Warming Up

Warming Up

Monday, November 4, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Moon Hooch

A few months ago I came across an awesome video that someone had posted on Facebook. It was of a band playing in a field full of cows. The music was fun, wacky, and funky. Two saxophones and a drummer. Weird instrumentation, but it was a lot of fun, especially when the drummer hit the cowbell on his kit causing the cows to totally freak out. Here’s the video:

Cattle Dance Party


Fast forward a few months. While listening to NPR I heard a tune that just had to be that same band. Two saxes and a drummer, but this time it was a studio recording with plenty of chorus, reverb, and compression on the saxes – almost like Ska saxophone from the early 80’s. Sure enough, it is the same band. They’re called Moon Hooch. A couple of music school kids with some wacky ideas playing some really fun and original music in NYC subways. They’ve been touring a lot and you can follow along on their website. The site also houses some great videos. And if you like what you see/hear, check out their debut album which streams for free on bandcamp: http://moonhooch.bandcamp.com/. You can also purchase their album here too, if you are so inclined.

I like the album a lot. It’s a bit repetitive (especially with the formulaic disco/party drumbeats and formulaic bass lines) but that’s really ok because the record is a lot of fun. I’d imagine that these guys would put on an awesome live show. I hope that they come to Philly sometime soon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Return of Outside Pants in Honor of a Rock And Roll Animal

Lou Reed is gone. It was shocking news to get via Facebook this past Sunday. My first thought was "What?!?!?! Was he sick??" My second thought was what Lou Reed do I need to listen to? For me the answer was simple and clear. Here's my little story of how Lou and his music entered my life.

I can't really remember how it happened but sometime around when I was 12 or 13 I acquired some of my Aunt Lucia's records. She was my dad's little sister and based on the stack of albums, she must have been a teenager in the seventies. Stuff like Edgar Winter (the album cover was so creepy I had to turn it over), Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, a bunch folk rock records by bands I'd never heard of at the time. Some of these records really appealed to my adolescent sensibilities but the one record that really made an impression on me was "Lou Reed Rock N Roll Animal."

Being somewhat precocious in my desire to hear and learn about new (for me, at least) music, I had heard of the Velvet Underground (an older high school kid at my church youth group persistently encouraged me to listen to the Underground and The Ramones) but I had no idea what they sounded like, and I certainly didn't know that Lou Reed had become famous as their frontman. I had no idea who Lou Reed was. All I had to go on was the picture on the cover (record artwork - yet another reason for why vinyl is the best!). Who was this really weird, blurry and androgynous guy with the creepy makeup and why did he look like someone my parents would want to keep me away from? Of course later, as I learned more about rock music from this time period, I learned that this photo of Reed was pure Glam, coke, and heroin. The makeup, the sparkles, the coked-out, gender-blurred pose. And the triple lead guitars that make this record a classic also had that coked-up, Glam Rock guitar sound. But I didn't know all that as a 13 year old. I just knew that this dude on the cover was really weird and that this record needed to be played on my sister's record player.

The record starts with an Intro (with writing credits given to one of the guitar players - Steve Hunter). Pure unadulterated rock and roll. Layered guitar lines, popping pre-prog Rickenbacker-sounding basslines. And then about halfway through the piece you can hear the crowd erupt in cheers - this is a live record, recorded at "Howard Stein's Academy of Music" in New York right before Christmas 1973 - something big must have happened on stage. My guess was that the band had started the show and then the Maestro, Reed himself had walked out to join them. Instantly, I knew that Reed must be a big deal to warrant that kind if ovation. Then the Intro kind of morphed into a chord progression that the audience knew because they started cheering immediately. This tune was called "Sweet Jane" and the crowd was ready for it. Then the singing started.

But it wasn't really singing. It was almost like talking in pitches. And the guy didn't really have a good voice but there was something really captivating about it. And that chord progression was straight up hypnotic. And straight up rocking. And there was that chorus: Reed singing "Sweet Jane" over and over again, kinda not even in tune. And the smoking, glammed-out, cocaine guitar solos in between chorus and verse. Wow! I didn't know what this song was about - who was Jane and why was she so sweet? - but this tune was on fire. Of course, soon, after reading every rock and roll book in the public library, I deduced that this song was a classic "drug song" - Sweet Jane being Mary Jane, marijuana. And then a few years later I learned that this live solo version was actually a cover of Reed's original version that he did with the Velvet Underground.

