Bonkers in Honkers Part 2

When I left you, we were about to start playing at Hong Kong’s Lyric Theater- technically the reason for us being there. For an out-of-touch bebop musician like me, a relatively big pop show like this is unfamiliar territory. I’m used to playing with two or three cohorts, minimal amplification, minimal audience, almost nothing in the way of stage fog or strobe lights, and a fairly reliable absence of rampant slavering groupies; and in most ways the Bianca Wu show was very different.

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Most of this pop lark is an absolute gas. Now I may have a reputation as an elitist; an intellectual and artistic snob, but I can assure you that, as Tolstoy said, “Great works of art are only great because they are accessible and comprehensible to everyone.Read more at http://www.notable-quotes.com/t/tolstoy_leo.html#k6TJxtMzHcru8zuC.99”… The music is great fun to play; the songs are all in Cantonese, meaning we can come up with dirty juvenile approximations of the lyrics; the singer is easy on the eyes, it’s great watching the swooping video cameras narrowly miss the absurd set designs, the enormous number of seemingly inept stage crew bumping into eachother provide constant amusement, and taking a bow in front of a cheering crowd never gets tired. But a few things take some getting used to. In order to hear in a room this size, we have to listen to ourselves, and each other, through headphones, otherwise the amplified sound bouncing back from the room sounds like a garbled mess. So each of us is outfitted with a pair of “cans” (headphones, not breasts), and a small mixing desk with a knob for each instrument. Pop music- it’s all cans and knobs these days. This means I can adjust the volume level of each other player in my headphones, usually based on how much I like his shirt, and how nice he was to me that day. Our drummer Dan has the added pleasure of being surrounded by a thick sheet of perspex, giving him the appearance of a caged animal, which is not doing much to help the reputation drummers have already.

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And our musical director, Art, has a microphone stuck in his face at all times that feeds directly to us, so he can verbally hold our hands and lead us though the show. Add to this the fact that we can rarely see or hear the audience, and it sometimes feels like an elaborate prank. Albeit a fairly well paid one. The Hong Kong crowds were also presumably disappointed by the dearth of saxophone solos, but they’re a stoic people. After the shows, Bianca would chat and take photos with hundreds of fans individually, and sell more of her CDs in a night than I have of mine under my couch. We’d sneak out the back door, grateful to security for doing such an amazing job of keeping fans away from the band, and then it was off into the night.

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On our last trip, after an evening spent dodging aggressive prostitutes and bloated, ruined expats in Wanchai, Dan, Art and I (allegedly) drunkenly stumbled into a bar with what I’m going on record as saying was an awesome cover band. ACDC, Bon Jovi, Van Halen- these guys played note-for-note recreations of ‘em all. And after sheepishly asking around, it seems it’s a bit of a Hong Kong thing: Filipino bands working their arses off playing the hits for drunken idiots. Now I’m a closet hair-band fan, but what really impressed me here was the talent and stamina. These guys tear it up hour after hour, night after night, segueing from one song to the next, while showing no outward signs of the gaping chasm of crushing disappointment that presumably inhabits their souls. I like it when they do Cherry Pie. Now I’ve played in my share of cover bands, but when we had to play three 45 min sets in a night, we’d stomp our feet and refuse to put the wigs and body glitter back on until we got a pay rise, a massage, and a week off. I’m impressed, I tell you. And somehow, magically, this trip we fell into the same bar, with the same band, playing the same songs. I saw it as fate’s way of telling me to rip my shirt off, douse myself in Chartreuse, and scream the wrong words to Livin’ On A Prayer. It seems Hong Kong bouncers have a more indeterminist outlook than me.

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This photo has no relation to the story.

As I mentioned in my last outpouring, this city is known for is its food, and I’d decided to shove as much in as possible. I’d had limited success with expert recommendations, so I tried listening to the internet. One highlight was a dumpling joint 20 mins walk from our hotel where Dan and I, both fairly large lads, were politely and graciously wedged behind the smallest table available, in a greasy nook under the stairs. Crammed in amongst the mops and Kitty Litter, we perused the menu. Occasionally I like to gamble and not read the English translations, ordering based on what I think the Chinese characters might mean. Got a lot of respect for my excellent taste too- as one dish was served the room went silent and the other customers started filming me. In fact several fainted in admiration. I also waited for an hour outside Kam’s Roast Goose to have an incredible Michelin-starred lunch for 10 bucks- more of that amazing fatty crispy awesomeness. I liked it so much I offered them a slogan: “Our goose puts the “Honk” in Hong Kong!” I’m not welcome at Kam’s anymore.

