ADAM SMALE
Out Of The Blue
(Ropedope Records)

 

Guitar jazz continues to bloom as a still growing musical art form and for fans of the genre, Out Of The Blue is a fine 2014 release from guitarist Adam Smale. On the nine track Out Of The Blue, Adam pairs his 7 string guitar sound with a fine crew of musicians and the results make for an upbeat album of bop-friendly, guitar-centric instrumental music. Adam cites fretboard heroes like Lenny Breau, Chet Atkins, Pat Martino and Pat Metheny among his big influences and before he moved to NYC, Adam even got to work with Lenny Breau sideman, bassist Don Thompson. Some of the Out Of The Blue tracks, especially track five “Night Drive”, are somewhat rock oriented while track three, “Yes Or No”, by Wayne Shorter, is the only cover on the all original track lineup here. Commenting on living in NYC, Adam tells mwe3.com, "There is so much great talent funneled into the New York scene, you can’t help but be inspired. Plus, there is something about being here in NYC that changes your playing. I can’t explain it. You absorb both the sounds and energy, and some music history when you’re here long enough." In the CD packaging Adam provides a track by track account of the album song list while extensive liner notes by Bill Milkowski features interview quotes from the guitarist that takes you on a guided tour of his guitar history. If you enjoy modern instrumental jazz guitar with a number of diverse influences and styles, give a listen to Adam Smale’s Out Of The Blue. www.AdamSmale-Jazz.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
ADAM SMALE



mwe3: Tell us about growing up in Canada and when did you make the move to live in NYC and what do you like best about living in New York and how does it influence your guitar playing and overall sound?

Adam Smale
: I grew up in a very small, rural community in Northern Ontario. Bar River, is about a 40 minute drive east of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It was mostly farm country. Even by the time I grew up in the 1970s decade, farming was declining. Now very few people actually farm. My parents actually bought three acres of property inside of a cornfield. When I was young, 3 sides of out property was surrounded by corn. No “Children of the Corn” jokes, please! You wouldn’t even know that it was a cornfield there now it’s so grown in. When you grow up in that kind of environment, there’s very little for young kids to do. Drugs, alcohol, and partying is often the pastime that some get sucked into. Luckily, I started playing guitar at 7 years old. That was my drug. I would soon begin playing guitar any chance I could. I’d take it to school, I’d take it to family functions, and I’d play in the back seat of the car when we went into town. I didn’t even know I was practicing. I just enjoyed playing so much I just played all the time. My parents had to physically remove it from my hands and tell me to go to bed sometimes. By 12 years old I joined the musicians union and started gigging. I have been performing ever since.

I first moved to the U.S. in 2007 to begin a Masters degree in Jazz Performance, at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, MI. When I finished my degree in 2009, I moved to NYC right after graduating. There is so much great talent funneled into the New York scene, you can’t help but be inspired. Plus, there is something about being here in NYC that changes your playing. I can’t explain it. You absorb both the sounds and energy, and some music history when you’re here long enough. Unless you live here, you won’t get what I’m saying. New York has a fantastic jazz legacy that still lingers in the notes people play today. At least the great players, the ones that I dig anyway.

mwe3: What was your mission on Out Of The Blue and how do you feel the CD defines your guitar sound and your approach to music in general?

Adam Smale: My mission was to just simply put out the best recording I possibly could. So I gathered my best songs, found a fantastic studio, Water Music, Hoboken, New Jersey, hired an award wining engineer to record and mix the project, and hired some of the best musicians I knew. I hosted a funding campaign through Rocket Hub, to aid in offsetting some of the cost. It’s expensive to make a good record.

As far as guitar sound goes, you never exactly capture “your sound” in the studio. Although, the engineer, George Petit, did a fantastic job, mainly my guitar sound has been refined a little since then. For one, my pedal board doesn’t even resemble the one I used for the recording. I recently became a Strymon endorsed artist and they have just absolute killer pedals the really help maintain my tone without coloring it. I am now on the lookout for a new amplifier. I am always looking for that perfect platform that enhances what you already have, not changes it to something else. I’m really picky. If I was rich rock star I’d have the gear that I wanted. But us jazz guys have to either go in debt, or build your gear up slowly over time; or somewhere in between. Ha!

mwe3: You say your playing was very influenced by guitar legend Lenny Breau. What do you like best about Lenny’s guitar playing and how would you describe Lenny’s influence on you and the guitar world overall and what albums of his did you like the most?

