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Well, we just landed in Scotland and checked into the hostel we’re staying at for the next few days while we’re in Edinburgh. So far this city really reminds me of Dublin and Belfast, but I suppose that makes sense.

For those that didn’t see the message from last month, here’s what I’m doing for the next 10 days…

JHQ Scotland Promo from Sulva Productions on Vimeo.

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No posts for the past couple weeks = Steve’s busy with stuff. I actually have a TON on my plate right now, and some of it is relevant to the conversations we have here.

1. I took a gig as drummer and musical director for a Christian vocal trio called Go Fish. They started as an a capella group and have moved through a few stages of artistic approach since then, and about 5 years ago landed where they currently are at: children’s music. Their past few records are all targeted at kids, but less like Barney and more like the Jonas Brothers. Needless to say, it’s not the most artistically satisfying gig I’ve done, but I’m really loving it nonetheless. I’ve realized lately that I almost don’t care what style/genre of gig I’m doing, as long as everybody on the gig is taking it seriously and striving for excellence. Go Fish puts on a killer show, and the musical/production/entertainment value of it is through the roof. We’ve got a couple dozen dates over the summer that we’re prepping for right now, and I’m spending A LOT of my time sifting through the pretty extensive audio tracks we’re running for the show. As I mentioned, Go Fish is a 3-pc vocal group, and the live band is just a drums/bass/guitar power trio, but then the additional audio tracks really push the audio to the huge level that the live show reaches. Strings, loops, keys, vocal effects… tons of stuff. I recently upgraded to Ableton’s Live8 software, and I’m getting a great functional lesson on using that software as I organize all the tracks and construct the show. I also picked up a MOTU Ultralite MK3 interface. I must say, it’s a pretty killer rig.

2. I’m doing a ton of reading these days. I finished up John Piper’s Desiring God a few weeks ago, and I also just got through Rob Bell’s controversial new book. Then I got a free copy of ND Wilson’s Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl from a friend and read that (such a killer book), and I’m halfway through Jim Putman’s Real Life Discipleship with my Bible study guys at church. Also, for the past year or so, I’ve been spending a little time each week continuing to work through Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.  I’m saying all this not to boast about how much I read, but just to reiterate to those of you who regularly read this blog that my daily thoughts don’t revole solely around music.  In fact, I’m partnering with a couple of the pastors at my church in launching a faith/church-related blog in June.  I’ll keep you posted on when that gets off the ground.

3. Related to my thoughts/reading on my faith as a Christian are my efforts to use my time/resources in “ministry.”  You may remember the trip to Romania I took last year with Jason Harms.  As has been the pattern for that group for the past few years, we have another opportunity to take Jason’s music abroad this summer… this time to the country of Scotland.  You can see the details on that trip over at the Jason Harms Quintet blog.  Prepping for that trip has been the other thing keeping me busy lately, specifically the issue of fundraising.  I’ve invited you, my blog readers, to join me in that fundraising in the past, and I’d like to ask again this year.  In fact, I’m going to lay it on kinda thick this time, because many of you have expressed to me your appreciation for what I write and the fact that I do clinics at churches and what not.  Can I be so bold as to ask those of you who feel that way to express your gratitude tangibly in financially supporting Jason’s ministry?  I would greatly value your partnership with me in this area.  We have a somewhat more difficult fundraising challenge with this years trip because of the weakness of the Dollar vs the British Pound.  I have a vision of my blog readers not only helping with the fundraising, but additionally spreading the word to others so they can help.  I really really really believe in what Jason is doing with his music, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.  I want more people in the Christian music world to know about.  Can you help me with this?

Recap:  I am crazy busy right now.  Lots going on.  Thanks for your loyal readership and interest in my blog.  More posts coming soon!

Hey all. I’m back from the Harms tour in Romania. The trip was really incredible. I am always struck by the fact that my drums are so familiar to me – as in I sit at them all the time – but then I constantly get to look out from behind the drums and see new venues and landscapes. Romania is a great country and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to go.