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We finished up the tour with an after-party. I think you know what I’m talking about. Rock and Roll! Am I right?! Try and imagine the most debauched, depraved, orgiastic rock band party ever. Then please describe it to me, ‘cause that’s as close as I’ll get. The spring rolls were delightful. I think they had some shredded seaweed in them. Next stop: Sydney!

 

A Big Finish: Tune #8 in Pictures

We made it! The last tune in the Catch and Release series is in the can! It’ll be up online next week, and I’ll put up a video outlining the tune tomorrow. But in the meantime, check out some pics from the session (as always, thanks to the brilliant and talented Una)! And we can reveal our special guest for the big finale: the great Jerry Weldon!!

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Hempton Band in Arty Noir Masterpiece!

It’s been action central here at Catch and Release HQ, which should really mean lots of posts on this blog. Unfortunately most of the goings-on are unsuitable for broadcast. So instead we bring you BY FAR the coolest video we’ve ever been a part of.

Our resident videographer, the all-around awesome Una, growing tired of my ham-fisted attempts at music videos, took the tune and her footage from the session, and whipped up this arty little ripper. Thanks Una! Hope you dig it…

Like the tune? Buy it for a buck on iTunes: Catch Up

or Amazon: Catch Up

An Internet First: Cat Pictures!!

Tune #7 went down a couple of weeks ago, and as usual, the fabulous Una was on the scene, trusty camera in hand, to show why music is not a visual medium. But Minnow the cat’s a looker isn’t she??

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Tinkling Tune #6 All Over The Ivories

Tune #6 is in the can! It’s called “Nordberg Suite”, and will be available Monday! Here’s a quick look from the new Steinway at Mezzrow in NYC!

(Missed one of the earlier tunes? Grab ’em here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/nick-hempton/id449388179)

A Mad Dash

When we left off last, the fate of tune #6 was in doubt. With no tune written, no band booked, and a much-hyped snow storm on the way, we were right in the poo. And sure enough, poo-bound we remained, as the deadly snowmageddon blew in, burying the city in almost half an inch of snow. The sidewalks were crunchy that day, my friends. We hunkered down under the onslaught, afraid to leave our homes in case our shoes got wet. Schools were closed to prevent learning, and our engineer was trapped in his fortress of solitude in the frosty Bronx. So we had to cancel the recording. Since then, our drummer, Dan, has jetted off to be successful in Eastern Europe, and now we’re nine days from our due date. But we’re not giving up just yet.

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Smalls is booked for Monday. Jeremy and Dave are booked for piano and bass respectively. I tried to convince a certain older, fairly famous drummer to play with us, but according to his manager, the meagre fee I was offering wasn’t sufficient. The sad thing is, he’s a super-nice cat- I’ve chatted with him several times, and played with him once- and I’m sure if I’d caught him in person, he would have said yes. But it wasn’t to be. So I’m trying something different. Piano, bass, saxophone, no drums, and special guest Bruce Harris on the trumpet! Bruce is a killer young trumpeter with whom we’ve played several times in the past- he’s done Smalls gigs with us, and was a guest on our old Smithfield Sunday Session, but we’ve never got him into the studio. So this is going to be brilliant! All I’ve got to do is write a tune…

So, recording Monday, mixing Tuesday, send the tune to press and radio on Wednesday, and up online for you on Monday March 2! The pre-release sizzle- videos, photos, etc.- will all be crammed into the space of a week, but considering the whole thing nearly fell in a heap, I hope you’ll understand.

I should mention that the Catch and Release material is getting a great response when we play it live. We play every other Thursday at Smalls (the adults-only midnight slot. I work blue…), and we’ve been trotting out all five tunes, in various orders, to enthusiastic crowds.  If you’re in the NYC area, come down and hang with us, or if not, watch us on the Smalls live web stream. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but if you go to the Smalls website and sign up, you can watch everything that happens, live! It’s also a great opportunity to hear jazz musicians, who’ve forgotten about the cameras, engage in some fairly egregious slander. Enjoy!

Righto, that’s it for now. I’ll put up a vid of the new tune as soon as I’ve written it, and photos from the session will be up early next week. Cheers!

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?

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

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!