Adam Smale: Lenny Breau, in many ways, broke new ground in jazz guitar techniques. He really was a true genius and it’s sad that most of the world, including jazz musicians, don’t know who he was or the contributions to jazz guitar he made as a whole. Part of that reason is there sadly isn’t too many recordings of Lenny when he was at his best. Wes Montgomery knew. To paraphrase what Wes told George Benson: “Forget what I’m doing. Check this guy out up in Canada.” He was referring to Lenny, of course. Lenny is someone who took the harmonic approach of jazz pianists and Bill Evans, as well as McCoy Tyner later on, and mixed all that up with a background in country music, guitarist Chet Atkins, and Flamenco guitarist Sabicas, to come up with a fresh approach to jazz guitar. And this was in the ‘60s! And that’s just a start. He was told that it was impossible to do what a jazz pianist does on guitar. But he showed us all it can be done. No one has come close to the technique of accompanying yourself while you improvise a solo, as a pianist does, like Lenny. His chord voicings could be so lush at times too.

I would have to pick 3 albums: 1) The Hallmark Sessions (recorded in 1961, released 2003) This is such a great recording because you get to hear Lenny when he was young and just beginning to apply his new approach. He’s young, raw, and full of energy.

2) Guitar Sounds From Lenny Breau (1968) It was Lenny’s first big break, being recorded in Nashville by his guitar hero, Chet Atkins. Seven years after The Hallmark Sessions, you can hear Lenny has matured as a player.

3) Live at Bourbon St. (1995) You hear Lenny on top of his game here. Recorded just months before his death in 1983, it’s a live recording in a duo setting with bassist Dave Young. Because of the lack of instrumentation, you can really hear everything Lenny is doing and how deceptively easy he makes it all sound.

mwe3: What were your early guitar studies like in Canada and would you say you were more influenced by jazz than rock especially as your new CD Out Of The Blue is very much rooted in the jazz guitar style? How about the influence of rock guitarists on your sound and can you cite some of the differences between the rock and jazz guitar styles?

Adam Smale: My early studies were taking lessons at a music lesson place learning mostly out of the classic Mel Bay books starting at age 7. I am grateful that I learned how to read music. It set a good foundation However, I learned more things on my own. By the time I was 9 or 10, I was learning some songs off of my dad’s record collection. It’s funny because even then it was guitar instrumentals I was learning. Some guitar boogie woogies, surf guitar stuff like The Ventures, and eventually Chet Atkins. My dad had a book and accompanying record called Hum and Strum Along with Chet. That was a big part of learning to play fingerstyle. Eventually I started learning bluegrass tunes and also played 5-string banjo in my teens which also influenced my fingerstyle approach, I’m sure.

Later as I entered my teens I was checking out Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, and the guys from Aerosmith, bluesy type of rock ‘n roll. Then around 16 I heard Edward Van Halen. Even though I was still playing country on the weekends in the band, I was immersed in Eddie’s playing during the week. Out went the thumbpick for many years. I never really wanted to sound like him, but I would jam along to the recordings. It wasn’t just his incredible virtuosity, it was his tone, feel, and impeccable time as well. His energy was just incredible. He was very influential to me as a musician then, I am sure something from him remains in my playing today even though I don’t sound anything like him.

mwe3: Who else were among your big guitar influences? I was surprised that the only non original on Out Of The Blue is “Yes And No” by Wayne Shorter who played in Weather Report. How easy or difficult was it to transcribe that track for guitar and in what ways did Wayne Shorter influence, both as a solo artist and in Weather Report influence your guitar playing and music writing?

Adam Smale: You could say anything I ever learned or heard has influenced me. But that’s too short of an answer. Right? Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were as much of an influence, along with all the country songs - old school country or the rock tinged country of the day back then - as Chet Atkins, Albert Lee, and Eddie Van Halen was. It was Eddie Van Halen that got me playing jazz. He was always going on about Alan Holdsworth. When I heard Holdsworth at 19, my jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t even imagine guitar, music, or an ensemble could even sound like that. That’s when I decided I had to go to school to study music. So you could say Holdsworth is a bit of an influence in playing and in influencing my decision to “get educated.” Much later, Lenny Breau, Ed Bickert, and Lorne Lofsky. Then within the last 10-12 years, Tal Farlow, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Pat Martino.

