2014 Review Part 1 – The Gear

It’s been a long tough slog through this year following my wife’s illness and subsequent passing last year and I really haven’t kept up on things the way I was.  I’m hoping to be able to change that and I’m starting up front of the New Year so it’s not just another silly resolution. 🙂 This update will concentrate on some new gear that went into steady use this year in the form of some mini reviews. The next one will focus on some of the projects I have had going this year as well as some plans for the near future.

Phil-Tone Equinox/Eclipse Hybrid

If you spend any time reading this blog you’ll see a lot of reviews of Phil’s stuff and you would think that I’m some kind of paid spokesman but the truth of the matter is I’ve just in found Phil someone who makes the kind of mouthpieces I like as well as someone who is open to sending mouthpieces out on pass around for people to try. Phil is also an awesome guy and a great craftsman.

Phil came out with an Equinox mouthpiece a couple years ago and it really sounded like something I would like but I was pretty comfortable with my Eclipse (the first piece I ever got from Phil not including his cleanup and refurb of my Otto Link Florida STM). I finally decided to pull the trigger and get one and you know what? I absolutely hated it! Well, hate is a strong word but it wasn’t what I thought I was going to get at all. I talked to Phil and he said to send it back and he would fix it for me…he had made it a little brighter than usual and that’s part of what I didn’t like. In the back and forth while he was fixing it he offered to undercut the table and open out the chamber in what he called an Equinox/Eclipse Hybrid. That sounded great so I went with that.

When I got it back I was absolutely thrilled and this has become my main piece after many years on the Eclipse. It’s a 7* (105) while my old Eclipse is an 8 (110). It’s a little easier to play because of the opening but the undercut table does require a little more air. This is something that may or may not be on Phil’s website but it’s something he can easily do and something he’s happy to provide. The lesson here is that by being open and communicating with him I was able to turn something that didn’t fit me at all into something I love.

Phil Tone Rift (alto)

I was playing on another of Phil’s alto pieces called an Aurora I think and it was good but I wanted something with a little more drive. It’s funny but on tenor I’m moving a little darker but on alto and bari I’m embracing the cut and edge. Phil had a sale on Sax on the Web Forum and one of the pieces was an unbranded Rift prototype.

The Rift is something that I think is rather unique to Phil. It has an interesting double baffle that looks a little like a clamshell. He used to make the baffle completely by hand but he recently started having blanks made to this new spec. This is one of those prototypes but I think it is very similar to the branded production models if not identical. This mouthpiece is a screamer that never loses it’s core…it’s like the best of both worlds and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on alto. I’m using it with Van Doren Java 3 (green box) and they seem to be perfect for me. I’ll try to post an audio sample soon but it may be an edit after the first of the year.

Phil Barone customized Otto Link Tone Edge (bari)

Phil Barone is the other Phil I love to work with. He’s an amazing mouthpiece make and refacer. I started talking to him several years ago about doing the “Ronnie Cuber” treatment to a Tone Edge – apparently Phil did the work on Ronnie’s TE back early in his career…a sound I love. Now I know that a mouthpiece is not the ticket to sounding like someone but I also felt like it would at least have some of the characteristics I was looking for and I could handle the rest.

Phil did a reface with a new facing curve and he cleaned up the tip and rails extensively. The magic, though, is in the baffle work in my opinion. Phil takes out the rollover baffle and then adds a step baffle later in the chamber. The end result is a screamer that is both easy to play while allowing a ton of nuance and color. I don’t play nearly as much bari as I used to but this mouthpiece has replaced my Lawton which I’ve had for over 20 years. I think the mouthpiece I sent him was an 8 but I think the one I got back is more like a 7*.

I use Rico Select Jazz 3 Unfiled (at Phil’s suggestion) and they seem to match it really well. This is not something you’re going to be able to find easily and I doubt you will be able to get one from Phil. The baffle work is very labor-intensive and he told me he really didn’t want to mess with these any more. I’m just glad I was able to get one before he decided to stop. You can still get his regular pieces from him and he will do other refaces. He also sells amazing horns for great prices so he’s definitely someone to keep on your radar.

EWI 5000

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been an EWI guy for many years (probably more than 20). I’ve had pretty much every model since the 3020/3030 came out. My primary EWI for the last few years has been the 4000s but I didn’t ever use any of the internal sounds except maybe at rehearsal when I was being lazy. Instead I just used it as a driver for my virtual rack in my laptop. The 5000 was announced over a year ago I believe and I knew as soon as I saw the announcement I was going to have one. As it got closer to shipping I went ahead and pre-ordered one from Patchman Music.

