November 22

Always a somber date for those old enough to remember its significance, this anniversary of JFK’ assassination marks a special cause for pause-he was killed 50 years ago today. The cliche is that if you were sentient on November 22,1963 you remember where you were when you heard the news. I was in a junior high school classroom.

I also remember going to my piano lesson that afternoon and watching my teacher, Diana Arlyck, sob. Of course, the quality of my playing routinely elicited this reaction from her, but the envelope of Mrs. Arlylck’s emotional capacity-generally clamped during my performances-was wide open that afternoon.

Ever hear of Fred Lerdahl? He is one amazing composer. I’ve been a fan of Fred’s for several years. Today I hiked up to Fred’s office at Columbia University, where he’s held the Fritz Reiner Professor of Music Chair since 1991, primarily to discuss his three string quartets. Written over a multi decade span, each of these works stands on its own. Taken as a whole, this trilogy rocks.

Bridge Records (www.bridgerecords.com) has been Fred’s recording home for some time. His latest CD, “Fred Lerdahl, Vol. 4,” can be purchased through this site. If Fred Lerdahl hasn’t been on your radar I suggest you rectify the error immediately!

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“Lovely Day”

Needing to put down the string quartet I’m writing I went on the internet yesterday morning to research the bass sound that’s such an important element of the classic Beach Boys song, “God Only Knows.” Carol Kaye played this part, of course, and she may also have tracked the bass line on Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep In The Subway.” I couldn’t find a list of credits for this 1967 hit, but the bass sound is nearly identical, and just as iconic a character in this well arranged track. Cleverly, this sound-a variation on the Tic Tac bass sound that was featured on early country recordings-only appears in the choruses, which helps make them stand out from the rest of the track. Doubling an upright bass with a Fender or Danelectro electric bass, generally played with a pick, adds attack and helps the bass line cut through an ensemble. Wow, I didn’t know any of this-thanks for inventing the internet, Al!

Continuing my quest to learn more about the bass, and to put anything I might learn into immediate practice using Cubase and Trilian, Spectrasonic’s jaw dropping sampled bass collection, I stumbled onto scottsbasslessons.com, the website of Scott Devine. This guy is awesome. He offers paid online lessons, but gives away tons of lessons and video content for free. Drop by his site, it really is terrific.

Then I fired up Spotify and went searching for tunes to play along with. “Billie Jean,” fun, but not a challenge. Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” same thing. Wait, what about the great Bill Withers song, “Lovely Day.” Released in 1978 on the “Menagerie” album, “Lovely Day” features a killer groove, and the bass part, laid down by Jerry Knight, is crucial to its power. The chord changes are simple, so I was able to cop the part in about 15 minutes, using the Trilian “Six String Ballad” bass patch. A Fodero bass was the sampled instrument here. The sound is gorgeous-and similar to the one on the record.

What a joy it was to spend the next hour or so getting deeper into the groove. In the verses Knight plays the second note of every phrase slightly ahead of the beat; that slight inflection pushes the music forward beautifully. The other players (Russ Kunkel, drums, Ray Parker, guitar, Clarence McDonald, keyboards, Ralph McDonald, percussion) are all superb.

Time’s up-back to “Remo’s Revenge,” the string quartet.

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American Concert D

Achieving nearly universal recognition as the king of the hill in any field is no easy task. Ivory, the set of sampled pianos created by Synthogy, is widely regarded as the most realistic and playable software of its kind. You own Ivory and frequently call up its thunderous Bosendorfor, the Yamaha C7, and perhaps severals other pianos. If you’re tracking New Age music you may even layer these gorgeous keyboards with one of the synth presets that come with the package. Synthogy recently released a new piano, American Concert D. Do you really want to plunk down nearly $200 for yet another sampled piano?

In short, yes. This Steinway D, built in 1951, is an exquisite addition to the Synthogy collection. It may well become your go to keyboard regardless of the style of music you favor. There’s something about the feel of a beautifully built American Steinway that seems to invite the fingers to go deeper inside the keyboard than almost any other piano. The limits of the midi spec will always be one of the factors that make it impossible to replace the beauty of the real thing, but somehow this piano, even more than other Synthogy instruments, evokes the touch that one associates with the original.

