Music Monday: Drew OfThe Drew

Every year I create a new playlist in Spotify and spend the rest of the year adding all of the new songs that I liked that year to the playlist.  I do this for a few reasons; partly so I can blog about the music that I like, but mostly it’s just so that I can collect all of my favorite songs of the year in one place, so it’s easy to listen to my favorites.

It started out in 2013 when I realized that my musical tastes change quite dramatically over time, and I like a huge variety of music.  So I’ve got 4 years worth of playlists that I keep and when I go back through them it never ceases to amaze me not only how diverse my musical tastes can be, but also how frequently my tastes change.  My 2013 playlist has Kimbra right alongside Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding with Radiohead, and Billy Joel with The Bad Plus.  Skip to 2016 and I’ve got D’Angelo alongside Snarky Puppy, MuteMath and Marisa Monte, Tim McGraw and Oz Noy, all happily coexisting on the same playlist. This probably isn’t what everyone would want, but  it’s pretty fun and interesting to put these playlists in random and see what comes up next.  Sometimes I’ll be listening to Thrice (their latest album is pretty cool), and sometimes I’ll be listening to Hiromi, Prince, or Janek Gwizdala.

So with that lead-in I wanted to talk about one artist that recently got added to my 2016 playlist that I’ve really enjoyed, Drew OfThe Drew.

Their music has an undeniable groove factor, while also having strange, genre-melding arrangements that really strike my fancy.  I also like it because the band leader, Drew, is a bassist, composer, and all-around just seems like a nice dude (although his choice of wardrobe is a little odd, but I suppose that works with his music).  Drew has a way of putting punk rock, funk, Reggae, and dub step all into one song and still make it work really well.  And what makes it even better, his rock-star band makes all of this with a somewhat regular instrumentation of bass, guitar, vocals, and two drummers.  Why two drummers?  No clue, but I like it.  It’s cool.

Here’s a sample, one of the songs that I have enjoyed the most, “My Fire”.  It’s got at least 3 genres in this song alone.  It’s pretty groovin’.

This one is also a favorite of mine.  It’s a lot more straight-ahead than the others in their repertoire, not as much genre-blending, but I still really like it.  Something about that opening guitar groove just gets me every time.  And then there’s the addition of the banjo . . . the banjo?  Yeah, it definitely adds an unique factor to the song.

Take a listen, enjoy, they’ve got a few more songs that I really enjoy.  And while you’re at it, check out my 2016 playlist for more favorites.

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Funky Knuckles – Funky Music to Brighten Your Day

Yes, it’s been quite a few months since I last wrote in my blog.  What can I say?  The muse had left me, inspiration fled, laziness set in, the force was not so strong with this one . . . whichever excuse suits your fancy, I just didn’t get around to writing in my blog.

To be honest, I think the break was probably good for me.  I’ve had a lot going on at work in my full-time and part-time jobs.  I’ve had some time to think and to reevaluate what I want to write about.

I wanted to write a short post today to make another musical recommendation.  With all of the work that I’ve been doing I’ve needed some music to keep me going.

In my full-time job my company recently moved offices.  The office is cool, albeit somewhat unfinished.  I now sit next to a group of sales reps who play “motivating” music (“motivating” to them, mostly annoying to me, because I’m a music snob.  I can admit it, I’m not ashamed.) all day long.  So I’ve been listening to a lot more music at work just to keep from having to listen to the endless sales motivation soundtrack going on in the background.

Today the music that kept me from nodding off, or losing my mind from the constant barrage of whatever-they-listen-to-over-there was the groove-filled music of Funky Knuckles.

Spotify recommended them, and they had such a great name that I couldn’t resist, I gave them a try.  I was definitely not sad that I did.  Hence the blog post.

They have such a nice groove throughout both of their albums.  Their music is fun, light-hearted, funky stuff.  There was enough variety throughout to keep me grooving through a long day of work, while also working really well as fun background music.  Of course, Funky Knuckles isn’t background music (like smooth jazz, Enya, or Kenny G), it’s great music, and it works really well as my own, personal motivational soundtrack.  A soundtrack that my musical snobbiness can tolerate, and that I can recommend to anyone who wants something with some good musicians to help get you through the workday.

Their arrangements are creative, they have a good chemistry, the solos are fun.  They just have a great, fresh take on fusing jazz, funk, and hip-hop together in a really hip way.

