Reviewing Ray Jozwiak

Ever since Fame Games got put on hold, I frequently get asked to do music reviews for artists. When I agree, I typically email them my notes and that’s that. But recently I’ve received a few dozen such requests within the space of a few days – some kind of a freakish wave! At length, I decided that I might make this a feature on this blog, even as we’re slowly building up to a relaunch of Fame Games. Still, I can only do this when time permits, and only for artists whose potential I believe in.

And so here we are. Ray Jozwiak has sent in his demo quite a few weeks ago – right at the top of that wave I told you about – and today he’ll be the first one I’ll briefly review.

I’ve listened to the compositions here: http://rayjozwiak.com/music.html

Before I even listened to Ray’s music, I had to deal with his website.

Unhappily, it’s a clunky old thing and you’ll find yourself bemused with how even the simplest things can be complicated! I recommend setting up a WordPress site, Ray. It’s dead easy and it will look a million times better and work flawlessly, thus making it possible for your potential fans to check your music out without missing a beat (pun intended).

And now to the real issue at hand. The music.

The samples provided are mainly solo piano pieces in a light jazz style. Most have a lot of potential, actually, and all feel like a welcome breath of fresh air in this mechanized-music world. But… there are issues here.

While Ray’s picture shows him playing a real piano, I couldn’t help but feel that many of these recordings were done on a piano synth/keyboard and then quantized with a sequencer. I could be dead wrong on that front, but that’s how some of this comes across. There’s a sense of rigidity which is so characteristic of quantization, so if this has been actually played and NOT quantized… Ray! You’ve got to loosen up! But if, indeed, it has been quantized – Ray, please stop that!

And so we come to my primary, and perhaps the only really meaningful complaint. There are groove and tightness issues on these recordings which simply have to be addressed before this music sees a wider audience. This is particularly evident in the few multi-instrumental tracks within the above demo.

You’ve got to have a really loose feel when playing jazz, granted, but here we’re dealing with two forces pulling in opposite directions. On the one hand, many of the pieces feel rigid to the point of almost quantized, and on the other hand, some of the piano pieces seem to be doing their own thing while the background is stubbornly refusing to get in synch!

Yeah I know. I’m a nitpicker from hell. But as a piano player myself and a part-time aficionado of good jazz, I wouldn’t be doing Ray any favors if I didn’t point these issues out.

And then there is another side here. Ray clearly has the chops and a good technique – a good little piano player for sure. But there’s also this thing known as a “take” in the modern recording world! If you play it once and it ain’t quite perfect, hit the record button again and do another one! And another. And you can even seamlessly combine takes using your sequencer so that the final product is just perfect enough to be magical and just imperfect enough to be human.

In my view, then, the final production (i.e. attention to detail of the performance, not just the way the whole thing sounds) needs another serious look.

Since even the multi-instrumental pieces sound like it’s all done by one person with a sequencer, I would advise a different layering strategy than what might be a typical pop example. Rather than starting with sequencing a beat and then playing to it, start with pure piano performances (done on an acoustic piano, ideally) and then play LIVE along with the recording, when layering your drums, bass and whatever else you like. Avoid quantization like the plague except to correct minor errors.

And now for the good news.

As a composer, Ray is clearly in his element. He’s got some terrific ideas there and an unusual approach to rhythm and song structure. These are fantastic assets and more than one of his songs could find tons of fans who appreciate music which isn’t the same ol’ same ol’ all the time.

While I would question some of the dissonant notes here and there, none of that took away from the pleasure of immersing myself in the melodic, chordal and rhythmic patterns which are definitely not run of the mill. I miss this kind of music in today’s mad world.

In summary then, this needs to be meticulously “produced.” Just keep recording and fine-tuning each track until it completely rules. But make sure that it swings and is tight like a flea’s arse – while at the same time feeling loose and free. One of those paradoxical mysteries which make jazz so compelling.

 

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