The whole "Rock N Roll" record was really enjoyable for me (some true classics on here) but the real treat for 13 year old me was this mystical song entitled simply "Heroin." Some of the lyrics to the song were written inside the album sleeve:

When the smack begins to flow
Then I really don't care anymore
About all the Jim-Jims in this town
And everybody putting everybody else down
And all the politicians making crazy sounds
All the dead bodies piled up in mounds

I knew it was going to be heavy but I didn't know how heavy until the needle hit the groove and the track started. After Sweet Jane, the guitars shift into Drop D tuning and Heroin starts slowly with the guitar strumming those two chords that make up the entire song. Lou starts talk-singing. He's lost but the one thing that makes sense is the needle in his vein. The music builds in intensity, and the tempo quickens as Lou is "rushing on his run," apparently feeling "like Jesus' son" (what does that even mean to a 13 year old?). Then the refrain and the thesis statement of the song "I guess I just don't know." And then, in the purposeful absence of a drumbeat, enters the guitar melody that is the centerpiece of this arrangement of Heroin (I'm guessing now that Steve Hunter wrote it). First in unison floating like some shiny liquid, the Rickenbacker bass giving the line its pulse, then the line is harmonized in thirds and an added octave. Floating upward, immune to gravity. It sounds triumphant, majestic, and free, soaring like a bird that has caught a jet stream of air and can just extend its wings and coast. That's what I did when I first heard this. I spread my arms and flew.

Then the rush ends. Another verse with Lou deciding to nullify his life. What was wrong with this guy?! Why so bleak? A build to a weird organ solo. Back to Lou fantasizing through another verse. The tempo quickens and the volume builds. Lou spits venom, and enter again the angelic, floating cocaine guitars. It's the Gibson guitar tone of the 70's rock gods. And then the quiet phase again. Her-o-in. It's his wife and it's his life. The rush is coming again. The drummer pushes the tempo, Lou shouts the lyric from the record sleeve (Jim-Jims and dead bodies) and sends Steve Hunter into a frenetic but lyrical (and at times, Duane Allman-inspired?) guitar solo. The song hits its rock and roll two chord peak. The heroin is in his blood and Lou doesn't care. And just as the peak needs a release, we get the floating guitars again, but this time they're hitting their highest intensity. It's freaking euphoric. It was two chords and the truth. And my mind was fucking blown.

Side B of the record is great too, but Sweet Jane and Heroin make one of the best sides of a record in 70's rock and roll, if not all of rock and roll. I wore this album out! The mystery of his self-inflicted, fuck-it-all addiction, the creepy, goth/androgynous Lou on the covers, the freedom of flying through the euphoric sound of the guitars. That was the shit for me. And it came at a great time for me. I was already escaping into music and this record was what I needed to fly around my room.

I'm always grateful for records like this. Records that helped me through my childhood. They still work their magic for me today - good rock and roll should always make you feel young and free. Of course, later I got into the Velvet Underground and learned to love the original Heroin and Sweet Jane. And I got into other Lou Reed solo albums, including "Lou Reed Live" which came from that same 1973 concert that "Rock N Roll Animal" produced. But that first album of Lou's that I heard and loved is the one I seem to go back to the most. It seems crazy to me that Lou is dead. Only 71. But liver disease was the unfortunate result of all the smack Lou shot into his veins. Thanks, Aunt Luci for the records. And thanks, Lou Reed for being a Rock N Roll Animal.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Return With Mingus Thursday

Hey, look who’s actually writing a blog post! Been a while, I know. No excuses. So, did you know that today is Mingus Thursday? Well, it is.

A bunch of years ago when I first started studying with Dennis Sandole I happened to mention to the Maestro that I was a big fan of blues music, dating back to 7th and 8th grade when I first started buying music (it was tapes back then!). Anyway, as I had mention in a previous post, Week Four of my Sandole lesson cycle involved taking the chords to the first eight bars of a standard and creating my own melody on those chord changes (substituting some of the Maestro’s substitute chords was also encouraged). After I had mention to whole affinity to the blues, Mr. Sandole suggested that I use tunes by Charles Mingus for my standard of choice. “There is a lot of blues feeling in Mingus’ music. A lot of Duke Ellington as well. Pick songs by Charles Mingus.” So I did. For many Week Four assignments.

I had already been a fan of Mingus’ records. There is raw emotional power in Mingus’ music. Joy, sadness, anger, loss, frustration, love, lust, discovery, confusion. Sometimes all in the space of one song. The music can be sophisticated and sloppy or dirty at the same time. There is an absolute connection to the history of jazz and a simultaneous connection to all things current as well as to the future. Not a lot of figures in the music can pull this off. And Mingus was kinda nuts. Just read his “autobiography” Beneath the Underdog. Fact or fiction, or a weird combination of both, it’s just a really fun read. What a character Mingus was. Don’t believe me? Check out this article Mingus wrote that details a method on how one can train their cat to use the toilet. Seems pretty straightforward. Maybe I should try this with my cat.

