Analogue Jammin’

My birthday was a few weeks ago. No, it’s ok, really. I wouldn’t have wanted you to make a fuss anyway. I’m fine. Really. But I long ago reached the age where a birthday present is more important for the thought than the item itself. I never really believed my Dad when he’d tell me that all he wanted was a bottle of booze or a book voucher, but that’s me now. If I really want something, I’ll just go and get it myself. And this year, because no one was thoughtful enough to get it for me, I got myself something I’ve been wanting for ages.

Last night, here in the New York area, we were trapped in our homes due to what was being advertised as the blizzard to end all blizzards. Feet of snow and deadly gales were promised. Public transportation was shut down, vehicles were banned from the streets, panicked suckers emptied supermarket shelves, and I got an unexpected night off work. At some point during the evening I decided I should try to be productive with these bonus hours, and set about fiddling with one of the online aids to productivity on which I waste so much time. After a lengthy period of grinding my teeth and shaking my fist threateningly at the screen, I I threw my hands up in theatrical disgust, and gently slammed the computer shut. I needed respite from this maddening technology. It was too snowy to take the penny-farthing out for a spin, so I turned to the next best thing: my new record player.

I couldn’t be happier with this new addition to the Hemmo homestead. And it’s not just sound quality- everything about the experience is enjoyable and satisfying. Shopping for records, pretending I know anything about “vinyl grading”, prissily removing every trace of deadly dust from the disc while wearing the full-body rubber suit the guy at the record store told me I needed. But mostly the fact that listening to an album is now an event: now when I put on music, I sit down and listen to it!

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Not me. Yet.

 However, at some point last night (during Bird with Strings, I believe), I was struck by the irony (or possibly, hypocrisy) of my situation. Here I am, making a big fuss about my fancy digital releases, bemoaning the fact that American jazz radio stations haven’t moved with the times, espousing the virtues of single-track online music distribution, while at home I’m listening to music in almost the oldest way possible. Next year I might upgrade to piano rolls. But really, I don’t think there’s much of a contradiction. Vinyl is fantastic, and I highly recommend it, but I don’t suppose it’s really the way forward. I’ve always thought that digital files and vinyl should be the major players- nothing against CD, but it’s neither the best sounding nor the most portable. Nor is it nerdy enough for me. Anyway I’ve got to run if I want to post this blog before the telegraph office closes.

Who else is getting their vinyl on?

Media-shy musician circulates article about self

My least favorite part of music is trying to sell it and talking about myself. —Nick Hempton

This is the lead quote from a really good write-up we just got in the esteemed All About Jazz. There’s some level of irony in my making a claim like that while giving an extensive interview, and then sharing the story on my BLOG. But nevertheless, it’s a good piece, and share it I’m gonna.

If you’re curious about this project; and the whys and wherefores of not only Catch and Release, but the current music scene, and how musicians are handling the changes, this article gives a lot of info and context. In the next week or so I’m going to give you a round up of the story so far- how the project’s working out, what’s going right, what’s going wrong- but in the meantime, have a look at this! (Click on the picture…)

And if you haven’t picked up tune #5, Target Practice, here’s the iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/target-practice-single/id957592753

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Thanks EJ for the story!

Track #5- “Target Practice”- is here!

Here’s track five- on time this time! It’s called Target Practice, and features Dan Aran at the drums, Tadataka Unno on piano, and Dave Baron at the bass. Have a listen and let me know what you think. If you dig the tune, buy it for a dollar! (iTunes link is below)

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/target-practice-single/id957592753

Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00S66GBW6

Track #5, “Target Practice”, In Black and White

Happy New Year! The silly season’s out of the way for another year, the headaches have subsided, and here at Catch and Release HQ we’ve kicked out the squatters and cleaned the stains off the ceiling. And we’re back on the blog!

Tune #5, entitled “Target Practice”, comes out this Thursday! The release date took me by surprise this time, so we’re going to have to cram two weeks worth of blog into about three days. Starting with photos!

We recorded the new one at Smalls last week. Our wonderful and talented photographer, Una, came down with an unexpected bug and had to pull out at the last minute. But as luck would have it, Dan’s younger brother was in town, and happens to be quite the talented shutterbug! Dan called him from the drum stool, and he dropped everything and hied it down to the session. And check out these moody shots! Thanks Avshalom- you saved our bacon!

