After my first big band arranging experience in 2014 in which I arranged a full concert’s worth of my fusion originals plus some Pink Floyd and The Police material I thought I was done arranging. While the concert in October of 2014 was a great success and I really enjoyed my two days of fame as frontman, composer and arranger of almost all of the music, after I came back to Indiana it was an anti-climax.
My friend Lothar Landenberger, who had talked me into doing the arrangements in the first place, started bugging me again a few months after I was back home in Indiana. Somehow I didn’t feel it and I didn’t hear from my friend in a long while. Then, in January this year (2017) Brent Wallarab emailed about my arrangements. Brent is one top notch writer and arranger who (unlike me) knows how to do this stuff. He was interested in some interesting bing band music for his Indiana University Jazz Ensemble – and they would even pay for the charts. He ended up picking two, Bajao do Banana, which had been played at the Tuebingen Jazz & Klassik Tage 2014, and Alice’s Cool B***s, which is a piece that was originally recorded on The Rise of Kwyjibo and then got a big band treatment to become the tune and the end of the show. But it never got performed, because we ran out of time.
“Choro is an instrumental Brazilian popular music genre which originated in 19th century Rio de Janeiro. Despite its name, the music often has a fast and happy rhythm. It is characterized by virtuosity, improvisation and subtle modulations, and is full of syncopation and counterpoint.”
Another description I found:
“It is a complex popular musical form based on improvisation, and like New Orleans jazz, blues, or ragtime, grew from a formalized musical structure and many worldly influences.”
Many Choros to me actually do sound a little like ragtimes. But I am by no means whatsoever a Choro expert. I just always liked to play brazilian music on guitar and writing a Choro seemed a step up from a bossa or a samba. In that sense the pieces here are more like classical music rather than jazz tunes to be soloed over.
The first of these Choros was “Choro el Ninja” and it popped out in 2005. In many ways it is one of my favorites of the bunch which is why it was recorded on my CD Peter’s Money in 2009. While I was composing more music than ever before since then, every few months a new Choro arrived. Usually just a small melodic idea, which got expanded, transposed, taken to relative major or minor – one could say a lot of hot air.
Once I had a few of these and tried to actually play them I realized that this was excellent practice material – for sight-reading and fingering. Some of these I arranged for solo classical guitar but they are really hard to play and might get some thinning out when I have the chance. These 19 Choros represent a certain time period in my writing. I have since then tried to write more in that style but nothing presentable came out of it.
A word about the titles:
I don’t speak Portuguese (I sometimes look up translations of English titles into Portuguese and use these if they sound interesting). Most of the titles reflect more me playing around with words, than expressing any important insights. Although, some of the Choros are named like pizzas on the menu of a pizzeria in Germany (..al Forno, Picante, Margarita, etc.)
I freely admit that many, if not most, of my earlier writings for classical guitar are simplistic, juvenile and banal. On the other hand one has to start somehow somewhere and I am glad that I held on to all of this material and didn’t put it in the garbage disposal of creative outbursts. As of this writing (February 2017) the first of the Pulvermann Empires is just about 40 years old – reason enough to publish the entire four part series.
One of the stand-out properties of my 40+ year music career has always been a deep interest in music that is used in science fiction movies (in other words: sounds mysterious, ominous, and ambiguous.) I can’t remember where that name Pulvermann came from – I don’t think I ever knew. But as you can tell by the front cover of The Pulvermann Empires it could have something to do with a base on the Moon? The British SciFi series UFO from the early 70s was one of my favorites – and I suspect their moon base had an influence. So had the music of that same TV series (especially the ingenious creepy soundtrack during the ending credits), and early Pink Floyd and countless other space sounds that hit my ears.
Obviously a classical guitar is not the first choice to produce such music. But it was all I had in my first few years. And while I liked to play Bach and Bossa Nova on my cheap guitar, I had little knowledge to write anything in these styles – I tried, and most of that did end up in the trash.
One of the reasons I am glad to have held on to all of this early music is because it often shows how early certain musical ideas – melodic fragments, chord voicings and progressions – pop up. Of course you could say this about pretty much any artist’s work.
So here is The Pulvermann Empires, all four parts of it.
The Time Flies is a brand-new chapter of a style of music I thought I had out-grown almost 20 years ago.
