Bluezebub - Buzzy Tonic
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Bluezebub [Pandimensional Jazz Tesseract] is the fourth album from Buzzy Tonic. A departure from previous records, this is a record of computer jazz instrumentals, creative studio interpretations of a traditionally live-oriented style. The project started during the pandemic after my live jazz group broke up and there were no opportunities for playing with other musicians. Three of the songs on the record were written for that group, with the arrangements here modeled after the live versions. Two are all-new songs, with no preconception as to making the music work for any particular ensemble. And the one that started it all had its origins with Event Horizon back in the 1980's.

Jazz is usually played live with all the musicians listening and interacting, creating a realtime conversation. However, for this record I played all the instruments, multi-tracked in the studio, so a major challenge was to capture that live energy using a completely different process. The studio also offers opportunities not available in a live context, including deeper focus on the compositions and arrangements, and more options for instrumentation and tonal colors. This record is authentic on its own terms, but of a different kind than a live jazz recording.

Meanwhile, the original concept for the fourth Buzzy Tonic album was a set of rock songs with lyrics and electric guitars. That's now been pushed to the fifth record.

by John Szinger, arr. 2019

Here is a new, digital studio interpretation of a prog-jazz jam band song. I wrote Son of the Sun in the late '80's for Event Horizon, my jazz fusion band at the time. When we performed it, it grew to be a twenty-minute epic with long improvised sections within a larger through-compoesed structure that included odd meters, exotic modes, and some tricky unison passages. It just grew and grew into a real magnum opus.

I brought the song to my jazz group Haven Street with the idea to recast into more of a Latin montuno feel. Some of the guys liked it but the consensus was that it wasn't really the right sound for that group. Then one night when I was going thru old files on my computer, I came across a MIDI rendition that I must've laid down sometime in the '90s, when electronic music was my day job. It captured the entire structure and was a workable foundation for a new version. I had to go for it!

I trimmed it down to half its original length, from 19:30 to 9:45. I re-tracked the piano part, which is the spine of the song, and the second keyboard, which is now vibes. I redid the drums with more dynamics and human feel, and learned the bass part on electric bass. Then a I focused on the synths, and created a few new parts that don't have a counterpart in the original arrangement, including a synth bass.

I originally wrote the sax part on alto, but tenor has been my main sound for many years, since I was first able to afford one. However, it's just too damn high in the bridge; you can't play those shredding riffs in the upper altissimo range. So I started practicing alto again. Luckily my alto sound was much better than I remembered, and it came out great.

Next came the question of how to approach the solos. I'd broken a longstanding rule to not try and do jazz on the computer, because thing that makes jazz work is the live interaction between listening, responsive human musicians in the moment. That's just impossible to recreate, but it's also a creative opportunity. I began searching for alternatives. One source of inspiration is Kamasi Washington. His records have a very textural, layered, groove-oriented sound. Another influence was Ravi Shankar and the whole raga bag, with a whole 'nuther approach to improvisation within a structure. This led me to Terry Riley, a godfather of electronic music, who said his goal was to combine Indian Ragas with Miles Davis style modal jazz using electronics.

Once the track was done, it was successful enough that I began thinking of making a whole album of computer jazz.

by John Szinger 2020

It's looking more and more like this project is going to be split into two albums, one for the rock songs and another for the computer jazz songs. I now have two new jazz tracks recorded, and three more written, almost enough to make an album. Meanwhile I also have a growing number of rock songs.

I wrote Autumn Eyes for my former jazz group Haven Street. Lots of moody, modulating jazz chords and a strong, undulating melody. I originally called it Winter Wolf Whisper. I had the image in my mind of wolf cubs frolicking in freshly fallen, powdery snow, in gentle slow motion. Once I brought the song to the band the sound changed. I had envisioned it as a swinging mid-tempo number like Maiden Voyage, but as we developed it, the song pretty much became a ballad.

Of course doing it on the computer required changing the feel too. One big change was the drums. The main drum part is sequenced, and the playing is pretty minimal. I augmented this with a live drum part, mainly to get the sound of brushes, which I can't to do with samples.

The spine of the tune is the piano part. The beginning has the sax and piano playing the melody in unison for eight bars. This was always a challenge to get tight playing live, but I wanted to use it in the studio version. For the sound, I blended a grand piano with a fender rhodes to give it a bit more smoothness, fullness and shine. I did the bass part on the electric bass but adjusted tone. When we did the song live Jay played upright; the electric changes the character of the piece. This song also features my first jazz bass solo.

