Friday, May 27, 2011

Reeds & Humidity, Embouchure, & Get a free copy of my Upcoming Recording: Children at Play

Today, I've got a number of things on my mind, so I'm just going to write about them all. First and foremost, my group Unconventional Riot just went to the studio last week and made our first recording which will come your way very soon as a mini-album or EP titled Children at Play. I've started a blog-site for the group at where you can see a video of the band playing live last week and find out some more about the group and the imminent release. In preparing release I'm collecting ideas about how to promote the EP, and for the 3 best ideas I'll be giving away free digital copies of the entire EP. Post your ideas in the comments of the contest post at

Reeds & Humidity

I have recently had a little run in with my reeds. Your going to need a little context though. Over the winter time I found a great way to store my reeds. I have an air tight bottle into which I put a few pieces of mouthwash laden sponge. The mouthwash in the sponges fights off mold for a good week or two and keeps the reeds humid. This was working great until the higher humidity levels hit here in PA in the the last little while.

We all deal with humidity and reeds, so here are my 2 cents on the subject. When reeds are in a low humidity environment they shrink, just like the wooden doors in your house. They can get too soft and thin sounding when the humidity goes below the reed's ideal level. In a high humidity environment they expand, and like the doors in your house that can become difficult to open and shut, the reeds can become too hard and edgy sounding as they expand too much.

Like I was saying earlier, as the humidity hit, my reed keeping system met its match. The humidity inside the air tight container was now too high and my reeds began playing a little too hard and edgy. I solved the problem by cutting some holes into the top of my old bullion container with a pairing knife. It's definitely not neat looking, but it works great. When the humidity drops again I'll cover the holes up with masking tape or something along those lines.

Embouchure (The Frown)

Last, but not least, I recently had a realization that I'd like to share with you. I've always been under the impression that a relaxed (somewhat loose feeling) frown is the embouchure that best allows the reed to vibrate. I was WRONG and here is how. A relaxed frown apparently doesn't get enough of your bottom lip out of the way of the reed. You need a more pronounced frown to completely free up reed and hence the sound. Its somewhat tricky to find just the right frowning feeling, but once you find it you'll need a healthy amount of it. My new embouchure uses more of my frowning muscles and has a cleaner and less fuzzy sound.  Here are the clips of when I first started experimenting with this. You can hear that I wasn't completely comfortable with the pronounced frown yet, but the cleaner sound is very apparent.

Ben plays with a relaxed frown - loose frown.mp3
Ben plays with a pronounced frown - pronounced frown.mp3

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mouthpiece Refacers Keith Bradbury & Matt Voss

Today, I have a double bill for you.  The first is mouthpiece refacer Keith Bradbury known online as Mojo and located in Vineland, NJ.  The second is Matt Voss a refacer working in NYC.

Mojo Refaced Hard Rubber Link

After some time being unhappy with my mouthpiece, a Florida era metal Otto Link, I took the plunge and decided to have it worked on.  At the recommendation of Ken Barry from Saxscape I decided to take it to Keith Bradbury who is just an hour or so from Philly and a veteran well respected refacer.

My two concerns I had with the mouthpiece were its resistance and flexibility, which are two things Mojo really has figured out.  On arrival he charted my mouthpiece's facing onto a graph on his computer and analyzed it.  His first step in changing the mouthpiece was to simply clean up the mouthpiece's facing slightly and see if that was a step in the right direction.  Five minutes later I was playtesting the mouthpiece and it had clearly improved.

Following clean up we slowly changed the mouthpiece to be somewhat more free blowing. I playtested it at each step and confirmed it was going correctly which it was.  This process was very interesting as Mojo has some mathematics worked out that he follows (as many mouthpiece architects do), and he would show me the next step graphed out on the computer.  The work went quickly and was finished in just over 2 hours.  All said and done my mouthpiece now plays better than it ever has.

I've recorded the mouthpiece and you can hear it with a similar reed before and after the work.

Before: Ben Plays Motif Based Improv.mp3
After: Ben Plays Giant Steps.mp3

Voss Refaced Metal Link
Matt Voss

I've known about NYC native Matt Voss for a few months, and I've been curious in trying out his work for a while.  The opportunity came recently and I was able to play a modern Otto Link NY Super Tone Master that Matt had completely reworked.

Matt believes that a refacer should be able to take a modern stock mouthpiece and really shape it into whatever is needed, and he has proven that ability with the mouthpiece I played.  What started out as a mouthpiece known for its warm deep tone was given some fairly different tonal qualities.  The mouthpiece has retained much of its depth while taking on some brightness and power.  It feels very even throughout the lower and upper registers of the horn though it is somewhat more resistant in the altissimo register.  Overall, the work is beautiful and well crafted, and the mouthpiece feels consistent and focused.

Here is a clip of Matt's piece: Ben Plays Voss' Link.mp3

Friday, May 6, 2011

John Coltrane's Solo on I Mean You

 I recently pulled out this transcription I worked on a few years ago of Trane's solo on I Mean You from the record Discovery at the Five Spot.  I was listening to the album and wanted to check out what Coltrane was doing harmonically and rhythmically during some of his crazier lines.  This phase of Trane's playing is marked by his use of all the extensions of the arpeggios up through the 13th, and combining that concept with some delayed resolutions and chromatic movement really sum up what he is doing harmonically.  Click on the link and check it out for yourself below.

Transcription (Bb instruments) >> I Mean You Trane Solo.pdf