Thursday, 27 August 2020

SYOS Signature Tenor Mouthpiece demo: Jazz Sound

The SYOS artists' lockdown collaboration video of Alone Together, in the Spring of 2020, left an awful lot of music on the cutting room floor, including this entire take. The video is designed to demonstrate the warmer, jazzier side of my signature tenor mouthpiece to demonstrate that it's not just a screamer!

The video was fun to do and comes with the transcription running alongside the music.
Here is the full, written transcription with annotations and analysis:

Summary of techniques here:

1) Bar 6. This is a classic. When modulating to the sub dominant in the minor, transpose your phrase up a semitone to make it the altered dominant.

2) Bar 9. C#m7 to F#7, Am7 to D7 to G is the sequence of the song so it is a small step to complete the Giant Steps cycle with an Eb major cadence.

3) Bar 13. Negative Harmony. The backwards circle of 5ths using minors, heading for the C minor, the B7 altered dominant.

4) Bar 14. Conventional whole tone scale, augmented triads, but a set-up for the more complex triad relationships coming up later.

5) Bar 23. Free variation of the Giant Steps substitutions used previously.

6) Bar 27. Lydian major 7th with the tone above pentatonic.

7) Bar 29. Diminished scale for E7b9 with Db triad for the 13b9 effect.

8) Bar 30. Chromatic approaches make the classic diminished scale less 'patterny'

9) Different rhythmic variations - here seven groups of 4 fill up the bar.

10) Bar 33. For the C false fingering the bottom C fingering loses the B finger, which helps tuning.

11) Bar 34. The tritone substitution is easily swapped for the altered dominant.

12) Bar 38. One of Slonimsky's 12-tone triad combinations (page 177 of the Thesaurus book)

13) Bar 45. Four key 'Septatonic System'. Melodic minor with flattened 4th: E,F#,G,Bb,B,C#,D# divided {Eb,G,Bb}+{E,F#,B,C#}. The second group fits the tonic scale, the Eb triad is outside. Also transposed to A, D and G to fit nicely with E minor Dorian.

14) Bar 56. A Giant Steps take on the Sonny Stitt technique of playing a dominant up a semitone and back. F#m7-G7 >Ab7-Db-E7 > Eb7,Ab,B7 > E

15) Bar 73. The Db triad of the E13b9 has a pull of its own. Playing with the Db tonality by giving the impression of a Lydian dominant gives the startling effect of an Eb triad over an E7. The Ab minor melodic resolving up a semitone to A minor is a nice variation of the Negative Harmony effect.

Further Explanation of some of the techniques

1) Semitone up for the Altered.

This is a nice technique for modulating to the IV chord in a minor blues. Here E minor melodic for the tonic and F minor melodic for the E7 altered. Some players stretch out the E altered by going early and/or resolving late, to maximise the out of key effect. John Coltrane was an early exponent of this and later Steve Grossman, Chick Corea, Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.

2) Giant Steps substitutions.

John Coltrane famously pioneered the triple tonic system as an alternative to the cycle of fifths, perhaps hitting on the idea after hearing the Richard Rogers song 'Have You Met Miss Jones' from 1937. In this solo C#m7-F#7 > Am7-D7> G is substituted with B (or C#m7) > D7-G-Bb7-Eb-F#7-B-D7 > G.

Later in the solo this formula is treated more and more freely, in a manner similar to the style of John Coltrane from 'A Love Supreme' onwards, culminating arguably in his amazing album 'Interstellar Space'. For more on this refer back to the blog entry from February 2nd for a Coltrane example of this technique.

Here are the other three variations on the video:

From bar 23:

From bar 53:

and bar 67:

3) Negative Harmony Coming Soon!

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Kromololodics #3 Coltrane got there first!

Following on from March 2018 and our examination of Sebastiaan DeKrom's concept of multi-layered chord sequences, a recent look at Resolution from A Love Supreme proves that John Coltrane was way ahead of us already in 1964:

On one level Resolution from A Love Supreme is the first eight of Bernie's Tune, dissolving into a one-chord minor improvisation. In the event this piece is incredibly ground-breaking and experimental. In the course of his solo, laying the spiritual aspect of the album aside for a moment, Coltrane returns to his preoccupation with a cadence into the key of Eb, which goes back to Blue Train and runs through Moments Notice, Lazy Bird and Giant Steps. In this it really does seem as if Coltrane likes to work out his concepts by improvising live on an important record date. There is nothing remotely 'licky' about his solo on Resolution. Each of his recorded performances of this piece sound completely different and fresh to our ears even now half a century later.

