COVID 19 and Other News

Greetings everyone!

I hope you are doing well, staying healthy, washing your hands and keeping your distance from folks out there in the world…

It’s a wacky time. Just about everyone I know is currently not working, as most of the folks I know are in the Performing Arts, Food service, Theater or Dance world. Venues are closed, theaters are dark, schools (like the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, where I worked for 28 years) are closed. People have taken to working at home, and for a lot of us that means video conferencing – Skype, Zoom, FaceTime – and the live streaming of music and Opera, among other things.  All of my upcoming gigs are cancelled thru March, and possibly thru April as well. Personally I’ll be doing a couple of live-streamed home events over on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, where I’ll be playing some live music and taking questions from  with you; and lessons/consultations via the aforementioned Video Conferencing platforms.

We all must exercise caution here. The primary objective of “social distancing” is to reduce the load on the already overburdened Health Care system, so the people that actually need treatment can get it fairly easily. Don’t forget to check in with your older friends and relatives, as they are the most at risk, although in every crisis there’s opportunity  and this provides us with a chance to reconnect with some old friends.

As things get back to normal I shall update this page again. Don’t forget to check out the CDC Website  to sort fact from fiction…!

Meanwhile stay healthy and hang in there. We’ll get thru this!

– Neil

2018: That’s a wrap (up)

Performing with Cloudburst at Quinn’s in Beacon NY?

If you read my December 2018 Newsletter (it’s here if you haven’t and would like to) you’d have seen my season-to-season recap, with most of the amazing things that happened this year listed chronologically…. and that’s a good way (certainly for me, anyway) to get a good sense of how my year went.

But there’s always more to the story, of course – and so I thought I’d take a moment to recount some really significant moments, and what I think I learned from them. ..Or not! Hey, it’s all relative, right?

/First Things First/

It seems in the last 8 years or so there have been a lot of ‘firsts’ and 2018 was no exception… Local musician and educator Michael Hollis contacted me in August about his new composition, ‘Edge of the Hill’, a chamber music piece scored for string quartet, 2 horns, 2 winds, percussion, piano and electronics. Michael needed a conductor for the premiere performance at the O+ Festival in Kingston and granted me the opportunity. After reading up on the principles of conducting and minimal rehearsal time I did my first performance as….a conductor.

Working as a keyboardist and co-producer on Peter Furlan’s new CD is another first. I’ve made my share of records, but this lets me take all my experience and musicianship and apply it in a new way. As of this writing we’re still in the middle of mixing.

Recording with Peter Furlan

/Various Goings-on/

Way back at the beginning of the year a bunch of things all happened at once – I did 2 shows with Mr Gone, a performance at Roulette in Brooklyn with the Sky Music Ensemble, and a gig with “The Machine” – the first in 12 years. This was a 1-2 punch that started the ball rolling down the hill, and it just got more intense from there…

In the spirit of “old business before new business”, in March I finally finished and released “NAIL: Live at the Blue Note NYC” recorded in 2007, and Solo Piano Vol 2 (Darn That Dream Live in LA) recorded in 2013. The solo piano CD features my transcription of Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre” released for the first  time. I did some wonderful Jazz/Indian hybrid music in NYC with Bobby Rosario’s ensemble Rudra. In April our house concert series featured the wonderful Charles Shriner. Also in April, I brought an 11 piece version of NAIL (2 guitars, 2 basses, 3 drummers, 3 horn players and me) to the Falcon Underground to play 2 1/2 hours of my favorite music. We blew thru tunes by Jeff Beck, Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin, Weather Report and a ton of old originals waiting to see the light of day again for many years. It was super fun!

In May a tornado touched down in Newburgh leaving us with some damage and taking out our power for a few days. That same week our only child graduated College! In June, performances by NAIL for the 3rd consecutive year at Newburgh Illuminated; Rudra at Drom in NYC; launched into my 15th year playing Ballet classes for the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center summer program; and a radio interview on Rita Ryan’s outstanding “LocalMotion” show from Vassar College. Listen here.

July was mainly “pulling back on the spring”, because August was jam packed – gigs with NAIL, Ray Levier, Premik Russel Tubbs, Peter Furlan, the Flying Obersons and the X Ensemble – all within 2 weeks! The big one for me was my “X Ensemble” performing a site-specific piece I composed for the interactive art festival “Dusklit” titled “Sunset Variation”. The outdoor performance featured a 7 piece ensemble with musicians traversing the grounds of the Seligmann Center with wireless microphones, culminating on stage at the moment of sunset.

Fall 2018 started my “4th Saturday Jazz” (4SJ) residency at the Wherehouse, as well as a “Neil Alexander Presents” series at Dogwood in Beacon.

On top of that, all year long there were ongoing performances with the Monroe Quinn Trio, Peter Furlan’s trio, Thunderhead, Supercluster (with Robert Kopec and Dean Sharp) and a host of others. 

