A Jazz-Prog-Rock Fusion Band’s Early Beginnings

Since going for anything musical full time in a professional capacity, I decided to form my very own jazz-prog-rock band with two guys from graduate school, namely Diamond Manuel on trombone and Jeffrey Abanto on guitar, bassist RJ Sy (Karl Roy Band, Kastigo, etc.), and drumming virtuoso and chef KC Puerto. Together, we’re Hi-5! Nah, just kidding. We’re an unnamed jazz-prog-rock fusion band that is currently in its infancy. The video above is an excerpt from our two-hour first rehearsal session together where we had the audacity to take a crack at Alan Pasqua’s “Proto Cosmos” (popularized by the Tony Williams’ Lifetime band and Allan Holdsworth). I am quite pleased with our first session together as we were able to go through a somewhat tricky piece and survive it, hahaha! Other than this piece, we also had loads of fun with a free improvisation session. Hopefully, we’ll start working on original music as well as a couple of covers to spice things up.

The spark of it, all, however, was this free improv session with Diamond:

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The Search for Christian Progressive Rock

About 9 years ago, when I was looking for progressive rock bands that were Christian in orientation, I first found out about Kerry Livgren’s work both with Kansas and then with Proto-Kaw and his solo work:

Afterwards, I discovered Ajalon:

Then I discovered Glass Hammer:

A few years after that, progressive rock giant Neal Morse became Christian (although he kind of misunderstands what the Trinity is all about; his views sound like a mix of tritheism and modalism):

It doesn’t really do any justice by just watching these clips. Keep in mind that Christian progressive rock (like secular prog) is known for suites and concepts albums so it’s always best to listen to entire albums to understand the big picture i.e. the love of God manifested through Jesus Christ.

Is Jazz Dead?

Is Jazz dead? Depends on where you live. In the Philippines, it’s barely surviving, no thanks to local mass media, many of which are hell bent on keeping people stupid with anti-neuron “music” and TV shows. However, artists like Johnny Alegre and the Tomodachi Trio along with places like Tiendesitas try as much as they can to keep it alive. In the place where I serve, I’m the only guy who’s seriously into jazz, my bandmates know of it on a superficial level, and the rest of the folks attending the services have little idea of it. The way things go with the music industry nowadays, it is probably hanging on for dear life even in its birthplace, the U.S. of A. although because of its cultural value it might continue to live on. In places like the university where I attend, some semblance of it still lives through the popular music courses being offered. Unfortunately, we don’t do jazz in graduate school. I asked the dean numerous times if we had a jazz major or elective since I was interested. The reply was negative.

If you ask Wynton Marsalis the question “Is Jazz Dead?”, here’s his reply:

Maybe we could try asking Frank Zappa that question. He said, “Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.” Perhaps you can take the word from someone who can be inspired by some of the most profound things on earth down to the most mundane of things like fried chicken:

Prog/Dream Theater Fan Humor with PSMS and Devin Townsend @ Sea

I’m a Dream Theater fan. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I like every Dream Theater album, and that includes the much reviled “Falling Into Infinity”. This is the band that got me into prog in the first place. Though largely known for extremely lengthy complex prog metal masterpieces like “Scenes From a Memory”, they do have good short tunes too, like this one:

This, my readers, is “Burning My Soul”, a rather serious hate/rant song with lyrics by Mike Portnoy. It was originally a lengthy song with a slower tempo instrumental section (which became, through executive meddling and producer manipulation, a separate instrumental called “Hell’s Kitchen”). Anyway, enough of that history. It’s a pretty serious sounding song, right? The video above demonstrates a fragment of Dream Theater’s impeccable musicianship skills. However, my new favorite version of this song is this bootleg video from “Progressive Nation at Sea 2014”, performed by ex-DT members Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian (Keys) with Tony MacAlpine (Guitar), Billy Sheehan (Bass). and Devin Townsend on vocals and stand-up comedy antics:

One comment posted said that this is a train wreck done in style. I’d say in great humourous style. It’s as if Frank Zappa came to life with Devin Townsend’s vocal cords. If you’re a musician and a fan of Dream Theater and Devin Townsend, I would bet that you will find this to be funny. If you’re not enjoying and laughing at this then I feel very sorry for you.

Dealing with the Six-String Bass Guitar

The electric bass guitar certainly has a very interesting history. If it were a person, you would know that one of its ancestors was the orchestral double bass and from the other side is the electric guitar. Most people would know a bass guitar to be a four-stringed instrument, but as bass players wanted to extend the range of their instruments, instruments with more than four strings have been developed, the five-stringed version with the low B being very popular. However, I have chosen to go one string further with a six-string bass.

I started playing a four-string bass when I was a teen and then I went up to five, and then more recently the six-string bass. While there are those who hate the six-string bass by being too much to handle, I personally love the instruments flexibility and range. I’m assuming people didn’t realize that the six-string bass was supposed to make people’s lives easier. If you’re surprised that I’m saying that, try playing a two-octave arpeggio over a four string. I’m quite sure that it’s a stretch. On a six-string bass, you can play the same arpeggio over just a span of six frets. If I use the four-string technique on the six-string, I could cover three octaves.