And the sound? Buttery when needed, powerful upon request. This is a magnificent instrument. Head over to the Synthogy website (www.synthogy.com) and take a listen to some of the demos. Once you do you’ll probably grab your credit card and slide over to ILIO’s site (www.ilio.com) to order your copy.

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Ample Sound

If you’re in the market for a software emulation of a classic Martin guitar I’d strongly suggest that you check out the Ample Sound website (http://www.amplesound.net/en/index.asp). I’ll be posting a full review elsewhere on the web in the near future.

I dusted off my Happy Traum chops, pulled out “A Walk At Dawn,” a tune I wrote back in my troubadour days, and tracked a simple finger style arrangement. You can find it in the MIDI demo section of my Nimbit site, streaming for free (http://www.nimbitmusic.com/garyeskow).

Still on the fence about how to sell your products? Then you should definitely look into the Nimbit platform. Start with the free version, and as interest develops, port over to one of the for pay versions.

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McCartney’s “New”

Let’s cut to the chase: Paul McCartney’s latest album, “New,” is atrociously bad. Setting aside the fact that it’s time for the lad to follow the Woody Allen model and allow someone else to sing the pieces he writes with himself in mind, Mac’s failure to hunker down and study a variety of production techniques and compositional methods has left him a pale imitation of his youthful self.

As for the lyrics-bad does not castigate this stuff fully. Even at his best McCartney’s wordsmithing was marked by the apparent belief that any thought crossing his mind was worthy of public release. “New” is marked by too many first person pronouns. One of his producers-cowed, the lot it seems-should have collared McCartney and told him to write narratives featuring vividly drawn characters and interesting situations, features this product lacks. The music, melodies, arrangements, performances, is unmemorable. Unfortunately, the great Hugh McCracken has passed on, but where are the players who could have added sparkle to these tracks?

Mac’s willingness to play ball with Spotify indicates that he’s aware of his fading status as a recording artist. Those of us who would like to see him reclaim his status as king of the hill need to spank Mr. McCartney for releasing this sub standard product.

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Heavyocity

I interviewed Neil Goldberg this week. A profile of Heavyocity, the sample library company he’s a partner in will be featured in an upcoming print edition of Mix. Heavyocity shares office space in Midtown Manhattan with Heavy Melody Music, the music production company that Goldberg and his former classmate at the Berklee College of Music, Dave Fraser, founded in 2001.

In a sidebar we’ll be looking at Heavyocity’s two newest libraries, AEON Rhythmic and Melodic. If your productions can use a kick in the ass I’d suggest you check out some of the demos on the Heavocity site (www.heavocity.com). An introductory video can be found here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HK6rK7upwg

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8dio Bassoon Virtuoso

Several weeks ago I posted a blog on Adagio Bass, a sampled instrument released by 8dio (8dio.com). This company is on a roll. Troels Folmann, who seems to be the power that drives the engine at 8dio, has been working with Colin O’Malley, a gifted composer, to create an extensive orchestral library.

The concept the two have applied, first to the string section, and most recently to individual members of the woodwind choir, is simple: bring the most expressive style of playing to the end user.

How is this goal approached, and how effective has 8dio been? The method is quite simple: call in an excellent player who is the possessor of a high quality instrument, place him or her before a microphone (multiple mics, actually) and say “let it rip.” At least how it seems. 8dio is not looking to have every legato transition played identically. They’re looking for emotion, and they’ve succeeded in spades. They also seem to be refining their technique as they go along, and the result, to my ears, is a set of instruments that are compelling to play. Your assignment, as the keyboardist working with this methodology, is to use midi controllers 11 and 1 to sculpt the smoothest performance possible.

I’d be happy to review these instruments in detail, or discuss their merits with any of you who may care to reach out to me. For now, let me simply point you to the demos on the company website. The latest release, Claire Bassoon Virtuoso, is worth taking a look at, as are the other two woodwinds, Claire Claire Virtuoso and 8DIOBOE.

Bravi tutti!

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Spectrasonics Releases AAX Public Betas Of All Products

Avid’s release of Pro Tools 11 has plug-in manufacturers scrambling to keep up with the new AAX plug-in format. Spectrasonics’ Trilian, Stylus RMX and Omnisphere are must haves for many work station musicians. Earlier this week Spectrasonics (http://www.spectrasonics.net
) announced that public beta versions of all three are available at no cost to registered owners. Pro Tools users who plan to keep working with earlier versions can continue to use the RTAS editions of all Spectrasonics products.

