October 1, 2014

Shooting Out Dynamic Mics

The recording session for my new mic shootout happened last week. If you're not familiar with the term, a "mic shootout" is a comparison of microphones which have in common either functionality or application. So it could be a test mics of a particular type, such as ribbon microphones, or mics intended for recording a particular instrument, such as piano. (See this excellent example.) The idea is to answer a question -- in the most objective manner possible -- such as "What are the sonic differences between ribbon mics?" or "How do these different mics sound on acoustic piano?"

In this case, I wanted to explore the sonic differences between dynamic microphones when used on electric guitar amplifiers. Paul Tavenner and I ran the tests at his studio, Big City Recording, which consisted of recording the same guitar track over and over, each time with a different mic. It's a fairly arduous process. The next step will be gathering together a few seasoned pairs of ears together to give all the tests a listen and see who likes what. After that, I'll write up the results and send it off. Matt McGlynn from my all-time favorite website, RecordingHacks.com, has agreed to publish the results, so look for it in about a month. I'll post a link when it's ready.

July 1, 2014

The Goldwyn-Lewis Project

For about a year I've been writing and arranging material for a new project in collaboration with the love of my life, my light, my inspiration, and one of my all-time favorite musicians, pianist and composer Catherine Goldwyn. The expected outcome will be a new recording of instrumental music featuring the interplay of Catherine's piano and the guitar stylings of yours truly (with rhythm section accompaniment and who-knows-what-else). 

For the moment I'll resist the temptation to expound with too much specificity as one never knows exactly which tunes will make the final cut, but suffice to say we've got a lot of great new material -- mostly original, and a few covers as well. I'm particularly excited about some of Catherine's tunes which I think you'll find are quite unlike anything else, and very easy on the ears. 

Our goal is to create interesting new instrumental and improvisational music that can be enjoyed on multiple levels and by a wide range of listeners, not just your traditional jazz fans. To that end we're dispensing with a lot of the traditional jazz idioms and going for a sound that is accessible and yet multi-layered. We've got the material mostly together and have been cutting demos and exploring various production approaches. No title (hence Project X) and no specific release target yet, but I'll keep you posted on the progress. So much fun!

June 1, 2014

Archtop Guitars: A Player's Perspective

My recent piece considering various archtop guitar design approaches has been published! Pick up the May issue of Just Jazz Guitar to check it out (or read the article online here). I'm very honored that it appears in the Jim Hall tribute edition (sadly he passed away in Dec 2013). Jim was long one of the principals in my personal Pantheon of Guitar Gods.

March 3, 2014

Hopkins Marquis Update -- It's Here, It's Gorgeous

After 28 months and uncounted hours of anxiety and stress, my Hopkins Marquis has finally arrived and it's spectacular. Peter really hit it out of the park on this one. It's perfect, there's absolutely no indication that the instrument was ever damaged. I don't know how he did it -- the man is a genius. It plays and sounds wonderful, so responsive and focused, and I couldn't be happier with it. This is one hell of an instrument and the best part is that, like fine wine, it will only improve with age. Thank you, Peter Hopkins!

Just get a look at this beauty....

February 18, 2014

Jim Hall, Guitar Pioneer (1930-2013)

As most everyone has heard by now modern jazz guitar pioneer Jim Hall left this life to join the big jam session in the sky on Dec 10 of last year (2013). Jim had long been been a principal of my personal Pantheon of Guitar Gods. I first heard his playing on Sonny Rollins' The Bridge, one of the seminal jazz recordings of the early 1960s, an experience which has never left me. The tautness of his lines, the judiciousness of his comping, the understated melodic genius, the fierce rhythmic vehemence, just knocked me flat. He was the perfect foil to Rollins' ebullient and lush tenor saxophone. Rollins' decision to record without a piano was, at the time, an unconventional one, leaving Jim's guitar solely to anchor the harmony in the group (which also included Bob Cranshaw and Ben Riley). For good reason, that record made history. It is a landmark of late 20th century jazz.

But The Bridge is far from the only monumental recording to have featured Jim's singular genius. The very next year (1963), he followed up with an album of duets with pianist Bill Evans, UndercurrentUndercurrent has since become the pinnacle, the gold standard of latter-day guitar-piano duets.

To say that Jim's recording credits read like a who's-who of modern jazz would be a gross understatement. Among the luminaries who chose him for the guitar chair are Paul Desmond, Tommy Flanagan, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Tony Bennett, Ron Carter, Gary Burton, and on and on. Suffice to say that from the late 50s through the late 90s, Jim Hall was the go-to guitarist for tasteful, imaginative, modern guitar. The list of essential recordings featuring his playing is far too long to enumerate here. However a short list of recordings that should absolutely not be missed will be appended below. His best-known recording may well be the 1999 set with fellow guitarist Pat Metheny. Metheny has publicly acknowledged his debt to Hall, calling that recording a tribute to him.

Hall was hardly known only as a sideman though. In addition to supporting the greatest names in late 20th century jazz, he cut many recordings under his own name, often with his "standard" trio of himself, keyboardist/bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. In addition, over the course of his long career he was constantly in demand for performances, and even did a stint in the house band for the Merv Griffin Show. As if that weren't enough, Jim was a prolific composer, his output including pieces for jazz and string quartets, as well as a concerto for guitar and orchestra.

As if all this weren't enough, Hall was also an educator, teaching at New York's New School, for example. I know that Pete Bernstein (another pillar of my Pantheon) had studied with Jim there for a time.

The last time I saw Jim was back in the mid-2000s, at the now-defunct Jazz Bakery where he was performing with his trio. Before the gig he was surrounded by a throng of loyal fans and students. The trio played a wonderful set though I can no longer recall the exact material. Afterward I spoke to him briefly. As always he was witty, irascible, and profound. Last year I heard through the grapevine that he wasn't well, though apparently he was still playing great. His loss was therefore not a surprise, but it is a great one and saddens me deeply.

Jim had an approach to the instrument that was truly unique and yet immensely versatile. He never sounded like anyone else, although echoes of his style can be heard in many of today's younger players. His impeccable harmonic sense, his delicate articulation, his intelligence, his taste and restraint, all contributed to his inimitable sound. He was not afraid to plug his ax into outboard effects, or to include synthesizers in his group. He was a true pioneer of the instrument, an eminent musician, a good man, a national treasure, and he will be sorely missed.