/Forever Jung/

My Solo Electronic Music performances continued throughout the year as well:

  • At “EEEM”, a small gathering in Rutherford NJ produced by my good friend Gianni Intilli and featuring a lot of the NEEMfest crew
  • At the Cosmic Crossings performance series in Washington’s Crossing NJ,  guitarist Monroe Quinn and I performed the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays landmark ambient jazz composition “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls”. What a rush! Watch the Video.?
  • Then in September I went back to Homer, NY for 2018 NEEMfest, a big family gathering of sorts without the drama.. !

At the always amazing Ableton LOOP conference in Los Angeles, I ran into fellow EM creator and Ableton Certified Trainer Afro DJ Mac, who set me up for an interview on his Music Production Podcast (listen here). The Ableton Hudson User Group met twice in 2018 year, and will hopefully be increasing our meet ups to 6 times this year.

In December I got a last minute offer to open for the experimental group NOUS at the Linda Theater in Albany NY. The performance will be broadcast in March of 2019.

At some point I made an executive decision to change my solo electronic music performance name from Nailgun to “Nail Jung”, for what seemed like obvious reasons. I’m working on the first Nail Jung CD and hope to have that out by spring. (You can sample a taste of it here.)

/Attitude Adjustment Hour/

One musical situation directly affected by my attitude is “Cloudburst” – a Woodstock based ‘jam band” that has proven to be great fun and a source of joy, just relaxing and enjoying the groove with my friends Mike Colletti and Tony Parker. Not worrying about whether things will go well makes a world of difference, taking our shows to new heights and keeping it a singularly positive experience. Cloudburst did 6 shows in 2018, including the venerable Rosendale Street Festival.  I’m constantly trying to improve (or at the least maintain) a more positive attitude, and my success or failure manifests in a variety of ways. I’m just trying to pay attention to that…

/Dance: Off/

I took a much needed leave from SUNY Purchase in the fall, but still involved myself with a handful of choreographers and dance performances over the year, including The Small Plates Choreography Festival right here in Newburgh. Also, Ophra Wolf and I reprised a bit of “Hidden Landscapes/Inner Windows” at a 2nd Wednesday Experimental music night at Quinn’s in Beacon. I guest accompanied with my bro Dean Sharp for a dance class at Bard College, and actually started to miss playing at Purchase a tiny bit… but not the commute.

/In Closing/

I think perhaps that’s ENOUGH for this post! There’s more but I’m exhausted just reliving it all. I’m overjoyed that the musical quality & diversity I’ve been cultivating is starting to really flower. In addition to that, the gig pay has been on the increase in surpassing and most welcome ways. And of course none of this would be possible without the love and support of my sweetheart of 30+ years, Nita Rae; and you, the fans and supporters of this magical art called music.

All in all, it’s been a Damn Good Year. Peace and Blessings, and best wishes for all of us in 2019.


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

 

 

 

8 In 1 (and a return to my multi-keyboard roots)

Mr Gone Keyboard rig

As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for”. I’ve tried to take that philosophy to heart, and to focus my heart & mind on where I want to be and what I’d like to be doing, in the best possible scenario. If the month of June is any indication, then I’d have to say it’s starting to really pay off.

The title of this post is “8 in 1“, and it refers to what might be for me a new record – 8 bands in one month! (Actually, I highly doubt it’s a record because I’ve done this sort of thing before. But this time there’s a key difference. More on this later.)

Let me be a tad bit clearer: by “band”, I mean a specific performing situation. This can be a traditional band (drums, guitar and so forth) or a non traditional “ensemble” such as the show I did with Decora – synths/loops (me), a DJ and a drummer.

I’ve been building to this for a long time, ever since I left “The Machine“, the Pink Floyd Tribute I was in for 10 years, in 2006. (My friend, bassist Keith Macksoud, lovingly referred to them as “La Machine, the food processing band”. Some of you older folk will get this joke.) The Machine was, from 1996-2006, my primary gig. What happened before that is very long and complex, and material for another post altogether, but involved a large number of bands, often at the same time, starting with “A. Animal” in 1978 and ending with “Neil Alexander & NAIL“, which I disbanded in 2011. From 2012 to 2013 I focused on my solo piano CD & tour.
At the beginning of this year, or actually the end of last year, I realized I wanted – and needed – to go back to ensemble work. I had worked with various groups in the interim, but mostly “pick-up” gigs and not anything I was particularly committed to. There are always ongoing relationships in my world, and those continued. I did quite a few jazz gigs; played with “Blue Food” (a funk band based in Woodstock NY), did High School musical theater pit work, and more. But after disbanding NAIL for “lack of interest” (not mine but the audience, apparently) I had nothing of mine – nothing uniquely personal – to go back to, musically speaking, and nothing I was particularly invested in. Well then: a fresh start was needed. (In reality, this is still in progress. Stay with me here…)

Another thing that transpired in my universe, starting in 2011 or so, was a long overdue (that’s up for debate) move away from the “Small mobile rig controlled from a single keyboard worn on a strap” that I had completely focused on for 15+ years. During that time I had taken that concept as far as I could musically and technologically. In addition to running out of room (physically, on the short keyboard) and having my main axe be a “plastic piece of junk” (sorry Roland – your AX7 is fun to play but just ain’t built well), I found a subliminal attitude among my fellow musicians: they were not really taking me seriously. In hindsight this is understandable. In the interest of “not carrying around this much crap ever again” I had abandoned my many years of work with a multi-keyboard setup, years of practice in on the spot orchestration. It was a skill I’d developed over years, and I’d forgotten I had it.