Here’s a short clip from a gig we did in a Gypsy village outside the city of Iasi (pronounced “yash”)…

Well, I leave tomorrow for the Romania tour with Jason Harms. If any of you have interest in following the happenings of the trip you can check out Jason’s Tour Blog.  We’ll be posting updates along with photos/videos.

Last year the Jason Harms Quintet spent some time in the UK. This year we’ve been invited to Romania, and I’m pretty excited about it.  Here’s a promo video about the trip…

I’m sure many of you who read this blog know about Jason’s music/message and the trips we take, but here’s a little background information on the above video for those of you who aren’t familiar with the JHQ…

I’m a Christian.  I don’t spend much time talking about it on this blog since the topic here is music, but if you know me personally then you know my faith in Christ is the primary component of my identity.  It’s something I love to discuss, especially in light of the way the term “Christian” is tossed around these days – so maybe someday I will start a blog about it.  Ha.  Seriously though, I actually don’t even have real educational background in music because I spent my college years getting a Biblical and Theological Studies degree, which seems odd since I make my living playing music, but it really comes in handy when thinking about and discussing Christianity and religion in general.  So anyway, there’s something you might not know about me if you only read this blog for music reasons and don’t know me personally.

I am thankful that my life contains lots of opportunities for my faith and my music to collide.  I do a ton of church gigs, I play with a handful of Christian artists, and I teach music at two Christian colleges in the Twin Cities.  Jason Harms is one of the Christian artists I play with, and Jason is often invited to partner with other Christian organizations in international efforts.  I’ve been all over the world with him, and the opportunities just keep coming.  It seems that Jazz is uniquely equipped for cross-cultural translation, which is definitely the case in this August’s trip to Romania.  The lower social class in Romania, referred to as Gypsies, has their own musical style very similar to Jazz.  Some of the church leaders over there heard Jason’s music and have invited us to play a handful of shows in the Gypsy communities in an effort to build relationships with them on the commonality of our music. The dude in the video is one of the church leaders in Romania – a guy named Larry Agnew.  He’s leading our trip and is responsible for the networking that booked our shows.

The hope is that our music will be a bit of an in-road with a Romanian subculture that is otherwise quite standoff-ish and difficult to get to know.  It seems like a great opportunity for me to marry my music and my faith… using my playing to serve the broader purpose of loving people in the name of Jesus Christ.  We’re also going to have some chances to experience the Gypsy music/culture first hand, and I’m hoping to learn some cool things from that.

You’ve probably figured out by now that our trip is a “missions trip”… which basically means that we’re not going there to make money or sign autographs.  The purpose of the trip, like I mentioned, is to build relationships with the Romanian Gypsies in an attempt to clarify for them what being a Christian really means.  The gigs we’re doing won’t have ticket prices or cover charges, and we’re not going to be selling merch.  Instead we’re doing some fund raising over the next few months to cover the costs of the trip, which is what the “donations accepted” part of the video was all about.  Jason has a non-profit organization that conducts our funding, so if you’re the kind of person that wants to get on board with a trip like this and you’d like to contribute, you can do that at jasonharms.com.  Just click on the “donate” button under the promo video.

Please don’t think of this fund raising thing as a sales pitch.  I’m just throwing it out there for those of you who would want to partner with us in that way.  I’ll hopefully have plenty of pictures and videos to share when the trip happens in August, so stay tuned.

