My previous blog looked at my journey from my original percussion controller, the "Drummstick", to the newest Zendrum, the "EXP". When the Zendrum EXP finally arrived, I was ecstatic, especially after having seen early photos of it posted on my facebook page. I'd already set up all of my studio gear in advance and when I was in Europe, I downloaded a copy of the updated ZenEdit, and even mapped out the EXP's trigger placements. I quickly learned that I actually needed to be more flexible, because those early set-ups didn't last very long!
Everything worked great; even my wireless MIDIJet Pro performed perfectly. I'd used the settings from my Zendrum ZX as a starting point, and they translated to the EXP quite easily. One of the first things I noticed was the wonderful placement of the strap locks for me by David Haney. Haney knows my penchant for playing vertically, and on the model he made for co-designer John Emrich, the lock seemed to be placed lower, to accommodate Emrich's left-handed style of playing, one of the best new features of the EXP's design.
Emrich appeared to play his EXP a bit horizontally, and seemed to have no difficulty in accessing the 9 triggers on the lower left side of the EXP. I however, don't play the Zendrum that way, and endeavored to use my right hand to reach those triggers. That worked for me much the same way Chapman Stick players use their right hand to reach the strings at the top of the fretboard. After a few days spent getting the EXP to perform as well as the ZX did, I still found I wasn't using the left side as much as I'd hoped. Suddenly, I'd remembered Emrich's video of the EXP, and how he switched positions to play the EXP, either sitting or standing, or by changing the way he hung the EXP on his shoulders. Simultaneously, I recalled a recent Washington Post article on the Jimi Henrdix Experience's rare appearance at a theater in DC, and his right-handed guitar playing.
Without another thought, I quickly switched the "neck" from my left shoulder to my right shoulder ala Hendrix and voila; both hands had a full range of access to both sides of the Zendrum, just as a Chapman Stick player might; I had my vertical approach and my left hand was free to roam about the body as never before! The wonderful, serendipitous irony of Jimi Hendrix and his black Stratocaster; calling the newest Zendrum the "EXP"; my black, "Jimi Hendrix" ZX; and my experiences with both creating and playing the Drummstick had now come full circle. As soon as I reprogrammed a few of the EXP's triggers, I was truly good to go. My ability to "finger roll", and to suddenly have 29 triggers to play with, (compared to the 16 triggers of the Drummstick and the 24 triggers of the ZX), was both exciting and enlightening. All the crashes, splashes, chinas and assorted percussion that were missing before, are now part of my regular setup. I could now also trigger multiple samples and chords.
There were more surprises waiting for me with EXP, like the MIDI volume control knob on the back; it was just amazing to watch the fader move on my GarageBand Pop Kit as I never had that feature on the ZX. After successfully programming and storing several kits, I was even able to recreate my composition, "The Girl of a Thousand Days"; a melodic piece I used to perform on the Drummstick with bells, vibes and chimes. The EXP's extra 13 triggers provided me with even more melodic combinations I'd never before had access to.
With the EXP now functioning well, it was now time to delve into the world of ZenEdit, the software program for the Zendrum created by Darin Kadrioski. Using a Tascam US-1800 USB/MIDI interface, my first task was to download and use the latest version, (2.4.1) to backup my new EXP settings on the MacBook. ZenEdit saw the Tascam and loaded my "old school" edits from EXP perfectly. I haven't tried to load any setups from ZenEdit to the EXP yet, but with these new setups, that will be coming soon.
All in all, the EXP has been a dream come true, and I'm super pleased at what Haney and Emrich have created. For me, it's the best of both worlds; It can be played vertically, or horizontally; as a melodic, or an all-world percussion instrument.
The sky's the limit really; I'm about to record several projects over the coming months, while exclusively playing with the EXP in tandem with Chapman Stick, trumpet, keyboards, MIDI guitars, 7 string basses; musicians from Portugal, France and England, and music ranging from jazz to folk, rock and avant garde! The adventure indeed continues, happily now with the Zendrum EXP.
On Tuesday, we left the chillier confines of "merry olde" England and arrived in warm, and sunny Lisbon, Portugal. I was reunited with a long-time musical ally, the Angolan-born, Brazilian raised Carlos Martins. Carlos was an excellent host, and showed us a side of Lisbon not seen by most tourists. Lisbon was surprisingly buoyant; the kids were out of school and the plazas were full of energy and life. The tiny, aged cobblestone streets are a bit slippery, but with an eye towards caution, we'll manage. Lisbon has been called the San Francisco of Europe; it has its own version of the Golden Gate Bridge, the hills and the cable car trolleys are a lot like home, and the monuments to the earthquake of 1755 is a sombre reminder of the volatile nature of this region.