One of the other bands I was in after leaving “the Machine” was (is) “The Mahavishnu Project” (2008 to the present), fronted by drummer/composer Gregg Bendian. This was for me a quinteseential experience – I grew up with, loved and worked on this music for many years, and now I was getting to perform it, in front of an appreciative audience, and actually get paid. (!) But there was no way I could do this gig on the AX7 remote MIDI controller (commonly reffered to as a “keytar”; I bristle when I hear that word) that was my tehcnological focus for so long. I woud need a real rig, what I came to call a “traditional” rig – and more importantly, a real analog synthesizer.

I have a good friend from Long Island NY – let’s call him “Mr. Smith” – who is a fan from the Machine days. Mr Smith is also an Analog Synth enthusiast, and a bit of a collector. He had this curious habit (for which I am eternally grateful) of showing up at my gigs with something from his collection – usually an immaculately maintained original Minimoog, the “holy grail” of performance synths – hoping to hear his instrument played, apparently, by an expert. As someone who has spent most of my adult life in love with synthesizers, I was perhaps uniquly qualified to deliver the goods, and he recognized this. At the time I owned a non working ARP 2600 and a Sequential Circuits Pro One. When I started touring with the Mahavishnu Project it became apparent I would need something more robust.

For one thing, a Minimoog-type instrument was essential to this music – the sound has to cut, and it has to be playable in that style, well built and with hearty controls. Nothing I owned really fit that bill. In actuallity I had no need for it previously – it was an expensive investment into instruments that had no effects built in and could only play one note at a time. (But O that sound…!) I used whatever keyboards I could – usually my Kurzweil PC88 controller, a recently acquired Roland VK-7M Organ module (with drawbars) and the Pro One. Sufficient, but ultimimately unsastisfying. Meanwhile, during this time, our intrepid Mr Smith would periodically whisper in my ear “I think you should go back to playing a traditional rig“. I can’t remember how many times he said this, but during my time wth the Mahavishnu Project a light bulb went of and I said “you know, perhaps you’re right!!”
I went thru the process of acquiring a real “trad” rig – first selling everything I wasn’t going to use or that wasn’t road worhty, like the ARP 2600. (I’m not a collector you see – I need gear that will hold up under fire, and the older instruments just aren’t made that well). I sold enough gear and rasied the money to by a Nord Electro 3 and a Moog Voyager (the updated version of the Minimoog). I also scored an endorsement with Moog Music – my first and only instrument endorsement. So now I had the tools, and the door was open. The AX7 came off the strap and went on the stand as controller for the Roland Module I had long used (XV5080, also swaped out for an XV5050. I have years worth of custom programmed sounds I didn’t want to give up, including all of those glorious guitar sounds).

After the first few gigs with the new rig I had to laugh. It was like going back to 1977 with a Rhodes and a Minimoog, the place where it all started for so many of my keyboard playing peers. (It even opened up the possibility of doing something my friend Steve Lawson suggested – using a processed Fender Rhodes electric piano, without the heartache and backache of carrying a real one around.)

Back to 2014: The Solo Piano tour/CD/exploration is now complete; I’m looking to get back to ensemble work. NAIL – which was based in part around the use of the AX7 and it’s accompanying playing style – were finished. I was using this new rig on every gig I was called to do, and loving it. I replaced the AX7 with an A37 – essentially the same instrument (a keyboard controller) but a 76 key version, much more suited to sitting down.

Also during my Mahavishnu Project tenure I met saxophonist, educator and composer Peter Furlan. Introduced by our mutual friend Pete Salo (photographer), it was immidietaly apparent that Peter F & I had a lot of common ground. We began to do a variety of things together, including his sextet, a trio and our duo project “Le Jazz Electronique” in which I make extensive use of Ableton LIVE in an improvising context. (I’ve been using Ableton for years now – check out my user group page here.)

Looking to become involved with a somewhat lucrative project, I began to toss ideas around with different folk. One of those folk was Peter Furlan and one of those ideas was “Mr. Gone“, a band focusing on the same 1970’s/80’s era Jazz Fusion stuff I knew and loved, but concetrating on the GROOVE side of that music, as opposed to the “everything in odd time sigantures & lots of unison lines” stuff. The most well known and longest running of those groups was Weather Report, so we are in effect a “Weather Report Tribute”.
Late in 2013 I got a call from some very nice people in NJ who call themselves “Piktor’s Metamorphosis“. My friend Glenn Alexander (guitarist) recommended me to them. Seems their keyboard player had gotten himself a full time teaching gig, and would it be possible for me to do the 2 shows they still had on the books? Oh, and the tunes are Return To Forever, Pat Mehtney Group, David Sancious and Mahavishnu. Just my cup of tea. And how fortunate that I’m now using a traditional rig… 🙂

Another relatonship I had developed over the last few years was with drummer Ray Levier, a great drummer and practically the nicest cat you’ll ever meet. We have an ongoing duo thing called “Red Slider” in which we were BOTH using Ableton LIVE, syncing our laptops togther on stage and generally having a good time with it. Ray periodically calls me for his gigs, usually at one of his regualar spots.