This extract from Resolution (5mins, 5 secs on the track) demonstrates that Coltrane is using the C7 altered scale (C# melodic minor) to resolve the eight-bar sections, but subtly changing his lines so that they can co-exist in a minor V-I in F (sax key) as well as a simultaneous progression following the sequence of Giant Steps, in its original key. The augmented nature of the 'altered' chord facilitate this. There is also a hint of the 'backdoor' resolution Bbm-Eb7 to F, together with its Giant Steps progressions. Coltrane is freestyling his lines, but also operating intellectually on two or three levels at once. Part of the magic and mystique of John Coltrane is that we still cannot exactly pinpoint his thought processes towards his musical goals. Coltrane's playing has inspired some people towards a totally free approach and others to seek a greater degree of structure in melodic construction. It is fascinating that different people transcribing a solo, like this extract from Resolution, could draw completely different conclusions from the notes. A chance decision to use sharps or flat, or the theoretical knowledge that the transcriber possesses could lead to a different result.

Friday, 20 December 2019

SYOS Soprano Mouthpiece Demo - Negative Harmony Rhythm Changes

In this video (in which incidentally I am demonstrating my new signature soprano mouthpiece produced by SYOS in Paris) the concept of Negative Harmony chord substitutions is much more developed than in previous examples. The concept derives, readers will remember or can scroll down, from Sonny Rollins's and Sonny Stitt's circle of 5th substitution system, as used in 'The Eternal Triangle'. Appropriately enough this time, the Negative cycle of minors in 4ths, in numerous guises, is expressed this time within the tight form of Rhythm Changes:

Analysis: Initially I aim for the subdominant chord in bar 6 of the sequence: Gm, Dm, Am, Em, Bm, F#m, C#m, G#m, Ebm, Bbm -> F7, Fm7, then rounding off the first 8 with a two-bar, 'backdoor' negative loop turnaround - C, F#m, C#m, G#m -> C. In Negative Harmony the diminished chord is invertible, as are tritone substitutuions, so Fm > C as V-I and the 'Backdoor' G#m > C can be transposed to give Bm > C and Dm > C. All four are valid resolutions for a chain of chords. In addition to this it is possible to jump between these streams. In conventional musical theory D7, Db7 > C can be used as a substitution for the cycle of fifths. In this negative theory the equivalent would be Em, Fm > C., ascending in semitones. Jumping to the Backdoor stream would give Bbm, G#m > C, descending in tones. A major third jump up such as C#m, Fm > C is the fourth move possible within this system. These four moves can be mixed freely, giving many possible ways to construct alternatives sequences.

In the first bridge I am approaching the main chords i.e. A7 in the 3rd bar, using the 'Backdoor' route. The last two bars of this middle eight are a tritone substitution backdoor: G#m, Cm, Gm, Dm, giving a conventional Dm where the G7 would normally be!

At Bar 33, last 8, first chorus, I use the backdoor tritone progression with a mixture of 5 and 6 note groupings starting on the One: Em(for C major7), Bm, F#m, C#m, G#m, Ebm, Bbm, Fm, Cm, Gm(for C7) > F7, propelling things into what will be the last chorus.

In Bar 49 (second chorus, second eight) I run a long sequence with five-beat groupings, starting with Ab minor, aiming ultimately for C, although there is not enough time (it's improvising!) and the C becomes Fm of an E7 altered chord for the start of the bridge.

Altogether this system works because the listener hears the pull towards the cadence points, although vertically the idea of a chord played on top of, or in place of, another chord is virtually a lost concept here. One of the central concepts behind this is the idea of movement within music, to keep the interest and energy moving forward.

Once again I am indebted to the people at SYOS, or Shape Your Own Sound, for their help in developing the mouthpiece, which is an incredibly versatile, free-blowing piece of kit.

The soprano sax is a P. Mauriat PMSS-601DK, 'saxello' style instrument, kindly provided for me by the company back in 2007 and still going strong.

Friday, 26 April 2019

I Can't Get Started Transcription

To showcase my new signature model SYOS alto mouthpiece and Signature Custom alto sax, I posted a short improvisation around the classic standard 'I Can't Get Started'. This is a reference to the forward-thinking Paul Bley piano solo entitled 'Started' and as such some of my old and new systems are combined here.