The key selling points of the 5000 over previous versions are an enhanced synth engine with real samples (the 4000s was virtual analog), rechargeable internal batteries, and built-in wireless audio. I’ve had mine for  couple months now and I really like it a lot. It was instantly comfortable because it feels just like my 4000s. The sounds are a mixed bag. There are definitely some much better sounds but they require a lot of tweaking (especiialy the overuse of effects) and there are WAY too many saxophone patches while there are absolutely no strings either solo or ensemble…that’s strange. I haven’t had a chance to use the wireless but I’m told it works as expected.

NOTE: Many people are confused about this but it is wireless audio only…Midi is NOT wireless in the 5000 but you can order wireless midi from Patchman. I really like the rechargeable internal batteries and I love that it hooks right up to the computer with the included USB cable. It’s like the best of the 4000s and the EWI USB all in one. All in all I’m pretty happy with this but I’m waiting for the Patchman patches that will make things even better.

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series Tenor

I really need to post an actual review of this horn. I actually bought this horn over two years ago and it has been my main horn ever since. I love how it feels and people love how it sounds. I also love the way mine looks. So nothing actually new here but I just wanted to put that out there.

Phil-Tone Theo Wanne Mosaic Review

I’ve been involved in quite a few mouthpiece pass arounds recently and most of them were from Phil-Tone (made by Phil Engleman). Previously I reviewed the hard rubber Sapphire and the metal Tribute (a collaboration with Theo Wanne). Today I want to talk about the Mosaic, another collaboration between Phil and Theo Wanne. Like the Tribute this is a metal mouthpiece based on a classic approach. It is not based on any particular mouthpiece but has been described as having a similar feel and sound to the old original Dukoff mouthpieces. The one I tried was a “factory second” although the only differences from the real production version were purely cosmetic – there was a mouthpiece patch on during plating so that area is disclorored…I thought it looked kind of cool.

Appearance

The Mosaic is on the left. Tribute on the right.

The Mosaic is on the left. Tribute on the right.

The Mosaic is a beautiful bit of work. Phil and Theo are both known for their attention to detail and their ability to deliver a precision-made, hand-finished mouthpiece. The rails and tip are thin, even, and seemingly perfect to the naked eye. The whole mouthpiece is finished in silver and bead blasted for a very interesting and pleasing look (just like the Tribute). This is a very large bore mouthpiece with a fairly minimal rollover baffle. It’s about the same profile as an Otto Link so it accepts the same size ligatures and has a comfortable mouth feel if you’re used to Links like I am.

How Does It Play?

I found this mouthpiece to be more comfortable and more versatile than the Tribute. It was more even through the registers and the upper register was more gutsy and full in general. The lower register was just as full to me It tended to be a little dark but very full and rather room-filling. I spent some time with it at a big band rehearsal, on a gig with an R&B band, and recording it in my little studio. When I first tried it on the big band rehearsal, it didn’t last long for me. The big band is for a recording session later this year and it’s predominantly a vehicle for trumpet players…translation – It’s LOUD! The mouthpiece was so new to me that I didn’t know how to get the most volume out of it and it just seemed like I would be fighting a losing battle. The tone was nice but I just didn’t want to fuss with it at that time.

The second time I used it was with one of my regular bands, Jr. Cline and the Recliners. We were playing at a local casino in a nice room with a solid PA and monitors so I just decided to commit to it since I should be able to hear myself well all night. Well it turns out I was wrong about that because you can never underestimate the ability of guitars to overwhelm any given situation. On a side note, they had a bunch of those plexiglas barriers and it should be noted they rarely if ever work as expected. If it’s not a fully-enclosed system then it can’t possibly work but people often hear with their eyes first and I digress.

On that gig the mouthpiece was comfortable and full but I felt like I had to work way too hard and blow much more air than usual to get the sound I needed to sound appropriate in that setting. I was able to get around the horn really well but the altissimo was some work. The book is actually written over the full range of the horn with more written low notes than a lot of other two-horn books and all ranges were playable but still more work than I would like except for the low notes which spoke really well.

When I played it in my studio, I really liked it a lot. I think this was in no small way because I was more comfortable than ever with the mouthpiece. It was also true because I was in a very controlled environment where I could hear myself really well without competing with other instruments. In this setting I found out why people are really flocking to this mouthpiece because it is smooth and silky with the ability to roar when pushed. I think the problem I have with playing it live is my ability to hear it from behind the horn. When it’s hard to hear it’s important to have a feel for what is coming out the end of the horn and I could not get comfortable with that especially compared to my regular mouthpiece which is really excellent for that.

In conclusion, like some of the other stuff I’ve tested recently, this is a mouthpiece I could use if I was playing a different kind of music on a regular basis or if I was prone to switching mouthpieces for changing circumstances…I’m not. Of the three recent mouthpieces I’ve tried from Phil-Tone I like this one the second best but I really think it would grow on me if it was all I played for a long period of time. This is the kind of mouthpiece that you would want to invest time and effort in rather than something that’s just going to be perfect the first time you put it on. I actually liked the Sapphire the best but I’m more comvinced than ever that my Eclipse is the perfect mouthpiece fo all of the things I do right now.