Meanwhile, Pete Furlan had introduced me to another bandleader/singer Rick Oberson and the Flying Obersons. Rick has an ecyclopedic knowledge of Rock ‘n Roll, including progressive rock and a lot of other things. I moved into the sub spot for his regular guy. Good! Work is work.

The “Thunderhead Organ Trio” is another group based on a long standing relationship. In this case it evlved out of The Bean Runner Jazz Project, orignally assmebled by trombonist Joe Gil with his friend Premik Russel Tubbs (whom I met thru the Mahavishnu Project). The Bean Runner project was a 5 pice band, and while great fun, it always seemed to be tough to get everyone together. As a trio, belive me – scheduling is much easier. And again, my traditional rig comes to full bear, allowing me to orchestrate, hilight, explore and just generally have a great time with the music.
Many other situations had, by this point, come on and gone. Another one that is still active is Aleah Long‘s group “En Full Circle“.

And finally, I was recruited for something I had never done before: playing behind a rap artist. Decora is a Newburgh based poet and rapper with extraodrinary talent, and his vision put me along side a DJ and drummer. It was a brand new way of working for me, and I was genuinley thrilled and excited to explore this new prospect.

On top of all this, I was able to add a short solo performance on June 28th, which I called “NAILgun“.

So there it is: A culmination of many years worth of work, groups, gear – and the slow whittling away of “unessecary” things, or things that just did not make me happy. And now the magic begins to work; the phone, which has pretty much contunued to ring (thank heavens) with all manner of music work now delivers one musically satisfying situation after another – till we arrive at what I can only think of as a sort of “personal critical mass”, where all this comes together to mean a month full of work, spread over 8 different situations, all of which I’m thrilled to be a part of. Here’s the list:

Aleah Long & En Full Circle
Decora
Mr Gone (2 shows)
NAILgun – Solo show
Piktor’s Metamorphosis
Ray Levier & Friends
Thunderhead Organ Trio
The Flying Obersons

I am savoring this moment, because I’ve worked for it – and wished for it. I’ve been moving, concsiously or unconciously, in this direction for quite some time, and I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere.
A lot can happen in a month – and at any time really – and I have no idea what’s coming next. But if this is any indication then I think it’s gonna be alright. 🙂

– Neil Alexander

 

Tales from the Back Catalog: “Newburgh: An Urban Romance”

Today’s “tales from the back catalogue” concerns an unreleased recording that I produced in 2002. My family and I had just relocated to Newburgh New York, in the spring of 1999. Newburgh has one of the largest historic districts in the state, and it’s charm was very appealing. We had been spending considerable time getting to know the local artistic community which was composed mostly of visual artists, sculptures, poets and a few other folk. Nita & I seemed to be the only music people. We were taken with the whole scene.

Then 9/11 happened, and we responded as artists – with new works & collaborations. I began collaborating with Hudson Valley poet Mona Toscano. Together we worked on a project for CAP – Community Arts For Peace. We received a small grant for new work. My contribution was “Newburgh: An Urban Romance’. We held a reception and performance at our house – in effect a House Concert before I had even heard of the term as it is used today.

In the audience that day was a young film maker named Merle Becker, who was at that time making a film called “Saving Newburgh” about the political trials and tribulations that I had not yet become aware of. She expressed an interest in using some part of the music in her film, so I went about the task of organizing a group, rehearsing & recording the piece.

Ultimately the music was not used in the film and the finished recording “sat on the shelf” as it were, since 2003 when I went ahead and made a final mix & master with my longtime friend and engineer Ryan Ball. Releasing it on physical CD was an expensive proposition at the time; plus I have my reservations about the work – I’m not happy with the overall quality of my playing, I couldn’t get the band I wanted and there were other problems etc.  – so there it sat.

I continue to work with Mona fairly regularly and at a recent performance she asked me about the Newburgh recording. I decided then to post it up on Bandcamp. It’s a piece from my past, and I’m not really the same person anymore – there’s a lot I would differently today – but it’s a completed work. And thanks to the magic of the modern internet & it’s available tools for music promotion, it can finally be brought to light. Plus it’s my only “Jazz Suite” to date, inspired by Duke Ellington and that style. Thanks for listening.

– Neil 8/16/13

100 Years Of Spring Returns Home

         In 1966, a boy sat in a movie theater & watched the evolution of life and the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, accompanied by incredible music. The film was Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”, the music, Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and the young boy was Neil Alexander – me. The pounding rhythms and striking dissonances etched themselves into my subconscious, influencing & informing my musical life for decades to come.

