Track by Track With Cap'n Ghostnote
Here we are, with my fake press credentials I have scored an early listen and opportunity to write about the new Cap'n Ghostnote EP, ‘FM Jazz’! When presented with this bold idea for a record, I knew that Captain Ghostnote was too much the perfectionist to declare two different styles to emblazon across his cover and fail to deliver on each. I listened and said, "I've nothing to ask. He sort of wrapped things up with a nice little bow on it. In a change of pace today - I'm just going to cut straight to the analysis of these tracks because there's no use in you listening to me babble about anything aside from what's below. Then! We have the Artist himself commenting on my commentary! Don't ask how we did it. It's very scientific in nature and you don't want to hear me start from the top. However, you did come here for some FM JAZZ -
Pretty immediately it’s apparent why Cap’n Ghostnote chose the title ‘FM Jazz’. I don’t think 2 things go together more when first tuning into this first track then FM and Jazz. At 37 seconds the intro leans into a marvelous piano run, which is not only a perfect fit for the attempt that is the album’s namesake, it is oh so very Cap’n Ghostnote.
It shows a remarkable level of skill sitting right alongside sonic imagery that is both Glitchy and entrancing. And just as soon as you were getting cozy in your head-bobbery, you’re thrown another curveball by this Wizard of the transition (an attribute I admire greatly in The Cap’n and something I can always stand to improve on myself. He just makes it look so damn easy!).
At 55 seconds we welcome back those elements which I like to call ‘the weird’, as the artist allows his electronic freak flag to fly. Seamlessly, we hear the ‘Jazz’ portion of ‘FM Jazz’ re-incorporate around 1:13 as the straightforward piano parts inter-mesh with a collage of bleeps and bloops wondrously orchestrated and very well thought out. Slowly, these more experimental elements slide out to allow for the piano to really take your breath away again at 1:46. I’m again finding myself dazzled at how much has been cohesively plugged into this track for the short runtime of this track so far! There is so much that has occurred, and we’re not even at the 2 minute mark yet!
Near the 3 minute mark I find myself head over heels with the direction this has once again been taken. With a dramatic key change, the piano turns 180. It’s a hopeful and happy run which we are now engrossed in. A very pleasant surprise from the downtrodden tone our global community has taken in this whacky-ass year that is 2020. You can’t help but bop to this! It is positively infectious!
Continuing to blur the lines between straightforward and stylistically experimental, this piano part never loses its lustre, but recedes back into a decrescendoing spiral that sees this track to a finite and certain conclusion amidst a sea of pitch bending madness!
In The Captain's Own Words - To me, Jazz is improvising in every way possible. Where you might state that grooveboxes are ‘programmed’ and only play fixed patterns, I program basic patterns and improvise on the fly. Model:Cycles is a cool FM-based groovebox that I use for most of the patterns. I load them in via the Octatrack to jam with. I record the jams on the fly. The first loops, like the bass loop, I recorded with the Volca FM. I chose to start with loops and improvise to them; although as a bass player I could have improvised the bass lines too. I decided not to; especially the programmed, repetitive bass lines gave me enough ‘anchor’ to not ‘fall into chaos’. For the rest I have tried not to modify or tweak endlessly. Jazz is about live jamming and I wanted to keep the live jamming feel a little bit.
A slower funk trope greets us, in order to lure us, into Fabulous Morning. We’re invited in, but measuredly. This departure from the tempo covered in the majority of the rest of the album, is very purposeful. It’s again an invitation to take a look beneath the hood, presented to you with just enough time for another shift to take you on a ride.
At the one minute mark, we hear the overall vibe that has taken our breath away through this EP re-emerge. There’s all sorts of glitchy electronic elements running about, always with a commanding piano part sitting up - top, lassoing in those rowdier moments. I’m finding this track to be much more rhythmically based in its foundation, the bass part guiding the lower ends of the audible spectrum cleanly through anything the lead part may wish to toss it’s way.
Just as we get cozy, at 2:50 things begin to break down. The glitch machine starts to hiccup in the background. The piano continuing, unflinchingly. We’re getting a tad weirder here, folks, but not ever at the cost of maintaining just how damn SMOOTH this is. That is, we have the ‘weird’ present in the background, without ever losing sight of the importance of a jazzy piano in order for this whole thing to work. Great structure, intricate performance and an all-around provocative and interesting track.
In The Captain's Own Words - I wrote this piece in ’17 and never got around to finishing it. The rhythmic structure fits the FM Jazz concept, I think. So, I re-recorded it with FM synthesis parts and added percussive tracks with both Model:Cyles and Octatrack. It’s the most laid-back track on the EP -or the least chaotic- but still the percussive glitches place it seamlessly between the other, more recent tracks. To me, this track reminds me of the fact that you could play the music on this EP unplugged, live, and with acoustic instruments only. If chord progressions and melodies are strong -or at least unique- enough, you’d be able to play them unplugged and they’d still stand. That goes for a lot of music. A good song can be played in a lot of styles and set-ups without losing power. I hope to have achieved that.
Fundamental shift time! This time around, we enter the world of ‘FM Jazz’ with the keys responsible for the elements of ‘weird’. This is some of the most fusion I’ve heard the album reach on that spectrum as the glitchy electronic parts pervasive throughout play off the piano part, resulting in true, off-beat chaos that, again, the Captain never seems to have any trouble controlling.
It’s a spot many other musicians would not have the attention span for. There’s a lot going on at once. But, he’s Captain Ghostnote for a reason! He is able to slip these things in and out, weaving all the way, while seemingly traveling in a straight line to the casual listener.
