Through with Buzz

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the passing last week of one of my musical heroes Walter Becker of Steely Dan. He was a big influence on my sound and by all accounts a great guy. I saw Steely Dan live three times, going back to their first tour in the 90’s and twice more at the Beacon in later years. Each show ranks up there with the all time best shows I’ve ever seen. I’ve been taking time this week to work my way thru the Steely Dan songbook, concentrating on the more advanced stuff in the back half from the records The Royal Scam, Aja, and Gaucho.

In my own musical world things are happening again after the summer hiatus. The LEFT HOOK is back in rehearsal. We did a bunch of Steely songs just to jam, including My Old School, a bit of Babylon Sisters and Hey Nineteen, as well as Kid Charlemagne and Rikki from our regular set.

We’ve been adding in new songs at about the rate of one a week before we went on break and are back at it. We’re up to twenty-five songs or so, almost enough to play a whole show. We’ve started adding some of my rock originals. Everyone in the group enjoys playing them, which is a good sign.

We’ve also been dusting off the whole list to get them back into working muscle memory and see how they sound as a quartet. Overall really sounding good, even things we haven’t played in six months or more. Only downside is because I’m singing alot more we had to drop a lot of the sax songs. I’ve gone from playing sax on about half the songs to about a quarter. So I’m looking for more sax songs that we can do with our setup. In the weeks ahead we’ll pick four or five songs to record to use as a new demo so we can get back to playing out.

In jazzland the originals project has broken off from the jam sessions to become its own thing. It was clear for some time that our old Mike wasn’t really into it, and everyone was getting pretty frustrated with the situation. We got a new drummer Dan, who fits right in and has the sound we’re looking for, as well as the technical precision, versatility and imagination, and a great guy to hang around with. He cites Bill Bruford and Tony Williams among his influences. So now we’re back at it, crafting our arrangements and the goal of making a record is back on.

I’ve brought in two new songs. One is actually an old song called Son of the Sun, that I used to do in Event Horizon. (I had a lot of songs from Event Horizon and I brought a few into this group, but most didn’t really work so I started writing new songs instead.) It’s mainly in 5/8 with the bridge in 7/8, so it wasn’t even worth attempting before. Of course with the new group I expect it’ll sound pretty different.

The other is an all-new song I’m calling Atonement Blues. It’s based on the idea of a tone row, which is something I’ve been playing with for a year or so since Michelle came home from school one day having learned about them and all excited. The idea of a tone row is to construct a melody using all twelve notes of the chromatic scale without repeating any until you’ve used all twelve. Technically this isn’t so hard, the real trick is coming up with something anyone would want to listen to!

In my case I applied the idea to a chord progression rather than a melody. It came about almost by accident. I was playing around with another songwriting idea, trying to make a blues/soul number that used only dominant seventh chords a la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I got a fair way along and noticed I had only repeated one chord, and I wanted the turnaround to reverse the harmonic motion, essentially wrapping around the cycle of fifths. A couple tritone subs and I was there. Here is the progression:

C7 | E7 | F7 | D7 |
G7 | B7 | F#7 | A7 |
Bb7 Eb7 | Ab7 Db7 | Cmaj7 | (Cmaj7) |

It turns out to be a great vehicle to solo on, reminescant of Giant Steps.