Looking back on this now, it’s obvious to see how amazingly influential it has been. Look at the stuff I like: Mahavishnu, ELP, Progressive Rock, 20th Century classical music, Prehistoric culture – the list goes on.

In light of the Centennial of this game changing – and life changing – piece of music, I am gloriously proud to be bringing the “100 Years Of Spring” project back to my “home turf”, The Hudson Valley.

100 Years of Spring” was originally conceived as a live music program appearing in farm/food markets and other places notable for enhancing environmental sustainability. These performances represent an effort to bring music, originally directed at audiences of elite society, to places of public gathering where social division is less significant. “100 Years of Spring”, seeks to honor the centennial of the premiere while connecting the concept of spring with sustainability and local food & farms. To further that end, I have partned with Common Ground Farms and made this performance a fundraiser.  I’ve been a long time supporter of Common Ground Farm and former member of their initial Community Supported Agriculture program.

Common Ground Farm, a community staple for many years, evolved as an organization to become a nonprofit farm project growing food for education and food justice programs. “Our education programs, workshops, and Summer Camp bring children and adults opportunities to learn about sustainable farming, local food, and environmental stewardship.” This summer the Farm’s Mobile Market – staffed by the Green Teens — is traveling the area bringing low cost, CGF- grown vegetables to low income housing areas. Children who might otherwise go without are receiving regular lunches from the Kids ‘R Kids Summer Feeding Program, which includes donated vegetables from the Farm as well as activities for the kids each week with a local chef. The Farm is regularly delivering vegetables for Salvation Army Lunches and to the St. Andrew’s & St. Luke’s Food Pantry. The Farm’s Food Justice programs make local, organically grown, fresh produce available to everyone, regardless of income.

The performance takes place on August 10th at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street in Beacon NY. The HCC is a well known venue for community sponsored events, concerts AND great chamber music, so it seemed the obvious choice. In addition, my very good friend violinist Rachel Evans will be joining my to perform an original composition of mine.

Tickets Here:

Common Ground Farm is a community resource; all are welcome to visit the fields, volunteer, learn, and gather together for the common good. You can learn more about the Farm’s mission and programs at their website http://www.commongroundfarm.org, by calling (845) 231-4424 or by emailing membership@commongroundfarm.org.  “100 Years of Spring” is a sponsored project of Artspire, a program of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. www.100yearsofspring.org.

Howland Center poster v3

 

NAILnews: Year End Goodness

Greetings, all! I’m wrapping up another year here at nailmusic.com, and I’ve got a few cool shows this month and some great things to look forward to next year. This week in particular seems to be the busiest! It all starts this Tuesday, when I have the honor of sitting in with the Bergen Catholic High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Saxophonist/composer/educator Peter Furlan. Then Wednesday night I’ll be the house keyboardist (with Bob Meyer on drums) for Kenny Lee’s Jazz Jam Session at The Bungalow in Mount Vernon, NY. Friday I’m back at the Bean Runner with Joe Gil and his “Trio Of Terror”, with Chris Weigers (bass) and Gregg Bendian (drums), and finally SUNDAY I’ll be returning to the wonderful Turning Point Cafe in Peirmont for another WINTER SOLSTICE CELEBRATION & Canned Food Drive (supporting the Food Bank Of The Hudson Valley). We have a great show planned. This year’s group features James Cammack (from Ahmad Jamal’s group) on bass, Bob Meyer on drums and 19 year old Steven Frieder on saxes. (If you’ve never seen Steven play, it’s NOT to be missed. He is truly exceptional.) Tickets for this are $15 and available from the Turning Point Event Page. Last year’s show was SOLD OUT, so get your tickets early! Please bring canned goods or other non-perishable food items to help our less fortunate neighbors here in the Hudson Valley. As we swing into the New Year 2011, the Mahavishnu Project returns to the Iridium NYC on January 20th with the full-out 11 piece group performing the complete “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” record. Things are also in the works for us to perform with Jerry Goodman, the violinist from the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, in the spring of next year.

Well, that’s about all the news I’ve got time for at the moment! Have a great holiday, stay warm, stay well. And thanks for your continued support.

For You: Solo House Concerts by Me. :)

So here we are: 2010. It’s been a wacky ride, especially the last few weeks! I’ve been so busy with gigs now (thanks heavens!) that I can’t see straight. My “Year end wrap up” post never actually materialized, but at some point I will touch on the things that started last year and are starting to flower and bear fruit this year. Things like “The Mahavishnu Project” – which is picking up steam in a subtle and most interesting way. But I digress – and I’ll come back to this with pix, video, and a story to tell. Promise.

This post is about looking forward – to possibilities, and to the future of Live Music. It’s about bringing music right to you, the listener. That’s right, I’m taking about House Concerts. Starting this year, I will be embarking on a new path: Solo House Concerts.