Our first stop was a lovely, outdoor restaurant high atop Lisbon called "Lost in Esplanada"; great views, great food and a colorful atmosphere, I highly recommend you make it one of your stops if you visit. A Thursday night music series of world, jazz and blues is icing on the cake.
Castle Sintra and the Trolley Cars
Like the ancient castle in Carccassone, France, Castle Sintra, aka "The Castle of the Moors", is a big attraction and shines like a beacon on the skyline of Lisbon at night. Unlike Carcassonne, the castle wasn't very successful at defending the town against the Spanish invaders, and changed hands more often than not. The little yellow, "Brill" designed trolley cars of Lisbon have both an old world charm and a cute look about them that make them really unique. These things go up and down streets the size of alleys, and go where no car dares to travel. San Francisco actually has one of these in their trolley collection, Streetcar No. 189 from Porto, Portugal.
Near the town of Alverca, Carlos and I performed at the eclectic Roxy Romeo Club, once a stop for a variety of acts, the club is now only used for private functions and special events. Francisco, the owner of the seaside club, is a man who loves music, and runs the club with his wonderful wife, son and daughter. There are shops, and fantastic restaurants in this hidden cove on the Atlantic; the crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative. Portugal turned out to be one of the best parts of the journey.
The Pyrenees, Bilheres en Ossau and Spain
After sightseeing, and performing in Portugal for several days, it was time to return to France for the last concert with the rest of the Wilbur Rehmann Quartet. The devastating floods in Lourdes caused an estimated 1 billion Euros in damage, and wiped out a few roads in the south of France. Our journey would take us past that region, to the foot hills of the Pyrenees mountains, and a town south of Pau, in the valley of Ossau.
Bilheres en Ossau sits high atop the Pyrenees; this lovely village boasts some of the most spectacular views and wonderful bed & breakfasts. Our hosts at the L'Arrajou chambres were marvelous and also real music lovers .The Gite Auberge de Ossau, located down the road, also hosts a summer jazz series. It was just amazing to perform outdoors there, with a truly spectacular backdrop, and to see the rest of the townspeople, some of whom actually lined the walls of the village to see our sold out shows.
The following day, we decided to venture over the border with Spain, some 30 miles away to the town of Gallant de Gallejos. The border station between France and Spain is now a vandalized, derelict outpost, left as a reminder of the dictatorship of Spain's Francisco Franco. Once manned with security police armed with sub-machine guns and automatic pistols until 1976, it now stands as a grim monument against the backdrop one of the most pastoral settings on earth, teeming with hikers, families, shops and restaurants. The town of Gallant de Gallejos is a beautiful resort area, rebuilt with modernity, but without losing its old world charm. The town now has summer music festivals, films and a ski resort open to visitors from around the world.
Now back where we started nearly a month, ago we decide to enjoy a bit of dinner in Toulouse. An old world city with a beautiful plaza, Toulouse is the aero-flight capital of France. All of the aeronautic engineers are here and the French have recruited them from around the world. This has been a fun and exciting journey for us. So plan to take a trip, rack up those frequent flyer miles, and experience other cultures and peoples whenever you can. You'll be very glad you did! L'adventure se poursuit!
For the last few weeks, I've been traveling and performing in Europe with the Wilbur Rehmann Quintet. From the quaint little towns like Fa, Quillan, Eygalieres and Moustiers Sainte-Marie, to the lively centers of Carcassonne, Cannes, Nice and Paris. Tourist season is now in full swing; the French Open is behind us and the Tour de France is about to begin. France has also seen some unusual weather; flooding has closed the town of Lourdes, postponing the annual pilgrimage there.
The French however, are a resilient lot, and will bounce back as they have for centuries. In my next few columns, I'll describe a few of the amazing places I'll be visiting; France, England and Portugal, all the while, heeding travel writer Rick Steves' adage of "getting to know the locals, and straying off the beaten path."
Toulouse, Carcassonne and Eygalieres
After a rather uncomfortable flight from SFO, non-stop to Heathrow; (with an iPad playing, fidgety child and seats designed to extract more money than comfort), we actually arrived too late to make the French connection due to winds, however another flight was available and before we knew it, we were in Toulouse. Next up, the fortress City of Carcassonne.
The fortress city of Carcassonne...
Carcassonne is one of the largest castles in Europe; Charlamagne gave up trying to take it by staving them out, when a woman named "Carcas" threw a pig over the walls; she told them they had plenty of food, and would outlast any invasion; she was bluffing, but it worked, or so the story goes. Inside the walls are wonderful shops, food and tourist attractions for all. Carcassonne is the real deal, unlike that fake castle winery in Napa.
