January 2020, update 1

Already some news for 2020 – the gigs with Reggie Houston fell through; he’s setting up another weekly gig somewhere else, so stay tuned. I was just asked to appear with Gunhild Carling on Wednesday, February 26th at the Jack London Revue (8p, tickets are $20 and available at their website). It’s part of the 2020 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival, which sounds impressive on the résumé.

Some changes coming to KMHD – in about a month, I’ll be moving from 10-noon weekdays to a weekend morning show, 7-9 AM. Still hammering out exactly what the programming philosophy of that slot will be, but I’m excited!

I took the Kurzweil PC88/Motif-Rack XS on their maiden voyage this evening for a Blue Wave Band showcase. Perfect tool for that gig, if a bit heavy. I also need to figure out the programming, as I’m in a bit over my head with it. I’m sure there’s a way to save my presets in the Motif and also program the panel on the Kurzweil to bring up those presets with just a couple button presses. Tonight I found myself menu-diving between songs to pull up Motif patches at times, but most of the set was acoustic piano. When I was trying out the Motif with headphones in my living room, I thought it was already starting to sound dated (and the boot screen says © 2008 Yamaha – making it older than my Nord Electro 3). When doing a chromatic run in the left hand, I could hear the “break points,” if that’s the right way to put it, where they had sampled one note of an acoustic piano and then stretched it up and down a few pitches to save memory and processing power. It doesn’t take much pitching up or down before a sample starts to sound artificial. However, in the mix during the set, it was fine – and so much better than the Nord. I wasn’t fighting it. The weighted keys felt enough like a piano, and the patch itself was nicely balanced and cut through the mix pretty well. The Nord can sound very muddy. I’ve been banging on that unweighted Nord Electro 3 for 10 years now; I can’t believe it took me this long to set something else up. I’m sure a newer weighted-88 keyboard would feel even better, but a new Nord Stage is, what, $3500? The Kurzweil was $350 and the Motif-Rack was $600. The Motif is also perfect for all those weird synth sounds from 80s pop recordings, case in point, the artificial brass on Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I could probably approximate it with a Nord Stage, but who knows if it would sound any good through the PA or my keyboard amp? With the Motif I just scrolled to the first Synth Brass patch I saw, and boom, it sounded damn close to what I was going for, and could have even been tweaked more at home to sound closer. Ironically, I didn’t need that synth brass tonight because we had three horns at the showcase. The other big thing will be figuring out splits and layers with the Kurzweil/Motif combo. I can’t believe Nord didn’t let the Electro split and layer until the Electro 5 or so. Just an inexcusable omission, probably to push sales of the Stage (which has had that functionality from the start). The only reason I put up with stuff like that is that at the end of the day, I think the Nord still has a better Rhodes, Clavinet, Wurlitzer, and a fully-modeled Hammond than anyone else out there. For so many gigs, that’s what you need, and it’s crazy that nobody else could nail it as well as they did. Still, the weak spot has remained the acoustic pianos, and I’ve got my complaints about how they did the organs (which I’m told I should write to them about as someone who’s been using it professionally for 10 years; I hear they’re receptive to user feedback).


What’s in store for 2020? Curtis Salgado is gunning for me to join his band full-time. I’m giving it a lot of careful thought. Leaving Dirty Revival has been like a divorce (an ongoing, bitter one at that), so I don’t want to dive headlong into another project immediately. That said, Curtis has asked me to join the band for an appearance at the 2020 Internationales Jazzfestival Bern in Switzerland for about a week in March. So, that’s pretty cool. Stateside appearances are in Everett, WA on 2/28, and Olympia, WA on 3/21.

I’ve got several Thursdays lined up with Reggie Houston in January and February at Catfish Lou’s, 6-9p. Catfish Lou’s is now in Beaverton; for years they had a space around NW 23rd and Vaughn. I’ll be doing that on 1/9, 1/16, 1/30, 2/13, 2/20, 2/27.

Last night I bought a Kurzweil PC88 keyboard from a pawn shop. I’m not thrilled with the action and feel of the keybed on it, but it will be immediately useful, as I don’t have a weighted 88-key MIDI controller for piano sounds. Plus, it was a pretty good deal, and came with an ATA hard case. Usually I just make do with my Nord Electro 3, which is semi-weighted (feels close to a Hammond), but I fight it all night. I’m gonna be test-driving the Kurzweil on gigs this week with a Yamaha Motif-Rack XS (the rackmount version of their former flagship workstation keyboard, the Motif). The Motif has really solid pianos, and combined with the 88-key weighted controller, it should be a massive upgrade from the 11-year-old Nord sample library. Another thing to try, though, would be updating those samples – Nord actually provides free downloads of the newest ones, and the Electro 3 is compatible with new sets, although it has very limited sample storage. Even in 2009 I was incredulous that 128MB of sample space was supposed to be a selling point. The Motif is actually even older; the boot screen says 2008… but the pianos sound enough like pianos through any speaker imaginable. One time in Seattle I crossed paths with Dan Walker, who’s been playing with Heart. In a facebook discussion, he told me he preferred the Nord pianos over all the other ones. He told me which samples specifically, and of course I didn’t make an easy-to-find note of it… I might update this post if I dig it up (but I can’t promise anything!)

EDIT – the post from Dan:
try digging into some of the more recent samples online if you haven’t. Royal Grand 3D is my go-to. Silver Grand, Velvet Grand, White Grand all very useful too depending on the musical context. I also use the uprights a LOT. Bambino, Amber, and Mellow are my faves there. And if you haven’t updated the Wurly to the “Wurlitzer 2 Amped” it’s well worth it.

You should be able to get some of the smaller-sized versions of the more recent piano samples onto the Electro 3. You might need to update the OS first, but they’ll be compatible, and well worth the upgrade over whatever samples the Electro 3 included from the factory. Bust out that USB cable and get into it! You’ll be glad you did!

Lastly, if you tried to visit this site in the last couple days, you may have seen a domain parking page, because I forgot to renew the domain. I can’t imagine the visitor count is beyond single digits, but all the same…