In creating "Passion No Distraction", I wanted to create the same experience for the listener that I had growing up, when I would put a new, usually progressive rock, album on the turntable, sit in my dad’s big recliner, and as the needle dropped, not know what to expect, or where the music would lead me. I want the listener to hop on my musical roller coaster and have their soul go weightless for a moment.
I also want to thank Mike Davila for his masterful drum skills on "Shiny Object", "All Roads Lead", and "I Saw Clouds, But It Was Sunny On Me." He listens, and used his inner beat to track some of the improv passages, for sure.
You can watch the original piano performance of some of the songs on my YouTube channel with the released full recording of the song sync'd to them. There are also solo piano covers of some of my favorite songs
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Each song reflects in some way the album title – Passion No Distraction. The songs flow in a way that musically outlines the pattern of thought and feeling I had at the time of the initial improvisational piano session, which is what I was shooting for. As I listened, heard, and added other instruments to the initial piano track, each song bloomed and I understood it. The name and essence of the song was then revealed to me.
That may sound strange and goofy-mystical to you, but that’s the thing I’ve found out about the songs. Each one reveals itself to me, and once I truly understand what it is about, then I get to know the name of the song. That whole process is what keeps me on track. For instrumental music, I think it's useful and important to explain the feelings driving the music and how the songs came to be.
The key is listening. If I don’t listen closely, then I don’t hear the song. I wander off in my own directions, quite unrelated to the song’s real identity. When that happens, I get yanked back in line because I just don’t like what I’m hearing (and neither does the song). It's discovery, rather than creation.
I came of age during the golden age of Rock and Progressive Rock, when bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Yes, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, Genesis were in their prime and releasing great new albums. When available, my dad would let me use his home office, with a nice comfy lazy boy recliner chair and some decent JBL speakers to listen to my records, often very loud. Occasionally my mom would even ask me "What was that one?" as the music boomed into the kitchen through the walls.
I like music that has surprises, that flows through melodic themes and bridges rather than strictly following verse and chorus.
I enjoy the feeling of being on a musical roller coaster, through twists and turns and especially at that point where I fly over the peak and have a brief feeling of weightlessness., where a song 'picks you up and takes you there'.
Those are the type of pieces that I selected from my library of improvisations for Passion No Distraction. I hope you enjoy the ride.
ThinkDO named itself after the way I make decisions and act in the world – through thoughts, speech, and action. I Think, then I DO. One without the other is problematic. Thoughts without speech or action don’t create change. Actions or speech without thought can be harmful and may not be aligned with my goals. ThinkDO reflects the process of thinking, then doing. Emotions also come into play because emotions affect thoughts. In the Song, there are dreamy ‘thought sequences’ that mimic how thoughts can wander through various options, fantasies, fears, and desires to form a possible future, but at some point, I chose a course and do the things needed to 'make it real'. I must DO. The song starts as if I’m going about my daily routine, then flows through a cycle of Thinking and Doing sections.
The last part of the song is called iMust, as in “I must do this”. The section has two note “punches” that voice “I Must” over and over – a nice mantra. I have some variations on that simple theme that most likely will show up in the next album release.
A Niggun is a wordless melody, usually created with a spiritual intent and focus. It can be sung using syllables like ‘Na, li, dai, ya, or just hummed. There has been at least one niggun on all of my albums. On the last one, “Chasing Stray Flames”, there were three, all played on the 30-string lyre – Traveler’s Niggun, Twilight Niggun, and my personal favorite, Niggun Menuha.
Wind Niggun continues the tradition. I like the wind. It’s alive and powerful. It is spirit and breath. Wind Niggun is a short solo piano piece, placed on the album between two longer and more involved songs to “clear the aural palette”. It is played forte because the subject is wind, not a gentle breeze.
One of my favorite words in the English language is “Infuse”. To me it is onomatopoeia – it sounds like it’s meaning, especially if you draw out the second sylable. If something gets infused, it becomes one with whatever it was infused with – energy, enthusiasm, wonder. It creates a sense of engulfing and permeating completely. It’s just a cool word.
While working with Infusion Inclusion as it revealed itself, I felt that I was infusing intense focused energy into the song. The image I kept getting in my head was of a blacksmith pounding on glowing forged metal in order to shape it. That may be true of the other songs as well, but this one claimed the name Infusion Inclusion. There are several distinct sections to the song, like most of the others on the album. I enjoy the way the organ and piano dance around each other.
Topless revealed its name in an interesting way. I have a method for naming the performance recordings I make that help to remind me which particular performance it is, especially for ones I think have potential and I definitely want to come back to. It so happened that the day I played and recorded the video for Topless, I wasn’t wearing a shirt. I think it is the only video performance file that I have like that. So the name of the file included “no shirt”, as a memory tickler.
As I began listening closely to Topless, adding other instrument tracks and increasing my understanding of the song, I understood that “no shirt”, as part of the original song identity, was transforming. The song took on several layers of meaning, kind of like a musical Song of Solomon for me. Besides the obvious meaning, “no shirt” morphed into “Topless” – no limits, with a sense of steadily rising - floating just on the verge of flying away. It’s the feeling that nothing is in my way or holding me back. I can reach new heights - of awareness, understanding – of something that was unseen before suddenly being revealed. Topless.
