Tag Archives: bass

“Bacon” Rocks The Hank

BACON ROCKS THE HANK (Saturday, May 12, 2012)
by Tim Birchard

Debuting to a full house at Durango, Colorado’s Henry Strater Theater, Bacon lived up to its addictive name, leaving the audience shouting and begging for more. This reviewer begs the reader’s forgiveness for not yet knowing the names of all of the band members, and for possibly even coming across as a bit incoherent at times. Having just witnessed one of the best performances of the year, I’m a bit stunned, taken aback, and inspired, all at once.

Funky and syncopated like early Jazz Crusaders, but just a little less polite, Bacon is clearly one of the most important jazz quintets to hit the stage today. Simply put, these guys are on fire. They avoid the typical jazz posturing while maintaining a commanding presence through a solid vocabulary.

Bacon’s trumpet player, Christopher Ross, runs the gamut, from gentle nuances to all-out, red-faced staccato runs.

The sax and trumpet were beautifully locked together, sounding as full as an entire brass section yet as limber and flexible as a single musician. The entire band seemed to shift and pulse like a single organism, writhing like a snake, striking at unexpected rests in perfect unison, even after only five rehearsals together. Bacon’s dynamics were a sight to behold… From soft, gentle brushstrokes of pale shades, they’d turn on a dime and bring the energy up to a blistering crescendo, mirrored by the frenzied excitement of the audience.

The guitarist’s Ibanez semi-hollow body, which he ran through a Fender Deluxe, had just enough overdrive to make it gritty; his chording was clean and brilliant, while his solos sizzled. The sax player was articulate, smooth, and able to play the fastest runs with ease, while the bassist’s 5-string finger style playing was rock solid, locking in the groove with the ever-grinning drummer.

And The Drummer. My. God. This guy was clearly having the time of his life. He was constantly playing musical jokes and laughing out loud at his own punchlines. Sometimes they were so good that I laughed out loud, as well. But as I looked around, it didn’t look like anyone else got it. All the better… it was like they were inside jokes, and I was part of the in-crowd. To see this guy in action was to witness poetry in motion. After they were finished and the next band was playing, he happened to walk by my seat, and I shamelessly grabbed his hand and said, “Dude! You are freaking amazing!” He thanked me, with a stunned look. Either he thought I was a freak, or he doesn’t actually realize how good he is. Maybe that’s for the best; he was clearly playing for the love of it, devoid of any hint of ego. Just like everyone else in the band.

The trumpet player, Chris Ross, has a knack for playing exactly the notes that sound right… like an artist who knows instinctively what color to use in any given situation. From subtle nuances to all-out, red-faced, staccato jamming, it sounded at times as if Chris was blowing his soul out through his horn.

The only disappointment of the night was that Bacon left the stage after only three songs, turning the mic over to the headliners of the evening. Hopefully the next time Bacon performs, it’ll be for at least 90 minutes; preferably for 2 hours. I will gladly buy tickets to see these guys as soon as I can. I urge you to check them out.

More Bacon, please!

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Kirtan: A path to the heart

The eternal flame of Spirit dances within every one of us. But sometimes we forget. The demands and stresses that come with living in the 21st century can keep us distracted from our true home, the inner temple of our own hearts.

Kirtan, which is call-and-response chanting or “responsory” performed in India’s devotional traditions, can be a way to remember our ever-present connection with Spirit, the I AM energy, God, the Life Force, a Higher Power, or whatever we want to call it. The language we use to express love does not matter; whether we sing and chant devotional phrases in Sanskrit (the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism), Spanish, English, or any language, our voices create physical vibrations that carry the intention of our hearts. Regardless of our language, religion, political position, ethnicity, or station in life, these vibrations act like a pebble dropped into a pond, sending forth ripples of compassion and love that spread ever outward.

Some of us may feel uncomfortable walking into a church, chanting, or praying, as a result of feeling judged in the past. Practicing kirtan with people who create a supportive, safe, and accepting environment can be one way among many to become reacquainted with our inner love and continue the process of healing the perceived wounds that prevent us from practicing forgiveness, compassion, and dana, or generosity in our own lives. The more we can suspend our own judgment of ourselves and others (which is a practice of the intellect, and never of the Heart), the more we can see ourselves, others, and the world through our hearts, an act of which the intellect, or small mind, is incapable.

More than a muscle

Why all this talk of ‘the heart’? The intellect, which resides in the domain of the small mind, would have us believe that the heart is nothing more than a muscle in our chest that pumps blood. But being heart-centered is much more than simply a metaphor for kindness.

When we see ourselves and the world primarily through the lens of our intellect, we witness illusion rather than the reality of love. This illusion is fear based, and would have us each believe that Life (which is energy) can be threatened. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj put it plainly when he said, “The real does not die, the unreal never lived.”