Our host in Carcassonne was also one of my old bandmates; ex-patriot and bassist extraordinaire; Stanley Adler. Stanley and I had played and worked with both Madonna and Brian Eno back in the '80s, so this was a real treat to have him for this tour. Stanley showed us the amazing, little known towns of Fa and Quillan; with British, Dutch, American and Australian ex-pat artists and musicians now living in the Lanqueduc-Rousillon region. Peaceful, gorgeous, affordable and idyllic, it's no wonder these folks have settled there.
We next traveled to the town of Eygalieres for the first of two shows with the full quintet. Eygalieres was even more beautiful; they were making a movie about the "Mistral" with Jean Reno; the owners of Le Cafe de la Place were wonderful and the French musicians who joined us were superb. Despite my terrible French; we were able to communicate through music; we all spoke the universal language of jazz and our vocabulary consisted of words like Monk, Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. One of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had and will truly treasure.
Cannes, Moustiers Sainte-Marie, the Gorge du Verdon and Nice
After Eygalieres, we were off to Cannes and Nice. The film festival had just ended and the "Croissette" was teaming with people. Our hosts were also ex-pats; musicians and artists. After some recording and some great jams, we traveled a mere 2 hours away to the beautiful town of Moustiers Sainte-Marie and the Gorge du Verdon; the Grand Canyon of France. The blue-green waters of the gorge is like nothing I have ever seen; caused by a combination of the clay, the micro-algae and natural fluoride. If you love Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, you will love renting a kayak or canoe as we did, and paddling up the gorge for some of the beautiful scenery.
The Gorge du Verdon, the Grand Canyon of France...
With the gorge behind us, we drove next to Nice; a vibrant, coastal mecca with food, music, French-Italian history and shops galore. You can play tennis, volleyball on the beach, hit the clubs or sun yourselves on any of the public, (free), or private beaches. Between Cannes and Nice was the Musee de Picasso in Antibles, with works also by Joan Miro and many others.
Picasso lived in this old castle, now converted to a museum, for 4 months following the events of World War II, and entered into an artistic "period of light, optimism and celebration."
There is also a Chagall and Matisse museum in Nice, well worth visiting if you are a fan of their works. After a lovely dinner with more friends and ex-pats, (there are a lot of them in Europe), it was time to bid adieu to the south of France, if only for a little bit. Next up, Paris, London, Kent, Cambridge and Wimbledon.
The Musee de Picasso in Antibles near Nice
By 2001, I'd already been playing the Drummstick, (my analog-MIDI drum controller), for 7 seven years, and in August of that same year, I finally got the chance to debut the first ever Drummstick album with a CD release show at the State Theater in Falls Church, Va. Joining me were my regular bandmates, (Celia DuBose, Neil Mezebish and Jack Wright), and some special guests, Siobhan Canty, Neeta Ragoowansi, Eric Dahlman, Carlos Martins, and the Indian percussionist Sandip Burman. Burman nearly stole the show with his incredible tabla playing, and rightly so, as he was also on tour with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones promoting their "Outbound" album with Andy Narell, Paul Hansen and Paul McCandless.
The next day, we took Burman to Wolftrap, Va. to rejoin the tour with Fleck and the Flecktones. It was there that I first met Roy "Futureman" Wooten, off stage after a great sound check. Wooten and I spoke at length about the Drumitar, (his $10,000 customized/cannibalized SynthAxe guitar synth, turned into a drum controller); my Drummstick; triplet hand patterns to play; using MIDI; it was both an insightful and illuminating experience. By then, I'd also gone through the trials, tribulations and joy of trying to obtain patents, and faced the reality of the costs, headaches and heartbreaks, associated with making and marketing the Drummstick. Curious, I asked Wooten why he never tried to manufacture his own version of the Drumitar, or something akin to it; he certainly had the money; the notoriety and the platform to promote it.
Wooten looked at me, smiled and said, "You already know why... Do you really want to spend the time and money on attorneys and running a business, or do you want to do what we do best? Play music with these cool instruments... Let someone else do it..." As it turned out, that someone else was David Haney and his custom Zendrum shop in Atlanta. Haney had created a fabulous, MIDI percussion controller: the Zendrum. Affordable, durable, responsive and light; it could even be used with a wireless box. It's approach however, was more horizontal, and worn like a guitar. Wooten also owned and used them live; but he actually played it vertically, or used it horizontally on a stand.
