Visited a cool, damp Anaheim in mid-Jan to attend the NAMM show. With over a 1,00,000 folk passing through the convention doors over four days, the buzz at this music industry convention is powerful and contagious, this year being no less.
Strategically situated by one of the main entrances was the Cakewalk booth in the Roland arena where music production demos of the SONAR X1 were being held.
What I really want for Christmas: The PianoMic System by Earthworks. The adjustable bar lies across the soundboard, and there are no awkward booms or messy cables. I think something this inconspicuous and easy to use will definitely be an incentive to record solo piano more often. [Update: Father Christmas did grant my wish!]
Visited the awesome Integratron built by in the early 60’s by aviation engineer and paranormalist George Van Tassel. Situated in Landers, CA about 20 miles from Joshua Tree NP in the Mohave desert, it brims with a colorful, if not fascinating history. The name “Integratron” actually applies to a machine, in Tassel’s terms – a high-voltage electrostatic generator, that would supply the range of frequencies to recharge cell structure. Magnetic fields and Tesla’s technique of creating high ionization static fields were also key principles in the development of this structure. Had an opportunity to sing in this all-wood acoustic chamber (only one of it’s kind in the world) and it was surreal. While I felt energy and a strong focus from my ‘center’, my voice had a re-inforced quality as if I had morphed into a tri-headed human with extra vocal cords. It was clear, rich and warm – no confusing bounce backs and garbled echoes, with the perfect amount of reverb. ‘Rejuvenating’ sound bath sessions are held here, and it would have been interesting to partake in one. The chamber is also rented out for recording sessions.
Ramona Borthwick is for me a complete artist. I have known her for several years as a web designer and my personal webmaster, but I have also been aware of her work as a musician. Recently I got a copy of her new musical adventure called ‘One of Us’ and I am extremely happy to witness Ramona’s growth as a composer and pianist, adding to this she also sings, and well. ‘One of Us’is a very nice tapestry of different musical paintings and moods.
Ramona’s compositions are really captivating as she moves along many different lines, sometimes Latin flavors, sometimes European airs, but always with her very personal touch. The choice of musicians that complete this musical endeavor could not have been better. Each one of the performers does fantastic work enhancing Ramona’s compositions. My special kudos go to Noel Borthwick (Ramona’s husband) who plays some of the most exquisite guitar I have heard in a long time, reminding me sometimes of the best work that I have heard from guitar greats (Pat Martino comes to mind). ‘One of Us’ is an album that you can listen to many times, always getting new and rewarding things from.
I really hope that this effort becomes a must listen to, for jazz lovers around the world, such as myself, a pianist and composer from México City. My most sincere congratulations to Ramona and her team for making such a great album that I am sure, will endure the passing of time and become a collector’s item in the jazz music world.
Dr. Rick – Ramona, please give us some of your background. Tell us where you studied music, maybe some of your biggest influences as a student of music.
Ramona – I grew up in Bombay, India where I had most of my formal musical training. Born into a musician’s family I was fortunate to have had private piano lessons in classical music twice a week starting at the age of six. In addition to practicing the instrument, assignments in music theory and history were aplenty. In junior high I got good enough to sub at school for the music teacher when she called in sick 🙂 This was my first solo gig playing experience, it was stress-free and a lot of fun. My listening and playing revolved around classical music during these years; in particular I enjoyed practicing Bach, Debussy and Bartok. Aside from some Brubeck and Jobim albums that were part of my Dad’s collection, I wasn’t really exposed to much jazz then. I also grew up listening to church music – Anglican hymns, psalms and choral works, and at sixteen was pumping the pedals of the old reed organ at church during choir practices and services. Hearing such rich harmonies and elegant vocal parts may have been instrumental in steering me toward the multi-layered, polyphonic style of writing I do today. Lastly there was an ubiquitous presence of film music in the background, which my father, a studio musician and arranger wrote – a blend of traditional and folk music tailored for Bollywood films. So while I didn’t actively study or play it, I was exposed to a fair amount of Indian folk and classical music. Later as a teenager, I heard Corea’s ‘Light As A Feather’ which may have been instrumental in changing my focus from classical music to the unknown and infinitely more challenging world of jazz and improvisation. I’d say my best teachers were all the jazz players whose music I transcribed, analyzed and tried to imitate.
“Who’s Your Mama” opens this recording, with the trumpet of Ingrid Jensen intoning the the notes to NPR’s “Morning Edition” before the band takes the piece on a romp. It’s a fitting and joyful beginning to the program, pianist/composer/vocalist Borthwick’s second release as a leader. She’s a fine player, displaying a style that has its roots in mainstream jazz. Her solos are often lyrical (listen to the beauty and strength of the title track) and she can really dig into her phrases. Her wordless vocals add yet another color to several of the tracks, mixing well with the guitar and trumpet or flugelhorn. One hears the influences of Pat Metheny and McCoy Tyner in many of these pieces (and Herbie Hancock in several of the solos.) Her compositions are smartly constructed, with the rhythm section of Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Adam Cruz (drums) really pushing the pieces along. Continue reading →
Great new release by Boston pianist and composer, Ramona Borthwick. This contemporary release embraces beautiful melody and an undying sense of groove. The group dynamic is superb, and the rhythmic interaction, from Rubato, time signature differences, straight eighth feels to straight ahead swing is met with a confidence and musicality. The soloists are excellent, spatial and melodic.
Disc starts with Who’s Your Mama. Ingrid Jesen really opens with a beautiful statement. Her sound is round and inviting. The tune embraces different melodic statements, with Ramona singing a wordless vocal style over an inviting melody. Then the solo’s hit with a hard groove. Many will enjoy this small group arrangement which delivers a big sound. Most of you know what a dynamic soloist Ingrid is, but Noel and Ramona are musical forces on this disc.
