Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pat Metheny Unity Group - Strathmore Concert Hall, Bethesda, MD 03/21/2014

Another spectacular concert by Pat Metheny and his current band including Chris Potter, Ben Williams, Antonio Sanchez, and newcomer Giulio Carmassi. A nearly full 3 hours of non-stop musical excellence. As usual, the sound quality at Strathmore was wonderful.

I particularly liked Pat's solo and final encore which featured him on an Ovation nylon string guitar where he played a medley of about a dozen plus of his favorite songs. I've dubbed it "Around the World in 80 Pat's".
Pat Metheny Unity Group, Strathmore, 03/21/2014
Pat Metheny Unity Group, Strathmore, 03/21/2014
Pat Metheny Unity Group, Strathmore, 03/21/2014

Friday, August 02, 2013

Just finished building my Bugle 2 DIY phono preamp. Worked first time and sounds wonderful. Very quiet and very extended frequency response. Big thanks to Jim Hagerman for creating this project!


Bugle 2: A DIY Phono Preamp

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Andy McKee @ Montpelier Arts Center 05-17-2013

Andy McKee and his Greenfileld guitar
Fingerstyle guitar player and Youtube phenom, Andy McKee, returned to the Washington, DC area on Friday night to play a fine concert of his original material for solo acoustic guitar. Andy acknowledged his debt to ground breaking guitarist Michael Hedges and played a spot on cover of the late Mr. Hedges The Layover.

Andy was in good humor and played a comprehensive set of mostly original songs from all of his albums including his breakthrough Art of Motion and the most recent Joyland. As I told Andy after the show, it is my opinion that he most embodies the legacy of Mr. Hedges. For me, it is not just about technique but the structure and flow of his music which tells a compelling story.

Opening for Mr. McKee was the very gifted Craig D'Andrea. He presented a very nice set of instrumental pieces for acoustic guitar that were varied and engaging. Craig also records for Candyrat Records which has a fine stable of acoustic guitar practitioners. Label mate, Don Ross, will be making a stop at Jammin' Java in June.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Windows 8 Trackpad Gesture support for older Laptops

As many have learned, there are a whole new set of ways to navigate Windows 8. Most of these are accessible via a mouse and keyboard. But what about the trackpads built into laptops? Especially, older existing laptops that people may upgraded to Windows 8.

Paul Thurrott did a good job documenting the addition of Windows 8 gesture support using a trackpad but noted that this support would likely be limited to new laptops designed for Windows 8. As is often the case, older laptops need not apply.

I have an Asus UL30a that I bought a couple of years ago and continue to enjoy to use. It is pre-ultrabook but shares many features of the newer ultrabooks. I’m not quite ready to retire it since I have done a few hardware upgrades to improve its performance (Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid hard drive, etc.). I recently upgraded the OS to the shipping version of Windows 8 Pro 64 (including Media Center) and had a good upgrade experience. There were a few details to work out including getting updated trackpad drivers.

The UL30 uses an Elantech trackpad. Looking at the Asus default web site for the UL30 shows trackpad drivers from almost 3 years ago. Asus has a very bad habit of essentially abandoning their hardware after they are released and are very poor at providing links to the latest drivers even when new ones have been released. Often it is much better to bypass Asus completely and go straight to the hardware vendor site directly. For example Realtek makes the audio codec in the UL30a and you can get the latest Realtek HD Audio drivers directly from the Realtek web site. Other vendors such as Elantech can’t be bothered to offer drivers and simply refer you to you laptop maker such as Asus which leaves you spinning in circles!

The dirty secret is that Asus does have updated drivers on their support site but they make them nearly impossible to find.

I have now stumbled upon a fast way to find the latest Asus drivers independent of what hardware you may have.

You simply use the Google “Site:” keyword in your search to hone in on these gems. For example to find the latest trackpad drivers that Asus has on their website you would type the following search: site:support.asus.com elantech. The top result is a list of all the latest trackpad drivers for Elantech and Synaptics in reverse chronological order!. The very top item is a very recent driver for Elantech touchpads that features Windows 8 gesture support. I have installed this driver on my UL30 that works and now I have access to several of the Windows 8 gestures!

I also needed an update for the Asus hotkeys to allow me to control volume and screen brightness, etc. from the keyboard. Using my previous example you can search using the keyword “ATK” and get an updated driver list for this critical driver as well.