Neil "Mez" Mezibish, the saxophonist of my Drummstick band, actually surprised me one day and showed me a lovely maple Zendrum ZX he just bought; he then let me program it and try it out. I immediately flipped the Zendrum to a vertical position, and tried to work with it. One thing I was never able to do, was play the Zendrum in the normal, horizontal position; too many years on the Drummstick made that a bit too awkward for me. The straps weren't in the best place to play it vertically, but I resolved to move them if I ever had one. After 20 minutes or so, I'd programmed the Zendrum to a playable level; it was so incredibly responsive and amazing; I immediately loved it.
By 2007, the Drummstick had long since realized its analog to MIDI potential, and so I finally made the switch. The Zendrum proved it was better in virtually every way except one; it was designed to be played and worn horizontally, like a guitar. My Drummsticks were played vertically, much like the 10-stringed bass guitar, the Chapman Stick.
Nevertheless; Haney built me a custom, black Zendrum ZX, modeled after Jimi Hendrix's black Fender Stratocaster. Undaunted, I removed and replaced the straplocks to different places on the Zendrum, so that I could play it vertically. I'd seen Wooten do the same thing with one of his Zendrums earlier, so I knew it could be done. Voila, worked like a charm and I have to say that I honestly haven't played any of the Drummsticks much since.
Still, as much as I loved the Zendrum, I loved the ergonomics of the Drummstick more; it was more natural for me to play that way; African talking drummers played that way, and so did singer Bobby McFerrin when he drummed on his torso during a duet with Wayne Shorter. Seeing Bobby McFerrin, those African drummers and Chapman Stick players like Alphonso Johnson and later Tony Levin, gave me the idea for the original Drummstick back in 1994. For years, I'd secretly hoped Haney would make a Zendrum with a vertical approach in mind, like a Drummstick. Enter the new Zendrum EXP.
John Emrich is a big proponent of the Zendrum, and is considered one of the world's best when it comes to playing and recording electronic percussion. As it turned out, he was also interested in the idea of a slightly different, vertically shaped Zendrum. Not long ago, he and Haney recently teamed up to create the Zendrum EXP. As soon as I saw it, I knew my prayers were answered, and Wooten's words would turn out to be prophetic. The EXP will arrive in July; after that, I'll have a more detailed look at this great new instrument. Meantime, here is Emrich and a first look at the Zendrum EXP...
Over the last few decades, there have been a few notable jazz-rock duos featuring piano/synthesizer and drums; Weather Report's Joe Zawinul and Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu's "Orient Express"; Drummer Bill Bruford's duets with Patrick Moraz, and later Michiel Bortslap, (Bruford would also record and perform simultaneously with six pianists in Colin Riley's Piano Circus!); Happy the Man and Camel's Kit Watkins and Coco Roussel; Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, to name but a few.
Following in their footsteps comes "Mehliana", (an amalgamation of their names), featuring keyboardist Brad Mehldau; a fabulous player well known by fans of guitarist Pat Metheny, and drummer Mark Guiliana, who like Russo and drumming legend David Van Tiegham before them, hails from NYC's cauldron of forward thinking percussionists. Mehldau comes to the SF Jazz Center for four nights of music, each one unique; a sold out piano solo show on Thursday, a duet with Kevin Hays on Friday, with Guiliana on Saturday, and a sold out trio show, featuring Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on Sunday.
The SF Jazz Center notes that, "Over the past two decades, Brad Mehldau has earned a spot in the jazz piano firmament next to Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Fred Hersch as a supremely expressive improviser who turns performances into emotionally wrought journeys. He’s an ambitious composer and adventurous song sleuth, as likely to interpret an atmospheric Bjork tune as a treasured Irving Berlin ballad, at times seamlessly blending the two. An artist whose wide-ranging vision is impossible to sum up in one sentence or performance, Mehldau settles into the SFJAZZ Center for a four-day residency, stretching out in a fascinating array of intimate settings.
In another and decidedly electrified duo encounter, Saturday sees Mehldau on electric piano and synthesizer, joining forces with the endlessly inventive drummer Mark Guiliana for the west coast debut of their electro-funk Mehliana project. Best known for his long association with bassist Avishai Cohen and his own Heernt and Beat Music projects, the world-funk infused Guiliana has also worked widely with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, vocalist Gretchen Parlato and guitarist Lionel Loueke..."
Mehliana may release an album of the duos work next fall; for those wanting a taste of their music before then, there are plenty of videos and music on the internet, from shows in NYC and London. Like Zawinul and others before him, Mehldau uses his vintage synthesizer in a unique, yet "old school" style, with a gift for using electronic textures I didn't know he possessed outside of his well known, acoustic piano prowess. Guiliana's approach to percussion utilizes an interesting variety of cymbals, in addition to some very subtle, yet extremely complex beats and rhythmic figures. All in all, Mehliana has the all the makings for a fine evening of music this Saturday night.