Fire has been a theme present in my previous albums- “Fuel For The Fire”, “Chasing Stray Flames”- I like to make real wood fires in the fireplace when it finally does cool off in Austin, using the seasoned hard live oak so abundant around Austin with a bit of cedar and mesquite thrown in. With the fire being the only light, I like to watch the flames, listen to the crackle, and smell the wood smoke. The Warm and Smoky comes from that moment sitting by the fire in the cool seasons. It has a rhythmic feel that is very much a part of me that I hear when I look at the fire. I enjoy how the high piano notes and low bass tones are leading the way at the start.
The song is called the Warm And Smoky because the song has multiple parts, like the others on PnD. Smoky named itself separately starting where the high organ comes in. It’s that little bit of haze, dissonance, and swirling that the smoke represents. Warm and Smoky together drive the song to conclusion.
The Warm and Smoky revealed its name very early on. I knew the feel of it was about the fire, the fall and winter. I know that it comes from listening to early Jethro Tull albums in the winter. Albums like Stand Up and Benefit. My musical roots absorbed a bluesy sense of winter from those albums, and I think it shows up in The Warm and Smoky.
A Shiny Object is anything that easily distracts me from whatever I’m focused on at the time. A shiny object might capture my attention and I would chase after it, sometimes consciously, other times without thought. Shiny objects can be fun and even worthwhile, but it doesn’t change their essential nature as a distraction. I rationalize the reason that I’m chasing after it and spending time, possibly money on the shiny object of the moment. In the end it is still a distraction to the pursuit of my passion and goals.
The song starts out in kind of a lazy, easy going way, like the start of a weekend, then drifts as if the mind is wandering. Suddenly the first shiny object appears, and we're off! From there, many parts are strung together. Each one represents a shiny object. The flow of the song mimics the pursuit of shiny objects, one after the other. At the end there is a triumphant piano prelude to the next song indicating that I have control and am not chasing shiny objects anymore. This leads to - Reflection
Reflection and Shiny Object were recorded in one take as one piece. As I began adding other instruments, two names were revealed for this song that belonged together, so Reflection became its own track while still tied to Shiny Object musically. Reflection is the cure for chasing after distractions. I ask myself, “Is this a worthwhile thing for me to do?” If the answer is no, then I know not to spend my time on that thing. The trick is to remember to ask myself the question. Taking the time to reflect keeps me from straying away from what’s important. It's the idea of watching my thoughts and feelings rather than just being subject to them.
As “All Roads Lead” revealed itself, I knew that the first parts that include the cello, flute, and string section had their roots in the Moody Blues “Days of Future Past”, a great album. That's how musical roots work for me. I hear something show up in a song and I know what the root of it is. It may not seem obvious to the listener but I know that was the root. The title comes from the belief that no matter what choice I make or "road" I take, I was meant to take that road and in the end all the choices and roads lead to the same place – a good place. When I make mistakes, they are bumps in the road that I learn from and that help me to make better choices to continue down the best path for me. I like that way of thinking about mistakes and how to make choices. It’s also very comforting to know that, as Master Bob Marley said, “every little thing is going to be all right.”
There’s a point in the song that has a triumphant finale feel which might lead you to believe that the end of the song, or a road, is near and everything ‘has worked out’. But no, what follows is a musical ‘uh oh’- a sense of frantic running to and fro and dealing with a Bad Life Event, whether due to making a bad decision, or something totally out of my control, like cancer. In the end, though, after a lot of effort, everything works out as it should, whether it seems fair at the time or not. How many times has that happened for real? Things move on. Crises recede in time. It's all good.
4Shadows is a little coda piece after “All Roads Lead” in the album order. It ties this album to the next, since the little melody at the end foreshadows a theme that will show up in the next album. This continuity gives strength. An analogy is the old desert custom of lighting the campfire at the next oasis from the embers of the previous fire. In the previous album “Chasing Stray Flames”, that is the meaning of the title of the song “Iktibas”; in Arabic (Literally – “borrowed from”), so the continuity continues.
I later learned that there is a "Four Shadows Tavern" in Chicago that is a dedicated Iowa Hawkeyes football bar, my Alma Mater! A nice 'coincidence'. Go Hawks!
While working on a song, I like to take a break and go on a bike ride. I listen to the song in my head and ideas and next steps come to me. I was on a ride one day while this song was playing in my head. I stopped to rest. I saw dark clouds coming from the northwest, roiling in the Austin sky, but at the time it was sunny on me. I knew instantly that the song had revealed its name.
There are troubles all around, dark storm clouds all the time. I know I’m fortunate to be able to pursue my passion. Many people aren’t that fortunate. I Saw Clouds, But It Was Sunny On Me is about that. The song has a sense of tension and to me, a noir feel to start as the dark clouds roll in - troubles everywhere - with health, with people, with countries. Daily personal trouble and large scale problems. The tension becomes an urge to remove the clouds, while being grateful that, at the moment, the sun is shining on me. Because the sun IS shining on me, I can help more, give more, understand more. The clouds will come, they always do. I've seen my share. But right now I'm standing in the sun. That’s how the song, and the album ends. Standing in the sun.