the end of track 1 and the beginning of the last track were run through my Glass Nexus effect pedal, providing a large reverb and some delay. On track 1 the effect starts out light and gets progressively thicker; on the last track the effects start out thick and fade back into to clean. I tried using the software reverbs on the PC and they just weren’t cutting it–the Glass Nexus has an awesomely realistic ‘verb.

     some of the chatter (in French) before the last track I recorded at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris from 2005. There is also a really cool sound effect that I included, which plays through the airport preceeding any announcement over the intercom.

    update: the people have demanded a tracklist, so here she be:

    Tracklisting:
    1. Global Communication – “5:23”
    2. Leggo Beast – Bizzare Love Pentangle
    3. Tipper – Everything Is Everything
    4. Visit Venus – First Man On The Moog
    5. Tom Middleton – Astral Projection
    6. Blue Planet – Chaser
    7. Bonobo – The Shark
    8. Swag – Aug Munch
    9. The Karminsky Experience – Departures

    As with before we’ve got a 160 kb/s mp3 for download, and a luscious, rich FLAC file for your audiophile needs. Put this on after dark, and kick it.

    Sweet, Sweet Funky HD Video


    2011 - 09.12

    Oh man. So in case you didn’t pick up on it, I like funky music a lot. On my recent trip to Wisconsin, I extended my stay so that I could catch a concert that, when I first heard about it, made me exclaim, “Wahaaaaaaaaat?!”

    It’s the jazzy funk organ trio WRD aka Walter, Roberts, & Deitch. For anyone keeping score, that’s Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds on guitar, Robert Walter of the Greyboy Allstars on B3 organ with basslines, and Adam Deitch of Lettuce and Pretty Lights on the drums. Holy. Crap. Let’s get right into the videos, taken from the Jazz in the Park concert series in Milwaukee Wisconsin on 8/18/11:

    While most people will just appreciate it at face value for what it is, I gotta say for those of us who follow the modern funk music scene, this trio is 1. a total dream-team and 2. a pretty fascinating confluence of different vibes from within the same overall scene. Adding to the interest is the fact that they embarked on a 5 date tour, with no future dates yet announced. So get it while it’s hot, and you best believe; it’s HOT!

    Let’s break down who’s who, and what they each add to the mix:

    On drums, Adam Deitch has put in a lot of time with Lettuce, bringing his really tight, on-tempo, in-your-face school of beats from New York City. He’s also played with jazz great John Scofield and acted as producer for some legit hip-hop albums from Talib Kweli and 50 Cent. His sound is hard, flashy, bombastic. The overpowering, explosive records from Lettuce owe a lot to Deitch’s style. He’s also a young guy! It’s pretty cool that the relatively older Roberts and Walter decided together that this would be the right guy for forming an organ trio.

    On the flip side of the spectrum we’ve got Robert Walter, a keys player who’s helped redefine the meaning of boogaloo for the modern generation. This cat hails from San Diego and now lives in New Orleans–sorry, Nawlins. He’s loose, and I mean that in all right ways. For many years he’s been a cornerstone of the Greyboy Allstars. He’s also played in a jillion other settings it seems like, from his own groups–the 20th Congress and the Super Heavy Organ trio–to the Stanton Moore Trio and gobs of other one-off delightful combinations of hip musicians. I saw him with Stanton Moore in New York about five years ago and it was a treat to hear him play basslines. Same deal here. In fact I sort of feel like he’s gotten better with them… or maybe he was just getting into it in Milwaukee and performed exceptionally well. In any event, this guy is a giant on the B3 organ, generally with a laid back feel, ahead of the beat, behind the beat, around the beat–and pours it on masterfully.

    Lastly, there’s Eddie Roberts from Leeds in the UK, who’s known for his main gig with The New Mastersounds. As with the others, he also has a mile-long list of side collaborations and projects. Eddie is the top chef when it comes to Deep Funk, serving up a signature stew of meaty rhythm guitar wah-comping, rippin’ solos seasoned with Wes Montgomery style harmonized licks, and an increasingly tasteful sense of when to escalate the energy level with his trademark bursts of quick-pickin’ or let the feeling simmer while he marinates with some soulful strummin’. Roberts typically eases into a performance, taking at least a few tunes to really get situated before he hits you with the secret sauce that makes you smile, but here with the WRD Trio, he came out swinging hard. I’ve seen him play at least ten different times now, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen him come out immediately so strong. A pleasure to watch! Out of all the guys playing funk guitar out there today, Roberts is the top of the heap, in my eyes.

    In their own ways, you can make a solid arguement that each of these three guys are at the forefront of their respective veins of today’s funk scene. It’s pretty exciting to see them teaming up like this, and you can tell both from the playing, and the facial interactions between them, that they’re having a good time!

    – – –

    To switch gears for a minute here, this was sort of the first major outing with my new T3i video DSLR, and it was a learning experience. Probably the most major thing I immediately took away from these videos was the importance of holding the camera steady. What seems like minor fumbling on the 3″ camera LCD I watch while filming, turns into jarring and distracting earthquakes on the 24″ LCD at home! Lesson learned!! I got a little wild with my quick zooms at times, which sometimes worked awesome (like right at the beginning of a solo), sometimes seem a bit kitschy but still cool (zooming in along with the beat), and sometimes overdone (too much ranch will ruin any salad).

