About the Noël Project

You have arrived at Project Central. Here you will find all sorts of information about The Noël Project. Stories behind each song and liner notes, video clips, CD artwork and pics, release party pics, song clips, and more.

What is The Noël Project exactly? It’s a collection of holiday songs by Kelly Carpenter Presents. In addition to Kelly’s usual genre-defying blend of piano instrumentals, the Noël Project  also features Northwest vocalists Carina Lewis and Carl Kelley, as well as instrumentalists Jackson Rice and Bruce Babad on flugelhorn and flute respectively.

What is Kelly Carpenter Presents? It is a platform for showcasing talent primarily from the Northwest, but not exclusively so. Kelly’s vision is to stage a series of events and/or mini-tours centered around a specific theme and featuring some amazing musicians–instrumentalists and vocalists–as well as other types of performance artistry, whether it be spoken word, dance, art, or multimedia. Get the Noël Project

Song Stories & Liner Notes

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Introduction: Adore

Introduction: Adore

Intro-Adore-BadgeI have always enjoyed the combination of electronic and more traditional instruments, so I decided to start the record out with a mostly electronic background. I don’t remember exactly how this piece evolved, but I’m pretty sure it started out with the electronic bits and then I settled on a Christmas melody to play on the piano. I had intended to cover the whole of “O Come All Ye Faithful”, but once I came up with the idea for the bass line and decided to keep the same chord progression throughout, it limited what I could do with the melody, and I settled on the melody of “O come let us adore Him”.

I came up with the bass part in my head, and so I grabbed what I call my “cheap” Ibanez electric bass and threw down a part. I like the juxtaposition of the electronica with the real bass. I refer to my bass as “cheap” because I paid only $150 for it. It is the bottom of the line Ibanez, made in Indonesia I think, but it still sounds pretty good.

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For the keyboard parts, I started out with Ableton Live as an arranging tool, as I did with most of the songs, and it includes a feature called an “arpeggiator” which allows me to play a chord and the program breaks it into an arpeggio based on some pattern I select and tweak. It’s the same device I used for the opening of “Summer Rain” from my previous release, “Passage“. For computer-based sounds, I mostly draw from three programs: Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason, and Spectrasonics Ominisphere.

I kept this song short so it would serve as an opener for the record, and also because I had in mind all along to reprise the song at the end of the record with a full band.

Publishing: Traditional/Public Domain based on O Come All Ye Faithful. Original music by Kelly Carpenter, © 2013 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Kelly Carpenter/piano, cheap Ibanez bass, programming. Recorded June 2013 at Avondale. 

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu-Joy-BadgeOne of my all time favorite Bach songs, it is not typically used as a Christmas piece, but since I have heard a number of other Christmas records include it, I figured “why not”?

This song evolved stylistically as I was working on it, and I decided to keep much of that evolution in place, scratching my apparent itch to include multiple genres in the same song. It starts out with a bouncy piano figure in the left hand, soon to be doubled by electric bass, which was inspired by a Flim and the BBs song. I originally was torn between putting “Angels We Have Heard On High” atop this versus “Jesu, Joy”, but decided the latter would be more interesting.

An early idea for a bridge, a piece of original music, was scrapped after I realized that there were already two bridges in Bach’s piece, so the bridge outtake was spun off to a separate song which I eventually named “Dreaming of Snow”. Meanwhile, the ideas came fast: a piano solo section that starts out as a west-coast smooth jazz shuffle and then becomes a full on rocker, the first half of the Bach bridge taking on a Beatlesque “Your Mother Should Know” feel, and then the piece de resistance, a whole gaggle of vintage synthesizer sounds to finish off the bridge, eventually becoming a tribute to Wendy Carlos’ classic record from the 60s, “Switched On Bach”. I discovered just yesterday that she performed “Jesu, Joy” on her record–I don’t recall ever hearing it.
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For awhile I was concerned that this arrangement would sound too Mannheim Steamroller and actually checked the 43 Christmas records they put out to make sure there wasn’t an arrangement of “Jesu, Joy”  that was a shuffle along the order of their hit cover of “Deck the Halls”. By the way, they have not actually put out 43 Christmas records–it’s more like eight.