Any sort of attachment (attraction or aversion) is the result of misperception, and is based upon memory (a characteristic of the intellect). Desire is simply the memory of pleasure. Fear is simply the memory of pain. These are the two sides of the ‘coin’ of attachment.

Shifting our focus and attention back to the heart allows us to turn away from our intellect (a servant of the heart), to turn away from fear and scarcity-consciousness, returning to our natural state of unconditional love, which is our birthright. Residing in our natural state of unconditional love, we effortlessly find ourselves surrounded by abundance and filled with joy. The world becomes, in the words of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, an “unceasing banquet of delight.”

Note that this does not affect my abilities to use my intellect for its intended purpose of serving. I am still perfectly able to call upon my analytical abilities as I need them, relaxing and resting in tranquility when I do not. No need to let my intellect torment me day and night with fears, worries, and strategies for vanquishing my (perceived) foes. Like a lawnmower, I can start it up when I need it and put it in the garage when I’m done. The intellect is invaluable tool, and makes a fantastic servant. But a lousy master.

Getting back in touch

While we could fill a library with the multitude of pathways for becoming more heart-centered, two techniques in particular are my favorites, due to their simplicity.

Hand on heart

The first is to simply place my hand on my heart when I’m talking with someone. (Yes, it’s that simple.) On a subconscious level, this shifts attention and awareness to my heart, and affects my perception accordingly. On a conscious level, the more I can actually feel the warmth of my own hand on my chest as I listen to what the other person is saying, the more I’m reminded to bring forth my heart-awareness into the conversation. If I find I’m becoming angry or judgmental, I can press my hand into my chest or gently tap my chest with my finger to help shift my focus downward, out of my head and into my heart.

What I like about this technique is that I can practice it without anyone knowing what I’m doing. During kirtan, of course, this is not a concern for me; it usually feels safe to assume that most of us in the room singing, chanting, and dancing are interested in becoming reacquainted with our heart-centered Higher Self. But when I’m standing in line at the coffee shop, still half-asleep and feeling a little grouchy, it may not feel as easy to be so open.

The great part is that, in times like this, I don’t have to tell anyone why my hand is on my heart; no need to go into all that with the guy behind the coffee counter. And yet we’re both still getting the benefit of this practice. (It’s almost like I get to be an undercover spy for a moment; they think I’m just putting my hand on my chest, when actually, I’m reawakening love and compassion.)

Alternately, I can wear a necklace with a pendant that hangs down and rests against the heart area of my chest. This is a great adaptation for those of us who may have physical difficulty raising an arm to place a hand on the heart. During kirtan, I can place my hand on my heart as I chant, sing, weep, or dance. In doing this, I complete a sacred circle of love and energy in one of the most simple and powerful ways known to humanity through the ages.

Eyes closed

A second method I use for shifting my atttention away from my judgmental intellect and back to my heart is to close my eyes when circumstances are safe for doing so. (Yes, it’s that simple.) This technique is especially effective for me when I’m performing music during kirtan. I commonly find that when my eyes are open in that setting, I can become easily distracted by the beauty of the participants, who are often smiling and appear to be glowing with joy. (“Oh my God, she’s so hot!”) Closing my eyes while I play bass, for example, helps me to maintain focus on my own heart, and on my intention to be of service.

Kirtan is one path that can take us back home to that ever-present connection within ourselves; the connection with our own peace, joy, and compassion. And as we shift our perception back to seeing with our hearts, we realize we never actually left. In truth, we were home the whole time.

Tim Birchard, M.Ed. is a recording musician, Reiki master-teacher in the Usui tradition, and adult educator. He is a founding member of Blue Lotus Feet, an improvisational kirtan group based in Durango, Colorado dedicated to raising spiritual awareness and nurturing inner connection in the Four Corners region and around the world. For more information, contact Tim at timbirchard@gmail.com or visit www.bluelotusfeet.com .

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New music update: mid-March check-in

I blinked. Now it’s March.

Since the last check-in a month ago, music has been happening. Here’s the progress update:

Kirtan — We’ve been meeting up with fellow musician friends and exploring new kirtan chants together on a weekly basis. Think acoustic guitar, bass, glockenspeil, djembe, frame drum, and didgeridoo. First public kirtan is scheduled for April 21!

Cheryl’s hymns — That has taken a back burner, as she’s been writing new kirtan chants left and right. But recording her Hymns Volume II is still very achievable for this summer.