The Clip

This is a fairly long clip because I was having a lot of fun playing this piece. As with all recent recordings it was recorded directly into Reason on my MacBook Pro using a Fat Head Ribbon microphone through a Balance interface. I think you can hear how flexible and full it is but I didn’t necessarily push it as hard as I could or would in certain settings but that’s probably true of everything I do in the studio.

Phil-Tone Sapphire Review

Phil did't have pictures on his website so I grabbed these from Tenor Madness - a great sax shop and a dealer for these mouthpieces.

Phil didn’t have pictures on his website so I grabbed these from Tenor Madness – a great sax shop and a dealer for these mouthpieces.

Hot on the heels of getting the chance to review Phil Engleman’s collaboration with Theo Wanne, the Tribute, I recently received the Sapphire to try out. Well, to be fair it’s been a month and a half and not “hot on the heels” but it’s been harder to get back rolling on this blog than I thought it would be. Being a single dad really puts a crimp in your available time. For instance, I was interrupted 4 times before I got this far in my writing today. 🙂

Introduction

Anyway, back to business. The Sapphire is a replacement for something Phil has been doing for years and I believe the thing he started with before making his own mouthpieces. Phil has always had a knack for taking stock, off-the-shelf Otto Link Tone Edge mouthpieces (known for being wildly inconsistent at best) and turning them into powerhouse, monster players. The process involved lots of steps to fix the tip and rails, adjust the “floor”, open the chamber, and possibly the most important, adjusting the baffle. The intent was to take these modern, inconsistent, and possibly flawed pieces and turn them into something that felt and sounded more like the old “slant signature” Tone Edge mouthpieces. The slant signature being the most well known and sought after Tone Edge of all time. He has done this for many years but recently decided to work directly with J.J. Babbitt company (makers of the current Otto Link and Meyer lines of mouthpiece) to have a blank made just for him that would allow him to produce consistent and superior results without as much busy work just to get to square one. Based on what I was able to play I think he’s on to something special.

This is the only identifying marking on the mouthpiece

This is the only identifying marking on the mouthpiece

 Appearance

A couple years ago when I bought my first mouthpiece from Phil I posted a review on Sax on the Web Forum (long before I started this blog) I expressed a thought about the appearances of mouthpieces that feels appropriate here. Based on the effect people ascribe to mouthpiece construction, materials, etc. it’s odd that good ones don’t look all that different from the “bad” ones. I mean it seems like the ones that really play should glow or have a pearlescent sparkle like the tears of a unicorn but the reality is that the naked eye can’t necessarily see a whole lot of difference from one mouthpiece to another. You can definitely spot a particularly bad example but the differences between good and great mouthpieces are very hard to discern sometimes. The Sapphire looks different from all of Phil’s other custom pieces. It is a little shorter from end to end with a shorter shank that has two cuts. As with all of Phil’s work, the tip and rails are absolutely immaculate. Also there isn’t a ton of baffle in the rather spacious chamber. The beak seems like it might be a little higher and of a sharper angle than his other pieces as well and that’s actually good for me because I have become more comfortable with a higher profile mouthpiece over the years. The one I have may be more on the prototype side as well because there are very few markings on it at all. The mouthpiece I tried is a 7* – right in my comfort zone. I used a Rigotti Gold 3 Strong reed and a Francois Louis Pure Brass ligature.

How Does It Play?

If you read my review of the Tribute you might remember that I intended to use it on a gig but bailed at the last minute because it didn’t seem like it was going to fit the gig both from a sound profile as well as from my ability to discern and hear myself in a rough monitoring situation. With the Sapphire it was a very different situation. I found myself playing the exact same gig with mostly the exact same band. I hadn’t had a chance to play the mouthpiece prior to the gig but I was game to try it so I slapped one of my reeds on and got to work. This mouthpiece was instantly comfortable to me. Not only that but it was close enough to how I usually sound that I was easily able to pick myself out of the monitor mix even though it was a bit of a messier mix than the last time we played there. The overall feel was a little darker than I am used to these days so I had to work a little harder than I would normally want to but the evenness of tone and intonation was exactly what I would hope for.

When I was able to try it in my studio I was still very happy with the sound and happily played the mouthpiece for quite a while as I put it through its paces. I’m pretty sure this could easily be my every day mouthpiece except for a couple of things none of which are knocks on the mouthpiece: First, I already have a Phil-Tone Eclipse that has been my main piece for several years and it is easier to play a bit brighter the way I like to sound in most of the musical situations I find myself in. Second, when I am looking for something on the darker, smokier, Blue Note side of things (a sound the Sapphire excels at) I already have an Equinox D mouthpiece from Phil that I have reviewed previously – The Equinox D is now called the Aurora I believe. If I didn’t already have the comfort of Phil’s other pieces and the sonic spectrum so well covered already I never would have let this mouthpiece go on to the next person in the pass around.