So, without any more of my poor descriptions, please enjoy some very groovy, Funky Knuckles music.  And, of course, let me know what you think.

spotify:artist:0uyK6faAhm4CYcf1OhP38V

The Monday Beat

You get back from a nice weekend.  You’ve got your Honey-do list all checked off, you’ve binge watched on Netflix to your hearts content, you’ve partied with your friends or family.  Weekends rock.

Then Monday rolls around.

Back to work.  Back to grinding your nose on that proverbial grind stone.  Back to dealing with clients, bosses, co-workers, fluorescent lights, and long hours.

Hopefully you like your job, I know I do.  But a lot of people don’t like their job.  Going back to work sucks for a lot of people.  Hopefully you’ve worked out some coping mechanisms to get through the day, because if not it can make for a very long day indeed.

I’m no counselor, so I don’t know what works best for beating the Monday blues, all I know is what works for me.  Music baby!  There’s nothing like some good tunes to drive the blues away.  This week, to help you get through the blues, I’ve got some tunes for your listening pleasure.

Meet Ben L’Oncle.  He’s a French soul singer who’s music bring back the best of the retro soul music while still maintaining a modern feel (don’t worry, he sings in English too).  Ben got me hooked on his music last year when I accidentally found him on Spotify, don’t really remember how.

He’s not super popular, but his music is a soulful feast of tasty goodness.  It’s perfect for a Monday, and any day after that you need a pickup.  All you need to do to get hooked is listen to the first track, which is his cover of “Seven Nation Army” (confession: I actually like Ben’s version better than the original).  Ben’s got a good voice, great arrangements, and a nice groove in his songs.

I think you’ll like the album, so without further ado, Ben L’Oncle.  And may your blues be vanquished by these sick beats.

Enjoy.

Odd Times

Everyone knows a good beat when you hear it.  Your foot starts tapping.  Your head starts bobbing.  You can feel the groove.

Most pop music is written to get people dancing and moving to the music.  It’s written to be catchy, easy to listen to, easy to fall in love with, memorable.  It’s accessible.

A lot of this accessibility is due to what’s called the time signature.  Most pop music is written in one of 4 time signatures (4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8).  I won’t delve too much into the difference between them because it’s hard to describe them without going into a lot of stuff about music and how it’s written.  My goal with this is to get you to understand the difference between these common time signatures and some of the more uncommon ones in the playlist above.

Odd time signatures are beats made with odd numbers.  If you tap to the beat of any of your favorite pop songs you’ll likely notice that it follows a pattern.  If you can count to 4 over and over again to the beat you just discovered that the song is in 4/4.  But with odd time signatures it can be difficult to predict when a new measure begins.  That’s because odd time signatures come in flavors like 5/4, 7/4, 11/8, 13/8 etc.  It would seem easy to count to 7 seven over and over again to get the time signature, but musicians are often tricky when they write songs in odd time signatures.  Take for instance You by Radiohead.  The song is in 6 . . . for the most part.  The song follows a pattern of six except for one exception.  If you were to count out the measures the song goes 6 | 6 | 6 | 5.  So the last measure of that phrase sounds like it got cut short.  If you’re trying to dance along to the music it’ll feel like you got the rug pulled out from under you.  What was once predictable and groovy is now still groovy but a little bit wonky and lopsided.

Even when artists write in 7/4, it’s pretty easy to count to seven, but they often make it feel like it’s switching back and forth between to different time signatures.  With 7/4 you can play it like it’s two measures, one with 4 beats and one with 3, or 3 and 4, or 2 and 3 and 2, or any other variation you can think of.  So when you’re trying to tap along to the beat it can throw you for a loop depending on how they’ve organized the beats.

A good example of this lopsidedness is The Mad Hatter Rides Again.  When you listen to it, it will seem a little bit off kilter, and you might have a hard time finding the down beat (the first beat in a measure).  That’s because it’s written in 17/8.  It follows a beat pattern of 4 | 4 | 4 | 5.  When you’re listening you might not even like it, and that’s OK, no offense taken.  But hopefully you can recognize the skill it takes to write and play.

What’s fun with these tunes is finding what time signature it’s in just by listening.  Some of the songs are hard just to count along to, for instance try to figure out what time signature Seven Minute Mind is.  Good luck.

Time signatures like these are really difficult to play.  You really have to be paying attention because it feels like there are one too many or not enough beats, it feels odd, like trying to walking with a limp.

