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Vishnufest: The Sets

So – I did say I was going to write a post about playing the music of John McLaughlin, and all that that entails.

Well…..this isn’t it.

However, I wanted to – for the sake of those who are fans and cannot attend (or can and want to know what to expect) – post the complete list of material we will be performing over the next 2 nights. Once again the venue is:

Le Poisson Rouge – 158 Bleecker St, New York, NY

Shows 1 & 2 are tuesday night (tonight!) and show 3 is wednesday night.

So, without further ado, here are the set lists for this year’s VISHNUFEST.

Show 1: The John McLaughlin Songbook – Before & After Mahavishnu.
Extrapolation
New York on my Mind
Guardian Angels*
Do you hear the voices?
Electric Dreams
Freindship
Devotion

Special: SUITE FOR CHOIR:

I Am My Beloved’s
One Truth
Law Is Not Love
God Then, God Now
Name of Truth
Walk

Show 2: BEST OF MAHAVISHNU

Birds Of Fire
Miles Beyond
Celestial Terrestrial Commuters
You Know You Know
Vital Transformation
Dance of Maya
One Word
Meeting of the Spirits

Show 3: RETURN TO THE EMERALD BEYOND

(-includes String Quartet, Premik Russel Tubbs on sax/flute and Melissa Stylianou, voice)
Eternity’s Breath
Lila’s Dance
Can’t Stand Your Funk
Pastoral
Faith
Cosmic Strut
If I Could See
Be Happy
Earth Ship
Pegasus
Opus One
On The Way Home To Earth

And there you have it! Hope those of you in the area who like this music can make it – you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

Love to you all –
– Neil

My Experiences in a Tribute Band, Part 1: All the way ‘Round

(For a more detailed history of the Tribute Band phenomenon, visit the Wikepedia site here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribute_bands)

Neil with The Machine in NY CIty

Once upon a time, there were bands. Bands that broke BIG – we’re talking tremendously, phenomenomly big. Huger than huge. Bands like…. Led Zepplin… The Beatles… Pink Floyd… Van Halen…. The Police… (insert favorite GIANT rockstar band name here). As time went on, concert ticket prices for these groups reached astronomical levels – assuming you could get a ticket at all. It didn’t happen in all cases; and there was certainly a time in every band’s life when it could be seen for cheap, before they broke really really big.
But then, the unthinkable happened: the group broke up (curse them…)!, or simply stopped touring, or (as previously mentioned) became prohibitively epensive. And this created a vacuum, a “hole in space” (one of my favorite phrases).

Now during the time these bands were producing their primary body of work, young musicians (like…myself!) were learning how to play. Although some of these newbies focused on their originality, hordes and hordes of us learned by imitation: by learning the songs, licks, and the playing styles of the folks we listened to.

I remember clearly when “Dark Side of the Moon” came out – I learned the whole record, learned about echo tricks used, about arranging… it was the moment in which I said ‘THIS is what I want to do with my life – to be a musician, make records, etc’ “

In my own musical coming of age, I was devoted to performing original music and have since I started my first group “A. Animal” in 1978. But I had learned – and still know – many hundreds of songs by other bands – and not limited to rock (the Pat Metheny Group album is one in particular).

Playing songs we knew was always great fun, especially if everyone knew them. You could play lots of music with little or no rehearsal, or effort of any kind. Mostly we played this stuff for ourselves; I have plenty of old cassettes of us playing tunes like “Larks Tounges part 2” (King Crimson), “Arriving UFO” (Yes),”Dogs” (Pink Floyd), or even things like Stratus (Billy Cobham) or “Timeless” (John Abercrombie). We knew these songs and would play them for fun at parties, and work some of them into our setlists on gigs.

Meanwhile I had to earn a living: I started playing dance classes (which I continue to this day), and eventually got into a wedding band in 1990 (I left the wedding band in 95 before I got truly sick at heart). A. Animal finally disbanded in 1994… Around the same time I responded to an ad – for a keyboard player – in a (hmmm…) Pink Floyd Tribute Band called “The Machine”. Well, I needed work, plus I knew I could do that gig with my eyes closed. So I answered the ad. They asked me one question: “Do you have a sampler?” At the time, I did not. They didn’t pay very much (less then the wedding band, by more than 1/2), so I let it go and started to look for other things. (I also started working on my 1st solo CD “Alone At Last”, but that’s another story…)

Then, about a year after that I got a phone call from the Machine, wanting to know if I was still interested. I said yes, a session was arranged, and I spent the next 10 years touring with these gentlemen, and learning more about the music biz then I think you could ever learn elsewhere.

PART 2: A 10 year tour and more…

My 1st Audio upload to WordPress: A Midnight Xmas Rendering

Well, had to figure this out at some point. If I wanted to upload an audio file, and not into my standard site player; not on myspace or facebook etc., can I do it here? Let’s find out….

….a passage of time…..