The Setup I i used at our 1st House Concert

Concerts in Your Home. 🙂

I’m sure most (if not all) of you have heard of this delightful phenomenon. Basically what it means is that A performer, one who’s music you’re interested in, comes to your house and does an intimate semi-private performance for you and your friends. People can bring food (ranging from snacks to a pot-luck dinner); it can be a cover charge or suggested donation. (I have to cover costs, and these will vary by location.) The important thing is everyone gets to have a meaningful musical experience – up close and personal, both for the fans and the artist. Basically, everyone wins!

Some great info about the House Concert ideology and how it works can be found Here:

Steve Lawson’s Excellent Page: http://www.stevelawson.net/2009/03/house-concert-hosting-a-beginners-guide/

Gaia Consort: http://gaiaconsort.com/house.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_concert


At this time, I’ve yet to do a solo performance (in someone’s house, that is – I’ve done tons of solo gigs at traditional venues), so I’ve no video to post at the moment. I am setting up a local performance for recording so you can see exactly what I’m offering, from setup stills and live video. But till then, here’s a brief description of what I do, especially for those coming to my music for the first time:

I am a jazz pianist and electronica artist. What I’ve done is combine these 2 styles into something unique; something that blends jazz, rock, electronics, funk and ambient music into a seamless blend. My music is both composed & improvised; I perform a combination of familiar jazz standards with a twist; gentle ambient electronica improvisations, and a variety of combinations of all the aforementioned styles.

I will bring  an ever-so-small electronic setup to your house. If you have a piano (and it’s a reasonably good instrument and in tune), I can use it along with the electronics – or keep it straight up acoustic if you prefer. I have my own style at the piano (somewhat along the lines of Keith Jarret and Bill Evans, with a modern classical vibe thrown in). In addition to standards and improvisations I also do select classical works – Gershwin, Bartok, Mozart etc. Stuff I’m SURE you and your friends will enjoy. 🙂

I will have some video to post soon, of both my electronic, acoustic, and “electro-acoustic” material. Meanwhile, I have a whole bunch of stuff that you can look at to get a better idea of what I’m about, at my YOUTUBE page.

I will be in the Los Angeles Area at the end of July and currently have an open date on July 23rd. Hit me up on twitter (@nailmusic) if you’d like to set something up!

Also wanted to mention that my group NAIL – in either acoustic or electric form – is also available for House Concerts, although we’d need a bit more room (and a bit more money…).

Here’s my group NAIL performing at our first house concert in May 2009:

So – stay tuned for an actual House Concert Page to be posted on this site with vids, booking info, contact form, etc.

Thanks for looking. I agree with the current sentiment that House Concerts are indeed the way forward.

Many thanks!

Waves Across the Pond: an Interview (part 2)

Here’s part 2 of the interview with Steve Lawson. (Part 1 is Here.) Don’t forget to check out the related page, “Waves Across The Pond”. I’ll be meeting Steve and family for the first time on Tuesday; then we’ll head over to the Wallkill River School to set up for the event. We’ll be streaming to performance on wednesday Here.

NEIL: Brilliant, Steve. That was important for me to hear. Do you know that version of “Black Is The Color Of My True Loves Hair”? From Bass Desires, I think…

STEVE: I do know that tune, it’s great!  (listening to it now 🙂 ) It’s beautiful.

NEIL: THAT was a revelation for me – because it was about the “Melody” the heart of a song. And how it can work in ANY context. No limits.

STEVE: So I started digging deeper into improvisation, following that thought. I wanted to be part of ‘collaborative storytelling’. Rather than one person writing a ‘script’ and other actors playing roles in the band, I wanted to see if it would unfold in a whole other way. It was tricky to find that space in London. London has a MASSIVE tradition with ‘free improv’ – really heavy players – so any time you mention free improv, people think you mean Derek Bailey, Evan Parker etc…

NEIL: Wow, had no idea. 🙂 I usually think Cecil Taylor. lol

STEVE: non-idiomatic improv. the stuff that consciously avoids sounding like anyone else’s music. This stuff makes Cecil sound like Britney 🙂

NEIL: LOL!!! Jamie Muir, music improvisation company stuff?

STEVE: Along the Muir lines, for sure. So I needed a different name for it, because players were either drawn to that free thing, or put off by it, but were always constrained by it. So I started calling it Spontaneous Composition. I can’t remember where I stole that term from. It’s a fairly obvious one 🙂

NEIL: Keyboardist Patrick Moraz used to use it for his improv concerts. I love it.

STEVE: The distinction I REALLY wanted to work on was between ‘right’ and ‘good’…let me explain.

STEVE: If you’re playing a composition, being ‘right’ is really important. It’s a written piece of music, and you need to play the right notes in the right order. Get them out of order, and you’re ‘wrong’. But, as is apparent, audiences don’t often give a shit about ‘right’. They want ‘good’, and ‘wrong’ can be very good so long as we’re not distracted by it.

NEIL: Yes, and yes again. “Wrong” is very often right.