As far as “Yes And No” goes, I already knew the song. I had been playing it for 20 years. But for this recording I wanted to put my own twist on it. So I reharmonized the chords to create more movement when the melody line is sparse. It goes through 3 different feels as well. It starts off in a very modern jazz sound, then to bebop swing, back to modern, then even an 6/8 Afro vibe, switching back and forth. It can sound forced or schizophrenic when you are changing feels throughout a tune sometimes, but I think it works on this arrangement. I would say that Wayne Shorter has been more of an influence as a composer more than a player. In my formative years I never listened to Weather Report. But I do think they were one of the best bands to come out of the fusion era.

mwe3: Who plays with you on the Out Of The Blue CD and how did you meet up with your band mates and what other musicians do you play with live in NYC?

Adam Smale: The personnel I recruited are all friends. I first met drummer Keith Hall, at Western Michigan University. He was, and still is a faculty member there. I then got to know bassist Phil Palombi, and pianist Matthew Fries through Keith. These guys have a long history together. They originally were band members in Curtis Stigers group, of which Keith and Matthew still are. Since they noticed the chemistry they felt, as well as the camaraderie they had, they decided to form their own group, Tri-Fi. They used to visit the WMU and Kalamazoo, regularly.

I also play the odd gig in town with other people. I also have a regular gig at Antibes Bistro that I play in a trio setting in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan that I have had for 2 years. That band often has different people rotating in and out, but recently it has been mostly bassist Michael O’Brien and drummer Brian Fishler. These guys are a treat to play with in a trio format. I hope to be using them more often in the future for other gigs.

I also am a member of Fleur Seule (www.fleurseule.com), an upcoming group that has been creating some buzz lately in and around town. The band performs classic Swing and some Latin tunes from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but with just an ever so slight modern twist, very slight. There is a following of swing dancers that attend our gigs. It’s a fun band, and sometimes the dancing is really exciting to watch. Sometimes I get lost in the chart because I am watching the dancers instead of the chart.

mwe3: Track 4 on Out Of The Blue is called “Jazzenco” and it merges jazz with flamenco and Afro-Cuban music. How does the flamenco and Afro-Cuban influence come into play in your music?

Adam Smale: The groove that we use in the solo section on “Jazzenco” is more Afro 6/8 than Cuban. Although there is some common DNA there. I have always enjoyed the traditional music from Cuba. It’s just so different then what we’re used to in North America, at least for me. The same applies to flamenco music from Spain. Through studying Lenny Breau, I discovered a passion for flamenco guitar. Flamenco guitarists incorporate such great rhythms in the music as well as different techniques on the guitar itself. I have studied over the years on my own and it obviously has contributed to my over all musicianship. So “Jazzenco” was my attempt at bring jazz and flamenco together. I think it works.

mwe3: Tell us about your guitars and how you came to play the 7 string guitar. What other guitars are you featuring on the Out Of The Blue CD and what about favorite guitars you have now or other guitars you have, have had or would like to have?

Adam Smale: I completely stole the idea of having the 7th string from Lenny Breau. It's not a typical 7-string set up on either guitar. They have a higher string, not a lower 7th string like nearly all 7-string guitars posses. Except for a 6-string acoustic, I really only have 2 other guitars. A 7-string electric semi-hollowbody guitar that I designed and had built for me, and a 7-string nylon string guitar that I designed and built myself with the help of luthier, Tony Karol, in Canada. The electric 7-string is played on every song on Out Of The Blue, except for “Jazzenco” which is the 7-string nylon string guitar, of course.

I’m not a collector of guitars by any stretch of the imagination. That’s an expensive hobby! I just use those two guitars for pretty much anything I do. Right now I can’t see myself needing anything else. But if I do require something different, my first choice would be a Fender Telecaster.

mwe3: How about telling us what amps you’re using on the Out Of The Blue CD and what about strings and sound effects that you like to play your guitars through?