But not all of them are weird like this.  Sting has written a number of songs in odd time signatures that you might not even notice are odd.  Take Love Is Stronger Than Justice.  The song is in 7/4, but the way it’s written and played it makes it seem almost normal.  Unless you’re paying attention to the time signature you might not even notice that something is off about the music.  The same goes with Espera, Four Sticks, and Seven Days.  They are all in odd time signatures, but are not difficult to listen to.

Part of my goal with this playlist was just to, hopefully, help people realize that there are quite a few popular songs with odd time signatures.  My other goal was to show you some of my favorite tunes with odd time signatures.  They are hard to write and play, but they can be really fun.

As you’re listening to the playlist above consider it a listening challenge.  I’ve written out some of the time signatures below (along with how they separate the beats, although there’s a lot of room for different interpretations on some of them), as you’re listening try to count along and recognize where the beats change.

Feel free to chime in with comments below.  What do you like/not like? What songs do you like that have odd time signatures?

The Mad Hatter Rides Again  –  4 | 4 | 4 | 5 (or 17/4)

You – Radiohead  –  6 | 6 | 6 | 5 (these are entire measures, not beats, so this is an example of multiple time signatures)

Winsome – The Moth and the Flame –  4 | 5 |  (can also think of it as 4 | 3 | 2 or just 9)

Four Sticks – Verse in 5/4 (with an occasional 6/4)  |  Chorus 6/4

Times Like These – Intro 7/4 (this theme comes back as a segue into other sections)

Heavy Resin | 11 (counted as  6 | 5 )

Take 5, Mars, Seven Days  |  5/4

Espera, Love Is Stronger Than Justice, Saint Augustine in Hell  |  7/4

solo section in Paranoid Android goes back and forth between 7/4 and 4/4.

My Favorite Music of 2014

Last year on my other blog I wrote a series of posts about my favorite music of 2013.  It was a list that covered many genres, from Arctic Monkeys, Snarky Puppy, Kimbra, the Fitz and the Tantrums, John Meyer, and Esperanza Spalding  (just to name a few).

It was an eclectic year, full of lots of music listening.  I spent a lot of time on the road.  I can only handle so much radio before I feel like I’m going crazy.  I’ll be honest, I would prefer silence to listening to the radio.  So I tried to have my Spotify playlists full of new music that I could listen to on the go.

This year hasn’t been as ecclectic as last year.  I haven’t explored as much new music.  My new job gives me less time to listen to lots of music, and with a toddler and newborn at home I haven’t had as much time to listen to music at home either.

Even with less variety in my music this year, I still think that I’ve found some great music this year and am looking forward to listening to it all again while I write out my reviews and recommendations.  Below I’ve posted just one song from each of them just so you can get a taste, I’ll also post my complete playlist on another page if you wanted to hear all of my favorite songs/albums.

My top music picks for this year:

Janek Gwizdala

Janek is a British jazz bassist.  He went to Berklee School of Music, and in my opinion is one of the best bassist composers alive.  He is also one of the few jazz electric bassists that I know of who embraces technology, pedals, and different sonic qualities as part of his musical process.

Janek Gwizdala

His music is well thought-out, introspective.  He pays special attention to harmony, and how all of the instruments work together in a cohesive arrangement.  Many bassists fall into the trap of taking too many solos on their albums.  Most of the time us bassists spend the majority of our time playing in the background.  We lay down the groove, support the group, and give the soloists a solid foundation to build their solos on.  Janek doesn’t fall into the trap of “showing off” his own playing.  He shows off the music.

Janek has quickly become one of my favorite bassists.  He has a strong sense of harmony and melody, great compositions, he embraces modern technology and uses it to help him compose and perform in a traditional jazz setting, and additionally he’s a great teacher with many YouTube videos dedicated to teaching jazz and harmony fundamentals to other bassists.

Tal Wilkenfeld

Tal Wilkenfeld

Tal somehow didn’t show up on my radar until this year.  She’s an amazing bassist, who writes complex songs that still  groove hard core.  She looks super young, and it kind of blew my mind that she and I are pretty much the same age.  She’s  way better at the bass than I am (obviously considering she’s famous and I’m not), and her album is a solid exposition of  both her talents as a bassist and younger composer.