The way I chose my tuning is a matter of convenience. For a while I was playing my six-string bass in the standard fashion: all fourths from B to C. It was wonderful at first. But being a guitarist as well, the C at the 1st string can sometimes be off putting. I could manage with that C well, but I wanted my guitar technique to translate into my bass playing. This is why I decided to tune my bass like a baritone guitar (an octave lower of course) and so the tuning is (from 6th to 1st string) is B, E, A, D, F#, B. It’s a step higher than the Guitarron Mexicano. The great thing about this tuning is that I could use my guitar techniques, one of the most important is the CAGED system. I could also use certain techniques I’ve learned from fingerstyle guitar i.e. classical/flamenco-style tremolo, barre chords, etc. Rather than putting energy into learning techniques specific to the standard six-string bass tuning, I’d like to concentrate more on writing and making music and so the baritone guitar tuning helps a lot by saving up my neurons for something else. It’s just more efficient for me that way.

Given the size of the neck, the six-string bass guitar can be unwieldy. Thus I am not surprised why John Myung wants his six-string bass guitar to have a neck width comparable to just a five-string. At this point, I really can’t have a choice on that matter. It’s rather difficult to find a six-string bass guitar in the Philippines unless you have one crafted for yourself, so I’m very fortunate to have found one at a budget price. All in all, the six-string bass guitar has been of great help for my music.

How to Prepare a Project and Record Audio in a DAW

Hello dear readers. It’s Mark A. Galang again in another installment of audio production tutorials. This tutorial was written in compliance to the peer review assignment requirement of the Berklee Course “Introduction to Music Production” being hosted by Coursera. I do hope that you all find this tutorial to be informative.

This tutorial features the way how I prepare a project in my DAW for recording. It also gives some insight into how I compose and record music. I use Cakewalk Sonar X1 as my DAW software. Let’s get started.

1. Sequencing the Drums

01 Sequencing the Drums

Before I actually create a project in Sonar, I usually write drum parts, orchestral parts, etc. using Sibelius 6. In this case, I just wrote the drum part for this project.

2. Exporting to MIDI

02 Exporting to MIDI

After writing the drum part in Sibelius, I would then save my work and then export it as a MIDI file to the folder of my choosing.

3. Creating a New Project

03 Creating a New Project

After opening Sonar X1, I make use of an atypical method of creating a project. I close the project creation wizard and then just drag the MIDI file I created into Sonar. Sonar will automatically open the MIDI file as a project.

4. Creating an Instrument Track

04 Creating an Instrument Track

Once the MIDI file has opened, I would then create an instrument track that would play back the MIDI data in the project. In this case, I’m using a VST instrument called EZDrummer. An instrument track is a combination of a MIDI and Audio track. The data displayed is MIDI but the playback comes from an audio source, usually a software instrument.

5. Transferring MIDI data to Instrument Track

05 Transfering MIDI Track to Instrument Track

Instead of assigning EZDrummer as the output for my MIDI track, I just simply drag the MIDI data into the instrument track and then delete the resulting empty MIDI track. The instrument track can read MIDI data anyway so I have no further use for the empty MIDI track.

6. Creating an Audio Track

06 Creating an Audio Track

I would then create an audio track next by right clicking on the empty space where the channels are supposed to be in Track View and then selecting the “Insert Audio Track” command.

7. Labeling Audio Track and Setting Up for Recording

07 Labeling Audio Track and Setting Up Channel for Recording

After creating the audio track, I would then label the audio track. In this instance, I’m recording a bass guitar track so I simply label it “Bass”. Afterwards, I select the appropriate input source for my audio track. In this case, my bass is connected to the left instrument input of my audio interface and so I select the left one in my DAW. If I select it this way, I will be able to record my bass part in mono.

8. Saving as a Project File

08 Saving as a Project File

Because Sonar opened my project as a MIDI file, it cannot save audio data yet. I would then save the project as a “Normal” CWP (Cakewalk Project) file with the “Copy All Audio With Project” option ticked so that I can assign the project and audio data folders for easier file management.

9. Arming the Audio Track for Recording

09 Arming the Audio Track for Recording

Before I begin recording, I then click on the red button in my audio track so that it would be “armed” for recording. Once the audio track is armed, I check my instrument’s recording levels on my audio interface and on the DAW. I am now ready to record my bass parts.

10. Setting up Metronome/Click and Countoff

10 Setting up Metronome or Click and Countoff

Before I start recording, I check my metronome/click and then see if I have the correct settings. I prefer using an audio click rather than MIDI and I set up the record count in to just “1”. Since the time signature in my project is 7/8 with a tempo of 100 bpm (in quarter notes), I expect to hear seven fast clicks before the DAW starts recording my audio.

