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. ūüôā 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.

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. ūüôā

Crack the Sky CD Release Party

Friday night we had the CD release party for the new Crack the Sky CD called Ostrich. I mentioned before that my usual horn section, The Retox Horns, is also the Crack Pack Horns when we play with Crack the Sky.  We were able to record three songs for this CD and two of them were in the set for this show along with 4 other songs from the usual rotation.  The gig was at Club 66 in Edgewood, MD and we played to a packed house of very excited people. Harford County, MD is my old stomping grounds so there were a lot of people I knew there.

Club 66 is a private BYOB club in an old VFW hall next to a working gas station. It’s not very fancy but it’s a very homey and comfortable place to play. They built a special stage just for the horn section with its own entrance from the green room. I call it a loft because it’s way up above the regular stage – even above the PA stacks.¬†Crack the Sky always uses this room to tune up the show before going out to other venues but this weekend the other venue cancelled at the last minute.

Check out Happy, Happy, Happy from the new CD played live. The dude that’s putting his thumb up and pointing is showing you where the horns are.

Two notable things about this show. First, our usual trombone player, Jim McFalls, was unable to attend so we had one of his former students play. ¬†Darius Jones is an excellent up and coming trombonist who is now living in NY where he is getting a graduate degree at NYU He is also an adjunct professor at NYU. He did a great job with very little prep time and this is not an easy book by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a blow especially for brass players and there are some really tricky rhythms to deal with.

Second, I used the Cannonball tenor and it felt absolutely wonderful for this gig. I used the fat neck and the horn felt really big and open which is perfect for a rather loud gig like this one. ¬†Intonation was excellent and the horn felt very comfortable for me – like I’ve had it for years. My partner in crime, Dave Makowiecki (trumpet) said he really liked the sound of it and he’s been pretty vocal in the past if I brought something out that wasn’t cutting it. ¬†I remember an incident years ago where I borrowed a Keilwerth from a friend out to a gig. I played one song on it and Dave just turned to me and said, “No” so I put it away. ūüôā I had no such issues this time around although he did say he missed seeing my old, road-worn Mark VI.

Always Leaves Me With a Huge Smile

Poster For This Year's Concert

Poster For This Year’s Concert

Every year for the last ten years I have been lucky enough to be a part of a big band Christmas concert to benefit Toys for Tots.  The band is called the Ken Ebo Big Bop Band and is lead by an incredible musician who both plays trombone and sings.  It features some of the best musicians in the Baltimore area Рsome of which I only get to see for this event.

I first started paying with the band over ten years ago when Ken was briefly out of the Marines and was teaching school in the Baltimore area. ¬†He started having a rehearsal band on Monday nights and his book was outstanding. ¬†That year he hosted the first one of these concerts at his school, Gilman. ¬†As a former Marine (at the time – he has since rejoined, served a term in Iraq, and currently teaches at the school of music) he was well connected with Toys for Tots and it was a perfect fit to have a big band concert featuring all Christmas music with the admission price being simply an unwrapped toy. ¬†The first year we mostly did stuff from the Kenton Christmas album and the big band was augmented with a French horn section as is appropriate for that music – a feature that has continued. ¬†Of course, the first concert was hampered by no one really knowing much about it and it was further hampered by the fact that it snowed…I think there were more people on stage than there were in the audience. ¬†As the years have passed we have gained a following and have increased the size of the venue not once but twice (first at Loch Raven High School and currently at Towson University in the Fine Arts Concert Hall). ¬†I’m one of only a handful of people who have done every single one of these and I’m honored for the opportunity.

This year we did some of the Kenton Christmas stuff but not as much as years past. ¬†We also did a lot of music from Tom Kubis, Gordon Goodwin, Harry Connick, and even some arrangements from Ken himself. ¬†Ken is an excellent singer and we’ve had the same female vocalist for the entire run, Tammy Temple Testerman. ¬†As a special treat this year we also had Ken’s wife Mary Jo join him for a Steve Lawrence/Edie Gourmet number and Ken’s two young children sang Away in a Manger with the band. ¬†We usually only have two rehearsals to get ready for a rather challenging book and this year I had to miss the dress rehearsal for a memorial service so it was a pretty challenging night for me. ¬†I played the lead tenor chair with some flute and clarinet doubles…I always have to dig out the clarinet and remem,ber how to play it because it seems like this is the only time I ever need it any more.