Apple released Logic Pro X recently. As with Pro Tools 11, Logic Pro X abandons support for 32-bit plug-ins. If you’re holding onto a treasured plug-in that hasn’t been ported over to 64-bits you’ll need to incorporate Vienna Ensemble Pro 5 or an inexpensive wrapper into your workflow.

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He Sang Of Galveston

Looking back, the 60’s were weird, man. Nothing made sense…I mean, it all worked so perfectly…I mean, I guess. Well, you know what I’m saying.

Consider the pop charts, defined in retrospect by the great divide, before and after the English invasion. Other currents swelled throughout the 60‘s though. Vaudeville, for example. That’s right, if this kitsch genre of musical theater had been properly exterminated Tiny Tim’s version of “Tip Toe Through The Tulips,” written in 1929 by Al Dubin and Joe Burke would never have climbed the charts in 1968. And who recorded “Winchester Cathedral” in 1966? Oh yes, the New Vaudeville Band. This outstandingly lame recording actually won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording. Like I said, them’s was weird days.

Did you hear that Glen Campbell is about to release a new CD? “See You There” features Campbell revisiting a number of his old hits under the guidance of producer Julian Raymond. Campbell and his family have been candid about the 77 year old’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. The affliction has finally left him unable to tour, but his voice is in remarkably good shape. Follow this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/video/2013/jul/10/glen-campbell-hey-little-one-video and judge for yourself.

Glen Campbell grew up in a small Arkansas town, and the redneck cracker mindset sat at the heart of his public personality. He famously said, during the Vietnam War, that young men who burned their draft cards should be “hung.” Campbell’s artistry however, was more complex.

Although a southern twang worked its way through his feathery tenor, Campbell was no imitator. He developed a vocal style that melded country, pop and theatrical influences and marinated them in melancholy. The result was a beautiful sound, delivered by a bright face and shining personality who brought a variety of colors to the material he selected. Consider “Where’s The Playground Susie,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” and “Wichita Lineman,” all written by Jimmy Webb. Wait, let’s not forget “Galveston,” yet another hit for the pensive scribe and the chief exponent of his work. Ok, you’re right; “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Campbell’s best selling single, is way over the top.

Campbell wasn’t the only singer who combined elements of country, pop and schmaltz. Remember “Honey I Miss You,” as delivered by the mesmerizing Bobby Goldsboro? Or the more gifted singer/songwriter Mac Davis? If you had to pick a champ of this crossover class it would probably be John Denver, the silver throated songwriter who died tragically when the experimental plane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1997.

Glen Campbell picked a mean guitar. Maybe he didn’t possess a plethora of original ideas, but he sure could handle the plectrum. His prowess as a studio musician and singer gained Campbell a quick entrance into the upper echelons of studio musicians when he came to Los Angeles in the early 1960’s. He also spent a fair amount of time filling in for Brian Wilson as a touring member of the Beach Boys when madness began to descend on the boy genuis.

Along the way Campbell hosted his own television show (“The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”) appeared in films with John Wayne (“True Grit”) and the noted thespian Joe Namath (“Norwood”) and made millions of bucks.

And he’s still at it. Here’s to you, Glenn Campbell. Good luck with “See You There.”

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Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughn

Were you a fan of the great blues guitarist Albert King? I was. So was the masterful Stevie Ray Vaughn, who died tragically at the age of 35 in a helicopter crash along with several bandmates and the craft’s pilot on the way to a gig in 1995.

Ever wonder what a lengthy studio session featuring these two would sound like? If so, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZB57b3lPQE. It’s a gift from YouTube to all of us!

On the software side, I’m currently checking out a pair of software instruments that are worth your attention. I reviewed 8DIOBOE recently and found it hard to believe that 8DIO would be able to create another woodwind instrument that would surpass it, but it’s possible that the company’s Claire Clarinet might have done the trick. Check out these demos: http://8dio.com/instruments/#instrument/clarinet-virtouso/.

The Vienna Symphonic Library recently released the Cello Section component of their Dimension Strings library. Same drill as the violins: six players, individually miked, with software that allows you to assign parts separately, in pairs, or as an ensemble. What a great idea!

I’ll get back to you with more detailed impressions as I have the time to experiment with these libraries in depth.

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