Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Gravity Leak: Album Out Now, Book Coming this Summer

I'm very excited to share that my album, Gravity Leak, is out. You can listen on whichever streaming platform you prefer, or you can download it, or you can even buy a physical copy! (Do it!)
This album has really been a labor of love. All of the tunes are my original compositions, and a significant portion of them are based on a novel I've been working on (by the same title). The first three tracks on the album make up a four-part suite inspired by the novel. The first track, "Tane and Ana," introduces the hero and heroine of the story, represented by the sax and trumpet. Besides the general instrumental representations, there are musical elements linked to both of the characters. Part II, "Gravity Leak," follows their discovery and journey to a parallel world. Again, there are musical elements representing specific parts of the story. One of the more obvious ones is the solo battle between the guitar and tenor sax, which is meant to represent one of the epic battles in the story. Part III, "Angel in Darkness," is about a specific event in the novel where Ana, represented by the soprano sax, leads others into a hellish version of the afterlife. The last composition in the suite, "Like Minds," is a musical version of one of the themes in the story, which is that united but different points of view are an important part of overcoming the obstacles that life puts in our path.

Here is a little more context for the story: Tane and Ana live fairly ordinary lives in New Boston, at least as ordinarily as possible in the year 2137 after climate disaster has transformed the earth. Tane, a save-the-world kind of guy, gave up a life of financial success to work at a high-tech wildlife refuge alongside Ana, a driven and talented field researcher. Their daily routine is interrupted when Tane starts having strange reoccurring dreams about a messenger from a parallel world who needs his help. Tane refuses to believe that there is any reality to his dreams until a breakthrough in his friend Cole’s work with gravity manipulation opens up new possibilities. With a potential path forward, Tane decides to help the messenger from his dream world. Unable to let Tane attempt the odyssey by himself, Ana volunteers to go with him. Unsure if they’ll even survive, they begin their journey with a small leap through the first known-to-man tear in space or in other words, a gaping hole in nothing.

While the novel is a fun part of this project, the music is meant to stand on its own. The album features a ton of talented musicians from Rochester, NY and Eastman School of Music, many of whom I have played with for years. The musicians include Luke Norris on tenor sax who plays a killing solo on track 3, Colin Gordon on soprano and alto saxes with a disgusting micro-chromatic solo on the title track, Brandon Choi on trumpet with a beautiful solo on track 1, Jack Courtright on trombone, Oliver Hanes on trumpet, Billy Petito on guitar who wages an epic solo battle on the title track, Julian Garvue on piano with a seizure-inducing ridiculous solo on the title track, Tyrone Allen II on acoustic and electric basses, Daniel Sunshine on drum set, Sterling Cozza on piano, Stephen Morris on drum set with a killing drum solo on the last track, and Jakob Ebers on acoustic bass with the only and definitely best bass solo on the album. The awesome audio engineering was done by Michael Sherman, Rich Wattie, and Mike Craig.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Single Released Today!

I'm very excited to share a single from my upcoming album, Gravity Leak, which will be out at the end of the month on Feb. 29th. This single is titled "Tane and Ana," and it's an original composition inspired by my sci-fi/fantasy novel coming out later this year. The track features solos by amazing trumpet player Brandon Choi and a tenor solo by yours truly. Other musicians on the track are Tyrone Allen II, Daniel Sunshine, Billy Petito, Julian Garvue, Colin Gordon, and Jack Courtright. Give it a listen!

Listen on Spotify, iTunes or Apple Music, Amazon, etc.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Rereleased Recordings and Something on the Way

I'm happy to share couple of exciting things. First, I have a new recording coming out, hopefully before the end of the year, called Tane and Anahera. It features a set of tunes for octet and quintet, and the octet music is based on a sci-fi epic that I've written (or least written in my head!). The music has a decidedly futuristic vibe, and the band is fantastic. I'm pumped to share the music with you all.

Second, I've rereleased my recordings. I've had various mishaps with releases in the past, and now they are all cleaned up and available on all of the mainstream music platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc.).

ROC Jazz Collective
This recording was made in 2017, and it features some great musicians who were all in Rochester, NY at the time. The recording features Sterling Cozza on piano, Olivery Haynes on Trumpet, Jakob Ebers on Bass, Stephen Morris on drums, and myself on sax. Oliver, Sterling, and myself contributed compositions for the recording, and my two tunes are Life Pass and Striving. Give it a listen:

Children at Play
This 2011 EP was recorded in Philadelphia with Gabe Globus-Hoenich on drums, Jordan Berger on bass, Matt Davis on guitar, John Britton on trumpet, and myself on sax. The tunes are all my writing, and they were some of my favorites that this band played. We performed regularly in Philly, and we also played in NYC and D.C. The music on the recording is an eclectic mix of jazz, rock, and Afro-Cuban. Here are the links: 
This was my first recording as a leader. My brother John and I co-led the recording with a great group of NYC-based musicians. The rhythm section features Jeremy Siskind on piano, Austin Walker on drums, and Taylor Waugh on bass. We also invited Chris Potter to play on two of the tracks from the album, my composition Ducks In a Row, and my brother's composition Anticipation. The recording turned out great, and we also had a big release show in NYC that Chris joined us for. You can see a transcription of his solo on Confirmation from the performance below. Here are links to the album:

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Kenny Garrett & Jazz Articulation

One of the subjects that doesn't get enough attention from jazz teachers is articulation. I've posted guidelines for it before here. Today's post is a follow up with a transcription. I thought I'd show the alto players some love, so I took a Kenny Garrett transcription, and transcribed the articulation. Here is the solo from Song 8 (solo starts around 57 seconds, and it's burning):

And here is a link to a PDF of the transcription.

