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2017: A Year in Review

Here we are, in the first few days of 2018….

Looking back, 2017 was an amazing year on so many levels. I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on everything that’s happened here in NAIL’s world and beyond. I can scarcely believe the sheer variety of styles & contexts in which I get to do my thing, and I am grateful beyond words.

Music

2017 was packed full of great music  – especially from this player’s perspective. Jazz with Peter Furlan’s Quintet & Trio, vocalist Maiko Hatta, saxophonist Steve Frieder, Robert Kopec’s trio, vocalist Lillie Howard and guitarist Monroe Quinn; Hip hop with Decora; Funk and Groove with Cloudburst, Ray Levier and the Funk Facilitators; Rock & Roll with The Flying Obersons; World Music with Premik Russel Tubbs; an amazing Multimedia project with Dancer/Choreographer Ophra Wolfe and videographer Cody Rounds; Jazz & Electronic Music performances & workshops; and a major performance at MoMA as part of the Sky Music Ensemble, plus the usual suspects The Thunderhead Organ Trio, Mr Gone, Piktor’s Metamorphosis and of course NAIL; and recordings with avant garden jazz collective “Blob”, Stephen Bard, Peter Beutner and othersIn addition I did a small number of live sound and engineering/production dates just to mix things up; recorded a contemporary classical piano piece and put the finishing touches on “Solo Piano Vol. 2: Darn That Dream Live in LA“, which should be out in a few weeks. In November I travelled to Berlin to attend “LOOP”, a conference/festival for music makers of all types sponsored by Ableton LIVE. You can see some of my pictures from the conference Here. In addition I was made the official leader of the Ableton Hudson Valley User Group and I’m currently planning the groups next activity. Check in to our Facebook Page for upcoming activities.


 Gigs and More Gigs!

There was no shortage of gigs this year…Right from the beginning my schedule was packed!

January – For starters, a new but short lived Funk project went up at the Falcon. There were performances by Mr Gone, Cloudburst, the Flying Obersons and a school workshop featuring “Le Jazz Electronique” (duo with Peter Furlan). The Thunderhead Organ Trio kicked off year number 3 in their 3rd Thursday residency; plus a show in Nyack with the Peter Furlan’s Quintet.

In February The big show was Decora’s 2nd CD Release Show at the David Rubenstein Atrium, an awesome street level venue that’s part of Lincoln Center. I was musical director of the 10 piece band which included 2 trumpets, drums, bass, guitar, 2 DJ’s and 2 vocalists and played to a standing room only crowd. Add to that a handful of gigs with various local artists (Maiko Hatta, Kit Potter, Gabriel Tranchina, Steve Kaiser, Doug Weiss and more).

March was a little lighter – Cloudburst, The Thunderhead OT, and various studio sessions. Piktors had their 3rd Salem Roadhouse Cafe show in Union NJ.

In April Cloudburst hit again with 2 shows; plus the Thunderhead OT. But the big news was a solo performance I did in Cascais Portugal, outside of Lisbon, where I preferred a new set of pieces specifically for piano and laptop (using Ableton LIVE of course). The show was broadcast on Portugal’s “Antenna 1” radio network, and a few tracks will be available for download shortly.

May saw 2 shows by NAIL at Quinn’s in Beacon, with 2 different lineups. The 1st was Longtime drummer Nadav Snir-Zelniker (drums) and bassist Sam Smith, playing tunes from my catalog. The 2nd was an all improvisation show with Robert Kopec (bass) and Dean Sharp (drums). James Keepnews guested on guitar. There was no shortage of other dates, with the likes of Piktor’s Metamorphosis, Eric Person, The Flying Obersons, guitarist Joel Harrison, and a fundraiser for the Hudson Valley Jazz Festival. I also started a 4 week electronic Music workshop for the Hudson Valley Music Collective which ran thru June,

June started with a bang – the big Newburgh Illuminated Festival hosted over 50 bands, and I was in 4 of them in one day. I’m still exhausted!  In all seriousness, it was a great day. I performed with Corey Glover (of Living Colour fame) in a quartet setting; then did sets with NAIL, The Funk Junkies and Decora. In addition I also had shows with Steve Frieder, Decora, NAIL, Peter Furlan, The Thunderhead OT and others. I also started my 15th year playing for the  summer ballet program at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center.