Production wise, I assembled all the parts at my home studio first and then went into the studio to cut the drums and bass with Bryon Atterberry and Marc Miller, respectively. For electric guitar, I hit up my Canadian friend Brian Thiessen. I drove up to his house in Abbotsford, British Columbia, about 2 1/2 hours away from Seattle. I have known Brian for over 20 years and have done a lot of projects with him. Unlike his work on “Passage”, which was more organic in nature, I had specific parts in mind for him on this record, and he delivered beautifully.

Publishing: Traditional/Public Domain based on Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Original music by Kelly Carpenter, © 2013 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Bryon Atterberry: drums / Marc Miller: bass, fretless bass / Brian Thiessen: electric guitars / Kelly C: piano, organ, programming. Drums & Bass recorded September 2013 at 57th Street Productions, Monroe, WA by Scott Anderson.

The Holly and the Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy

Holly-BadgeThe idea of doing a latin bossa nova thing in 7/4 came early. The very first idea was the piano intro and then things fell into place from there.

I would call this my “GRP” tune on the record because it reminds me of the two jazzy holiday releases that GRP came out with in the 80s and 90s, and specifically a latin arrangement of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Dave Valentin . GRP was a jazz label started by Dave Grusin which in their heyday included a roster of the top jazz artists of the day. Valentin’s arrangement inspired me to recruit my old friend Bruce Babad to go crazy on the flute for this piece.

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After covering the melody on piano, then flute, the song switches to 4/4 for a piano solo reminiscent of Ramsay Lewis’ style from the 60s. Bruce takes a turn, and then I indulge in what can best be described as Retro-Exotica-Lounge. Merrilyn (my wife) calls it the Star Trek section because I use a vocal sample that sounds like the vocalist who doubles the orchestral melody on the original them song by Andre Courage. I was planning to have a nice little jam at the end, back in 7/4, which followed the chord progression of the intro, but at the original tempo. Then it occurred to me, why not switch to a fast salsa feel instead? You can’t have salsa without the characteristic piano style, and the intro I came up with proved to be quite challenging.

But why stop at just one style change? The song switches to a samba-in-7 and then a Songo, which is one of my favorite latin feels, but is particularly challenging in 7. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that when I took this into the studio, the Songo bit challenged my very seasoned drummer and bass player, studio cats that can play just about anything. But they did it, not without some playful cursing for sure.

When I decided to make a Christmas record, I decided I wanted to put on it the sorts of fun little things that I have loved about other people’s records–in this case, the false beginning, where it sounds like I’m performing in a lounge somewhere with an old rhythm machine. In fact, it was an actual sample of a Ritmo rhythm machine that I used, edited to work in 7/4. Due to the arrangement’s latin feel and it’s whimsical nature, I toyed with the idea of calling it “Holly and Ivy and a Pitcher of Margaritas”, but opted instead to use my lounge-lizard intro to make the play on words.

Publishing: Traditional/Public Domain based on The Holly and the Ivy. Original music by Kelly Carpenter, © 2013 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Bruce Babad: fluteBryon Atterberry: drums / Marc Miller: bass, fretless bass / Brian Thiessen: electric guitars / Kelly C: piano, programming. Drums & Bass recorded September 2013 at 57th Street Productions, Monroe, WA by Scott Anderson. Flute recorded by Dana R. Parker, Fullerton, CA.

Dreaming of Snow

Dreaming of Snow

Dreaming-Snow-BadgeThis started out as a bridge idea for Jesu, Joy, but once I realized there were already enough bridges, I decided to make this a separate song. Besides, not only was it incompatible feel-wise with the other arrangement, but since it’s actually an original piece of mine, it made sense to me to make this separate so I could take a songwriting credit.

With a more traditional jazz trio feel, we cut this live in the studio, just Bryon, Marc, and I.  We recorded it in three takes, and I had in mind all along to only include a couple minutes of it to be later reprised with a couple more minutes. This approached worked out nicely since the reprise, titled “Still Dreaming of Snow”, featured the end of a different take.