You'll notice some unconventional markings on the transcription. I've used the letter d to mark notes that are tongued with a doodle tongue. A doodle tongue is essentially when a player gently places their tongue on the reed off-center for the entire duration of a note. This creates an articulation at the beginning of the note, mutes the note, and then pops out the next note when you release the tongue. Both of these techniques are integral to jazz saxophone articulation. They've been around for a hundred years, and they are rarely taught or marked on transcriptions. In fact, this is the first time I've wrote them out myself.

You will also see the notation (s s) under notes. For these, subtone both of the notes. Also, doodle tongue the first note, and hold the tongue on the reed through both notes. Because you are also subtoning, you will likely need to use the tip of your tongue. Release the tongue to articulate the note that follows.

Hopefully, this transcription helps you figure out some of the more subtle parts of playing improvised jazz. Good luck!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Podcast Interview

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Nick Maneila on the Everything Saxophone Podcast. We talked about my books on sound and overtones along with some of the new techniques I’ve been developing.

You can check it out here: saxophonepodcast.com/episode-055-ben-britton/

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Michael Brecker International Saxophone Competition

For those of you who haven't heard, there is a new sax competition starting this year in memory of Michael Brecker. There has been an extension on the application process, so you can enter until April 30. There is serious prize money involved ($12,500 first prize), and a chance to perform at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

To be eligible you need to be 30 or younger as of July 1, 2019, and you cannot have had a signed record deal. See the website for more details.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Basics of Voicing

In my last post I wrote about the a data-rich, super-awesome saxophone book, From the Inside Out. In that post, I explained the basic concept that adjusting your tongue and vocal cord position affects the sound and pitch of the saxophone. Many players, including my past self, have the misconception that air speed or air direction are the fundamental processes in voicing, but as the book shows, it's actually tuning the resonance of the vocal tract that is important. What everyone was right about all along is that you accomplish this through tongue and vocal cord position.

What is Voicing?
Voicing consists of adjustments done inside your mouth and body that affect saxophone playing. These adjustments include tongue positions, vocal cord position, and how open or closed your vocal cords are. Voicing is necessary to get a stable and good tone across the range of the saxophone, and it's important to developing a personal sound, virtuosity, and extended techniques.

For the low notes the tongue is high in the back of the mouth, similar to saying a long u vowel (as in "you"), but the front and middle of the tongue are lower than the back. Obviously, the front of the tongue needs to be below the reed. As you move higher the tongue pivots towards the reed. From the fluoroscopic images (basically x-ray) in From the Inside Out, it's clear that the back of the tongue also lowers for the middle register and then comes back up a bit for the palm keys.

The vocal cords are a bit more elusive, but there are some tendencies. Perhaps most importantly, there are tendencies across the saxophone family for how open or closed your vocal cords are. For example, for low notes the vocal cords are more open, like when you take a deep breath, inhaling through your mouth. For the middle register, the vocal cords are somewhat open. For the palm keys they move very close together, like whispering an "h" sound.

The vocal cords also pivot up and down. It's notable that most of the saxophone's range across all the saxophone family generally have a higher than at-rest or relaxed vocal cord position. For example, while playing low notes the voice box is generally a bit lower than the middle register of the saxophone (the exception being the soprano sax), your vocal cord position should still higher than the voice box's relaxed or at-rest position. Following are the tendencies for vocal cord position throughout the entire range. Focusing on just the first register (without the octave key), on tenor and baritone, the voice box raises as you ascend through the first register until you switch registers and engage the octave key. On soprano and alto, the voice box does the opposite and lowers as you ascend through the first register. As you ascend and switch registers to D with the octave key, all of the saxes except the alto show the voice box lowering (the alto has the voice box rising at this transition). As the saxophone ascends towards the palm key register, the soprano maintains a similar vocal cord position, the alto and tenor both show slightly lowering voice box position, and the baritone shows a raising voice box.  For the palm keys, all the saxophones, except soprano which shows a raising voice box, show the voice box lowers in comparison to the middle range. Needless to say, it's complicated and it's certainly not uniform across baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano.

Octave Jumps
One way to introduce manipulating voicing is to change the octave of a note without the octave key using either tongue position or vocal cord position. Try the following exercise:

Start with a low E or F, and then as you play move your vocal cords close together, like you are whispering an "h" sound. Simultaneously, move your tongue closer toward the reed. As you combine these two movement the upper octave will sound without engaging the octave key.

There you have it, two basic movements of voicing. Of course, it's much more complicated then these two exercises let on, but they are a good start to understanding the flexibility you have. Practicing these independently for just a few minutes today made me more aware of my voicing and allowed me to get up to 4th octave Bb (4 octaves above low Bb), using conventional alissimo fingerings, something I've never done comfortably before.