July was gigs gigs gigs  – Decora in Albany, Lillie Howard in Newburgh, Thunderheads at Storm King, Pete Furlan in Nyack, Jazz at the Brotherhood winery (with Steve Kaiser) and in NYC (with Monroe Quinn); plus Jazz & Tap Dance classes in addition to ballet classes at Kaatsbaan. Whew!

In August NAIL was back as part of the long running Newburgh Jazz Series; along with Robert Kopec’s trio, Decora at the Falcon, 2 gigs with Premik Russel (one of which was a Bengali Wedding!), Cloudburst, the Thunderheads, and songstress Lydia Adams Davis.

September continued on much the same tack, with the standout show being “Rauschenberg Among Friends” at the Museum of Modern Art, where I perfumed as the newest member of the Sky Music Ensemble. The performance included poetry, video and dance and was a very magical evening to be sure. The month rounded out with my 5th year at the Electro-Music Festival now in Homer NY (near Syracuse), plus shows with Ray Levier, Kazi Oliver, and an electronic music set at Quinn’s with Nathan Yeager (Campfire’s Edge) and Craig Chin (Errant Space). The Month wrapped with”Hidden Landscapes, Inner Worlds”, the afore mentioned multimedia collaboration.

 

October gigs included shows with The Flying Obersons, Maiko Hata, Tom Fabry, The Thunderheads, and a solo electronic performance in Boulder CO where I did my first set with No Keyboard instrument at all – only the Push 2. It went surprisingly well, and should facilitate very easy touring.  Look for more solo concerts in 2018.  That trip also included a visit to the Grand Canyon, a place so mind-numbingly awesome that I stopped thinking about music for almost 20 minutes!

November & December shows included gigs with Ray Levier, Peter Furlan, The Thunderhead OT (with guest Burr Johnson), Piktor’s Metamorphosis, Monroe, Maiko, Peter Furlan, and a private party with vocalist Kim Leslie. And the Ableton Hudson Valley User Group had their official launch event, hosted by Alto Music Wappingers Falls.

 


Gear

The big news for me gear wise this year was the acquisition of the long sought after Infinite Improbability… wait, wrong story. It was an original Minimoog Model D.

Let that sink in.

This is the holy grail of synthesizers – next to a 30k modular system of course, but lets not kid ourselves: Just about every record that ever meant anything to me featured this iconic instrument and it’s vibrant, organic sound. I first saw one of these babies up close in a Sam Ash on Kings Highway in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. The year was 1975. I was 15.

Always just beyond reach financially, I collected less expensive instruments – a Micromoog, a Moog Rogue, SH-101, a Sequential Circuits Pro One… but always dreaming of the One Synth To Rule Them All.

I had pretty much given up hope of ever owning one. After a few missed opportunities I was officially “over it”…. and that was when one appeared, priced reasonably for what it was, and needing some work. After considering a variety of factors (including the current value and it’s projected increase) and lengthy discussions about it with Nita Rae, it was decided I would go for it. This is it! Finally! Purchase took place at the beginning of September. The seller was well known keyboardist Tom Brislin from Spiraling. Tom bought it when he was going out on the road with Yes,  but they didn’t want hm to use it! Well… in the days that followed I had to ask myself: “what was I thinking? I thought I was over it.”

Anyway as I said, the instrument needed some work. After having it lovingly restored to 99.9 percent of it’s former glory (it IS 35 years old, after all) I finally picked it up in playable condition on December 1st and immediately started using it on gigs. By the second gig it had, to my mind, paid for itself in satisfaction. The sheer raw power of it’s warm sparkling sound brought back memories of the first time I heard synthesizers – that magic sound, unlike anything else humans had yet produced. The sound of electricity itself, being made to jump and dance. Come out to a show and see for yourself. 🙂

Closing Thoughts

Recapping the year like this lets me look at the bigger picture – what worked, what didn’t; what did I enjoy most, what kinds of shows and music got the most response; and what’s my place in all this. I’m still working those things out. Some things were obvious: Decora’s Lincoln Center Show, Sky Music Ensemble at MoMA, the Hidden Worlds collaboration. Some things were less clear. But all in all I stand behind every note I’ve played, and I’d do it again. In fact, I hope to do that and more for 2018. Thanks for taking this ride with me.

Namaste’ –

Neil “Nail” Alexander

 

 

 

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