So, there are many eras of Mingus to check out. I love ‘em all. Mingus was fruitful and creative always. And his bands had some of the best musicians. His longtime drummer, Dannie Richmond is, I think, one of the most underrated drummers ever. Perfect for Sir Charles. Which brings me to this gem of ephemeral listening goodness: NPR’s First Listen is streaming some of a new Mosaic Boxset entitled The Jazz Workshop Concerts, 1964-65. Of course it’s awesome. And the band is an interesting one: Jaki Byard on piano (playing the whole history of the instrument – as always!), Richmond on drums, and Mingus making up the rhythm section. The frontline is from Detroit: Charles McPherson on alto (sounding Bird-like but with more avant-isms than he displays on his own records), and the little-recorded but very capable trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer. Mingus played with Mingus for years but is only featured on a couple of records. Hearing him live like this is a real treat – at least for me it is.


So definitely check out this First Listen while it’s still streaming for free. This one is special. All Mosaic sets are worth the bread; I’m sure that this one will be as well.

Happy Mingus Thursday!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

House Concert

I want to play a duet with this house! When it rains this house makes music.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gigs This Weekend

I have two fun gigs this weekend. The music will be drastically different, but should be enjoyable.

Up first is my Friday night gig in Glenside, PA. It’s a fundraiser for Glenside Youth Athletic Club (GYAC). The event is billed as Comedy Night: three NYC comics and a warm-up band called the Weekend Squires. I am the “special guest” with the Weekend Squires. The schtick with this gig is that the band picks a pop artist/band to cover and then they do instrumental versions of the tunes. I joined the Weekend Squires for last year’s GYAC Comedy Night and we played all Black Crowes tunes (a bit rough cuz the Crowes singer basically sings the same thing on almost every tune – blues scale notes). This year the band that we are covering is The Clash. I’m playing on about 70% of the tunes – playing the original horn lines as well as lead and back up vocal lines. Sometimes I’m playing all these parts at once. How is that possible, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you; thanks for asking. I have a new toy which lets me play multiple notes at once.

For my birthday (March 14th in case you want to make a reminder for next year!), my wife and mom bought me a Boss PS-6 Harmonist pedal. This thing has been so much fun! Using Boss’ words, here’s what it does:
“Meet the new BOSS harmonist, with four intelligent pitch-shift effects and three-voice harmony in one convenient unit. Among the effect modes are Harmony, Pitch Shifter, and Detune, plus the all-new Super Bend for authentic pedal-bending effects and wild three- and four-octave pitch sweeps. You can even control pitch with an optional expression pedal. The harmony function is fast and simple to use, and supports a variety of interval patterns. It’s easy to create rich, three-voice harmony: choose a major or minor key, and set SHIFT to 3-VOICE—that’s it! The PS-6 Harmonist is an unbeatable combination of superior sound quality, ease of use, and powerful pitch effects, all under one hood.”

I’ve been fooling around with this pedal for the last month and because of the nature of this Weekend Squires gig, I think it’s a perfect time to debut the Harmonist. Some tunes I’ll use the three-part harmony, some tunes I’ll add to my pitch an octave above and an octave below, and some tunes I’ll use the Detune function which is basically a chorus effect. To further treat my sound, for some tunes I’m also going to play through a Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal – the idea is to make the trumpet sound less like a trumpet. I’ll probably mainly use the distortion on my solos.

So all in all, I’m looking forward to this gig. Though I won’t be getting paid (it’s a fundraiser and I’m donating my time), it will be fun to test out this new gear. Plus, I’ve grown a new appreciation for The Clash. Their drummer, especially, was pretty darn good. And transcribing some of their tunes has confirmed in my mind that I need to start a ska band in the near future. More on that later….

So, the next gig is Saturday’s big concert at Montgomery County Community College. Courtesy of the Ars Nova Workshop website, here’s the deal:

On April 28 at Montgomery County Community College, Bobby Zankel’s big band the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound will premiere a new piece written for the ensemble by legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams. Recently named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and a member of Downbeat Magazine’s Hall of Fame, Abrams is a co-founder of the hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a composer whose work and influence spans the diverse history of classic, modern and avant-garde jazz. At 81, he continues to wield an enormous influence through his recordings and teachings, not least through some of modern jazz’s most important musicians.

Ars Nova Workshop has also hosted a four part blog about this concert by writer Shaun Brady – you can see the posts at http://arsnovaworkshop.org/

I wrote about this concert a few weeks back – check out the videos. There is a new video with pianist Vijay Iyer:

and also an interview with Muhal himself:

My favorite Muhal quote from this video is a real gem: “I don’t really advise people, but I would say be honest and true about music and practice and study. Forever.” Love it!