It’s ashame that vendors like Asus cannot expose this search feature on their web site but as I have stated earlier, Asus essentially abandons their hardware as soon as it is released and can’t be bothered to provide links to updated drivers. Thanks to Google, you can circumvent this roadblock to happier computing!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Pat Metheny Unity Band @ Ram’s Head 08-01-2012

Pat Metheny and Chris Potter of the Pat Metheny Unity Band Rams Head 2012-08-01

In what has become almost an annual event, Pat Metheny rolled into town for a two night stand at Annapolis’ Ram’s Head Inn. Recently returned from large Summer festivals in Europe, Pat remarked at the intimacy of the venue and seemed pleased with the turnout. Pat’s Unity Band is a very sharp outfit featuring Chris Potter on Saxophone, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Ben Williams on Bass.

The band worked through the entirety of the recent Nonesuch Unity Band album and finished up the night with a very nice rendition of Are You Going With Me? featuring Mr. Potter on flute.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Iona @ Jammin’ Java 06/25/2012

Iona, Joanne Hogg, Dave Bainbridge, Jammin Java 2012-06-25The Celtic Progressive Rock Christian band Iona has been together for over two decades but their visits to the greater United States have been rare. This drought was relieved on Monday night with a triumphant concert at Jammin’ Java in Northern Virginia.

The two original members Joanne Hogg (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Dave Bainbridge (guitar, keyboards, bouzouki) were supported by Martin Nolan (Uilleann pipes, Whistles, Flutes), Phil Barker (Bass) and Frank Van Essen (Drums, Vocals, Violin). Despite a long drive from Massachusetts, the band was in high spirits and seemed to relish playing for the enthusiastic fans that were well versed in the band’s music.

Joanne provided a running commentary on the history and background of each song which provided depth and understanding to their origins. Much of the two sets featured music from their latest 2011 release Another Realm which really came to life in the live context.

Iona, Martin Nolan, Jammin Java, 2012-06-25A signature sound of Iona is the amazing unison playing of Martin’s uilleann pipes and Dave’s electric guitar. The synergy that this creates is utterly unique and incredibly evocative. This was showcased most effectively in the encore instrumental song Flight of the Wild Goose where Martin and Dave were able to stretch their musical muscles to glorious effect! I commented to Martin afterward about how hard this level of playing must be to achieve and he agreed that it was quite a challenge since it was not the usual role of the uilleann pipes.

The concert was very well paced with upbeat anthemic songs intermixed with atmospheric and quiet instrumentals featuring Frank on violin and Dave on various keyboards (sometimes emulating Celtic harp).

In many ways, Iona is the musical marriage between Dave Bainbridge’s unbridled musical imagination and prodigious guitar and and keyboard chops and the strong powerful voice of Joanne Hogg. Dave’s equipment occupied a good quarter of the stage with his tower of keyboards, computers, guitar synths, and effects racks. The amount of sound variety that this man can conjure is jaw dropping! A reference was made to his influences of Yes and Genesis and it is clear he learned those lessons very well indeed.

Phil Barker provided unwavering and exceptionally fluid Bass that continually propelled the band forward. Dave Van Essen was rock solid in his percussion and provided just the right flourishes to complement the music.

Frankly, the merging of Celtic and Progressive Music, and Christian spiritualism, is an explosive combination. I can think of only one other band, Clannad, that so successfully combines these elements. With Iona, musically it just doesn’t get much better than this! What a great evening. My thanks to Iona and Jammin’ Java for this rare event.

Iona, Martin Nolan, Dave Bainbridge, Joanne Hogg, Phil Barker, Jammin Java 2012-06-25

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Return of the King of DADGAD - Pierre Bensusan IMT Concert, Takoma Park, 05-23-2012

Pierre Bensusan IMT Takoma Park 2012-05-023-01

Takoma Park, MD, the original home of American fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey, once again hosted the master of DADGAD guitar Pierre Bensusan. Thanks to the efforts of the Institute of Musical Tradition, audience members were treated to the thrilling sonorities that Mr. Bensusan elicits from his George Lowden guitar and assorted effects such as the Eventide Space reverb foot pedal.