STEVE: if we’re worrying about right and wrong, not good and better, then we’re in a different place to the listener. So ideally, if you’re playing a composition, you want to know it well enough so that right and wrong disappear, and all is good/better. I realized that in most of the settings I play in, I just don’t get the luxury of learning songs that well.

NEIL: Funny – in most of my settings, I am expected to…!

STEVE: So I decided to either a) write REALLY simple structures to play over, or b) allow the structures to emerge from group improv, or rather, group listening :), and the group was never bigger than 3… My brain isn’t big enough to do spontaneous stuff with more than 3 people! But I made a point of a) creating a space where people felt free to play their own idea of good, and b) putting musicians together in interesting combinations.

NEIL: Lawson/Dodds/Wood makes much sense now.

STEVE: YES! That’s exactly what it’s all about. LDW was one of the best examples of this. Same with the album with Theo Travis, the one with Jez Carr and the new one with Mike Outram. All from the same place; wildly different musics.

NEIL: (LDW) That’s quite an amazing record. 🙂

STEVE: 🙂 But I still sound like me in all of them; I’m so proud of each one, and all of them are improvised. I found that giving great musicians room to completely change my ideas made them so much better. If I start with a loop, it gives a structure to build on but I often leave the harmony wide open so other things can happen.

NEIL: I think what I’ve found here in the US is that when you ask people to improvise, they tend to think “I can play whatever”, as opposed to thinking somewhat structurally. (…these might be mostly jazz musicians…) They don’t seem to want or be able to (or are not experienced with) creating “space & time” and harmony in an open context. Now I understand why you dug “Galvanized” so much – that’s exactly what it was about.

STEVE: definitely! I generally refuse any offer to ‘jam’. I’m not interested in jamming, because improvised music can be so much more than blowing over changes. Patrick Wood is a master of superimposing different harmonies on top of an initial loop – giving him the space to do that created some amazing music that we’d never have got close to with written tunes.

STEVE: Galvanized is outstanding; a really great record.

NEIL: Thanks! “Galvanized” was not very well received here; too “nebulous”. :/ For me it represents a way to play that I just don’t get to do with anyone.

STEVE: There’s a whole other side to improv, in terms of drawing people into the world it exists in, that seems to be about expectation…that’s what worked so well with the Recycle Collective. It became a format that allowed audiences to not expect it to be normal and crucially, not to judge it against ‘jazz’ gigs or ‘rock’ gigs. It was it’s own thing.

I spent a lot of time talking about musical journeys; about musicians exploring in a conversational way.

NEIL: It’s great to have created a space to work without expectations….! Tell us about how that started.

STEVE: Well, a lot of the exploration of these improv ideas was happening in my front room. I was trying to record as much of it as I could, but realized that it needed to happen in front of an audience. I was inviting various musicians round to just play…BJ Cole on steel guitar, Cleveland Watkiss on voice, Orphy Robinson on vibes and steel pan..some incredible musicians. I was playing at a festival, and decided to try an all improv gig where each musician would join me one at a time, and I’d add what they did into the loop –

NEIL: Ah, conceptual. 🙂

STEVE: …and it was amazing – but tragically not recorded! But the idea was there.

So when I got back home, I booked a couple more gigs. I started out with soloists and duos, but soon came up with the standard recycle collective format of 3 musicians, 3 sets, each set progressing solo, duo, trio. So everyone plays solo, all the duo combos are explored and the three trio sections are ‘curated’ by each of the musicians….more conceptual positioning 🙂

NEIL: Excellent ideas. A form of composition to be sure. 🙂

STEVE: definitely! That’s exactly what it was. The musicians were the composition;

the format was the composition, and the notes were what had to happen based on that combination 🙂

NEIL: A sequence of events…also helps maintain just enough order that even chaos wouldn’t be out of place. 🙂

STEVE: exactly. Sometimes it got really out; other times it was straight pop songs. Really varied.

NEIL: I’m sure!

STEVE: Very little swing/bop, but that happened occasionally 🙂 And almost none of it was recorded! I often took my recording set up (rudimentary though it was back then)

but always forgot to press start, or to plug it  into the desk. terrible.

NEIL: Damn. Best stuff never makes it to tape. 🙂

STEVE: That’s why we took the LDW trio into a studio; but we tried to keep as much of that improv spirit there. I still much prefer listening to the rough recordings that the ‘polished’ album even though the album is really well done. I get a kick out of the searching, questioning, journey stuff the most.

NEIL: That’s the stuff that scares most folk. 🙂

STEVE: yeah, I never understood that. It seems to ignore what it is to be in the audience.

NEIL: But – if you’re REALLY open, there are “no wrong notes” as Monk says. The full quote is “There are no wrong notes – only ones you don’t believe in”. Revolutionary. 🙂

STEVE: you want to be a part of something special, something unique, something specific, and something that could at any moment go HORRIBLY wrong 🙂 No, but there are idioms and I think that the territory seems to be pan-idiomatic rather than non-idiomatic. So within those idioms or combinations of idioms, there are vernaculars at work – shared languages, accents, jokes, stories, history that all come into play –

NEIL: Yes! in unimaginable combinations, no doubt.