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I was planning to include this in our CD release concert as sort of an “unplugged” piece in the middle, but once I discovered that the stage wasn’t big enough for a grand piano and a nine-piece band, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the right feel with my Nord keyboard, so I left it out of the set.

Publishing: Music by Kelly Carpenter, © 2013 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Bryon Atterberry: drums / Marc Miller: fretless bass / Kelly C: piano, programming. Recorded September 2013 at 57th Street Productions, Monroe, WA by Scott Anderson.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Sweet-LIttle-BadgeMerrilyn (my wife) suggested that we come up with something for Carina Lewis to sing on this project. I knew I wanted at least two vocal songs on this record, and I already had Carl Kelley in mind for one of them, so with Merrilyn’s suggestion, I felt Carina’s sultry jazzy style would provide a nice balance to some of the more densely-arranged material.

All I had to go on was a recording Carina did of one of her originals, and as I thought about what song she should do, an old recording from the mid-80s by the Vineyard Jazz Ensemble came to mind, a mellow-bluesy instrumental rendition of this song arranged by Scott Burnett. I knew I wanted this rendition to start the same way, with Scott’s out-of-tempo jazz guitar intro. And since Scott and Carina have worked together in the past, I knew this would be a perfect fit, so I told them to go work it out amongst themselves.

Once they were ready, we convened at her place to have me listen to it. Scott brought his guitar and amp and played the accompaniment while Carina calmly sat cross-legged on the couch. It was perfect, so perfect in fact, that I decided that I wanted to come back another day and have them do exactly the same thing, this time with my recording equipment in place. So the performance was recorded completely live, except for my piano which I added later.

Publishing: Words and music by Robert MacGimsey, © 1934 Carl Fischer, LLC. All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Carina Lewis: vocals / Scott A. Burnett: electric guitar / Kelly Carpenter: piano – recorded live at The Hill, Redmond, WA

Jingle This

Jingle This

Jingle-This-BadgeThis song started out as a fun little groove thing I came up with about a year ago, basically the toy piano intro atop a hip-hop beat, the synth bass line, and a horn hook reminiscent of the 60s.

The idea gathered dust until it occurred to me to include this somehow on the Noël Project. The first thing to do was obvious: add sleigh bells to the toy-piano 1/8-note part. Now we had a Christmas song!

Next, it occurred to me that since I didn’t use Angels We Have Heard on High for what eventually became Jesu, Joy, the “Gloria” refrain would work nicely with the chord progression. Just the gloria, not the in-egg-shell-sees day-o, (which by the way, was how our choir teacher taught us to pronounce “in excelsis deo”).

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In our day-long studio session, this was the first one we did, just two takes. I asked Bryon to play it with a tight shuffle for the first take and a looser feel for the second. I was planning to throw away whatever piano parts I did in the studio in favor of recutting them later during post-production, so I played whatever came to mind on almost carelessly on the piano during take one, and did the same with the organ sound from my Nord keyboard for take two. I didn’t originally intend to put organ on the song, but like I said, I just did whatever while we captured the drums and bass.

I wound up not recording new parts, but decided to keep the original piano and organ performances as is. Brian Thiessen played strat on it. The title? It just seemed the cute, whimsical thing to do. Oh, and let’s not forget the “merry whistlers”. I put out a notice on Facebook and my newsletter for people to send in recordings of them whistling the “Gloria” part. Cute and whimsical, indeed!

Publishing: Traditional/Public Domain adapted from Angels We Have Heard On High. Original music by Kelly Carpenter, © 2013 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Bryon Atterberry: drums / Marc Miller: bass / Brian Thiessen: electric guitar / Kelly Carpenter: Nord piano, Nord organ / The Merry Whistlers: Merrilyn Carpenter, Phil McCoy, Andy Park, Darcy White. Basic tracks recorded September 2013 at 57th Street Productions, Monroe, WA by Scott Anderson.

