Solve for “X”

So here we are: 2016 almost gone, but it feels a little like spring….

First off, I haven’t written a serious blog post in quite some time. Because, you know, I’m “busy” – doing “things“. Like writing and performing music. Or programming synthesizers. Or driving. (I do a lot of driving, for those who are wondering.) Pretty much constantly. Write? Words???

But in actuality I’ve got quite a lot I’ve been wanting to write about. In fact, my wordpress dashboard is littered with drafts – those “wait, I’ve got an idea…!” , fits and starts that don’t get finished but sit on a digital shelf somewhere….and then I’m off. But the ideas are waiting. In fact I’ve got actual notebooks full of ideas. Too many for one lifetime, it seems… but I digress. I’m here, and I’m writing this now. 

When my pops told me at age 7 that Mozart wrote his first symphony at age 7, I thought “I can do that!”. And of course at age 7 I fully believed it, putting pen to manuscript paper and writing…something. I remember that at least. I tried my hand at writing a few things here and there. Piano solos mostly, some guitar, and not on paper. Just things I’d make up & remember.

The first big thing I remember trying to write was when I was 14. Inspired by a paperback copy of Clifford D. Simak’s Sci-Fi collection “City”, and thoroughly influenced by prog rock concept albums (this was 1974, after all) I began work – once again, in memory only – on a 20 minute epic entitled – you guessed it – “City”, about a band of intergalactic travelers who on some world or other come upon an enormous abandoned city, many thousands of years old, and their adventures exploring it. Needles to say it was never finished, and I can remember not one note of it.

It’s also important to note at this time that in addition to “Prog” and it’s rich fantasy life I also grew up with classical music and listened to the radio. One of the things that influenced me from the radio around 1972 was Deodato’s jazzy funky arrangement of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (more commonly known as the music to Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey). I was stricken by the desire to write horn parts, and indeed I did – writing and arranging material for my high school jazz big band in 9th grade, at age 13. Special thanks most be given of course to my incredible HS Music Teacher Burt Hughes, a Nyack NY fixture for many years. When people say the fondly remember or loved a teacher who profoundly influenced their lives, this is what they’re talking about.

So against this backdrop, with many other musical things going on – too many to mention, and way more than I can remember – when I turned 18 I figured it was time to start my own band. And we were gonna need some music. This time I did use manuscript paper, and wrote a whole slew of tunes, some of which are still performed today. At the time I was fascinated by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and free Jazz as played by Ornette and others, and still very much in the grip of Prog rock and classical. The band became known as “A. Animal” in the coming years. The challenge was finding cats who could shift between all the different styles. FYI: That’s STILL the challenge.

The thing is although I never formally studied composition I listened to compositions – a sort of informal study – and tried to understand things from my skewed and fiercely independent perspective. And I kept writing. And writing. All manner of things. Music for Dance (since 1982); Avant Garde Theater (since 1983); and ensembles of various sizes. And in many different styles: Trying to reconcile my diverse influences was sometimes as confusing to me as it undoubtedly appears to those who don’t know me that well. It’s difficult to see the whole picture at once.

Influenced almost in equal parts by Classical, Minimalism, Post-Bop Jazz, Punk Rock, Prog rock, Jazz Fusion, Pop (I credit my lovely wife Nita with hipping me to the art of the Popular song, and because of her have developed a sincere appreciation for “certain things”), Ambient and Electronica as well as the avant grade (Stockhausen? Subotnick? Autechre?), I have chosen to try and squeeze all these things together into something new, something which is my own. And while all these things don’t fit into everything I write, if you scratch below the surface you might hear something unexpected…

What’s the point of all this? October 15th I have a unique opportunity. I’ll be presenting some work in a show at the Ritz Theater in Newburgh NY (where my family & I have been residing for the last 17+ years). Some of these compositions have never made it to the stage. Things that I wrote for projects, or choreographers, or friends, or because I damn well felt like it. It feels sometimes like not too many people know the full breadth of what I actually do. I flip back and forth between original groups (like NAIL), or traditional jazz quartets, or funk outfits or music for dance, and those audiences generally do not overlap. So I’m truly excited and thrilled to have a place to put this diverse concert up. With me will be some amazing players, some old friends, some new – but all open minded, ready to embrace the diversity of music as a whole. They are:

  • Peter Furlan (sax)
  • Peter Brendler (bass)
  • Nadav Snir-Zelniker (drums)
  • Mark Frankel (percussion, marimba)
  • Daniel Frankhuizen (cello)
  • Rachel Evans (viola)
  • Cynthia Ligenza (violin)
  • Fung Chern Hwei (violin)

With special guests Tom Reese (flute & pennywhistle) and Mona Toscano (spoken word).

As the music varies in style and texture, so does the orchestration. Some pieces will be performed by a traditional Jazz quartet; others, by strings and percussion; others still with electronic instruments. The ensemble is variable – and thus represented as “X”.  It  seemed only fitting to christen this new collection of musicians & music the “X Ensemble”. (also the name jumped out at me because I keep the scores in a folder called “extended ensemble”).

I must say I’m completely thrilled to premiere these works and this new group. It’s been a long road the “here” – to unity & integration. I suspect there’s a ways to go yet, but this certainly feels like a milestone. I hope you can join us.


P.S. Here’s a great preview of the show written by our good friend and incredible songwriter John Burdick. John leads the New Paltz based “Sweet Clementines“, who I consider to be one of the best local bands out there. See them when you can.


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