Not a ton of baffle in there and no "unicorn tears"

Not a ton of baffle in there and no “unicorn tears” 🙂

The Clip

I just finished editing the clip – snipping out unwanted sections and converting to MP3. There were no changes other than that…It was recorded direct to Reason on my Mac using a Cascade Fat Head ribbon microphone through a Propellerheads Balance audio interface. I simply normalized everything and then did the snipping. It’s pretty obvious I have a lot of comfort with this mouthpiece and, listening back, I really love the sound of it. As I said, if I didn’t feel like I already had the sonic territory and comfort of this mouthpiece well covered it would not have left my grubby little hands. The clip is a little long but I was having a great time so bonus points if you listen to the whole expanse of mindless noodling. 🙂

Phil-Tone Theo Wanne Tribute Review

The Tribute

The Tribute

Introduction

I’ve talked before about mouthpieces from Phil Engleman. I wrote a review about one of his Equinox Dark mouthpieces and one of his original Custom mouthpieces has been my main piece for several years with the exception of a brief foray with a Phil Barone Super New York. Earlier this year, I saw Phil was talking on Sax on the Web Forum about an exciting new project he wanted to work on. I emailed him and found out he was working with Theo Wanne to make an exact copy of the old Florida metal Otto Link mouthpieces. These have long been regarded as some of the most versatile and best-playing mouthpieces out there but you can’t get them any more unless you want to spend a lot of money to get a used vintage one. Phil and Theo wanted to find an excellent example and use modern technology like laser mapping, 3D printing, and CNC milling to make something that was not only great playing and affordable but also consistent – something that even Florida era Otto Links were not.

pt-1-logoThis idea was exciting to me because I had an excellent Florida Link that was my main mouthpiece for many years to the point that I had to stop playing it because I had used up the bite plate and it had taken a fall and the tip had some issues. Several years ago I started my association with Phil by having him restore this mouthpiece for me. Fast forward to this year and there was actually a good chance that my mouthpiece might be used as the “blank” to get them a starting point. Unfortunately my piece is an 8* and Phil and Theo were looking for a 7* as that was what they wanted to base the line on (it’s one of the most commonly used tip openings especially in Links). Still I was very excited to get my hands on the mouthpiece but several uncontrollable factors like summer vacations and my wife’s illness kept it out of my hands until this holiday season.

Appearance

The first thing you will notice about the Tribute is just how precise and lovingly crafted it is. The tip and rails are absolutely pristine – a hallmark of Phil’s work and the overall look of the mouthpiece is very attractive with a bead-blasted finish and excellent logo work. I’ve never played a Theo Wanne mouthpiece but I believe this level of build quality is something he is known for as well. There is a gentle rollover baffle, the sidewalls are scooped out and the chamber is large. It ships with a Theo Wanne Enlightened ligature with two pressure plates but the version I tried had no ligature. I ended up using a Francois Louis Ultimate although a Rico H fit just fine also.

Another view

Another view

How Does it Play?

Playing the Tribute was easy and fun. As I said, I’m very comfortable with a Florida Link after years of playing one and this was as comfortable as an old friend pretty much from the start. I used Rigotti Gold 3 Strong reeds and they seemed like a pretty good fit. It’s possible I would eventually go with a 3 Medium but I probably wouldn’t go stronger for fear of the mouthpiece sounding too tubby. The best words to describe the sound I got would be full, round, and velvety. It makes you want to play ballads especially ones that feature the low end of the horn because the low notes are absolutely stellar. It subtones like a dream and the sound just filled up my little practice room/studio. You can easily transition from soft to loud and, like other Links, it picks up some pleasing brightness when pushed. Pitch was generally very good and the tone remained centered and even throughout the range of the horn. The only problem for me was that the upper register seemed like it didn’t want to brighten up enough for the kind of music I usually get called to play. Sometimes I could blow harder and it would open and brighten up enough and other times it sounded a little pinched to my ears. This could be the result of the fact that I am used to playing a hard rubber mouthpiece with a much bigger beak as I am much more comfortable with that these days. One thing to keep in mind is that Florida Links don’t all play the same as I mentioned above. Some are darker and some are brighter. My Link is a little brighter than this but it’s also a bigger tip opening. I think this piece tends to be darker than some other Florida Links.