OK – it’s 4 days later. I have poked and peeked; found sensitive areas on my server site where delicate adjustments needed to be made, and Presto! I can now post reasonably sized MP3 audio clips within my blog posts. To this end, I will now post my first offering: “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”, recorded at midnight Christmas night. I am not religous (at least not that way) but I have always enjoyed this traditional song. Besides, several of my friends – notably Paul Mitchell and Dan Johanson – posted lovely “audio e-cards”, and inspired me to do the same.

SNAFU, it always takes me days what it seems to take minutes for others. So, 4 days late, here is my midnight rendition of “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”. Please enjoy. Comments ALWAYS welcome. Happy Holidaze.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The Grand Diversity

Another Startling year in music comes to a close (nearly). A quick overview of 2008…
In the Big theater at the PAC for the SUNY Purchase nutcracker warmup class

In the Big theater at the PAC for the SUNY Purchase nutcracker warmup class

What an amazing year it’s been, fer sure. Started with some of my compositions selected for a dance being performed in Singapore, choreographed by one of our Conservatory faculty, Stephanie Tooman. She chose 3 pieces from my back catalog; I edited the tracks together and the piece was performed in May. Around the same time I was called in to do a last minute editing job for another faculty choreographer, the wonderful Kevin Wynn. He was working with music by composer Tania Leon for the Purchase Dance Corps Spring Show, and needed editing. It ended up as a killer 20 minute remix. Tania was thrilled and hired me to do live vocal remixing on an upcoming project (currently on hold due to finances).

In March I also performed in something called “Downtown Cabaret”, which is a live performance/art festival featuring folks from all parts of SUNY Purchase. I wrote music for 2 choreographers, one of which was perfomed live by myself on computer and synth.

Neil's computer rig

Neil's computer rig

The trend of working with choreography students continues – I’ve done quite a few this year alone, probably more than I’ve done in the 17 years I’ve ben there. One of those pieces was a Steve Reich-style composition for 4 marimbas, piano and percussion. I performed it live with a piano, syntheszer and prerecorded tracks.

In July I was hired by Lane Gifford to write and produce original music and remixes for a piece in the Fringe Festival in NYC, which recieved rave reviews. I also got a chance to collaborate with my longtime partner Nita Rae on some punk rock-ish music that she wrote for another choreographer, Ofelia Loret de Mola. This piece (Available Space) was performed in NYC for an entire week, outdoors in City Hall Park across the street from the Brooklyn Bridge. Some very strange coincedental things happened around that performance, to numerous to go into here.

We decided to call it "Kildoza"...

We decided to call it "Kildoza"...

The Dance portion of the program wraps with me being hired again to make music for the Singapore exchange project. This time it’s original music for Piano, Cello, and prerecorded sounds.

In another universe closely intersecting with the one just described, I’ve been doing a ton of jazz gigs. That’s right, the all acoustic “straight ahead” variety, culminating with my being in the house band for the Peekskill Jazz Jam session hosted by Bob Meyer, for 11 weeks in a row. I’ve been playing jazz for a long time, but over 11 weeks I’ve personally reached new and fantastic musical heights I had only dreamed of before, never having the right circumstances to “go the distance” as I knew I could. It’s been extraordinarily wonderful. Bob and bassist John “X” Ray are the real deal, having played with everyone from Woody Herman and Buddy Rich to Joe Lovano and John Abercrombie (to name a few). We’re talking serious shit here, folks.

Also back in March I joined the Mahavishnu Project. I’ve only done 4 shows with them so far, but all tremendously fun, exciting and challenging. Great music & musicians; I”ve written about them in previous posts. There will be more shows in the future.

And of course, NAIL continues. We played fewer shows in 2008, but they were BETTER. The band continues to exceed my expectations. Now with the addition of Markus Payne Management, we’re putting our energies into breaking into the international Jazz Festival Circuit for 09. I’m putting 110% of my energy into this – it will happen.

Current Press Pic by George Dubose
Current Press Pic by George Dubose

Many other things have happened along the way, and continue to happen. Since leaving The Machine, it’s been a slow ramp up and a long time coming – but the flood gates have been opened. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I Love you all – take care of yourselves.

– Neil

Ask Me Again, I’ll tell you the same

From our 9/28/08 show at Keegan Ales in Kingston NY, it’s the first of 3 clips I’ve gotten up on YouTube. This is “Ask Me Again”, a relatively new tune (last 6 months). It crosses the line between rock and jazz in what is to me a very appealing way; the backbeat is strong, even with the many time signature changes, and the harmony is all “post-bop”. In my mind it walks the line between Joe Zawinul and Alan Holdsworth, showing what those two giants have in common. Steller performances from Charlie & Nadav make this a standout. We also had fun hooking up the s-video output of the laptop into the bar’s projector, and viola! Instant light show.