Adam Smale: On Out Of The Blue I used my old early ‘80s Roland CUBE amp. It’s a bass amp that has been modified electronically as well as the stock 12” speaker removed, a new baffle installed, then installed a 10” Celestion speaker I swapped from my Fender Prosonic amp. I then replaced the missing speaker in the Prosonic with a 10” speaker that I had from a custom built speaker cabinet I had built for me way back in the 1980s that I wasn’t using anymore. Between the Roland and the Fender, that’s all I use live depending on the gig or the venue I am playing at. I don’t like to take the Fender on the NYC subway. That’s where the Roland comes in handy. The New York City subway system is hard on a tube amp. Plus it weighs 4x as much as the small Roland amp. I ain’t getting any younger!

mwe3: For jazz fusion fans, track 5 “Night Drive” will be a definite highlight. You mention a car chase as inspiration. It does have that driving beat and guitar sound. Are you influenced by soundtracks and would you say that track has a kind of soundtrack or fusion quality to it? Is that track your rock influence coming out?

Adam Smale: Not inspired by a car chase, but a scenario of driving a little to fast down an empty country road at night for sure. The headlights and the canopy of the trees whipping by creating a tunnel effect, then that song starts playing on the car stereo. A “soundtrack approach” is how I write a majority of my songs. More than any song on the CD, you can hear the most influence from my very short lived fusion days. And I guess you could say it also demonstrates that Holdsworth-ian, Coltrane-esque, sheets-of-sound thing.

mwe3: Do you still practice guitar or do you spend more time writing, playing live and arranging music? How else do you stay in shape musically, both as a guitarist and a composer?

Adam Smale: I practice as much as I can during the week, anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the day. I haven’t really been writing lately. I haven’t been inspired lately to write. Sometimes I go for periods of time not composing, other times tunes come pouring out. Right now I mostly am practicing playing through tunes, jazz standards. Whether it’s learning a tune, or reviewing songs I already know. I always have to revisit tunes. I don’t have a photographic memory like some people seemingly do. Review, review.

mwe3: “Night Drive” is followed up by a quiet track called “She Knows Me”. Is that the other side of your guitar playing, the quieter and more subdued side and how does the Lenny Breau sound influence that track and the more introspective tracks on the Out Of The Blue CD?

Adam Smale: As I alluded to before, a lot of my compositions are cinematic, at least in my mind. A movie scene plays out in my mind, or that’s the closest I can describe it, then I write a song, or soundtrack to that scene. “She Knows Me”, is a ballad that is inspired from me envisioning a scene of unrequited love. Where some one is passionately in love with a person from afar and those same feelings aren’t reciprocated by that other person. So this song represents that mixture of love, sadness, and sentimental moods. I squeak in Lenny Breau’s cascading fretted harmonics technique, where by you form a very “notey” lush chord, and you pluck out the harmonic note with your right hand 12 frets above the left hand fretted notes. Hard to explain, easier to demonstrate.

mwe3: Who else was involved in the recording, producing, mixing and design of the Out Of The Blue CD? How did you come up with the title for the album and can you tell us something about the cover art, which is great...

Adam Smale: Thanks! George Petit is responsible for both engineering and mixing the music. I had to credit George as a producer as well, because he really helped organize the session, crucial in setting everything up, and keeping everybody on-track and focused. He also had a huge influence decision on which takes would be chosen for the final tunes to appear on Out Of The Blue.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but there was a second engineer, Mauricio Gargel, on the session that recorded everything in 3D surround sound. Who knows, maybe I will have a surround sound versions of some or all of the songs to release one day.

It was mastered by Oscar Zambrano. He is a very talented guy at what he does. I am sure I soon won’t be able to afford him.

Artwork fell to the hands of a fellow Canadian, the talented, Michael Wrycraft. He single handedly captured the mood of the recording with the look and feel of the art. Of course, that’s what he does. He is one of Canada’s premiere artists for CD cover art and design.

I guess I was thinking people might be wondering “Who is this guy?” “Where did he come from?” That’s why I decided to call it Out Of The Blue? Furthermore, that’s where a lot of my songs seem to come from as well, “out of the blue.” It sometimes amazes me that the universe has handed me the tunes that I can put my name on it as mine.

mwe3: Is “Autumn Confirmation” the more hard bop side of your playing as in the Out Of The Blue liner notes Bill Milkowski mentions the song was influenced by Charlie Parker. How was Parker an influence on your jazz-based sound?

