2024 Releases, Projects: Therapeutic Massage Cassette, Small Screens, other stuff.

September 7, 2023

I’m stopping into my neglected website with an update on future and ongoing projects. If things go to plan, I’ll release two albums next year on Soft Launch Records, my label, so-called. The first will be from a collaborative project called Therapeutic Massage Cassette, a group assembled for a few studio days this past March. The core personnel is Bryan Murray, saxophones; Zacc Harris, guitar; Joe Strachan, electric and acoustic piano, synthesizer; Dylan Hicks, acoustic piano; Liz Draper, bass; and Lars-Erik Larson, drums. Samantha Baker-Harris also joined us for a piece in which she and I worked through a dialogue (some of it had been written the night before; most was improvised) while the rest of the group improvised in response. I put the group together, wrote a handful of the tunes, and generally did the helming, but everyone contributed a piece, and we accordingly passed around leadership. It came together rather quickly and was a fun and in some ways confidence-building experience for me, in that I don’t have much experience playing instrumental music or playing other people’s charts without much rehearsal. (I did ask folks not to overwhelm me with, for instance, a heavy sight-reading challenge, and everyone was considerate about that.) The music is a mix of jazz, pop, ambient music, imagined soundtracks for low-budget film noirs, free improvisation, dub, ECM kind of folk-jazz stuff, and whatever. That album’s pretty much done save for final mixing, mastering, artwork, etc. I originally thought about releasing it as tape-only. Apt but maybe out-of-sync with my demographic; now I picture a small run of CDs plus digital. We loosely plan to do some shows next year.

The other recording project, this one still in progress, might be ready for release next fall and will be from Dylan Hicks & Small Screens, which for this album is even less small. The six-piece Small Screens carries on, but, because I enjoyed writing for a larger group with lots of colors on hand, I thought it would be fun to work with a still larger palette by expanding to a nonet for an album and a handful of shows. That nonet is made up of Christopher Thomson, saxophones; Bryan Murray, saxophones; Elaine Burt, trumpet; JC Sanford, trombone; Michelle Kinney, cello; Zacc Harris, guitar; Dylan Hicks, piano; Charlie Lincoln, bass; and Peter Hennig, drums. This past summer we recorded five pieces. I wrote draft arrangements for the whole group, getting deeper into the world of notation apps (I still have much to learn both about preparing charts and scores, and about using notation apps, but that’s one of my projects over the next few years). I then turned those drafts over to other members of the group to revise, enlarge, refine, and otherwise bring their ideas to the arrangements. It was a way to pursue the group’s collaborative aims from another angle, and my collaborators, as always, enriched the work tremendously and brought in things I would never have considered. (They also corrected some of my technical errors.) When we got together as a group, everyone, of course, contributed greatly to each performance, bringing the arrangements off the page, and improvising during the many open sections. The folks who prepared the final arrangements–of course I’ll credit everyone more specifically down the road–mostly led the group through rehearsal and performance, with me or other folks stepping in from time to time. It was very harmonious and fun. I’m proud of the stuff I wrote, too, including a few very long, largely instrumental pieces that give way to more traditional songs in perhaps unexpected places. I sometimes felt in over my head, but there was enough shore to cling to when I needed it, and the band members are very collegial and supportive. It’s a great environment for experimentation; socially enjoyable, too. We recorded about thirty-five minutes of music, perhaps enough for a short album, but I think the project will cohere more if I do some additional writing, and if we do more of this sort of advance collaboration on arrangements along with group collaboration. So I think we’ll spend two more days recording next year, and, as I say, I hope to have something for release by the fall. The album will be called “Modern Flora.” I wanted to make a short album, after two albums (three if you count the one described above) that run to about sixty minutes, but I’m not sure this will be that. I think I’ll at least aim to write shorter pieces for the second session. Unless the pieces “demand” length.

Beyond that, PPLS, the small, mostly interpretive group I co-lead with Michelle Kinney, will be playing shows here and there (it looks like we’ll do some casual brunch sets in late December at Icehouse), and Christopher Thomson and I plan to work on some recording together over the winter, some sort of as-yet unexplored exploratory collaboration probably with some electronic/synthesized/sequenced elements. Munson-Hicks Party Supplies is doing shows through this fall, lately with a mix of our own material and covers led by guest singers, which has beenĀ  fun. After our October 28 show at Crooners, we’re taking a little break. I’ll be doing a few shows over the winter but hope to concentrate as much as I can on writing music (and lyrics). I’m also taking a few piano lessons from my friend Joe Strachan–very informal (I told him I wasn’t up for homework) but stimulating.

Hope to see y’all soon.





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