My original intention was to take it out on a gig I had with a soul, R&B band I play with out of DC and Northern VA but I ended up not using it on that gig for several reasons. First off, I could tell that there would be issues with the monitoring situation on stage and I didn’t want to get lost in the mix. If I’m on my usual setup I can find myself sonically even in bad situations but I didn’t have confidence I could do that with the Tribute in this situation. Also, there was another tenor player on the gig and he wan’t just any tenor player. He’s a legend in the area named Al Williams and he’s a flat out player who’s been around with the likes of Stanley Clarke and Mongo Santamaria. I didn’t want to do anything that would potentially keep me from being my absolute best that night. Because of that I couldn’t take the mouthpiece on the gig

Conclusion

I really loved this mouthpiece and under certain circumstances I think I could easily make this my main piece except for two things. First, I don’t really get to play in those types of situations as much anymore. If I was playing more straight ahead jazz in smaller rooms then yes but I tend to play funk, soul, and R&B in loud bars and theaters. Second, I have come to the conclusion over the years that I am just more comfortable on mouthpieces with bigger beaks so that my jaw is naturally opened wider. Metal mouthpieces just don’t have those kinds of beaks and I tend to get fatigued much quicker on them these days as a result. I’m told Phil might be working on a more in-your-face version of this mouthpiece called the Mosaic and that might make me think hard about going back to a metal mouthpiece again but we’ll see.

Clips and a Different Kind of Tribute

If you’ve been reading my blog at all then you know that I haven’t been posting much lately. In my last post I explained that my wife, Sue, was having some rather serious health issues. I won’t go into all of the details here but she finally succumbed to a terrible illness called Fatal Familial Insomnia on December 18th so I now find myself a single dad to my two boys. I miss her very much and that’s reflected in these clips. Both are single-take “moments in time” that I recorded on the evening my wife’s funeral and the following evening. I thought about going back and re-recording or “fixing” some things or even adding some reverb or EQ but ultimately decided that they should stay as raw and original as possible to remain as a record of what I was feeling those nights and many nights since her diagnosis in July. The first is some noodling and then When I Fall in Love and the second one is My One and Only Love – a song I’ve dedicated to her many times over the years. You get to hear them warts and all:

I love you Sue and I miss you more than you can know.

Review: Jazzlab Sax Harness

Pretty Girl Not Included

Pretty Girl Not Included

One of the big problems I’ve had the last few years when playing bari is ending up with a very sore back. It had gotten to the point where I would take the bari off the strap anytime I had any decent amount of rest and then re-hang it before the next entrance. I’m talking about as little as six bars rest. That technique got me through the gig and kept me from being in terrible pain the next day.

While playing bari always seemed to affect my lower back the most, playing tenor with a normal neck strap always made my neck sore although not nearly as much as bari affected my back. I never liked harness style straps because I didn’t like the way the horn hung – it seemed to be too close to my body with that style of strap. Because of the way it hung, it always felt like the angle of the horn was wrong for me. I think it would be fine for sitting down but I spend most of my gigs standing up and I like the horn to be more out front than angled to my side. I started hearing a lot of great things about the Jazzlab Sax Holder and I finally took the plunge to try it out. My experience with it so far is over three gigs and several practice sessions but I believe I have a good feel for what it does and how that affects me.

How Did It Do?

There’s no doubt the weight is much better distributed with the Sax Holder. The weight of the horn was moved from my neck (with a pull on my lower back) to my shoulders. The strap adjusts fairly easily to the contours of my shoulders and the weight is further distributed to a brace that rests on the body. This brace is adjustable both for height as well as thickness and I think this is the part that saves my back while the shoulder straps save my neck. The strap works like a marching tether for drummers in many ways.

The first time I used it I had a gig on bari and alto and the strap arrived during the day of the gig while I was at work. So like any rational person I decided to try it on the gig without any test. To make matters worse, traffic going to the gig was terrible so I didn’t even make sound check so I was only able to try the strap for a few minutes before I went on. I did have a regular strap on stage just in case…I’m not totally nuts…but I didn’t need it because the Sax Holder worked like a champ. It was effortless to hold the bari while playing and I didn’t take it off at all while playing the bari songs. I also felt very comfortable playing alto. The angle of both horns was right where I wanted them to be. The Sax Holder has a longer strap portion that acts more like a traditional strap and that makes it much better than a harness for me.

The second gig I used it on was just tenor and I once again didn’t have much time to adjust it (it was an outdoor wedding and you probably know how those go). Again, I appreciated how well the pressure on my neck and back was alleviated but this time I felt like maybe having more time to tweak the adjustable shoulder braces would have helped me a lot. The seemed to dig in a little bit more than they should the whole night. On the other hand, the strap works really well with a tux or a suit as it hides well under the jacket, doesn’t mess up your bow tie, and actually keeps a traditional tie in place without a tie clip.

The third time I used it, was a outdoor concert and I was dressed MUCH more casually than the other two gigs. In this case, it actually interfered with my open collar shirt more than I wanted it to. Plus, the guys in the section were giving me grief about it a little it (“Oh I thought you were wearing a brace because you broke your sternum”). Ultimately, I decided not to finish out the gig with it that night even though it was still very comfortable for me. I think I can better plan my clothing in the future when I want to use it.