Adam Smale: Well the head is definitely very Bebop oriented. The song is much more than being influenced by Charlie Parker. I’ll explain. It started out as an experiment. I took the chord changes to “Autumn Leaves”, superimposed Parker’s rhythms to his melody from his song, “Confirmation”, and then wrote in my own pitches, or notes, to those rhythms. It turned out so good I started playing it live. And it finally ended up on Out Of The Blue. I know quite a few Charlie Parker tunes. So yes, I would say Charlie Parker has entered my musical consciousness a fair extent, especially rhythmically. Another person who greatly influenced my phrasing, I think, is Tal Farlow. Ever since I started listening to Pat Martino, I noticed my picking attack and a little bit of phrasing have taken on just a little bit of Pat’s more aggressive style as well. I had a lesson with Pat Martino a couple of years ago. THAT, was a cool experience!

mwe3: “NYC Love Affair” has a kind of rush-hour vibe to it. I can just about picture millions of people rushing home from work and the streets teaming with people rushing around town. You mention the song was influenced by something called “triad pairing”. Can you tell us more about what a triad pair is and how it shaped the song?

Adam Smale: Yes, it’s a very busy melody. And that’s why it reminded me of New York City. And one could take that title, “NYC Love Affair”, as a love affair between two people occurring in NYC, or a love affair with NYC itself. A double meaning as it were. Triad Pairs is a technique used in improvising or melody writing, where each chord in the progression can be expressed, or played on, with two separate triads. A triad is a 3 note chord. So you can play those 3 notes together (as a chord), or you can play the notes of the triads separately (melodically). In this case we’re talking about playing it melodically.

For example, take the first chord in the song, a Bb7. There are many choices you could pick, but a popular one is, taking a Bb major triad (Bb, D, & F), and an E major triad (E, G# & B). If you analyze the notes in the first triad, you have an “inside” sound, bland sounding notes, the Bb, D & F, the first 3 chord tones of a Bb7. The second triad gives you the hipper, more colorful, “outside” notes: E (#11), G# or Ab (b7), and lastly the B which is the b9. You now have two sets of notes to play to take you inside and outside the chord. It causes the ebb and flow of inside, outside. No tension, tension/excitement, releasing back to no tension again. Just like the hustle and bustle of New York.

The musicians might get that, but if you know nothing of music theory, I might as well have been explaining how the Universe works in Swahili.

mwe3: In the Out Of The Blue liner notes you say that the CD closing song “Original Sin” was influenced by Don Grolnick. Can you tell us who Don Grolnick is and how he influenced your music and the CD closer?

Adam Smale: Don Grolnick was a great pianist and keyboardist, who kept active in the jazz, pop, and fusion worlds. He was an early Brecker Brothers band member. He also was a composer. His compositions often had a busy melody, followed by even larger spaces of no melody. This took focus off the melody and allowed the rhythm section to be the center of attention, even if it’s for 4 measures. Then this back and forth musical tennis match created an interesting landscape for the listener, both in a live or recorded setting. You could say that this is a different kind of “tension and release” being utilized compositionally. Unfortunately, Don left us too early. He was roughly the age I am now when he passed.

mwe3: What else do you have planned for 2014 and into 2015? How about writing, recording and live shows that you have planned and how you’re planning to spread the word about Out Of The Blue among jazz and jazz guitar fans?

Adam Smale: I would really like to get out and perform more, tour more, play in and around NYC more. But, alas, I need help with booking. If there are any booking agents, or managers who want to work with me, please contact me. Like many artists I struggle at maintaining a routine to consistently hit places up to perform at. I’m not lazy. It’s just hard to practice at home, teach at home, teach other places, and too often be gigging nearly every night of the week performing with other people. It can be quite a challenge to book yourself. Booking can turn into a full-time job in itself. Then when would I find time to practice and write when I’m inspired?


Thanks to Adam Smale @ www.AdamSmale-jazz.com www.NewApproachToScales.com www.facebook.com/adamsmale.jazz

 

 
   
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