I wrote the song with soprano sax in mind. I recorded a version on the tenor, but ultimately went with the soprano. It all hangs together nicely and gives a convincing illusion of spontaneity among a group of players. I tried to approach each solo differently in terms of melody, rhythm and pacing.

I added in some synth strings and bells, just some subtle backing, sort of an an 80’s DX7 era kinda sound. Last thing was I recorded a live drum part to blend in with the electronics. It's mainly brushes on the snare drum and a few tom fills and cymbal hits too. I used the Jimmy Page/Gyln Johns method of mic’ing a kit with two mics. One is overheard focused on the snare. The other is well out in the room in front of the kit focused on the kick drum. As a sound check I played some grooves and fills and hits, just to get a sense if how this might work for other songs. It came out quite well, definitely gonna use more of it.

by John Szinger 2020

Heavy Water was envisioned as a funk-fusion thing a la the Headhunters, built on a riff played on the fender rhodes and clavinet. Structurally it began with an idea of writing a song with four chords in a loop. This turned into two contrasting four chord loops alternating in an AABA pattern, with a middle section in a BBAB pattern, and then iterating the alternation in a fractal format. Layered on that are different levels of space and density to intensify the groove.

Keeping with the whole computer jazz concept, the music explores the interplay between the human and the machine. There’s both a sequenced synthesizer bass and a fender electric bass played live. Similarly, there’s a synth in melody ensemble along with the saxophones.

I had a pretty specific idea of how I wanted two saxophones to weave in and out with the synthesizers. The middle part of the song features fugue-ish noodling in lieu of a more traditional solo section. It builds from being mainly tenor sax, to tenor and soprano together, and then all three. A breakdown and build before the final recapitulation of the head gives the return momentum.

One great source of inspiration for the interplay of the two saxes came from a record called Two of Mind by Jerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond. I came across this record last year while listening to different versions of All the Things You Are. The way these two guys interact is just fantastic, a real joy to listen to, a forgotten gem of the cool jazz era.

Lastly Lastly I mixed in some machine noise. This was sort of a happy accident. I was down in my studio when Michelle fired up Jeannie’s 3-D printer to make something (a dice jail, I think). It made a really fascinating noise, kinda rhythmic but also melodic, kinda repetitive but also unpredictable, very jazz-like. So I had to record it. It got me thinking about how one might print our specific shapes to make the printer play a melody. But that’s a whole ‘nuther project...

by John Szinger 2021

This song sure changed alot since I wrote it. I've had the riff for the opening phrase of the melody in my bag on the sax for a long time. It's the same ascending pattern played in the lower register then the higher register. John Coltrane uses this idea in his solos from time to time, and I've always found it fascinating. But it only works in a few keys.

When I brought this song to my jazz group at the time, it had more of a hard bop feel. In fact the name is a play on Hank Mobley, just as Dexterity is a play on Dexter Gordon. As the band dug into it, the groove shifted to more of a stride feel with the bass playing mainly on the backbeat. I changed to mode to Hungarian minor and updated the chords, and it took on more of a gypsy sound. It became a favorite to do live, a real crowd-pleaser, lively, uptempo, and danceable.

For the studio it didn’t really have the character I wanted. I changed the meter to 7/8, and it was just the thing to go with exotic mode, always pushing forward, just a little unbalanced. It turned out to be harder to groove on the new feel, so I had to go back and practice sax and bass parts.

The end result is a hallowe’en cartoon-jazz jump stride gypsy swing thing. The arrangement is for soprano and tenor saxes, with some electronic trumpet and vibraphone rounding out the melody line. The rhythm section consists of piano, bass and drums, with bass being more-or-less double tracked bass guitar and synth bass. Additionally there’s some mellotron strings in there for extra spookiness. Finally, I wanted a gong sound but didn’t have a good sample, so I recorded hitting the cymbals of my drum kit with mallets and letting them ring, then tuning the samples down by a major third. It turned out to sound great, perfect for the part.

by John Szinger 2021

Lift Off is the fifth of six songs on my forthcoming computer jazz album, and the most straight-ahead bebop number of the bunch. It also took the most production effort to get it right.