Pros

Really does protect both my neck and my lower back

Works well under a suit jacket and with ties

Horns hang at a good angle for me

Easily adjustable when switching horns

Lightweight

Comes with a soft bag and stores comfortably in the bell when in the case

Cons

Sometimes it’s awkward to have on when you aren’t playing. Walking up and down steps feels weird if you try to look down

Doesn’t work well over an open collar shirt

Can look a little strange when you aren’t hanging a horn on it

Verdict

For bari this is a no-brainer. It makes playing one pain free for the first time since I was much younger. I was able to feel comfortable without removing the horn and I was even able to move freely and do dance moves with the section. For the tenor, where I don’t have as much lower back trouble but I do have neck strain, it’s something that I can and will use under the right circumstance. Even if the guys give me grief, it’s well worth being pain free after the gig. For alto it’s really not necessary but I am often playing alto in conjunction with either the tenor or bari so it will get used especially since it is so adjustable. Overall, I think this strap is a winner and money well spent. I actually ordered mine through a store connected to Amazon but I don’t think they have them all the time. I’ve also heard that there is a model 2 coming out but I will probably wait on that until I hear more as this one works fine.

Crack the Sky and Getting Ready For New Stuff

Last night the Crack Pack horns (same as the Retox Horns – Dave Makowiecki, Jim McFalls, and me) played with Crack the Sky at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore. The place was absolutely packed and we had a great time. We played two of the songs we recorded for the most recent CD, Ostrich, as well as the “usual suspects” of Skin Deep, She’s a Dancer, Mind Baby, and I Am the Walrus from the Beatles (always the closer). I once again played the Cannonball Raven tenor because it’s really tight and the intonation is pretty well locked in. I am still having trouble with a sticky G# key that is really getting on my nerves but I’m getting better at prepping the horn to limit it as much as possible. I’m mostly annoyed because I took it back where I bought it to have them look at it, it took them ten days to get it done, and it’s still exactly the way it was. I’m going to take it to my regular tech soon.

I’m also getting ready to play some high-profile gigs with Jr. Cline and the Recliners. The first one is in two weeks at the Bethesda Jazz and Blues Supper Club in Bethesda, MD. I’ve played with Daryl before but it was with the smaller club band, This gig is the first of a series with a ten-piece group (three horns) and I’ll most likely be playing alto and bari (bari for sure but it looks like alto will be a double). I’m pretty much caught up to where I was years ago on the bari with the possible exception of some endurance but I’ve been practicing a decent amount on alto to make sure that’s up to speed as well. I was playing alto in New Monopoly but only on a couple of tunes a night. I’m liking it more and more. I just had my horn (Buffet 400) in to the shop for some adjustment and it feels awesome. I’m also really happy with the Phil-Tone Custom (now called an Aurora) that has been my main piece for a couple of years.

I have been writing a lot of charts to get ready for the gig because there is no Eb book and it’s just too mind-bendingly hard to sight transpose the Bb book for me. I am still using Muse Score for this because it’s both free and (at least for me) very easy to use. I like the fact that I can enter everything  need with the computer keyboard and a mouse so I can work on charts wherever I have access to a computer. I’ve achieved a great comfort level with this entry method and can get through several tunes an hour if I’m not too distracted. I don’t even bother printing them out because I read everything from my iPad these days. I just export as a PDF, upload them to my Dropbox folder as a backup and then grab them from the pad. If I was doing more charts I would probably consider going for Sibelius but for my purposes, this free program does everything I need.

 

Busy Weekend

Friday night I got to do one of my favorite things. I played with Technicolor Motor Home at Ram’s Head On Stage in Annapolis. It’s the second time we’ve been there and the second time we’ve sold the place out. It’s not a huge venue but it has a great vibe and thee have been some amazing acts on that stage so it just feels great to be up there. It’s always a great time when I play with these guys especially playing with my partners in horn section crime, Dave Makowiecki and Jim McFalls. It was a great night and here are some samples:

Last song of the night after over 2 hours of playing..still a lot of energy going on:

http://barrycaudill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/FM.mp3

A little EWI action on this one.  The chromatic harmonica patch was a free download from EWI Reason Sounds.  It was a melodica on the original recording but this gets the job done.

http://barrycaudill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Hey-Nineteen.mp3

Some horn section goodness and some wonderful guitar work by Ben Sherman:

http://barrycaudill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/My-Old-School.mp3

I played the Cannonball Raven on this gig with my Phil Barone Super New York mouthpiece and Rigotti Gold 3 1/2 M reeds. It was a struggle because I was still having a devil of a time with the G# key sticking.  I made it through the night but it drove me crazy the whole time and I had a really hard time feeling settled.  I took the horn to L&L Music in Gaithersburg where I bought it and they are looking it over and adjusting it as a warranty repair so I’m hopeful that it will be great when I get it back. With the exception of the sticking key (which could be attributed to a bunch of things) the horn felt absolutely awesome…very tight and punchy and it just looks awesome.