Pierre Bensusan IMT Takoma Park 2012-05-023-02Pierre remarked that he felt like he had been driving for days on end and had just found his guitar again. He opened his first set without comments and dug into several songs from his vast repertoire that trace his interest in Celtic, French, and Middle Eastern music. Often using either wordless vocals or even the occasional whistle, Mr. Bensusan’s music always told a story.

Pierre concluded the concert by making a rare move from his seated perch and launched into a improvisational motif of Middle Eastern based patterns that reminded me of the great Oud player Dhafer Youseff (click link to watch video).

Mr. Bensusan is in the middle of a 40 city tour of the US and next heads to western states.

PIerre Bensusan IMT Folk Concert Video

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Matt Flinner Trio @ IMT Saint Mark Presbyterian Church 04-02-2012

Matt Flinner Trio @ IMT Saint Mark Presbyterian Church 04-02-2012

Many will know of the work of David Grisman – the Godfather of the modern mandolin. Others will know Chris Thile – the modern mandolin phenomenon of Nickel Creek and now Punch Brothers fame. Add to this prestigious list Matt Flinner who appeared with his exceptional trio at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church on Monday night. The concert was presented by the Institute of Musical Traditions who continue to bring the best and the brightest of modern Folk music to the Washington metro area.

Along with Matt on mandolin were bassist Eric Thorin and guitarist Ross Martin who weaved a tight fabric of jazz tinged acoustic string music. Matt indicated that this was their last stop of the current tour. They played several songs from their recently released Winter Harvest record on Compass records. The precision of their playing was exceptional.

For the second set, Matt introduced their ongoing “Music Du Jour” where each member writes a new song and they debut them on stage during the tour. The three tunes were the Ross composition Circus Market, Matt’s ‘Rested, and Eric’s Flying Home. All of the songs played to the trio’s strengths.

If you have an interest in innovative acoustic music and enjoy the works of players such as David Grisman, Tony Rice, Mike Marshall, or Darol Anger, you will most certainly love the music of Matt Flinner and his trio. Highly recommended!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Saiyuki Trio - Nguyên Lê at the Embassy of France, February 25, 2012

The Saiyuki Trio Final take a bow (tiger guitar and tablas in background)

French Vietnamese electric guitarist Nguyên Lê returned to the Embassy of France in Washington, DC with his exceptional world fusion Saiyuki Trio (Journey to the West). The trio featured Mieko Miyazaki on koto and Prabhu Edouard on tabla.

Reminiscent of John McLaughlin’s genre busting east meets west Shakti ensemble, Nguyên and his companions took the concert attendees on a mind bending trip through almost all the cultures of near and far east but rooted in western Jazz improvisation. At one point, the trio played a Mieko composition (Izanagi Izanami) about the time before the world was born that was thrilling and ferocious all at the same time.

Nguyên Lê has always had a knack for a being a chameleon of sound. His guitar tone danced between playing unison lines with Mieko’s Koto, sounding like an indian mandolin (ala U. Srinivas), or at other times evoking Jimi Hendrix. His custom “Tiger’s Tail” guitar allows him to dive bomb his tremolo bar whole octaves at a time. This guitar workout finally got the better of him towards the very end of the concert which precipitated an impromptu string change. This man badly needs a guitar tech! I humbly volunteer! Prabhu ably jumped into the fray and vamped for time with a great tabla improvisation.

I have long admired Nguyên Lê’s artistry and own almost all his albums and a few bootlegs as well. This was the first time I have seen him live and I was not disappointed. If this trio is within five hundred miles of where you live, do not miss them!

Mieko-seated-with-Koto

Mieko-and-Nguyen-Playing

Koto-closeup

Prabhu-tablas

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kindle Fire Side Load Apps

I’ve been playing with my new Kindle Fire since I received it last week.

It’s a nice tablet. You can check reviews elsewhere. I was a bit concerned about the limited Kindle Fire approved apps in Amazon’s App Store. I have a few key apps that I would like to run.

PC Magazine has a very good tutorial on how to add third party apps.

I have been able to load and run the following apps:

  • HBO Go
  • Squeezebox (Logitech Squeezebox Controller App)
  • Squeezebox Commander
  • Twit on MediaFly
  • WSJ Mobile
  • Nook (Barnes and Noble Reader App)
  • Bing
  • iHeart Radio

So far, so good.