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:


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.


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


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. 🙂

Analog Dreams EWI Refill for Reason

Analog Dreams

I’ve mentioned Chris Vollstadt and EWI Reason Sounds before.  I’ve been using Chris’s sounds for my virtual EWI rig for pretty much as long as I’ve been using a virtual rig.  I decided to make Reason the main engine for my virtual rig in no small part because of Chris’s patches and wonderful website.  I had bought all of his Refills (a bank of patches for Reason) but then he came out with a new concept – a mini Refill for only $9.99.  I had to get it and I’m glad I did.

Analog Dreams is a collection of 20 original “Dragon.fly” Combinator patches utilizing samples of vintage synthesizers in the NN19 sampler that is included with Reason.  It also includes 30 NN19 patches (used to make the Combinators), some effects patches, and a comprehensive user guide in pdf format.  It has sounds reminiscent of old analog synths from Moog, Roland, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, and others.

I’ve been playing EWI and other wind synths for many years and I have done a lot of acoustic instrument emulations over the years but I’ve always preferred synth sounds for leads and solos because it’s really hard to be super creative and emulative at the same time.  Synth patches free me up to just play.  Because of that I am really happy with this collection of sounds.  Chris’s patches are always very expressive and easy to play and these sounds take that concept to a new level.

Another great thing about the package is that all of the patches are “tweakable” whether it’s changing the filters, adding effects, or adjusting the relative brightness of the patch.  Chris sets up each Combinator with knobs and buttons that are readily available and easy to understand.  See the picture at the top of the post for an example of what can be tweaked in real time.  You can even assign controllers to the knobs and buttons to make it easier to do while playing.

All of the sounds are very usable and there are no “clunkers” in the bunch.  Of course, I have some favorites and I made a little recording with 8 or 9 of them below.  Chris also has a cool audio demo on the Analog Dreams page of his website.  My demo is just a quick and dirty sampling of the sounds with no tweaking at all…the sounds are how they sound as soon as you call them up but there’s a lot of variation available to you.  I just used breath swells and other performance controls available on the EWI USB itself for this recording.

If you’re playing a wind synth and using a virtual rig then it’s likely you already have Reason.  If not, it’s something you might want to consider because it’s a very powerful engine for both the EWI and for recording in general.  If you have Reason then you really owe it to yourself to pick up Analog Dreams.  The price is amazing for what you get and there’s tools there to let you create even more sounds on your own.  Of course, if you already have Reason you should also check out Chris’s other products like Cyclone and his Rotators.  You won’t be sorry.



EWI Corner – The Virtual Years

So I already talked about my old hardware setup for the EWI and how it progressed over time.  Those years are mostly behind me these days as I have moved completely over to virtual synths on a laptop.  It’s a very flexible setup but I still have my last rack as well as some other backup stuff handy just in case although my virtual rig hasn’t failed in nearly two years.

I’m using the EWI 4000s as my main controller even though my EWI USB is very capable and MUCH lighter.  The primary reason for this is the extra octaves available on the 4000s since I end up making a lot of splits (assigning different patches to different ranges for quick transitions in songs or also useful for layering multiple sounds to play on the same key) for different songs.  In addition, all of the octave rollers are connected whereas the USB version uses a software trick for the highest and lowest octaves.  I have both EWI set up so they feel very comfortable and I generally use the USB version when I’m practicing or learning songs at home.  One more thing, it’s also great to be able to take the 4000s back to the dressing room with a pair of headphones and play the internal synth without having to have anything else.

The rest of the hardware starts with a 2010 MacBook Pro (i7 processor).  I’ve never been a  big fan of the whole Mac/PC feud because I feel both are very capable.  In my day job I make video and computer games so I could easily say without a shadow of a doubt that gamers should have a PC but everything else is pretty much equal in my experience…except for music stuff.  I spent many years doing music stuff on my PC before getting this MB Pro and I can say categorically that things are just easier with a Mac.  You can definitely get a PC to do all the same things but sometimes you have to jump through some serious hoops to make it happen.  For this purpose a Mac is just the better choice and that’s that for me.  Your results may vary.