From the time we had relocated to the US from Germany in 1988 to about 2002 my wife Monika Herzig and I had a “fusion” band called BeebleBrox. That band went through many different incarnations, recorded eight albums, played countless good and bad gigs, opened for big name acts such as Santana and Sting. Both of us were obviously trying to work out serious encounters with the music that popped into our lives at an early age. Artists like Weather Report, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin pulled our emotional strings. BeebleBrox was our own version of the music that became known as “fusion”. BeebleBrox tried but over it’s 14 year lifespan it never quite took off and never quite died.
But BeebleBrox finally met its end at the 2002 Indy Jazz Festival with a great performance. Then we had kids. Monika wanted to pursue acoustic piano jazz. The band members moved away……
For many years I had my own fusion oriented groups, Kwyjibo, which recorded one great little CD. After Kwyjibo imploded I had a Splinter Group. We never recorded, we had few gigs even though it was a great band. But that also went away and with it my interest in “fusion”.
I realized that I had spent decades of my life re-imagining (some would say copying) the music which powered my early years. It was relatively easy to discover ‘new’ music now. And to find that there is a lot of great stuff out there I never knew of because of my fixation on my own thing was…. strange.
However, Monika had been mentioning a BeebleBrox reunion. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. While I am proud of a lot of the music we recorded back then I didn’t feel any particular desire to re-experience those days. Then, in the Summer of 2015, fateful events were put into motion by a longtime friend of ours in Germany. As a longtime Bob Berg/BeebleBrox fan he thought that the three tracks Bob had recorded with BeebleBrox on our last album Dominant Domain in 1997 had never received the recognition they deserved (Bob Berg used to be one of the jazz saxophone greats, right along with Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer, and we paid him to play on three tracks). Our friend from Germany, Lothar, wanted to re-release these three tracks.
Lothar’s thought was to put the three tracks from 1997 on one side of a vinyl album and have a new version of BeebleBrox record a few new tunes for the second side. He had lined up a few of the top notch german sax players to record the new tracks and thought we would also use a german bass player and drummer. At that point everything was still floating around. In February this year (2016) Monika and I started to take this project serious and started to pick out tune candidates. I had located the original source tapes from the 1997 recording – on ADAT. While transferring the tracks to my computer I realized how dated the music sounded – Bob playing was stellar but the band was barely hanging on. Did we really want to re-release this? At least we could remix it and match the sound with the new tunes.
The next step came when we recruited two musician friends, drummer Josh Roberts, who had played with both Monika’s and my projects, and Quinn Sternberg on bass, highly recommended by Josh. One cold March evening we met in our basement to read through the tune candidates for the Summer recording. It felt and sounded great. Jokingly we talked about taking the material and go out as a band and play a few gigs – and maybe record one of the rehearsals.
All of that happened. The band name “The Time Flies” had been buzzing around between Josh and me for a while. All four of us were enthusiastically on board and we played a nice string of gigs, booked some studio time in early June and put down the tracks to have something on record. In the BeebleBrox days recording was a stressful experience for me; endless hours of pressure with the guitar never sounding the way I wanted it to and the band never really playing what I heard on my own tunes. The Time Flies recording session was really only intended as a good documentation. Little pressure. Everything sounded great. The guitar sounds worked. The band played so much better than I could have ever imagined. Good enough to put it out on CD.
The name The Time Flies is also fitting in that basically the band had a built-in expiration date because Quinn was going to move to New Orleans and Josh to New York after the Summer.
But the story doesn’t end here. Through some masterful organizing Monika was able to locate funds to take Quinn and Josh to Germany for the recording that had started the whole thing. We recorded a few new tunes with the German sax players. The recording engineer pointed out what I had been saying for months: The original Bob Berg tunes didn’t hold up to the new material. The sound couldn’t be matched and our 1997’s musicianship just didn’t compare. So we re-recorded new versions of the three tunes – keeping only Bob’s superb playing. This album is scheduled to come out in a limited vinyl edition in Germany later this year.
FQRD stands for Frozen Quasi Random Doodlings. I wrote about it in detail when I first posted the un-edited version.
Now it’s an official publication. Ten very strange and challenging exercises for guitar in standard and TAB notation. Just because I wrote these doesn’t mean I can play them, yet. But I hope to be able to record these in the coming months.