11. Recording an Audio Track

11 Recording Audio

Once the levels are set and the audio track is armed, I start recording by pressing “R” on my computer keyboard. I count along to the count-in clicks (one, two, three, four, five, six, sev) and then start playing my bass parts. Once I’m done recording, I press the space bar to stop.

12. Cloning an Audio Track for a Second Take

12 Cloning an Audio Track for Second Take

Because I need to have a couple of recorded options, I record a number of takes. To do this, I just clone the audio channel where my bass is recorded. To do this, I just right-click on my audio track and select the option “Clone Track”. Sonar will then duplicate the audio track in its entirety.

13. Setting up Cloned Audio Track for a Second Take

13 Setting Up Cloned Audio Track for Second Take

The cloned audio track contains all of the data from the previous audio track, including recorded audio. Therefore, I would delete the recorded audio from the cloned track in order to empty it so I can begin recording a second take. To lessen distractions, I would then mute the original audio track before I record my second take.

14. Recording a Second Take

14 Recording a Second Take

Once my cloned audio track is ready, I would then record a second take following the steps mentioned a while ago.

After completing all of these steps, I think the entire effort went well. I was able to set up a project and record an audio track. Upon reviewing the project, I think that I should have saved the project immediately as a normal DAW project before setting up the audio track so that I wouldn’t run into a problem later should the application crash. Some of the steps I took to create the DAW project are atypical. However, this fits my usual workflow which involves composing and notating music first before recording audio.

For those who are interested, here’s the track I recorded for this particular tutorial:

I hope that you all have enjoyed reading and learning about recording audio in a DAW through this post. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you. If you have any feedback, comments, or constructive criticism, please feel free to let me know as I would love to learn new things as well.

The Kurzweil PC88: My Present-Day Gig Instrument

Today I’d like to talk about my present band practice and gig instrument, the Kurzweil PC88 Performance Controller Keyboard. Why would I do so? Because I like this instrument very much, plain and simple. For any of you out there looking for a review of this fine instrument, read on.

Before I discuss the ins and outs of this instrument, I’d like to tell a brief history about how I stumbled across this “portable” stage piano and eventually became its owner. I was looking for a portable 88-key replacement for a Yamaha SY-77 I had sold a few years back. In July 2012, I browsed through the Philmusic classifieds and found a seller who was selling a PC88. The price seemed reasonable, and then I thought to myself I could use something a bit similar to Jordan Rudess’s Kurzweil K2600. To cut the long story short, I bought it and have been using it since then.

The Kurzweil PC88 was exactly what I was looking for, a keyboard with a pianistic range and some very good sounds. My favorite patches in it are “Classical Piano”, “Suitcase E. Piano”, a number of organ sounds and the “Slow Digital Pad”. In my mind, these sounds should serve as my bread and butter presets. My particular unit is the “MX” variety so it also has a general MIDI bank and a generous 64-note polyphony. Because it’s not a synth, its selection of sounds is limited but it has powerful layering capabilities via the “MIDI Setup” mode where you can layer four sounds, each of which has its individual volume slider. In a limited way, you can create some fantastic patches with real-time control over each sound. Whether I’m playing progressive rock, praise and worship music, or jazz, I can pretty much cover good ground.

I’m not really doing multitrack orchestral stuff with it so 64 notes is pretty generous for my purpose. The feel or touch of its key bed is definitely weighted, similar to the feel of a Yamaha grand I had used about 4 years ago in a company Christmas party, but has a bit of a springy bounce that you will never find in an acoustic piano. How would I know? It’s because it feels very different from the acoustic upright piano I use at home. The rugged metal casing provides me with confidence that it would withstand the rigors of playing out.

As much as I love this instrument, it is not without its faults. I bought this particular PC88 used, and so some of the lead weights were loose. I had to hire a technician to have all the weights of the key bed fixed with a stronger adhesive. My technician said that the original adhesive used doesn’t hold up well to tropical weather, and that’s why they would become loose as the instrument ages. Given the fact that it’s not a synth, I could not use the sort of analog-ish lead sounds I enjoyed in my former Yamaha SY-77, and so I have to stick to organ or piano sounds for my leads.  Lastly, the PC88 is heavy! You will not enjoy climbing up stairs lugging this keyboard on your own. When I set this up in the church (UCCP-MCCD) where I occasionally play, I usually have to ask for assistance from friend and bandmate Pastor Chaz to carry it inside the church. Yes, Kurzweil didn’t lie when it said that the PC88 was portable. They forgot to write down a caveat that it’s only portable if you have a car, if a buddy to help you carry it, or strength comparable to a well-trained athlete. If you plan on carrying it around while commuting, I’d probably laugh at you.

So, in summary, other than the initial key bed lead weight issue, the lack of decent synth lead sounds, and the weight of the instrument, the Kurzweil PC88 is a great piano analog and an impressive MIDI controller.