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Working with a couple musical geniuses...

Or is it Geniii?  Hey everybody:  a few notes on some things I have coming up, and one in progress!  Just finished five days in Portland, OR, working with Gino Vannelli on his new CD, and am again reminded what an incredible musician the guy is.  We did a CD 20 years ago called “Slow Love”, and I was really struck by the depth of his writing, producing, singing, mixing, you name it.  That one took a LONG TIME, as we did almost the entire record in Logic on the computer, programming drums, bass, keys, guitars, horns, strings…I even took a nice little “harmonica” solo on a sound we built out of our own samples in a Kurzweil K2000.  Great record, and 20 years later we picked up right where we left off, but older and wiser. 

Gino’s writing has as much really cool harmony in it as anybody can fit into a contemporary song;  this CD is a kind of “Americana” one, with a small band featuring slide guitar, piano, percussion, pedal steel, harmonica, and some string sections.  But it’s as sophisticated as it gets, yet incredibly friendly to the ear. 

We are both extremely meticulous about laying it down, and a lot of what we did is sort of extreme finessing of the programmed parts, for example wringing every possible nuance out of a steel-string guitar part.  We listened to a dozen sampled guitars before picking the one best suited for the song, and then figured out how to get the most nuance and realism out of it.  Gino’s a pretty good guitar player, so we made sure that everything we did was playable on the real thing, but this approach lets us zero in on every aspect of the performance in a way that would drive a real guitarist quite crazy.  The depth of control you can get in NI’s Kontakt sampler is fantastic these days, and we had a great time getting things right.  

Gino and I are almost comically in sync as we work on these tracks;  we’ll both say “need some 250 on that guitar” at the same time, for example.  And we really agree on what’s the right musical balance as we’re laying parts in.  Fun stuff, and Gino’s writing will ever astound, so much harmony in which every chord is a new and ingenious surprise.  Look for this one in the first half of 2017!

Also, I’ve been playing with Armand Sabal-Lecco’s Positive Army, which is a hell of a fun experience. Armand is the great bassist from Cameroon who played on all the big Paul Simon tours in the 1990’s;  I met him when we were both working on the Brecker Brothers’ CD “Out of the Loop”, where Armand played on “African Skies”, still my favorite track I ever produced. 

I wish I had the multi-track so we could hear each of the 4 takes we did;  Armand is somebody who is utterly opposed to playing anything the same way twice, and the different takes on bass were huge fun to hear and play with.  His band is a real challenge;  odd meters or weirdly-syncopated time feels are as normal as breathing in Cameroon, but Toshi Yanagi (guitarist on the Jimmy Kimmel show), Joel Taylor (incredible drummer) and I sometimes have to scratch the old head, or I have to re-write a chart an 8th-note away from where I originally had it, to get on the same page as Armand.  We do a crazy arrangement of “All Blues”, for example, that starts out with this incredibly sophisticated, pushing & pulling, “where’s one” bass line from Armand, but once you latch into it, it’s a hell of a fun ride! 

We’ll be playing at the Baked Potato in Studio City, CA, again on October 28 (our first Saturday there after filling the place on Sundays and Thursdays);  if you’re anywhere near there, come by, say Hi, and I’ll buy you a beer!

George Whitty teaches jazz piano online at ArtistWorks. Click here for free sample lessons!