This song was written for my pre-pandemic jazz group as a vehicle for some uptempo tenor sax shredding, inspired in part by John Coltrane’s Countdown and Steely Dan’s Bodhisattva. The changes are in the style of standards like Have You Met Miss Jones? and A Foggy Day, but with an added half-step modulation inside the ii-V’s. This is a streamlined version of the Giant Steps trick (i.e. ii-bii-bVi-V). It’s pretty challenging to solo over, but even with the constant modulation and implied dissonance, it’s pretty smooth to listen to.

Like other songs that I’ve developed with a group, it’s hard to completely unwind the arrangement, so the live version was used as a starting point. It’s a tenor sax backed by a rhythm section of piano bass and drums. I introduced an organ in lieu of a guitar, and then the organ is sometimes doubled by a synth for emphasis.

I put alot of effort into the dynamics and the drums to make it swing. I’m using mainly sequenced drums here, again because of my limitations playing jazz drums at that tempo and doing it justice. So something resembling human feel and interaction was important. Alot of the song is carried on just the ride cymbal and hi-hat with the snare and kick drum doing accents. I practiced and developed a few patterns out of the bebop drumming book to really get how to program the part. There’s a section where drums and sax are trading fours. I tried a few different ideas for this. I was inspired by Mahavishnu Orchestra and their vocalized drum solos, and went with something kinda like that, but doubled on snare and toms and with a heavy flange effect. It ended up more like channeling Diamond Dave, but that's pretty awesome.

by John Szinger 2021

Bluezebub (The Devil You Don’t Know) is a last song to complete my new album of computer jazz songs. It’s a rather long and complicated one, but it came together pretty quickly and organically. The general vibe is 60’s spy jazz meets prog rock madness.

It started with the drum pattern that introduces the song. I came up with it practicing various swing and shuffle beats, seeing if could make 5/4 time swing. Next came the bass line. I became fascinated by the idea of a 10-bar blues, and that pattern forms the basis of the arrangement. I also came up with 5- and 15-bar blues patterns that are used in different places. I double tracked the bass part with a synth and a bass guitar. There’s also a piano part played on the fender rhodes to outline the chords and give it some tastiness.

The first section of the song is a slow, easy, kinda groovy mysterioso feel. I brought in the melody on bari sax. It suggested a building feel, so the next chorus I added a tenor sax, then a lead synth, and before I knew it I had three melodies in a fugue-like interlock over the rhythm section. To bring some resolution from there, I wrote a bridge where the horns and synth all play in harmony, mostly on whole notes, while the bass and piano come forward. Then it’s a restatement of the fugue theme, elaborated and embellished with drum breaks.

The solo section echoes the structure of the head somewhat. The bari sax has a nice long chance to stretch out, then the tenor and finally the synth, keeping the groove relaxed and building to a simmer.

Then things get crazy. The time shifts from 5/4 to 15/8, with the feel on the triplet. This is superimposed over the old pulse, to there’s a 5-against-6 feel that comes around every few bars. The blues bass line is now sped up, and everyone blows over it, increasingly dissonant and intense, culminating in a climactic burst of silence. This is followed by a skewed, condensed recapitulation of the head, with the rhythmic tension retained and a bit of Cowboy Bebop style riffing thrown in for good measure.

Believe it or not, there wasn’t alot mixing to do once I dialed in the basic setup, cuz most of the dynamics are in the playing.

I shared a rough with Martin, and he called me up to tell me it evoked a story to him, where Bluezebub is this supernatural blue cat demon, identified with the bari sax, and is emceeing some kind of show or parade of friendly monsters, but then it all turns scary and you have to run away. I think that sums it up pretty well.

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Bonus Tracks

Sun of the Son (Radio Edit)  John Szinger, 2019

The full version is a ten-minute long computer jazz jam, but can enjoy the radio edit if you're into the whole brevity thing

Autumn Eyes (alternate take)  John Szinger, 2020

An alternate take with tenor sax. Also missing the bells and strings of the final mix.

Heavy Water (alternate take)  John Szinger, 2020

An alternate take of the horns. Also missing the machine noise and some synth parts of the final mix.

Bluezebub (bari sax demo)  John Szinger, 2020

An excerpt from the final song, feauting the bari sax, with tone and soul galore, before the tenor and synth parts were liad down.

Musical compositions and audio recordings ©John Szinger. Published by Zing-Man Music, all rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction and distribution for commercial purposes is prohibited.