When You’re On Vacation, Bring Harmonicas: Solo Pieces from Cancun
I spent last week on vacation in a hotel in Cancun-yes, it is very nice. As always when I go anywhere for any length of time, I brought a skeleton performance setup: a Joyo American Sound, an Audix Fireball mic, associated cables, a road case with 19 diatonic harps in it, and a Seydel Deluxe chromatic set up by Greg Jones, a very smoothly responsive instrument. You never know when you might want to perform, and it’s better to have a few reliable pieces of gear than not, especially when they don’t take up lots of space or weight in a suitcase and you have plenty of time to show airport security what’s in the cases.
As it happened, the only gear I used for anything but practice was the contents of the diatonic harp case. I signed up for a recording session offered through the hotel–why not?–and found that the session was in a small boxy room, untreated except for sound-deadening flooring–I could hear a long tail when I clapped my hands–equipped with a typical SM58-style vocal mic on a boom stand, a computer and M-Audio interface, and FL Studio software. I had only half an hour, so I walked in, got a level on the gear they had up, and started playing without headphones or monitor–why bother with either when you can hear yourself in the room just fine? The pieces linked below are the result.
There are no overdubs and no post-recording edits to the performances (except for the reverb apparently added by the engineer before mixing down). I think the recorded sound is much better than one might have expected, remarkably good given how limited the equipment and space were and how little time we had to do the job. I think the strong directionality of the dynamic vocal mic probably helped to minimize reflections in the recorded signal.
Lightnin Bounce–a solo harmonica version of an instrumental inspired by Little Walter and Charlie Christian. Played in 2nd position on a Country-tuned Delta Frost B harp (draw 5 reed sharped 1/2 step). Not my first choice for make and model, but it was the only country-tuned harp I had with me, and it did the job.
G Dorian Improv–I improvised this piece by pulling together a line I played for the solo on my cover of Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again” from my new release “Blue Future” with a chorded riff inspired by the same song on a G Dorian Hohner Pro Harp harmonica (standard C harp with draw 3 and 7 reeds flattened 1/2 step–the same harp I used on the record) in 2nd position. The contrary motion that begins with a double octave split in the main theme is played in real time, no overdubs or edits, as the same riff was played on “On The Road Again”.
Epic–this piece is played on a standard-tuned Manji harmonica with Hammond cover plates (in Db, I think) in 2nd position. The composition is still in flux, but the overall theme and vib–a big-sky Western movie theme–are clear. Open perfect 5ths and 12ths are two of my favorite textures on the harmonica, and this piece uses them liberally. One or two shaky notes in the second half of the first section, but otherwise the piece lives up to its name. Hey, first time all the way through, gimme a break. Chords and lines, parallel or contrary, are of course played in real time without overdubs or edits.
Lightnin Bounce alternate–another take on this tune, same harmonica, substantially different in the solo.
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