Week 3 at IAR: The Casual Sextet

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Since 2000 I’ve written a number of pieces that aren’t the usual “lead sheet” type of jazz tune.  I formed The Casual Sextet to perform these compositions.  We’ve been playing off and on for about 10 years, and it’s always been with different personnel and instrumentation.  I’m finally going in a more concrete direction with the group, and back in March I organized a show for The Casual Sextet at Fat Cat that included myself on alto saxophone, Natalie John on vocals, Brad Mason on trumpet, Yoshi Waki on bass, Mike Eckroth on piano, and Brian Fishler on drums.  It was the first gig in 3 years with this band, with an almost completely different lineup of musicians, and it felt good to revisit these somewhat unusual works in the Travis lexicon. By the way…my first arrangement of a Bjork song was “Army of Me’ for the Casual Sextet, and it served as a prototype for the Bjorkestra arrangement!

It was a no-brainer then to bring this band into the studio to record for the IAR series. Yoshi wasn’t able to do it, but my friend and amazing bass player Sam Minaie (who also recorded the quartet stuff a couple of weeks prior) came it and tore it up!

In keeping with tradition, here are a few of the rough mixes:

Like Hermeto: This is dedicated to Hermeto Pascoal, one of my musical idols.  The chromatic eighth note line is inspired my his music.

Dreaming in Teflon: One of the first songs I wrote for The Casual Sextet, features a 7/8 ostinato figure, a chromatic melody, a blowing section, and a gospelly vocal solo.

Tyranny in Paradise: This is another extended composition that has an intro for saxophone and voice duet, which gives way to a more sinister melody (the tyranny, maybe?), followed by a more hopeful tune.

enjoy!

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Week 2 at IAR: Recording with the Calvosa Sullivan Project

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I’ve been co-writing songs with my good friend and former Manhattan School of Music classmate Kat Calvosa for the past 2 years.   This has been an incredibly educational experience for me as a composer, because before we started working together, I had never collaborated with another composer.  Also, she writes lyrics, I don’t (at least not comfortably)! The result is about 10 really cool songs that were written with 3 different approaches: writing music and lyrics together, me writing music to her lyrics, and her writing music to my music.

Last year we started performing these songs around NYC with a band, which we call the Calvosa Sullivan Project (or CSP).  We also recorded a demo back in December 2009, and I think I posted some of those tracks on this very blog (yay!). It’s been a while since we performed live though, so I jumped at the opportunity to bring this group into the studio to record a few more tracks.  It was, once again, a lot of fun to record, and everyone did a great job: Kat on vocals, me on piano and sax, Paul Orbell on guitar, Brian Ladd on electric bass, and Brian Fishler on drums.  An awesome band!

Here are a couple of rough mixes:

Let Me Pretend – Our newest tune…Kat wrote the lyrics first and I wrote the music for this one.

Left Alone – This one was created entirely from putting ideas together in real time, so it’s really got elements of both of our musical approaches in there.

Next week I bring The Casual Sextet into the studio! Looking forward to recording the challenging music I’ve written for this band.

Recording at The Institute of Audio Research, Week 1

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This past Monday I had the first of my four weeks worth of recording sessions at The Institute of Audio Research (IAR).  They have this really cool program that’s basically a barter: they provide free recording time for ensembles in exchange for being the “guinea pigs” for their recording engineering classes.  The classes are three hours, very relaxed, and I can bring in any group ranging from a quartet to a septet.  They get a really good sound there too, perfect for a demo or archival recording.

To kick everything off, I brought in my good friends Sam Minaie on bass, Brian Fishler on drums, and Sean Fitzpatrick on piano to play some new music for quartet that I’ve been writing.  We had a gig the same night a Spike Hill in Brooklyn (which was awesome, by the way!) so the recording session gave us an extra opportunity explore the material. We ended up recording 5 tunes, and here are a few of the rough mixes, for your listening pleasure!

Beard of Bees: I thought of this as a song title a while back, and the title finally found its tune.  I Googled “beard of bees” last night, and the results are pretty disgusting and bizarre. It’s a fun tune though, and includes one of the most angular basslines I’ve ever written.

Done and Done: A pretty waltz.  Sam is really doing some cool stuff (I wish you could hear him better on this mix!) that is making the song happen.

Melange: Sean suggested that we take the tempo slower on this one than I had originally conceived and it worked splendidly! This song has a Maiden Voyage-ish ostinato for the first 12 bars, followed by an 11 bar section with very Trav-like changes.

I’m excited about these three tunes in particular, because they were written just last week! That’s one of the things I love about NYC, you can write something new and hear it played (and in this case even get it recorded) by spectacular musicians in a very short span of time.  Where else in the world can that happen so easily?

Next week for the recording session I’ll be bringing in a group that I co-lead with vocalist and composer Kat Calvosa, The Calvosa-Sullivan Project (CSP!).  I’ll be definitely posting some of the results of that session as well!