STEVE:  – and, of course, a massive dose of trust. Without trust, improv is a random painful guessing game 🙂

NEIL: Trust is key; so is belief in what you yourself are playing, “self trust.”

STEVE: Never play music with an improvisor who’s trying to either beat you or impress you. Always try and make the other person sound awesome. In a collaboration, self belief is bolstered by not having to worry about the other person bogarting your wikkid mellow choonz 😉

NEIL: Feel free to come here and make me sound awesome. (That’s a joke!)

STEVE: Ha! If that was my only plan, I’d just sit there silently.

NEIL: So I guess we’ll both be sitting there silently, eh? We’ll see how that goes over with the audience. 🙂

STEVE: haha!

NEIL: “wikked mellow choonz”. WTF? Oh stop that now.

STEVE: I’m really looking forward to playing with you – you seem to have a pretty much endless stream of cool spiky melody that pours out of your instrument. I’m starting to recognize your sound-world, having listened to so much of your music. The things that soundtrack planet Neil. I’m intrigued to hear how they connect with what I do. it seems like an obvious fit 🙂

NEIL: Absolutely! BTW, You type really fast.

STEVE: 🙂

NEIL: I agree. I’ve gotten to know your sounds really well; I’d like to know a little more about your actual technical approach to looping so I can better understand what I’m hearing. I’m a good guesser, mind you. 🙂

STEVE: I use the same few looperlative functions most of the time…I tend to put every layer on a different track and mix and match sync’d and unsync’d tracks.

NEIL: For example “You can’t throw it away (there’s….)”. There’s a LOT of stuff going on there, different layers.

STEVE: yeah..

NEIL: Yes – I can hear that… some backwards…

STEVE: That also had a lot of live post-processing of the loops so I was able to change the delays that the loops were running through. They came out through a kaoss pad.

NEIL: Individual outputs?

STEVE: 3 stereo pairs

NEIL: That explains quite a bit!

STEVE: 🙂 Though at the moment, it’s in mono, cos I need to replace the sound chip…!

NEIL: Busted? 🙁

STEVE: just one side is broken, so I can run in mono. It works great like that 🙂

NEIL: I’m sure! I’m using a Line 6 Echopro and the JamMan, tho not synched. Each does several different things very well.

STEVE: The Echopro is very cool; some amazing delays too!

NEIL: Really awesome box. Yup. Like reverse, autovolume, etc.

STEVE: I like to have as much room to remix things as I go along, to reverse, fade, mute, scramble, replace etc…but quite often will leave a loop running through the middle of it all, just as the ‘glue’.

NEIL:Interesting. 🙂  I go for more of a “Tubular Bells” kind of concept: create & develop one idea; then let it go and start on the next.

STEVE: nice! I’m looking forward to seeing how all this comes together 🙂

NEIL: Yes! as am I. WOW. 🙂 Very often at a solo gig I won’t take a break – the ides are flowing….

STEVE: I’ve done that before!

NEIL: So I think we can use some of your recycle concepts to guide us through our performance – or rather, I’d like to. 🙂

STEVE: for sure! More than happy for it to work like that 🙂

NEIL: I have a thing for the “Marimba Ostinato” – it naturally falls under my fingers, can spin them off for days on end. Have you tried midi sync with other devices?

STEVE: I did with my echoplex, not with the looperlative. it’s possible; we could have each of us sending to the other, so that for any one tune one can act as master-looper – so I’ll loop you, or you loop me 🙂

NEIL: Might be interesting to try one thing with sync, in either direction.

STEVE: we’ll hopefully get to try that out!

NEIL: As I said, you type real fast. 🙂

STEVE: Are you busy on the Tuesday?

NEIL: Busy waiting for you to show up!

STEVE: 🙂 We could come to you then, and try the sync then

NEIL: Sounds cool.

NEIL: Have you tried hooking the JamMan and Looperlative up together?

STEVE: nope, but I’m sure we can!

NEIL: Personally, I find your approach to improvising quite refreshing! I’m starting to get the feeling that it would be best not to plan much.. 🙂

STEVE: yay! Sounds great to me. I’m much better when I don’t have to remember anything.

NEIL: Also, I will have mic etc set up for Lo. I  love to process live voice. 🙂

STEVE: excellent! She’ll be all about that.

NEIL: Nice!

The album with Mike Outram is one I’m REALLY proud of; some amazing music on there. And we’d never played together at all before the tape started rolling 🙂

NEIL: Wow, excellent. 🙂 Is it done yet?

STEVE: just finishing the mixing, then need to master it. Will all be done by the time we come to you, I think 🙂

NEIL: I love what you’ve posted so far. 🙂

STEVE: there are a couple of massive ambient improvs…

NEIL: How I love ambient improv… *sighs longingly*

———-

And there ya have it! Please join us for the event if you live in the area. IF not, be sure and tune in to the webstream on June 2nd.

Thanks for reading!