One cool thing for me was this was the first gig I’ve ever played with my new Cannonball tenor. ¬†It played like a dream. ¬†I used the fat neck because that’s the one that feels the most comfortable to me. ¬†The horn played very evenly throughout the range, the altissimo was practically effortless, and the intonation was spot on once I stopped making my usual unconscious adjustments from my other horn. ¬†I’m really happy with this horn and I’m loving being back on my Phil-Tone Eclipse. ¬†I still need to play out a little more with this setup but I will do full reviews of everything before the end of the year.

We had a nearly packed house and we collected a lot of toys.  We even had a Marine color guard march in the colors and a representative from Toys for Tots spoke and helped give out awards.  I was very excited that I was given a certificate commemorating my ten years of service (signed by a three-star general) as well as a cool personalized Christmas tree ornament.  We always hold the event on the second Sunday of December so save December 8th, 2013 if you want to see a big band Christmas concert and help out children in need at the same time.

News and Reviews in Progress

A couple of things to catch up on:

I’m not quite ready to do a full review on my new Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series tenor but early reports are really good. ¬†I would never want to do a full review without first playing it on the gig since for me nothing I do in the practice room is quite like the way I play live. ¬†I do have a big band gig this weekend and I have a couple of louder concerts later in the month so I will definitely have some opportunities to put it through it’s paces. ¬†I played it in a rehearsal for the big band this past weekend and I tried both necks – fat neck for the first have and the regular neck in the second half. ¬†I tend to like the fat neck better but my wife came to my room to listen and she instantly said she liked the regular neck better…we’ll see how this plays out.

I’ve also been playing on Rigotti Gold reeds for a couple months now and I really like them so far. ¬†The problem is I’ve only tried one box because of the way I break them in and my rotation system. ¬†I would definitely want to check a couple more boxes before being sure about a full review. ¬†I was playing Van Doren Java 3 1/2 and I switched to RG 3 1/2 M…so far I think that was the best choice…I got the comparison from a RG reed chart I think. ¬†One interesting effect of switching reeds is I’m now firmly back on my Phil-Tone Eclipse HR mouthpiece rather than the Phil Barone Super New York I had been playing for the last year or so.

On the EWI front, I just bought a new Refill from Chris Vollstadt at EWI Reason Sounds called Analog Dreams. ¬†I’ve been playing them for a few hours and I’m pretty happy with them so far. ¬†The entire Refill (for Propellerhead’s Reason) is comprised of some emulations of vintage synths and they’re all very tweakable. ¬†This Refill is also a new approach for Chris containing less sounds at a very reasonable price.

Finally, I just took delivery of a mouthpiece to try from Pete Thomas of “Taming the Saxophone”. ¬†It’s a new metal mouthpiece called the PPT he’s been working on and I received it as part of a passaround through Sax on the Web Forum. ¬†I’ve signed up for several passarounds in the past and this is the first time I actually got to play the mouthpiece in question…usually the passaround seems to fall apart I guess because someone buys the mouthpiece and that shuts everything down. ¬†Since this is a first I’m kind of excited to actually get to try something new and comment on it.

Look for these and other reviews along with some audio recordings in the near future.

Trying Horns

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series "The Raven"

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series “The Raven”

I mentioned before that I was ready to try out some new horns in order to choose a new backup horn and also to fill the need for something shiny for certain types of gigs.  I have done a lot of research and one of the brands I really wanted to try was the Cannonball horns and this weekend I got the chance to do just that.

After talking to a buddy of mine, I decided to drive down to Gaithersburg, MD and visit a store called L&L Music. ¬†There is actually a store much closer to me but L&L had the horns right there in the store and the other store required me to request horns to be delivered from their warehouse before I could try them. ¬†I figured I would go with the path of least resistance and if I didn’t find anything I liked at L&L then I could still try the closer store. ¬†Plus my buddy lives near L&L so he could go along to be my extra set of ears. ¬†They had 6 horns in stock at the store…two Vintage Pro Series and 4 Big Bell Stone Series and I dove right in.

The first one I tried was a Vintage Pro (both VP horns had the Dark Amber lacquer and looked very nice). ¬†It was a really, really nice horn. ¬†I brought my Mark VI as a comparison and this horn felt very similar to it. ¬†It had great ergonomics and the resistance felt really close. ¬†The only difference was it was way smoother than my horn….like butter. ¬†My VI almost sounded blatty by comparison. ¬†I set that one aside. ¬†The other VP also felt very similar to my VI and it even sounded like my VI coming out of the horn so I left the first one in the “like” pile and put this one back on the wall.