The Coventry Carol

The Coventry Carol

Coventry-BadgeI love the melody of this song and when I decided to record it, in my mind I heard my friend Jackson Rice play flugelhorn on it, and he did a fabulous job.

I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the feel. Most of the time, I’ll sit at the piano and something just comes out of “the ether” as some would put it, or “on a flaming pie” as John Lennon would say to Paul. Quincy Jones attributes the creative energy as coming “from above” and I prefer to think of it that way since I believe in a higher power, or if you will, God, where all the creative energy comes from. Regardless of your spiritual leanings, suffice it to say that “stuff” happens and I’m glad to participate in the creative process.

Whereas The Holly and the Ivy took on a GRP Christmas feel, this arrangement is a more contemporary jazz, stylistically reminding me somewhat of the group Fourplay, and when Marc Miller said my playing reminded him of Bob James, the keyboardist from Fourplay… well, there you have it. Scott Burnett added his wonderful guitar in post-production.

Recording credits: Jackson Rice: flugelhorn / Bryon Atterberry: drums / Marc Miller: bass / Scott A. Burnett: electric guitars / Kelly Carpenter: piano, programming. Drums & Bass recorded September 2013 at 57th Street Productions, Monroe, WA by Scott Anderson.

That Silent Night

That Silent Night

That-Silent-BadgeWhen I asked Carl Kelley to sing on this record, I left the song suggestion up to him. He came up with a song written by a friend of his, Debbie Owens, who he worked with at a church in southern California. The original recorded version of it was very pretty, and Debbie has a very pretty voice, but I felt the original arrangement was a bit too classic “contemporary Christian” to work on this project.

This song turned out to be the most challenging of all the songs on the record as far as coming up with a new arrangement. I had a few ideas, one of which involved a sort of a Glee-like a cappella thing which I quickly abandoned in favor of an urban beat with avant garde chords that would have made Herbie Hancock proud. I worked on this ambitious second idea for quite a while until I realized that I absolutely hated it, and I knew Carl was having difficulty connecting with it as well.

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Back to the drawing board, I came up with something both urban and gospel and it turned out to be something Carl was immediately much more comfortable with. However, I decided to salvage one set of chord changes from my more ambitious arrangement and used them  in the intro.

Given the delays in coming up with an arrangement, I missed my window of opportunity to record real drums and bass, so I did everything by myself, except vocals of course. I have an old outboard piece of synth gear, a Roland JD-990 that I’ve had for about 20 years, that has this awesome synth bass sound that worked perfectly.

By the way, Carl can also be heard on one of my tunes, a song called “Love One Another” that I wrote on spec for a local organization called Recovery Cafe in 2010.

Publishing: Words and music by Debbie Owens, © 2002 Debbie Weber-Owens

Recording credits: Carl Kelley: All vocals / Kelly Carpenter: piano, organ, programming. Recorded Septermber 2013 at Avondale, Woodinville, WA

Finale: Adore

Finale: Adore

Finale-Adore-BadgeAnd this “bring us back to Doe”. On this song, I wanted it to be everything the intro arrangement was not. Real drums, an actual bass player playing the bass, lots of power guitars, a more fleshed out theme, and enough cinematic power to make this truly a finale.

Yeah there’s some arpeggiated synth bits in there, along with some bells, strings and french horn. Brian Thiessen gave me six takes of various guitar parts, one of which was his classic ethereal (what I call “floating”) guitar sound with which he literally plays the last six notes on the record. I layered three different piano parts on this piece which are most notable at the end to create something that reminded Merrilyn (my wife) of snow falling.

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

Publishing: Traditional/Public Domain based on O Come All Ye Faithful. Original music by Kelly Carpenter, © 2013 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

Recording credits: Bryon Atterberry: drums / Marc Miller: bass / Brian Thiessen: electric guitars / Kelly C: pianos, programming. Drums & Bass recorded September 2013 at 57th Street Productions, Monroe, WA by Scott Anderson.

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Noël Project Vids

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

(And you thought we were joking?)