    Note that anytime you can see the keys on Robert’s B3, I’m holding the camera up as high as I can over my head, with the T3i articulating screen pointed 90 degrees down so I can keep things in frame. Boom. There you go–paying extra for the T3i was justified afterall.

    Walking sideways and/or *slowly* moving the camera around on an otherwise steady shot turned out to be cool techniques that somewhat capture the excitement of “being there”, instead of the clinical feel of a documentary. I want to experiment more with those in the future. Rotating the camera to odd angles in order to fit as much interesting stuff into the frame as possible was also a good idea. Those shots that tightly frame Eddie’s head at the left and Adam’s drums on the right were cool. I want to try doing more of these so-called “Dutch Angles” in the future.

    I also learned that with 1080p at 24fps, it’s a waste of video footage to do any really fast pans, like the ones that sweep over the audience rapidly. With this framerate and quick camera movement, the subject just turns into mush. Finally, another big takeaway is that I need to improve my skills on quickly refocusing with the manual focus ring, specifically by always rotating it in the correct direction. If I want to be able to master moving between subjects and not having moments of blurriness (which can admittedly be sort of cool in limited amounts) I’ll need to develop some better ability for wrangling those rings more responsively! Maybe even DURING a pan between subjects…

    There’s room for improvement!

    Riding In An Ultralight Seaplane — WOW!


    2011 - 09.01

    So there we were, chillin on the SS Advanced Manoeuvres, drinking High Lifes and getting down with some funky jams, when off on the horizon this weird plane appears. I say to my buddies, Q: “is that a seaplane?” A: “why yes, it appears that it is.” The mystery plane comes in for a closer approach and yep, it’s a bright red seaplane with yella pontoons. Awesome! Then he comes in for yet another pass, this time REALLY close. After buzzing the boat, we watch this guy circle around the lake and ask “is he about to land that thing?” Spoiler alert: yes.

    We’re anchored in a shallow part of the lake where most pleasurecraft tend to congregate due to the nice sandy lakebottom, along with maybe 5 or 6 other boats. The red seaplane touches down not too far away and pulls up alongside another vessel not far from ours. After debating it for a little while, we decide to go over and talk to the guy.

    His name is Donny and we chat it up for maybe a good 10-20 minutes or so. He says the plane runs off of normal gasoline just like you’d get in any gas station, and tells a story about how he flew it all the way home from Florida once. That’s sort of extreme, considering that it probably qualifies as an ultralight aircraft, and I doubt the top speed is really all that fast. After a while, I can’t resist asking any longer; “so uhh… what would it take to get you to take me for a little spin on this baby? I can toss some gas money your way and I’ve got a sweet camera that can capture a video for youtube.”

    Answer: yeah sure, go grab your camera. I could always use some extra gas money.

    My buddy Cody rolls his eyes in some combination of astonishment and admonishment; “John… I can’t believe you.” All I can say is “aww man!”

    So I hustle back to home base and retrieve the gear, hop on this seaplane and shoot this video (be sure to hit the 1080p HD!:)

    Aww man is RIGHT.

    Earlier this year I flew in a single engine Cessna and it was definitely way cooler than a commercial jet. Being able to see forward really changes the experience. Single engine planes are really a whole different world compared to airline travel. Flying in this ultralight seaplane was like the next level of coolness beyond that–you can easily look down on either side of you. For someone afraid of heights, this thing would probably be terrifying. Me, I do have somewhat of a fear of heights, but when I’m strapped in tight, as on an amusement ride, it doesn’t bother me. The whole thing was over before I knew it, finishing with an exceedingly smooth landing. I thought that touching down on the lake would feel rough, but no, it was actually softer than a large jet landing.

    So yeah. That was really something else. I wasn’t paying too much attention to where the camera was pointed; pretty much just gawking at the world below and trying to take it all in. Donny and I both had headsets on, so we could chat while we were up there. Right after we took off, he’s like, “hey, do you mind if I put on some reggae while we fly?” And I was all, “oh man, this is the life.”

    A day to remember.

    The Funky Cactus Vinyl Gold, To Blow Up Your Eardrums


    2011 - 08.27

    It’s time to raise the curtain on two little mini-mixes I’ve been compiling for some time. I’m really tickled with how awesome these turned out.  First off: “The 70’s Cactus Vinyl Funk Mixtape” (click the cassete to play)

    I’ve been hitting up this really awesome record store in Houston called Cactus Music, where they have maybe 20-30 crates of used vinyl which is up for grabs at 97¢ per LP. Yes, $0.97. It’s completely unsorted and a good deal of the records are scratched and dirty, but still, for under a dollar per LP, this place is a total gold mine. This mixtape is the cream of the funky crop I found while diggin through those crates down at Cactus this summer.