My solo album #7 — I now have six songs completed for my forthcoming album, “refer to manual”. Just confirmed this morning that my dear friend Cindy Coleman (Duck Girl Art) will be at the helm for the graphic design work. I’m honored to have her on board. The music has been going extremely well. Instrumentation ranges from simple ukulele, bass and vocal to keyboards, drums, guitar, bass, and a choir of harmony vocals. And while I’m far from labeling myself a bona fide bassist, the time I’m putting in on the 5-string is really starting to bear fruit. Preview here: www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com. (Click on “refer to manual”)

I did have quite a scare while tracking the latest song, “island spice” (which has taken about 20 hours of work so far)… Was so exhausted after a full day of non-stop writing/recording that I absent-mindedly unplugged my Seagate external hard drive from my laptop without going through the proper procedures. After that, my computer refused to recognize it. And the only copy of the song was on that drive. Fortunately, I was able to go into disk utilities and repair the drive. Went to bed with it ‘repairing’ (I hoped). Woke up the next morning to a terrifying message: disk cannot be repaired. My heart sank. But before panicking, I closed the dialog box, and there on the desktop was the drive’s icon. Backed up to a flash drive as well as to the laptop’s hard drive, then shut down and rebooted. And all was well.

Now it’s time to get another external hard drive; I’ve maxed out the capacity of the Seagate, nearly 500 GB. Time for a 2 or 3 TB drive.

Where will we be in mid-April? My objective is to have at least 2 more songs completed for “refer to manual” and to be fully prepared for our kirtan debut on 4/21. These will move me toward my goals of releasing “refer to manual” this summer and performing kirtan publicly.

A life with music is good!

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Day Three: Song Three

Newest song for the new album is called, “radio antenna”.

So far I’m not sure how to categorize this album… instrumentation includes ukulele, bass, voice, and now, jangly, open-tuning acoustic blues guitar.

radio antenna clip

May you create something you love. And may you let it go.

By the way…

In that strange space after recording all day and before re-entering ‘real life’. I always, always struggle with this transitional period. Sometimes it’s an hour… sometimes it’s longer.

Part of me is like, “yeah! Look what you’ve created!” and another part is like… well, I don’t want to give it my energy.

And I can stare at the clock all I want… but what the %$#! does it MEAN that nine hours have passed? Somewhere in there I ate something and went to the restroom. Drank LOTS of coffee. But where am I now?

Walking around in this half-reality, disconnected from anything… I find myself putting on anything at all on the turntable, just to take me OUT of the space I’ve occupied all day long. (J. Geils Band from 1973… or a mid-60’s soundtrack… something that vaguely resembles Grace Slick. Kind of creepy, but with a cool keyboard sound. Just get me out of my own head, please.)

Head out the door? Would be fine except for the whole issue of interacting with other human beings. Not sure if I can handle it at this moment.

Crazy? Genius? Idiot? Whatever.

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The Crud, codeine and a new album

I sit there, trying not very successfully to focus on my new guitar magazine as I wait. 

After a few minutes of gazing distractedly at random pages… the door starts to open. I set my magazine down and get ready. Then it closes again, and I hear voices in the hallway.
Opens, and in walks the Doc. Little younger than me probably… tall, lanky… giant hands and a big grin.
“I had this Crud last week. It lingered, too.”
I smile. Yes. Lingers.
“I’m gonna prescribe some antibiotics. Do you want some codeine, too, to help you sleep?”
I nod, smile growing… eyes widening.

“Make sure you measure it!” he says, half-jokingly, looking at me sideways, with a smile. “The last person told me, ‘Doc, I slept for FOURTEEN hours!”

Fender 1953 Reissue Sting Signature bass. The bass I will own by the end of this year.

“‘Did you measure it?’, I asked.”

“Ummmm…. no…”
Thanks, Doc.
Then on to Rite Aid. “We’ll page you when it’s ready.”
Walk around the store, trying to be interested in anything other than the way my body feels.
“Finding what you’re looking for?” Just waiting for my prescription.
“Can I help you find anything?” Just waiting for my prescription.
“Sir, do you need some help?” Just waiting for my prescription.
Maybe if I get on the intercom and make one sweeping announcement, they’ll stop following the guy in the leather jacket with the unpleasant expression on his face.

“Attention Rite-Aid staff and fellow shoppers… I realize it’s noon, and I should probably be at work right now, instead of roaming these aisles… back and forth, up and down… occasionally stopping to pick something up, removing my glasses and studying the label. I’d like to assure you that while I may fit the profile of a no-good, piece-of-sh&! shoplifter, I am not trying to steal any discount candy, hotplates, or lawn ornamentation. I am, in fact, waiting for my prescription to be filled. Thank you for shopping at Rite-Aid.”