Next I moved on to the Big Bell Stone Series tenors. ¬†Once again, the first horn I tried was awesome and the rest didn’t feel as perfect even though all of the horns were very playable and any one of them could be a fine gig horn. ¬†These horns come with two necks: one is standard style with the octave mechanism on top and a finish that matches the horn exactly. ¬†The other neck is called the “Fat Neck” and it’s always in silver with an underslung octave key mechanism. ¬†With the exception of one horn I preferred the fat neck as the horns seemed less resistant and more round especially in the upper register. ¬† I put the first one into the like pile and put the rest back.

I had a tough decision on my hands at that point because both horns were great and the store was going to give me the sale price for the Christmas sale that hadn’t even started yet. ¬†Several of the store employees stopped in to chat at various times as well…it’s a very friendly store to shop at and there are lots of knowledgeable people there. ¬†Ultimately I decided to get the Big Bell Stone Series (Raven finish) over the Vintage Pro Series mostly because I already have a Mark VI so I didn’t need to have something that played so similar to it no matter how silky smooth. ¬†Maybe if all I ever did was play jazz but I have to be kind of a chameleon and I play more rock and funk than anything these days so the Big Bell seemed like the best choice for me. ¬†It has a great full robust sound that I can push for days and it looks totally awesome.

I’ll try to get to a full review after I’ve been able to really spend some time with the horn and play some gigs with it. ¬†In the meantime, if you are in the Washington DC metro area and you’re looking for a great place to shop for horns give L&L Music a try. They also carry Mauriat saxes, they have used vintage horns, and they even had a Theo Wanne Mantra in stock…I didn’t play it even though it looked very interesting.

In Pursuit of a Shiny Horn

I love my Mark VI‚ĶI mean I really love it. I’ve been through more than 32 years with the same main horn and I pretty much know it like the back of my hand. There are only two things that could be better. For one thing, this horn (like it’s owner) has seen a lot of wear and tear over the years so it seems to be ever so slightly more susceptible to having things go wrong than it used to be. Recently I’ve had several things go wrong like screws coming loose or falling out – I even had one fall out on a gig and I couldn’t find it to put it back in‚Ķhad to try to transpose all of my tenor parts to alto for the rest of the night‚Ķnot fun but definitely interesting. This is not a huge deal but I feel like I need to get it to my repairman more often these days. Of course, the other issue with all that wear and tear is the horn just isn’t as shiny as it used to be. There is a lot of lacquer missing and there are places that like to turn green if I don’t stay up on them. This is sometimes a cool thing as players know that this is a player’s horn and it’s been played hard but non-players look at it and they don’t understand that the lack of lacquer and the green spots are a badge of honor and not a sign of a bad horn. ūüôā

None of that is the real issue here though. The real issue is that since my VI is probably going to the shop more I need to potentially be using my backup horn more. I really don’t like my current backup horn that much. As I mentioned in my gear post, it’s a 10M but it’s not one of the sought after ones. In addition, the horn is so different from my VI in sound, intonation, and especially ergonomics that I just don’t have that much fun playing it. People tell me they like the sound just fine when I’m on it but the adjustment factor is very high on this one. It’s also shinier than my VI but not by much and this particular 10M is not that pretty a horn in my opinion. It’s also good to have a possibly less valuable horn than my VI to take out to outdoor gigs or to places where a horn might be open to mishaps. So because of all this, I’ve been saving money from each gig I play in order to get myself a nice shiny new backup horn.

I’m not looking at anything vintage even though I know there are good values to be had out there. I want something that is ergonomically similar or even superior to my VI and I know I probably won’t find that in many of the vintage horns out there. Also, vintage horns that have all of their lacquer and look nice are very pricey for what they are. I’ve been doing a lot of research, talking to techs, reading reviews and articles, and talking to some reps from various companies and I think I’m at least going to start by looking for a Taiwanese horn. I already have a Taiwanese-made soprano (Barone) and a Chinese-made alto (Buffet) so I think I know what I am getting myself into. Both horns feel great, have great intonation, and seem to be very well made. The price also falls comfortably into the range I am willing to spend for a backup horn‚Ķsomewhere between 1500 and 3000 dollars. Oh, and many of these horns have some rather adventurous, unique, and pleasing finish options as well.

Some of the brands are off the table because I feel their price is much too high for what they really are. P. Mauriat and Theo Wanne horns fall into this category. Some are too risky to the point where I don’t know what kind of support I would get if something went wrong and others are just too hard to get real information about. Because of all this I am currently looking at several brands that look promising: Viking/TK Melody, Cannonball, and Barone. I’m hoping to get a chance to try these horns and others in the next couple months and I will post my findings and other updates as I go through the process.

Wish me luck. I know I’ll have fun trying some horns out but it’s always tough to pull the trigger on spending that kind of money and I’ll also likely have to travel a bit to really get to see as many horns and finishes as possible.