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Montauk Mosey

Here’s track four- only a week late! It’s called Montauk Mosey, and features the fabulous Rossano Sportiello at the piano. Have a listen and let me know what you think. If you dig the tune, buy it for a dollar! (iTunes link is below)

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/montauk-mosey-feat.-rossano/id948409722

A pianistic stab at Tune #4

Tune #4 of Catch and Release comes out Monday! And it features the wonderful Rossano Sportiello at the piano! Sadly we didn’t get any footage of the recording session, so I thought I’d bash out a version so you can hear the tune. Rossano sounds much much much much better than this.

Buy tunes #1-3 at iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/nick-hempton/id449388179

Derailment averted by sporty fellow; delay on track 4.

To follow up on our last post, we’ve made progress! A tune was written, a pianist and an engineer were booked, and a recording session has taken place! Thursday morning I went into Smalls to put down tune 4 of Catch and Release, and I did so with one of my favourite musicians, Rossano Sportiello! An Italian native, Rossano has been based in NY for the last few years, and is one of the world’s leading practitioners of swing-style piano. He’s got a beautifully fluid technique and a gentle swinging touch which, along with his solid left hand, make him great fun to play with in a duo setting. He also, unlike this slob, knows how to dress for a recording session.

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The tune itself is a simple little thing- I wrote it in the style of an old standard, and in fact its chord progression is almost identical to a very famous old tune. I’ll leave it to you to pick which one. We did about four takes, all of them relaxed and enjoyable. It sounds pretty- I think you’ll dig it.

Unfortunately, schedule-wise, we’re in the poo. While the tune is done and dusted, it still needs to be mixed and mastered (I’m going to attempt to explain that baffling process in a future post…), and we can’t get in to the studio until December 1, the intended release date. So I’m afraid I have to push this one back a week: tune 4 will be online Monday December 8. I’ll post some trailers before then- I might even have a stab at playing this one on the piano myself…

While I’ve got you, I wanted to link to an interesting (and extremely long) article about music streaming, specifically Spotify. If you’re curious about the future of digital music distribution, have a quick skim through this. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come to accept that streaming does seem to be the way forward, but I’m no fan of Spotify. (Sadly my decision not to include Catch and Release in their catalogue didn’t make as many headlines as when Taylor Swift did it.) I understand that this is a business, and its purpose is to make money, but it’s difficult to read about these guys with their suites at the Plaza and their Ferraris, discussing selling art like it’s frozen fish fingers. I don’t have a solution, and it’s nothing new- businessmen having ripping off artists for ever- but I hope something changes. Maybe Spotify’s claim that more subscribers will mean bigger payouts is true. But for those of us in the bottom half of the sales tank, I doubt it will make much difference.

In good news, Amazon is selling loads of jazz albums for 5 bucks! Check ‘em out and buy some music!

A Looming Deadline!… Or… A Project In Peril!

It’s nothing to be alarmed about. Please don’t start burning everything or hoarding Snickers bars just yet. But we’ve got a little problem here at Catch and Release HQ. And I wanted to bring it to your attention now so you’ve got time to prepare.

A central premise of the project is the predetermined, timely release of each track, and for the first time since we started, a premise is in danger of being broken. Track four is due to drop Monday December 1, and as things stand, we have no tune, no band, no photographer and no recording date. And I’m running low on kitchen paper. Now some of this is my own fault (in fact, it would take a creative mind to apportion blame for any of it to anyone else. Fortunately I have one of those…), due to my preference for writing with a deadline. Usually I’ll book the band, the engineer, and the club, and then write desperately until some sort of tune emerges. But my ducks, far from obediently arranging themselves in a row, have skedaddled. They might have migrated south. And I definitely ate one of them.

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It takes a lot of phone calls and emails to get four or five musicians, an engineer and a photographer together at the same time. And booking a few hours in one of the world’s busiest jazz clubs involves repeated visits (they won’t return my emails) and reminders (it’s a jazz club- they don’t write things down). Seriously, there are gigs, jam sessions, rehearsals, recordings, interventions, seances, happening at Smalls about 20 hours a day. In fact, last time we had to dress as exterminators and claim to be fumigating to get the place to ourselves.

