Monday, February 21, 2011

The difficulty of simplicity

A great local saxophone player named Kelly Shepherd has an album entitled "The Beauty of Simplicity." Which is undoubtedly a true statement when it comes to music. However, I also find simplicity to be a very difficult thing to achieve.

When you reach a certain level of technical ability on an instrument, the tendency is to play everything you know, all the time. Sometimes it's just to be a show-off. More often, it's simply taking the easy way out. If you play a zillion notes, the right one is bound to be in there somewhere, and you don't have to do any actual thinking while you play.

I bring this up because my penchant for overplaying almost caused me to give up on this year's RPM Challenge on Saturday. I had spent a whole bunch of time playing some hopefully groovy electric piano to go over the bed of tablas, acoustic guitar and bass on the piece "The Shining Land," which is 18-minutes long and intended to be the centerpiece of the album. Unfortunately, my "groovy" Rhodes part was too busy and turned the whole thing into mush, given the complex background created by the tablas.

There's nothing like realizing at 1am or so that you have spent hours just to create 20 minutes of pure crap.

Fortunately, I regrouped yesterday, worked to channel the spirit of Weather Report's Joe Zawinul, and laid down a much simpler, swingin' Rhodes part that caused to me to get a big ol' smile on my face. In fact, I ended up redoing the bass guitar to get even more swing into things. "The Shining Land" has gone from being a pale shadow of a sprawling Led Zeppelin acoustic stomper to being a very groovy (that word again), textured piece.

Since that breakthrough, I've been working almost nonstop on a huge musical buzz. I really believe this is turning into something special.

I have, however, arrived at the moment of truth. It is time to break out the electronic wind instrument and see if I can take "The Shining Land" into the stratosphere. And I still have another 15-20 minute epic waiting for the guitar/keys/winds trimmings. Yikes.

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