Finally I use an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra as an audio and MIDI interface.  It has very powerful hardware routing capabilities built in as well as a virtual mixer on the computer.  That allows me to submix all of my microphones for my acoustic gear (Shure Beta 98 for saxes and a Countryman ISO Max for flute) with the internal synths and give one mix to the main board rather than taking up 3 channels.  It’s a great interface for a home studio as well because it has decent routing for separate headphone mixes built in.  For home use and for other, less intense situations I have either an M-Audio Ozone keyboard/audio/MIDI interface and an Audio Technica AT2020 USB microphone.

For sounds I am using Reason 6.5 from Propellerheads Software, Sample Tank (as well as several other software instruments) from IK Multimedia, and Garage Band when I need a VST host.  Reason is an amazingly versatile DAW (digital audio workstation) with robust audio recording/mixing/mastering tools and several world class virtual synths.  It’s an incredibly complete package with sampling, granular synthesis, subtractive synthesis, FM, and a HUGE powerhouse called Thor that is nearly a fully modular synth.

There are a couple extra things that really make Reason powerful – one is something called a Combinator (a holding container for synths and effects that makes it easy to create powerful splits and layers with tons of real-time control options.  The other is CV (control voltage).   Before MIDI, most synths that could “talk” to each other used control voltage and the original Lyricon made excellent expressive use of it.  CV in Reason allows many things to control other things without the “steppiness” of MIDI.  The concept seems simple (like you could have the LFO (low frequency oscillator) of one synth change the frequency cutoff of another but once you start patching the virtual wires you see how amazingly powerful and flexible the system really is.

If there’s one thing that Reason is slightly lacking in, it’s in the area of “real” sounds – emulations of real instruments.  Out of the box, Reason is great at synth stuff – it’s used for dance music a LOT – but when you’re used to having the VL-70m or the Roland XV 5050 (or even my old Kurzweil K2000r) this software feels pretty light in this department although there are packages available that add more sounds.  That’s why I purchased Sample Tank…it has thousands of sounds and has WAY more “real” instruments although it has some great synth stuff as well.  If you only had the money to buy one piece of software, though, I would easily recommend Reason for all of your EWI uses.

It’s pretty easy to make your own patches once you know what you’re doing but there are two guys you should definitely check out: Bernie Kenerson and Chris Vollstadt.  Bernie has been playing EWI (and Lyricon before that) for many years and has achieved an extremely high level of proficiency on it.  He’s also a prolific and talented creator of wind control patches.  You can buy several Refills (packaged banks of sounds in Reason) on his website including combinators, three sets of Thor patches and an entire bank of Sample Tank patches that you can use with the free version of Sample Tank so you are only out the cost of the patches.  These run the gamut from simple to incredibly complex and you can even learn from the patches so you can make better ones yourself.  His website also contains a ton of helpful tips, exercises, and sound examples.  Bernie even teaches EWI lessons via Skype.  I own pretty much everything Bernie makes patch-wise.

Chris Vollstadt has a website called EWI Reason Sounds and not only does he have sounds for sale, he’s also very good at writing EWI and Reason tutorials.  You can learn a lot from Chris and he makes even complex concepts seem easy and understandable.  Chris also has several Refills available for sale and they are also quite good.  First, he has a windcontroller bank (you could just as easily use a Yamaha WX controller as an EWI) called Cyclone that has 56 patches, 14 custom effects, and a user guide to explain everything.  He also has two Refills of some very advanced “Rotator” patches based on things Michael Brecker used to do on the Oberheim Expander…non-static chords with a variety of sounds.  One Refill is more synth sounds and the other is more sample based (orchestral or big band for example).  As with Bernie, I own everything Chris makes because the price is reasonable and the value is excellent.  Even without the refills, though, Chris’s site is a must as he provides those excellent tutorials and lots of free downloads.  Some of the free stuff I’ve gotten from him has become part of my “go to” sounds.

All in all, I love my virtual rig and don’t see myself going back to a hardware rig any time soon.  It’s lighter, more flexible, and just as easy to set up.