But then the seventy-something year-old woman behind the counter would probably get in my face… “Sir, SIR! You are not authorized to use this Public Address system! We’re going to have to ask you to leave, or we’ll contact the authorities!
Forty-five minutes later, I give up and go to the counter. “What the @%$!, people! Where’s my sonuvab@tching PRESCRIPTION already?!!!” (Translation: “Ummm… is my prescription ready yet?”)
“Name?”
“Birchard.”
“Oh, HERE it is, right here!”
Argh! How long have I been needlessly walking around, waiting?!
Home. Pajamas. Antibiotics. Codeine purple cough syrup. Close my eyes… open them and it’s 4 hours later.
But the night will last forever.
Forever.
The long, dark night. Where visions of playing your bass are suddenly replaced with dreams of chasing a bad guy with your posse… and being handed a gun. Having the main bad guy look right at you… “You’ll never do it, you spineless wimp!” The gun is SO heavy, and so OLD. In my dream, I can barely pull back the hammer with both hands to cock it. But once I do, I waste no time in pointing it at his heart and pulling the trigger with my left hand.
My left hand?
Awaken… what time is it now? One a.m.? Three a.m.? Midnight? No… it’s almost 6 a.m. now. Night is over.
But the codeine lingers.
(Incidentally, just between you and me, writing and recording of the new album has begun. Apparently this alternate reality is just twisted and fertile enough for new seed to take root.) 

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New videos for “A Place Of My Own”

Happy to report that the mastered songs are now at DiscMakers. They estimate that the final, packaged units will arrive at my doorstep by July 20, 2011. Digital downloads are available at http://www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com or at http://www.reverbnation.com/timbirchard. Physical cd’s can be ordered by e-mailing me directly: tim@timbirchard.com.

In the meantime, I’ve been creating very basic videos for each of the songs on the album. They are designed to serve more as a vehicle for the music than as a stand-alone video. I’m not a videographer. (Not yet.)

Cheryl and I are also laying tracks for a new kirtan cd that we’re recording. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirtan) We’re recording 8 original chants that we’ve written over the past three years. I’ve just finished tracking bass, and now it’s time for me to do the foundation tracks (drums, guitar, vocals) for one of the songs that I lead on. Once Cheryl is done with all of her basic tracks, then I’ll work on adding all the other parts and shaping the entire thing into something magical that we can both be proud of.

I’m so grateful to have the resources available for creating music that makes my heart sing.

Whether it’s pop rock, metal, or chanting sanskrit, I’m a musical creature. I believe we all are. Whether we have a heartbeat or not.

Wishing you a rewarding day!

T

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Zen and the art of receiving gifts graciously

I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing that it was better to give than to receive.

In fact, the way I learned it as a child, anyone receiving a gift without offering something in return was suspect. Selfish. Greedy. I realized quickly WHY it was better to give than receive: because then the other guy owes you one.

As a result, I’ve spent the better part of my life making sure that when it came to favors, I was always ‘even’. That way nobody could pin me down: “You’re just taking advantage of others!” Nope. Not me. In fact, I won’t LET anyone give me anything without reciprocating.

Talk about a head trip.

I’m learning that there’s more to it than my initial ‘black and white’ interpretation could contain. I have a good friend who has been lending me her bass and amp for the past few months. Last night while we were having dinner with them, she told me that she had decided to give me her bass and amp as a gift.

At that point, I had two choices.

One, offer her money for it. That would get me out of the bind of having to accept a gift and ‘owe’ someone. It would also kill any joy she might have had in seeing my face light up with delight at the thought of adding a bass to the musical toolbox.

Two, accept her gift graciously. From my old, ‘black and white interpretation’ standpoint, this was dangerous. But here in the land of the heart, where colors blend together in a beautifully human and messy way, it was actually the most loving response I could offer. It’s basically a way of saying, “I accept your gift. I accept your generosity. I accept your love.”

When someone accepts my love graciously, that’s the moment when the joy of giving washes over me the strongest.

Now I realize that there’s no time to waste with my old interpretation of the world, the one that demands that I protect myself and cover my ass by avoiding someone’s generosity. Someone’s love. Contrary to what I used to believe, it does not make me ‘a good guy’, ‘a fair and honest person’, nor a ‘martyr’. All it does is reinforce feelings of fear and distrust within me. And it’s a slap in the face to the person who opened his heart by offering the gift.

In fact, it’s a little ploy that many of us use on a daily basis to try to ignore the fact that we are all truly interconnected.

“Let’s pretend that there exists a separate “me”, independent of all living beings. That my position in the world and all of my successes are solely the result of my merit. Let’s make believe that all of my accomplishments and achievements are completely the result of my own efforts. That I’m not woven into the fabric of humanity; I simply observe it. In this ocean, I’m a drop of water that moves and acts independently of all others.”

When, in reality, simply opening our eyes reveals that we truly are all interconnected. There is no separate “me”. There never was. A bird sitting on a branch dies and falls to the ground. A flower blossoms in the daylight. Miraculous. And completely ordinary.

I wish I’d known this as a child… that receiving something graciously is a way of honoring the giver, and does not make me a bad person.

And now every time I play that bass, I can think of my friend, who gave it to me from a place of love. And I can smile. That joy can spill out into the music. Through the music. Interconnection.

How about you, Fellow Artist? How does giving and receiving influence your art?

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