But this time was supposed to be easier. Having put out three fairly energetic performances, it seems like time for a ballad; something quiet and sensitive. And to change things up a bit, I want to do it with just saxophone and piano. We’ve gone completely mad and slashed the band by a whopping 50%! But I can’t get everyone in the same room at the same time. They all claim to have things like careers and families, just like I’ve seen on TV. We could record the parts separately, then stick them together like they do on the pop records… And photograph ourselves individually and photoshop ourselves together… But that wouldn’t be fair to you, the listener, and I have no intention of doing that much work.

So that’s where we are right now. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve yet; and I’ve been under bigger piles of poo than this and remained undeterred. There’s still hope. I’ll keep you posted.

Tools of the Trade

I just read an article in the Guardian about listening to music while reading. My dad, a voracious reader, has done this since I can remember. Bach, Brahms, Boccherini, Bocconcini, they all seemed to increase his enjoyment of his current mental fodder. But I could never do it. I tried for a long time, with various styles of music- jazz, classical, industrial screamo- at varying volumes, all to no avail. My mind would immediately focus on the music, and I’d find myself reading the same passage over and over. And I’d find myself reading the same passage over and over. I came to accept this shortcoming long ago, but the Guardian piece got me thinking about concentration and distraction, which led to something else, I don’t remember. Then I took a nap, which led to this blog about Aids To Productivity!

The work involved in the Catch and Release Experiment takes place mostly at the piano and the computer. Some composers (for the sake of this post, I’m a composer. Don’t look at me like that…) are quite finicky when it comes to their professional utensils: 2B, not 2B, quill, Nyquil… Tools at the Hempton piano consist of pencil swiped from the OTB, manuscript paper, and industrial-sized eraser. In the catastrophically chaotic corner of my hovel in which I occasionally find my desk, I employ a temperamental MacBook, and a music notation program called Sibelius. Occasionally I’ll also draw power from a giant, arid Martini. It’s a pretty simple business. But how to stay focussed?

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Earlier this year I read a blog post by estimable Australian author John Birmingham. In it he not only earned my further respect by noting that he listens to Charlie Parker while working, but also introduced me to a productivity app called Coffitivity. This thing reproduces the muted hubbub of a bar or cafe, which is apparently an ideal aural aid to concentration. I downloaded it with alacrity (they came as a bundle), and prepared to produce. But instead I found it impossibly distracting. I kept trying to pick out conversations, while imagining what the waitresses looked like. Plus, what’s the point of writing in a cafe, if nobody can see you writing in a cafe? Surely that’s the point? So I ditched the app, along with the horn-rimmed glasses and corduroy jacket, and went back to my familiar cone of silence.

But what happens when the neighbours start fighting? Or your children start rattling their cages, claiming to be hungry again? I turn to Rain, Rain. I’ve got it on the iPhone, and it provides the sound of various types of rainstorm, as well as a range of other ambient hums. It works kind of like white noise, and blocks out most of what’s going on around you. Give me the sound of a clothes dryer through my headphones, and I’m pretending to work like nobody’s business.

Got any tips or tricks for staying focussed/motivated/awake?

The Third Degree in moving pictures!

Our third little bundle of jazz is out in the world, and seems to be making friends. It’s quickly become our most popular tune on iTunes, thanks, probably entirely, to the participation of our man Peter Bernstein. Not just one of my favourite musicians, Peter is also a generous, modest, supportive dude. The session was great fun, and Bernstein tore it up take after take. If you haven’t heard The Third Degree, here’s a snippet, with video from the studio. If you dig it, please pick it up from iTunes or Amazon- it’ll only cost you a buck- and tell your friends about it!

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/third-degree-feat.-peter-bernstein/id928690451

Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00OEEZRBU

I’ll start the lead up to tune #4 in November- I’m thinking a scaled-back sound for this next one, maybe duo? I’ll have more for you soon. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the Third Degree, and what kind of thing you’d like to hear next! Cheers, Nick