Roughly about a year and a half ago, I decided to start a search for a grand piano. Aside from several local stores & dealers in the Boston area, my area of exploration extended to out of state New Hampshire, Connecticut & New York businesses as well. Adding to this were helpful friends, local musicians, teachers and piano technicians – willing accomplices in my search, who would inform me of a potential instrument if it appeared on their horizon. (Thanks to Victor Belanger, whose largesse included cheerful and complete responses to my many technical queries). And of course Craigslist, which can be a bit of a wild card, but worth a try nevertheless. To find the ‘perfect’ instrument would be complicated, as perfection is elusive, but my checklist was tangible.
Size: between 5’8” – 6’8”, preferably larger than 6′
Manufactured after 1950, it’s age preferably 5-20 years, requiring little or no major repair or maintenance for the next 20 years
Width not greater than 61” or else it wouldn’t fit through the studio entryway. (The concrete bulkhead could be modified, but I wasn’t prepared to undergo a demolition to accommodate a piano)
Deep, warm, rich sound, with notes in the upper and lower extremities that you’d actually want to play and not shy away from
It would serve well for both classical as well as jazz repertoire
Suited to my budget, which would place it somewhere in the mid-level range of pianos
This one a phantom stipulation but of great importance – a piano that would inspire my creativity and compositional flow
Almost all research was done on the internet – piano companies, model specifications, dealers, customer reviews, Larry Fine’s The Piano Book, and browsing through piano forums. Among the stores visited were Darrells Music Hall (Nashua, NH), Londonderry Piano (Salem, NH), Steinerts, Boston Organ & Pianos (Natick, MA) & Allegro Pianos (Stamford, CT).
My early search started with Steinways in mind – not the new pianos – despite the revered name and surrounding hype, I wasn’t enamoured with the sound or price,
By JOHN McDONOUGH | Downbeat Magazine “HotBox” review | May 2010
“Borthwick, who authored all the pieces in this self- produced and self-released CD, walks both sides of the street, playing excellent, if not quite distinctive, straightahead piano throughout, while adding her shimmering, wordless soprano lines to selected ensembles along the way. She does this sparingly, sometimes subtlety, and frequently hauntingly, never scatting or soloing but instead embedding and camouflaging herself deep into meticulously orchestrated unison lines in which her voice seems to float on piano, guitar and horn…” —JOHN McDONOUGH, Downbeat Magazine
“I like the warm spiritual vibe, especially Borthwick’s wordless vocals, a la Flora Purim.” —PAUL de BARROS, Downbeat Magazine
Sound Contest: Ciao Ramona, grazie per aver accettato la nostra intervista per i lettori di Sound Contest. C’e’ qualcosa di nuovo – aria nuova – in questo tuo ultimo CD, One Of Us… una palpabile maturazione delle tue composizioni…
Ramona Borthwick: Grazie a voi. E’ stato molto piacevole scrivere questa musica, ed io sono sempre impaziente di riascoltare i risultati delle registrazioni con la band in studio. Parlando poi di maturita’ – spero che sia una buona cosa (ride) – immagino che il trascorrere del tempo mi abbia rilassato nell’accettare il jazz come un approccio piuttosto che uno specifico genere o stile. E’ come essere autorizzati ad infondere idee da frontiere esterne al jazz, le cui possibilita’ possono essere illimitate. La musica del nuovo CD e scritta per un quintetto, ma richiederebbe un numero maggiore degli strumenti per suonarla, quindi e’ l’uso della voce e delle sovrapposizioni di diverse parti di tromba e chitarra che a volte fanno suonare il quintetto, per cosi’ dire, come una “piccola big band”.
Daughter of famous Bollywood composer Enoch Daniels, pianist Ramona Borthwick took her first musical steps in Bombay and there, along with husband, guitarist Noel Borthwick, recorded “Sound Matters” precisely 20 years ago, one of the first recordings of contemporary jazz in India. She later moved to Boston, where parallel to music, she got involved with graphic and web design.
“One Of Us” is her second album and continues to be based on the same artistic blend of swing and lyricism which was present in her debut album in 2006 (“A New Leaf”). Ramona has the ability to match difficult rhythms and melodies, and builds a complex mosaic of components found in modern jazz, European music, sometimes in the Indian tradition and often in Latin, especially when accompanied by the piano with flexible vocal phonetics. The rare gift of being an equally good pianist, singer and songwriter, makes a difference to a degree that can hardly go unnoticed.
Aesthetically there seem to be no boundaries, and she has no problem transitioning from an acoustic environment (the romantic “One Of Us”) to an electric Fender Rhodes (as in the modal “Resident Alien”), or in the introduction of the Eastern “Gaia” and the constant changes of “Chinese Whispers”,
with the cheerful Latin “Rio Alegre” closing the album. All the musicians have played brilliantly, the band comprising Noel Borthwick on guitar, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorm, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Adam Cruz on drums.
Pianist Ramona Borthwick is nothing if not generous—offering up over seventy minutes of quality music on this, her second recording as leader. That the music is constantly arresting is testament to the quality of the arrangements and, in equal measure, to the virtuosity displayed by her quintet.
In effect, the quintet becomes at times a sextet as Borthwick employs her voice like an additional wind instrument to wonderful effect, adding rich harmonic and melodic tones to the music. Blending her voice with the guitar lines of Noel Borthwick or the trumpet/flugelhorn of Ingrid Jensen, she creates quite beautiful harmonies.