Thanks for watching. I will post some “serious” stuff soon, for real. Lots going on, the big thing of which was spending a month looking for a car (which we found, yesterday). Enjoy, and thanks!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tHi_RHoW8M

Found: An unpublished Blog Entry from ’07

I found this in a word doc tucked away in a folder on the laptop. I was going to just delete it, but I decided it was worth posting. It’s from last summer, which was a very busy time for me. So without any further ado, here it is, dated 8/10/07

Here I am, on the road again, out with Marty Balin. He’s one of the founders of the Jefferson Airplane (and later the Starship).It’s an honor to play with him, and he’s a really nice guy too. We’re only doing 4 dates on this particular run. That’s ok, because July was an incredibly busy month (that bled into the 1st 2 weeks of august). Last Tuesday (Aug 7th) I premiered Five Elements, a new group based on an idea I had a few years back. The idea was to use a wide variety of percussion – Afirican, Latin, Brazilian – but no actual drumset. The show featured Percussionists Amarildo Costa (Brazilian), Kazi Oliver (African), as well as jazz vocalist and flutist Judi Silvano and myself on a rather big rig (5 keyboards). Judi was kind enough to record it, so I’ve posted an excerpt from the show HERE. Other stuff I’ve been doing: 3 weeks of Ballet Class work at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center (in Tivoli, NY); The Susan’s Restaurant Jazz Jam Session (hosted by drummer extraodinare Bob Meyer); Robert Kopec’s “Big Bang Jazz Gang”, a big band playing Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, Dizzy and more; MBA, an experimental electronic free jazz project (website going up soon!); a few gigs with Judi Slivano’s jazz Quartet; Gigs with the Scott Weis Band (a great local soul-blues band); Marvin Bu-ga-lu Smith trio; the Neil Alexander Trio (acoustic jazz!) As well as a handful of solo Shows and of Course many NAIL gigs. I’ve got some down time coming (no day or night gigs till sat 8/18). Time to recharge the batteries, slow down a little.
The cool thing about all this is since I’ve left the Machine, I’ve more varied and interesting – and paid – work then I ever have in my life. I’m playing every kind of music imaginable (except country, bluegrass, and a few other things I ain’t interested in). And the sky’s the limit. Playing with Bob Meyer, I getting to meet and play with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the area (and the NY area is nothing to scoff at). I’m getting to the place I have oft dreamt about. The challenges come, and will continue to come; I will continue to work hard and to give my best to the music which I hold so dear.
I love you all, stay in touch.

Bring it on

OK, I think I’ve just about posted that Moogfest video everywhere I could…. I will be posting the second half (with Herb Deutsch) next week (when I get a minute!). Made some site changes; news posted on the NAILMUSIC site. Notice the date calendar in the sidebar here.

I’m trying to get more summer dates for us. Doing that has its own specific challenges, however, as I try to work around the very busy schedules of my two great musicians. (I think) I wish I could offer them so much work they wouldn’t have to do anything else… But even that I’m sure would come with it’s own set of challenges. Only one thing I can say about all that….

“BRING IT ON!!!!!”

peace out –

NAIL

Moogfest 2007

NAIL at Moogfest 2007 (part 1 of 2)
httpv://youtube.com/watch?v=1qhmfp-NPJc

New video uploaded! This proves that this great show was not just my imagination.

A moment to reflect

Hey…..

Gosh, been busy. Here at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of dance, occasionally “nothing” happens, and I get a 90 minute “break in the action”. A chance to write! Anyway, killin weekend; solo show at 2 Alices was a hit from my perspective (meaning technologically). In reality, only about 6 people showed up. But the system works, and with a few refinements I’ll be ready to KICK some SERIOUS ASS Germany in the fall.

NAIL played sunday afternoon at the waterfront for the newburgh Jazz-a-thon. 2 hours – really freakin’ fun!! Played a lot of music, but didn’t get to all the things I wanted to play….

Interesting that, because some tunes we just never get to, even though they’re easy ones. I realized something important about myself – I’m so self conscious and self critical on the bandstand I won’t call a tune I’m not sure about. In short, I tend to play it safe. My gut feeling is that a safe approach doesn’t fully serve the music. I also think I let the fact that it was considered a “jazz” event color my choices of music. Hmmm….. something to work on.

No matter – band sounds better than ever. Chris Vander Essen (DJ Cheshire Cat) and his buddy Mike from Beacon Videotaped/Audio recorded the set; They were very happy about the way it came out. I can’t wait to post it on youtube. I’ll get it up there ASAP; along with the video from Moogfest 2007 which I just recently obtained thanks to VINNIE the Video Guy – friend of Gregg Bendian (Mahavishnu Project Drummer). Vinnie’s an awesome guy, smart and generous, and is seriously into the archive thing.

Things are hopping around here. Major editing jobs have been done and are being done, compositions for dance, new dates added all the time, more solo shows, etc. I am going to compile a list of the the websites we’re on; there’s quite a lot at this time.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo from yesterday (sunday). Picture by Frank Ostrander.
NAIL at the Newburgh Jazz A thon

Thanks to everyone who came out! Great to see you all, glad you enjoyed the music. See you June 26th at Cafe Mozart. Peace, y’all!

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