This week I’m playing a LOT of bari in a big band setting. Every year a local private high school called Archbishop Curley has a night of jazz featuring their students and an alumni band along with a guest act. I didn’t go to Curley but I have a few friends there and I’ve subbed with the alumni band numerous times including every chair in the sax section at one time or another. I think this will be my third concert with them and the first for me on bari. We had a rather long rehearsal this evening and we will have two more before the concert on Saturday night. I’m playing on my Selmer bari with my Lawton 8*B mouthpiece and it’s really starting to feel a lot more comfortable…maybe I don’t need to get some mouthpieces refaced after all. Oh well, I already sent one off to Mojo (Keith Bradbury) so it’s a done deal anyway. I’m also using an inexpensive reed alternative – Woodwind brand from the Woodwind and the Brasswind. I ordered the jazz cut in a 3 and they are playing really well for me right now. I also have some La Voz MH that I have prepared in the rotation as well. We’re only doing 5 tunes for the concert but it looks like it will be a lot of fun. I think there are a few tickets available for “All That Curley Jazz” but it appears to be another sellout this week. 🙂

A Couple of Quick Things

Great Gig

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I played a great gig Saturday night in Falls Church, VA with Jr. Cline and the Recliners.  I had played with them on tenor before Christmas but this time I was playing bari as Daryl (Jr.) was trying a few things with the horn section.  It was a much easier gig on tenor for a couple reasons.  First, the book is a Bb book so I was trying to sight transpose everything…sometimes it felt easy and natural and other times it felt like calculus…mostly calculus.  Second, the club is tiny (same club as the last gig I did with them) but this time we had three guys on the tiny stage instead of two. Finally, there were no monitors and the bari is much harder to pick out acoustically than tenor so I was never really settled with regards to pitch or blend. On the other hand, the section from last time was augmented by a wonderful guy and great sax player named Al Williams on tenor. Al has been a Washington area legend for years and previously toured with both Stanley Clarke and Mongo Santamaria so it was an honor to share the stage with him and blend in the section along with trumpeter Chris Hutton.  I’m hoping there will be more work with this section and this band in the near future.

Ligatures

I took my son (who plays string bass in high school) to the All-County Solo and Ensemble Festival on Saturday.  He was playing with a trio that ended up getting a top grade but that’s beside the point. 🙂  While we were there in the warm-up area I saw not one, not, two, but three sax players that had Rovner ligatures on upside down. I really wanted to go say something but I figured the last thing they needed was someone messing with their setup before they play so I must content myself with posting this thought here. It’s pretty simple really. The ligature screw always goes on the right unless you have doe something special to put it on the other side so that gives you a clue as to how the ligature should be applied. It’s not a matter of the vast majority of people in the world being right handed, it’s actually much simpler and aplicable than that. Having it on the right allows you to be able to play some notes with your left hand while possibly adjusting the tension with your right. If you reverse this then there is only one note that will sound…C#. Also, in the case of the Rovner ligature, if you put it on upside down you are losing the whole point of why you would by a Rovner in the first place. So think about it and make sure you’re using the ligature you bought the way it was intended to be used.

Bari Mouthpiece Work

Now that I have more bari work coming in, I’m starting to mess around with my setup a little bit. I have a mouthpiece that I love (Lawton 8*B – you can see it pretty clearly in the pictures above) but it’s been a little tougher to play since I haven’t been playing as much bari and I’m not 25 anymore so I was hoping for something a little easier to play. One possible solution is that I have an Otto Link Tone Edge (Hard Rubber) out with a mouthpiece guy named Phil Barone and he’s giving it something I refer to as the “Ronnie Cuber Treatment”. It’s a series of modifications he did for Ronnie years ago (Ronnie is one of my favorite bari players). I’m thinking it’s going to be easier to honk out low notes and it should be freer blowing than the Lawton. Unfortunately it has taken quite a while to get those modifications but I’m hopeful it will be coming soon. I have also contacted another mouthpiece refacer who specializes in bari mouthpieces although he works on all types. His name is Keith Bradbury but he goes by the name MojoBari or simply Mojo on forums. I have a couple of mouthpieces that I want to send to him for refacing and I’m going to start with an old hard rubber Berg Larsen 115/1. It’s got a couple things I like (honking low end and easy to blow) and a couple things I hate (stuffy upper register) so I’m hopeful Keith can straighten it out for me. He’s a little backed up so it will probably be a month before I get it back but I can definitely gig on my Lawton for a while longer and, who knows, maybe I’ll just get comfortable on it again from all of the work I’m hoping to get and it won’t feel too big anymore.  Stay tuned for updates.