Eldar Djangirov

Eldar kind of blew my mind with the first song on this album.  The music is different than most jazz trio/quartet music I’ve      listened to.  His compositions are exciting, fresh, and complex.  His piano playing is impressive, and his band is solid.  All in  all, I’ve enjoyed Eldar’s music a lot this year.

Hiromi

Hiromi gets a lot of the same comments that I bestowed on Eldar as well.  Great pianist, great group, I mean she got Anthony Jackson to play bass for her.  So performances from Hiromi and Anthony are beyond compare.  Her compositions and arrangement are extraordinarily complex and exciting to listen to.  I think you’ll like what she does.

Pentatonix

Pentatonix hit the scene when they won a season of “The Sing Off”, an acappella TV show similar to “The Voice” and “American Idol”.  From what I’ve read, after they won, the label didn’t want them.  So they got dropped before they could even begin.  Instead of giving up they took to the internet and started making covers of popular songs and collaborated with different artists.  They got a huge following on YouTube and eventually the label came back after having rejected them and begged them to come back.

Pentatonix

This album is their Christmas album.  I think that their arrangements are spectacular, best new Christmas album I’ve listened to in a long time (pretty much since Harry Connick Jr’s “Harry for the Holiday’s”).  Tons of good stuff in this album, its’ definitely going to be on my Christmas playlist next year and the year after.

Dirty Loops

I saved the best for last.  Dirty Loops is a Swedish band that started out making covers of pop songs on YouTube.  They got famous from a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Baby”.  I have never heard the original (I’ve never liked Bieber-head), but when I heard their cover I almost (almost) wanted to listen to the original.  To me, Dirty Loops’ version of “Baby” is the only version worth listening to.  It is absolutely awesome.

When they came out with their first album I started listening immediately.  They do not disappoint.  They bring so much originality and musicality to a genre that has been lacking both of those things for years.  They are the first pop group that I have listened to on repeat since I was recording songs off the radio when back when cassette tapes still existed.

By far the best album of the year, in my opinion.  Definitely worth a listen, and hopefully you feel like me and just keep listening to it over and over again.  I absolutely love what they do.  Can’t wait for the next album.

Poinciana

I found this recording recently from a senior recital that I played a few years back.

Ammon, a friend of mine, and I had been jamming and playing Jazz together for a few years.  We had a good chemistry, he was/is a great piano player and I was happy to play with him.  We were doing a lot of out-there fusion stuff in a band that we called “The Weather Jackets” (a mixture of Weather Report and Yellow Jackets).  But we were also doing some trio stuff together, this is some of our trio work.

I was surprised by how much I liked this recording.  Maybe I’m just narcissistic, but I like listening to recordings of myself.  I guess it might not be totally narcissistic, because I’m as harsh in my criticism of my own playing as I am of others.

The song starts out pretty good, but I have a hard time laying down the groove without rushing just slightly.  Probably a bi-product nerves.  I anticipate the beat throughout the song just a bit, probably not enough to be noticeable if I wasn’t listening for it.  Other than the slight rushing of me and drummer I felt that the groove was good, the vibe and chemistry between the three of us was pretty good and we supported each other well in our solos.

Ammon’s playing was tasteful, his solos had a nice arc to them, and had a lot of really tasteful ideas throughout.  His comping was also tasteful.  Our drummer, Matt Millington did a great job of laying back and just supplying that groove that completed the song  but was in the background.  Overall I thought it was one the better performances that I was apart of. I even liked my solo, which is usually not the case.

Let me know what you think.

How Jazz Changed My Life

I hated jazz. Jazz was the most boring, lame, outdated music in the world. If there wasn’t a wicked guitar solo or vocals it wasn’t worth listening to. (I did listen to some classical music, and for some reason that didn’t seem ironic to me at the time.)

My oldest brother started playing drums in his high school jazz band, and he started to listen to this horrible jazz music instead of Boston or Third Eye Blind. It didn’t make any sense.

I was 13 at the time and I was all about that rock music. Then something crazy happened.

One day as I sat downloading music on Napster, playing a ripped off PC version of Final Fantasy (they were simpler days), my brother walked up and asked me if I wanted to come to a concert with him and his friends. He got free tickets to see the Ray Brown trio live in Salt Lake City.

I had no idea who Ray Brown was, but my brother said he was great and I wasn’t about to pass up a free concert. So I went.

What happened next was somewhat of a miracle for me.

I sat in the back of the crowded hotel event center, surrounded by my brothers friends and lots of grown ups and began to witness something that I had never seen before.