The Warriors and Muhal have been rehearsing for a couple of months and the music is ready. It’s one very long epic composition entitled “Soundpath.” In short, it’s badass! Muhal is a true master. And he has been such a joy to work with. He stands in front of us, a real maestro, but very humble and very accessible. He laughs, cracks jokes, and dances along with music – he’s 81 but with his energy and enthusiasm, you would think that he’s half that age. And he’s really encouraging us, pushing us to really get into the sound, to really explore. The whole process has been a blast and I’m excited for the culmination – our concert at MCCC.

Oh, I almost forgot - a special bonus for the Warriors for this concert is that we will also be welcoming into the band two master improvisers: the great trumpet (and a favorite of mine) Herb Robertson and the master trombone player Steve Swell. It’s been great hearing these guys with the band. And it’s been a real treat sitting next to, and getting to know Herb. This show is gonna be awesome!

A new development
: since this concert location is kinda out-there for some folks, Ars Nova Workshop has organized a bus trip to and from the Clef Club in center city Philadelphia to make things easier for you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Not Music Related: Broad Street Run and Fighting Cancer

Unlike most of what I write on this blog, this post has nothing directly to do with music. Like last year, I am participating in the Broad Street Run as a team member of Jimbo’s Squad (here is what I wrote about last year’s experience). This year though I am also fundraising for Jimbo’s Squad which is a proud supporter of Fox Chase Cancer Center, the amazing hospital and research center that treated my wife’s Leukemia.

Here is the message that I sent to friends and family asking them for support. Thanks so much if you read this and feel an inclination to give. Two things I can promise you: Jimbo’s Squad is a great organization that really makes a difference in people’s lives; and, as long as I am breathing and able to move forward, I will run hard and I will run for Sara, our sons, and everyone that has supported this cause.

Dear Friends and Family,

My apologies for the impersonal email, but I'm writing today to ask for your support. On Sunday, May 6thBroad Street Run and I'll be running as a part of Jimbo's Squad (check out their mission and story here - note: the site seems to open best with Internet Explorer or Safari). I ran with them last year – a team of over 130 runners - and it was a great experience so I'm doing it again this year; but this year I want to do more than just run the ten miler, I want to support their cause by helping to raise money. 100 donors at $5/each. That's my goal. I'll be running the

This May marks two years of remission from Leukemia for my wife Sara. Like last year, I'm running this race for her. And for our three sons. During Sara's six month battle with cancer she received excellent care at Fox Chase Cancer Center (FCCC). Jimbo's Squad fundraises for FCCC. When I slept in the hospital next to Sara's bed, I slept in a recliner chair provided in part by the funds donated by Jimbo's Squad. Many of the blankets we used were also provided by Jimbo's Squad. At the end of Sara's hellish treatments, Jimbo's Squad selected our family to send on an all-expenses-paid week vacation at Sea Isle City, NJ. Knowing that there was a light at the end of her tunnel kept Sara going through those last, very crappy weeks in the hospital. In short, Jimbo's Squad has made a big impact on our lives – and the lives of so many others at FCCC. And it's time to give back.

My goal is to have 100 people donate $5 in my name on Jimbo's Squad's website. The donation page is pretty easy to use; should only take a few minutes of your time. Just make sure to select my name in the drop-down box for runners. 100 donors at $5/each. 50 cents a mile. Please help me in supporting a great organization.

Jimbo’s Squad

Donation Page

Hope you all are well and thanks so much!

Bart Miltenberger

Here I am in last year's race - see me there, on the left? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Upcoming Gigs

Just a quick post about a couple of gigs this week.

On Thursday, April 19th I’ll be playing with Matt Davis’ Aerial Photograph at Time. Start time is 8:30pm. Aerial Photograph has been around for seven or eight years or so, I believe. The genesis of the group came out of Matt’s undergrad experience of writing for a guitar trio plus a string quartet. The band soon added a saxophone and then a five piece wind section  The music is all Matt’s. Kind of a chamber jazz vibe. Beautiful, quiet, moody, elegant, sometimes simple, sometimes complex music. It’s a really special ensemble.

And on Friday, April 20th at World CafĂ© Live (downstairs) – I’ll be playing with Philly Bloco, a 22-piece Brazilian Carnival band. This band is a blast to play with. Crazy high energy party band. All covers – about half Brazilian tunes and half a mix of New Orleans tunes (Dirty Dozen, Dr. John, Meters, etc.) and American pop/R&B tunes (some Stevie Wonder and some Otis Redding) that get a samba treatment.  If you like to dance this would be a good show to come to!

Hope to see some of you at these shows!