    As you’ll hear immediately from the start, there’s plenty of crackle and vinyl “dirtyness” in here. I did pick up a record cleaner soon after I started buying LPs, but listening back to two recorded versions of the opening track which I dubbed before and after using the record cleaner, I actually decided to use the dirty one on purpose. I dig the raw, unkempt vibe that record crackle gives. There’s even a minor skip in the second track; see if you can catch it. I left if raw intentionally so it’s exactly like you’d hear if a buddy came over to your house and you were excited to play that hot LP you just found earlier this week–we’re not going to waste time cleaning this thing, throw it on the platter and go, man!

    That’s pretty much the spirit of this mix–it’s a bunch of weird 70’s funk that I’d never known of before, mostly from bands I’d never heard of before either. I compiled it to share my favorite finds with fellow funk fanatics. The mix is 30 minutes long so it would fit perfectly onto a cassette tape as part of the Bill’s Boat Cassette Project. Since I was putting extra care into the track selection and mastering of this mix, moreso than any of the other tapes, I got on eBay and picked up a sweet looking reel-to-reel style tape for it, as you can see above. The vinyl was digitized to FLAC through my Pro-Ject Debut III USB turntable, arranged in Sony ACID, compressed and mastered with T-Racks tube emulation software, rendered back to FLAC again, and then put to tape on my NAD 6130 cassette deck. I was very pleased with the end result!

    Since I did spend time obsessing about the sound quality, I’ll offer this one in FLAC in addition to the usual 160kbs mp3. Right click those links to download. Click the cassette above to stream it now (flash required).

    Track Listing:

    1. Cosmic Truth – Earthquake Shake
    2. B.T. Express – Do It ‘Til You’re Satisfied
    3. Brass Connection – Movin’
    4. The Commodores – Patch It Up
    5. Cosmic Truth – UFO’s
    6. Ronnie Laws – Mis’ Mary’s Place
    7. Steve Miller Band – Fly Like an Eagle (psychedelic intro only)
    Playtime: 30 minutes

    And the proverbial Side B to The 70’s Cactus Vinyl Funk Mixtape: “BOATCHASE!” (you can stream this too, by clicking the previous cassette and going to the next track. Since these mixes were created together, I’m grouping them in their own playlist together)

    Track Listing:

    1. Brass Connection – Sambo (progression)
    2. Curtis Mayfield – Junkie Chase
    3. Ohio Players – Fight Me, Chase Me
    4. Ohio Players – The Big Score
    5. Mandrill – Silk
    Playtime: 24 minutes

    As with the A-Side, this mix was gathered exclusively from 97¢ vinyl I bought at Cactus Records and built/mastered the same way, only this time I picked these particular cuts to emulate the soundtrack for a 1970s style boat chase scene, probably from a movie about people smuggling illicit goods from tropical locations. There’d be a lot of exposed chest hair and mustaches involved. And brown avaiator sunglasses. You’ll notice the last tune is a change of pace–this is the triumphant part of the boat chase where you’ve eluded the pursuers and are chillin out in the sunshine, smooth sailin.

    As above, we got FLAC format available for you audiophiles with the Grado headphones, and we’ve got 160kbs mp3 available for the iPod listeners on the move. Click the top cassette to launch em right now in the player, playa. Also available in the Music section.

    Awwwwwwww GIT IT!

    The BBCP: Bill’s Boat Cassette Project


    2011 - 08.23

    Ever been jealous of a present that you’re giving to someone else? This tape collection is totally like that.

    My buddy Bill acquired a boat some time back, and since I knew I’d be chillin on it with him over my Wiscotrip this summer, I wanted to bring along some hot jams. Deadly hot jams. As detailed previously, being able to provide the proper musical playback format involved getting a cheap tape deck and makin tapes. And here’s the results:

    The tapes:

    “70’s Cactus Vinyl Funk” Mixtape / “So Funky It Hurts!” Mixtape
    “BOATCHASE!” Mixtape / “Modern Funksters” Mixtape (not shown–it’s in the player!)
    “70’s Vocal-Funk” Mixtape / Donny Hathaway: Live
    Orgone: Cali Fever / Orgone: Killion Vaults
    Greyboy / New Mastersounds
    Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles: Live (Sides A & B)
    Curtis Mayfield: Superfly (Sides A & B)
    “Heady Downtempo” Mixtape / Scientist Dubtape
    Easy Star Allstars: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band (Sides A & B)

    Click on the linked titles to Listen!

    Some of it is taped directly from vinyl, others are recorded from the PC, where I’ve got a nice retro-wamrth compressor/limiter program that brings out the detail on those tracks. As you can see, there’s a definite genre theme here with a heavy amount of funk. That’s what Bill digs the most, and also I wanted to stay centered there so the whole collection would have its own ‘vibe’, as the soundtrack to the boat. The two exceptions to the funk theme would be the Heady Downtempo/Scientist Dub mixtape, which I envisioned as something you’d want to put on while floatin on the lake after the sun’s gone down, and the Easy Star, which is just such a killer record I had to throw it in.

    There’s a veritable cornucopia of killer jams here, a substantial portion of which will eventually get posted on the site. Stay tuned for the full lowdown.  In the meantime, check out the SS Advanced Manoeuvres