I got back last night from the Jason Harms UK tour. It was a really great experience all around. I think my favorite gig was this one at a club called the Boston Dome in London…

Here’s a clip of the kit I’m using on the Jason Harms UK tour…

I am departing this afternoon for Europe, where I’ll be for the next couple weeks.  Jason Harms is doing a short UK tour, playing in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and London.  I definitely won’t be posting on this blog much while I’m gone, but the itinerary of the trip is at jasonharms.com, and you can follow the updates of the trip at Jason’s blog.  I’m bringing my new Flip camcorder, so there’s going to be plenty of video footage…

I just got back from Longview, Texas. The Jason Harms Quintet performed at LeTourneau University last night, and the performance was unusual to say the least. Our bassist (Jesse) somehow picked up a severe stomach bug, and so our Quintet suddenly became a quartet. Those of you who know jazz know that the bass is probably the most signature component of a traditional jazz sound.

The evening became an exercise in improvising, but not in the standard jazz improvising sense. I was struck by how the vernacular and vocabulary of my playing changed so dramatically. Of course things sounded different without the bass… but I’m talking about the way my mind approached the improvising.  Think what would happen if the NBA suddenly raised the height of the hoops from ten feet to twenty feet. The game would still be the same in essence, but things like defense down low would change entirely. There would suddenly be no threat of anybody dunking or hitting a lay-up, and rebounding would be completely different. It would probably take a while for players to override the long-standing instincts of how to play in the paint.  That was the case for me last night. Not only am I used to playing jazz with a bassist, but I’m also especially used to Jason’s songs. I’ve played them many times, all with the same sonic environment, and then with no warning I found myself in a completely different set of circumstances. The improvising felt very fresh and vibrant, while also urgent and risky.

I’m just trying to say that it was a cool experience. I don’t know if we succeeded or failed, but I think it wasn’t really that kind of thing anyway. There were some cool moments, and there were some less cool moments. Either way, the experience of being air-dropped into a situation so different from the normal environment reminded me of a great Miles Davis quote. According to Herbie Hancock, Miles used to always tell the band to leave their practicing in the practice room. “Don’t bring what you’ve been playing in there onto the stage,” he would say. What he’s getting at is the nature of good improvising.  True improvisiation responds to the situation you’re in RIGHT THEN, and doesn’t force things from a different situation into your current situation. If you figure something out in practice, then that’s great, but don’t just hit the stage and wait for an opportunity to use your new-found skill or trick.  The environment of the stage (in jazz, at least) is always changing and never truly predictable.  Every moment in the preformance can be responded to in a good or bad way, and searching for the right response without the asterisk of hoping to include your new trick is the most beneficial way to serve the music.

My experience last night helped to remind me that my preconceptions of what I’m going to play at a Jason Harms gig need to be kept in check so that I have more freedom to respond well in the moment. I’m pumped to hit the gig again with Jesse back in the saddle, but especially now that I’ve got a fresh perspective on the songs.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the Jason Harms Quintet gig at Bethel last night. I very much enjoyed the performance and the atmosphere surrounding it.

The new record, The Land Of The Fear Of Men, is now available for no charge at noisetrade.com. Head over there and get yourself a copy. But, in going the download route, you’ll miss out on all the incredible liner note artwork done by Adrian Johnston. The full series of the work used on the record has been compiled in an 80-page book, which you can preview or purchase at Adrian’s website. Be sure and check that out, but in the meantime, here’s some snipets from the series, beginning with The Land of the Fear Men liner insert…

lfm-map-poster-thumb

Jason and Adrian took a “Tolkien meets Bunyan” approach with this map of the fictitious “Land.” It represents the place where we all often go, when we are thinking too much about the opinions of others, and letting those thoughts drive our actions in a wrong direction.

cry-my-brothers

A depiction of man’s struggle in life, and the sorrow that sometimes feels crushing…

rider-right-side

This dude is deciding to set out into the “Land”… thinking that it’s going to benefit him. “There is no armor in the Land, only chains.”

PS. I just put up the opening track from Land of the Fear on my myspace page, as well as one of the tracks from the recent Westwood Church album by Joel Hanson. Joel’s working on a solo record right now, but we play every Sunday night at Westwood and they opted to have us record an album of their favorite worship tunes that we play each week.

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