The Dreaded Sticky G# Key

The G# Key

The G# Key

I had a rehearsal on Saturday and I was having a devil of a time with a sticky G# key.  I’ve had similar issues over the years but never to the extent I had on Saturday.  It definitely didn’t help that it was the Steely Dan tribute band I play in and all of the songs practically required a G#…especially the ones I solo in.  Even when it was opening it was delayed so it was very trying.  None of the tricks I have used in the past worked so I learned a few new ones that I will explain here.

In the past, I have always had luck using the “dollar bill trick”.  You take a dollar bill and place it between the pad and the tone hole, apply gentle pressure on the pad cup and then slide the bill out.  The paper of the bill helps soak up moisture and clean the parts and the oils of all of the people’s hands that have handled the bill (GROSS!) helps keep it from being sticky.  The problem was, I really couldn’t get in there with the bill to clean it.

What I have done instead is clean the pad and tone hole more completely.  I asked several repair guys including my regular guy Lee Lachman and my internet acquaintance Stephen Howard.  Both had similar solutions involving the use of a mild solvent.  Lee suggested a product called Goo Gone that he’s had a lot of luck with and Stephen suggested simple lighter fluid like you would use in a Zippo lighter.  I think the key is a light solvent that doesn’t have a lot of other stuff mixed in to muck things up. I ended up finding the lighter fluid quicker (at a local drug store next the the Chinese restaurant where I was getting take out) and it was pretty inexpensive so I gave it a try. I put a little bit on the end of a Q-tip and lightly scrubbed all around the areas where the pad and tone hole come into contact.  The effect was immediate.  No more sticky pad.

I also learned a trick that’s been around for years, but had somehow eluded me, for letting the pads dry out without contacting the tone hole.  If you take a business card or a lightly folded piece of paper and stick it under the low C# key it also slightly opens the G# key. In this fashion the G# pad can dry out without creating a seal.  It seems to work like a charm and I believe it’s perfectly safe.

Of course, I also swab the horn every time I use it and I use a pad saver as well. One thing I also learned in the last year is to open the case and leave it open overnight after getting home from a gig (removing the pad saver).  It seems like a lot of moisture remains trapped in the case even after swabbing if you don’t do this.

Recording Basics: The Software

 

Reaper

Reaper

I mentioned before there are numerous hardware choices. Everything from using the smart phone you carry around to dedicated multitrack recorders to your computer. Today I’m going to talk about software for your computer. No matter what platform you prefer there are numerous options and something for every budget. I’m not a huge expert on Linux but I know at least one recorder, Audacity, is available for that platform. Pretty much everything else I will discuss here is available for both Mac and Windows PCs.

I already mentioned Audacity and it’s special because it’s both open-source and free. It’s also only an audio recording and editing package whereas the other products I am talking about here are Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). The difference with the other packages is they also have virtual instruments built in so they are complete music creation packages with sequencing, synths, drums, loops, and effects. That said, I actually use Audacity for lots of things like quick recording and file conversion. It’s a great starting off point if you just want to get some ideas down or listen to yourself.

Reaper is not free but it’s crazy cheap for the amount of stuff it does. Reaper is super powerful and has a ton of features but it can be a little tough to figure out especially if you’re new to DAW software. If you know what you’re doing and you don’t mind wading through a rather arcane interface you will find something lightning fast, powerful, and deep.  I know of at least two recording professionals (friends) that switched from their Pro Tools rigs to Reaper and they don’t seem to be looking back.

Another free option is to find package deals with audio interfaces as many ship with software so you can easily get started. For instance, you can get Pro Tools Express with the purchase of MBOX products, you can get Reason Essentials with the purchase of Balance, and there are several other similar deals out there. Odds are you will want an audio/MIDI interface for your computer so if you can get the software thrown in for free that’s a great deal.

Another inexpensive option that is only available to Mac users is Garage Band. Garage Band is basically the light version of Logic Pro – in fact you can open up Garage Band projects in Logic Pro and instantly gain access to the increased features without any conversion. I think I paid 15 dollars for the latest upgrade (maybe it was 20 – can’t remember) and the original version came free with iLife when I bought this laptop. GB errs on the easy and simple side but it hides a lot of power if you dig just a little bit. It’s very easy to learn and also has some cool features to help you learn guitar or piano or to quickly generate tracks to jam along with. If you’re a Mac guy then this is definitely a great way to start and unfortunately there’s nothing quite like it for Windows but there are some powerful combinations that could get you close and that’s possibly a story for another day.

These are all great ways to get started but the sky is the limit with this stuff. Later on I’ll post about some of the pricier and more powerful options out there. For now, grab one of these free or inexpensive packages and get going.