I’m not sure there’s a better way in which FM Jazz could have led us out un. Fairy Mesmerize sort of summarizes this entire effort beautifully. Somehow incorporating everything we’ve been hearing this entire time into 2:13.
In The Captain's Own Words - I had to slip this track in as a bonus. The awesome jazz Lady, @Pinkgreenmusic invited to jam along to a very creative, inspiring and mesmerizing little piano loop she played. I instantly fell in love with that loop. It reminded me like a slap in the face that listening to other musicians playing is always inspiring. Especially when they’re this good and do something new and unique. Listen, learn, react… That’s certainly ‘Jazz’; swiftly picking up what a fellow musician plays and improvise to that on the fly. To decide to do that ‘FM Synthesis only’ is limiting at times, but at the same time challenging and inspiring. And it has to be said: if ‘MasterMaster’ Paul Blandford (@danfurmusic) does a master, it escapes ‘attic studio’ level and starts to sound like the records you used to play. ** Editor's Note ** It should be known that aside from being a 'Master of Mastering,' Paul is also an absolute 'Master Debater.' To the point you don't want to be in the same room as the guy,
Enmeshed in electronic elements who flitter in and out, we are immediately met with another positive and uplifting piano performance from the Captain in Foolish Miscalculation.
In a short span of time, around the 45 second mark, we see we’ve been duped! The Captain pulls out the happiness rug to introduce uncertainty into his piano part. He shifts to a more minor sound which then works its way all the way up before landing us inside his ‘FM mind’ once more.
A 1980’s reminiscent FM piano lead follows, carrying us straight back towards the days of Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon, only to drift away as so many other cool elements do. What I find very interesting through what I have heard is that Captain Ghostnote doesn’t allow us to retain much, purposefully, before switching gears wholly between parts. He gives us a pleasant run as a gift, but to show he is in control, he takes it back just as soon as it was given. This is how the Master is allowing for so much to be fit into each and every track. To be honest, when reviewing track by track like this, I don’t ever have this much to say for just one song, but Captain Ghostnote has left me no choice! If I’m to do justice to his work, the influential aspects warrant mentioning. There’s just so dang many! I’m truly floored by the progress we are seeing from this very Eclectic Musician, in what is only his second release!
At 1:30 we’re dragged back to the Jazzier side of the force, only to hear the 2 concepts of FM and Jazz coalesce once more. In what becomes an off-beat jaunt on piano, there is a gradual introduction of FM and synth-y elements that turn into jabs and stabs intended on pulling you back into the fray. Until! Just as soon as your attention fully affixes and adjusts to what is going on, the rug is yanked out once more -
At 2:01 the Synthwave and 80’s concept of the FM begins trading off with the notion of jazz in the modern era. Jumping between just over a century of jazz and 40 years of electronic music, I think the foolish miscalculation here was time. The Captain makes that an illusion here for you as he immerses you into this land inside his mind where time has been forgotten and style is just a word. It’s a very beautiful track which once again makes me curse these sausage fingers of mine and wish I could play the keys like this guy!
In the Captain's Own Words - As a bass player I’ve played live jazz almost all my life. That’s why in a way this is a tribute to my years as a jazz musician. I wanted this EP to be balancing on a thin line between programmed robotic electronica and live played jazz. So not only the chords, progressions and melodies remind of that; it meant to sound like something an acoustic jazz combo could be playing live on stage. Fast transitions, live soloing, quirky brakes, shared melodies played in different keys… With all little flaws, miscalculations and wrong notes in it. With a little imagination you even hear musicians taking over each others solo’s. Or stepping away from the mic. This is where I come from, basically.
Again, the track starts with clear elements / tones signifying both 'FM' and 'Jazz' excellently. And These bits are not rampantly thrown about; for a tune 2:21 in length the transitions are quick if you’re not paying attention, but very consciously covering the scope of numerous styles. If I’m not mistaken I heard some Fusion, some Synthwave, some Improv, free-form jazz piano, some Glitch, and even a possible touch upon Ragtime (?). Either way, from out-the-gate I can tell this EP means business and The Cap’n is hitchin’ to take me for one heck of a ride!
In the Captain's Own Words - This quirky little track started the entire idea, in fact. It started as a jam. On Instagram I started a small series to see whether I could combine the cool ‘tinglyness’ of FM synthesis with the warm acoustic character of jazz. I’ve always loved FM synthesis. The small-keyed Yamaha DX100 was the first synth I bought back in the 80's. It was terrible to program and only had a very limited number of presets, but the sound has shaped an entire generation. Today, the 80's are back in the artistic and musical landscape. With new grooveboxes, like Elektron’s Model:Cycles and Korg’s Volca FM, FM synthesis is available in new, exciting and dynamic shapes. Versatile and recognizable. At the same time I grew up with the piano; so to me that instrument is essential for the warm, organic and acoustic counterweight. I did ask my IG friends what I should do: incorporate piano or keep it FM exclusive? Most of them thought acoustic piano would be the acoustic soul of the EP. And I’m definitely the worst piano player ever, but I had a lot fun finding the chords and playing the solo’s!
As a whole I’d say you’d be foolish to miss this one. If you have heard Captain Ghostnote’s ‘Strange Fish,’ you will undoubtedly enjoy this romp! Hell, if you haven’t heard his first EP, you need to hear FM Jazz as soon as you’re done listening to Strange Fish. I don’t recommend missing one single note Captain Ghostnote lays down onto a track and that is why you simply must do yourself the favor of buying both. You’ll just have to trust me that you will not be disappointed. Listen to five seconds of either EP and just tell me I’m wrong! I dare you!