I watched as Ray Brown played an instrument I wasn’t even aware existed, and was twice as big as any stringed instrument I had ever seen play improvised solos that blew my thirteen year old mind to the moon.

Ray took what looked like a behemoth instrument and played some of the fastest, most exciting solos those little ears had ever heard. He would back up his drummer and pianist in the most skillful ways. I understood in that moment why jazz musicians use the word “tasty” to describe a great lick or solo, when the Ray Brown trio played, it was so good I could almost taste it.

I remember to this day the moment that I decided I wanted to play upright bass. When Ray pulled out the bow and played a beautiful and moving solo over My Funny Valentine I was hooked. I had to play bass, I had to play jazz. Nothing in the world was going to stop me.

A few weeks later I started taking lessons, then I joined the high school’s summer orchestra program. I was too embarrassed to play with the orchestra because I had no idea what I was doing. But I would close myself off in a practice room at school and practice for three hours straight, every day, all summer long.

I joined the orchestra and jazz band when I got to high school and continued to play as much as possible.

Later I moved to Arizona with my family and, through a summer jazz workshop, I got accepted to the Mesa Community College jazz performance program.

I flourished as a musician at MCC. I practiced and jammed with great musicians there. I studied with Fred Forney, who taught me more about jazz in the one year that I was there than I learned in high school, and more than I would learn at Brigham Young University about jazz.

When I got back from my LDS mission I got accepted into the Brigham Young University school of music and quickly started playing in every ensemble I could.

Over my time at BYU I played in virtually every ensemble there was. I played in their top jazz bands, orchestras, concert bands. I started gigging at nights to help pay for school and was making some money, I still needed to work part-time elsewhere, but it was some extra income.

I met my wife in the practice room hallway of the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU. I enlisted into the National Guard and now play with the 23rd Army Band. I’ve had the privilege of associating with some great musicians and continue to play music whenever I can.

My career goals have shifted while at BYU. Not all of my experiences in music were positive and I needed to make money, which music was not going to provide.

Even though I don’t play jazz as much as I used to I have never regretted the time I spent learning that art. I have made great memories, amazing friends, I found my wife (who is perfect and amazing for me), I have gained experience in life and music. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world.

Ray Brown died the year after I saw him in concert. He passed just months before he was scheduled to come back out to Salt Lake again. So I didn’t get to see him perform again. I’m OK with that now, because this way my only memory of Ray Brown was a life-changing one.

So thank you Ray Brown and jazz music. You are truly an inspiration.

 

Who are your musical inspirations?

New Blog, New Life . . . OK just a new blog actually

So I’ve started a new blog.  I’ve tried this blogging thing a few different times with business ideas I had, personal blogs, and a number of different ideas.  None of them have really stuck.  I was doing pretty good with my last blog (chivsjawn.blogspot.com), but I found that I don’t really like how cumbersome Blogger is to use.  So here I am, giving WordPress a shot.

Conventional blogging wisdom says that you should pick a single topic and write on that.  This helps to gather an audience interested in hearing from an expert on that topic.  It helps with search results, and also helps to make your blog stick in people’s memories because it’s focused on one topic.

I’ve never really been big on following conventional wisdom.  I tried the “one topic” thing and found that I just really don’t care to write that frequently on one topic.  I have varied interests (as I talk about on my “My Story” page), and I rarely want to write about the same thing day in and day out.  I like to study new things, explore new horizons.  So I’ll be writing about a lot of different things on this blog.

Lest this turn into a boring travelogue of my not-so-adventurous life (I’m not much of thrill seeker) I will focus on a few different topics that interest me the most.

1. Music – I’m a musician and hope to write about music industry stuff.

2. Writing – I’m an aspiring author.  I’m working on novel #1 . . . we’ll see how long that takes me.  But I’ll write about writing and post some snippets.

3. Religion – I’m a Mormon.  Religion is a central part of my life and I’ll be sure, if not to do entire posts about Mormonism, to throw Mormon terms throughout the blog.

4. Family – I’m a family man.  I’m married with one son and another son on the way.  I love my family and love to spend time with them, so I’ll probably be writing about them as well.

This, as you have already guessed, is not an informational blog.  I am not a subject matter expert on any of the aforementioned topics.  I just like to write, and if there is something of interest in what I write then my mission has been accomplished.

So I hope you enjoy, hope you come back soon.