The introduction uses Olivier Messiaen's third mode, a nine note scale which comprises of 1,2,3 of the minor scale, played three times, a major third higher each time. This affords many rich possibilities of combining major and minor 7th and half-diminished arpeggios within that triple tonic axis. John Coltrane uses some similar constructions in his 'I Want To Talk About You' cadenza and later on in 'Interstellar Space'. The scale here is A,B,C,C#,D#,E,F,G,Ab.

When the theme arrives, the 'I Can't Get Started' tonic chord A major seven is formed from the centre of a sharpened 23rd Chord with an implied G root, although the G is never heard. The rest of the chord is stated in the solo: (G), B, D, F, A, C#, E, G#, B#, D#, F#, A#. The idea behind the 23rd chord is to stack thirds until all twelve notes have been used. The A major here actually is drawn from the middle of the chord, allowing a different light to be shone on it from above and below.

At the point in the standard sequence (bar 3) where the beboppers put their string of descending II-Vs, I did start on the G# minor (alto key), but played right through the Negative Harmony plagal cycle of minors, resolving on F minor as if it was an altered dominant, back to A major.

The SYOS mouthpiece (my own Signature) and the Signature Custom horn work really well together. The sound has a lot of flexibility and homogeneity across the range, as you can hear. It is incredibly easy to float out the top A# in the 23rd chord, and even the fourth register C#, E and G# at the end of the solo. I am very grateful to both companies, one in Paris and one in Kent, England for giving me the opportunity to create this splendid 'entente cordiale'.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Negative Harmony Update: Cherokee with Negative Polarity Chains

  John Coltrane developed the concept of bebop chord substitutions to include his own triple tonic Giant Steps system. These superimposed, alternative sequences could be used to replace the regular changes of a tune, although the cadential, polarity points would remain the same. Coltrane's version of Charlie Parker's 'Confirmation', entitled '26-6', is one of the best known examples.

  In this video I am playing the sequence of 'Cherokee' using chains of Negative Harmony 7th chords, polarised towards the important cycle of fifths junctures in the regular sequence. The 'backdoor' IVm-bVII can also be expressed with Negative Harmony ideas, as can the tritone versions of both progressions. Following these chains and loops, strings of minor plagal moves, gives a me wonderful sense of falling backwards through space. There is a feeling of navigating a parachute drop gently on to the cadence point, rather than the sharp, tension-release of regular jazz harmony. Using tritone substitutions of the Negative Harmony minor 6th chord movement gives a rising semitone sequence (D7-G7-C7 = Bbm-Fm-Cm or D7-Db7-C7 = Bbm-Bm-Cm) another marvellous, liberating feeling for a jazz musician who has been tied into the cycle of fifths for thirty years. A 'backdoor' version can also be mixed in: (Dm-G7-C = Dm-Ebm-Bbm-Fm-C) therefore (Fm7-Bb7-C = Fm-F#m-C#m-G#m-C).

  Here is a transcription of what I play in the video. The pulse comes and goes, giving it a sort of fantasia feel. I was short of breath, as the temperature in Ruislip that day in July 2018 was about 33ÂșC and Lockett Towers was not blessed with air-conditioning!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Kromolodics #2 It Don't Mean A Thing vs. Cherokee

 This is a more advanced Kromolodic puzzle: Ray Noble's 'Cherokee' is 64 bars long, moving a semitone higher in the third 16 before working its way back to the tonic key. Duke Ellington's 'It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing' is a typical 32 bar sequence resolving in the same key, but beginning on the relative minor. In a Kromolodic improvisation the player would have to reconcile the double length form of Cherokee against the Ellington sequence. Taking things a stage further, it is interesting to try the first 16 of Cherokee and the bridge simultaneously, together with the sequence of It Don't Mean A Thing. In a perfect Kromolodic solution each cadence of (all three sequences!) would be referenced, the musical essence and polarities of each tune would be retained, and the line would work if either tune were played straight by an unsuspecting band:

Kromolodic Line: It Don't Mean A Thing versus Cherokee

Studying Ernst Levi's Negative Harmony, Ornette Coleman's Harmolodics, Lennie Tristano's techniques of rhythmic displacement and side-slipping, and also John Coltrane's Giant Steps substitute progressions will all help to visualise how Kromolodics works. The fact that Sebastiaan De Krom, a drummer, invented this technique is absolutely key here. The drummer feels the rhythmic and harmonic polarities heading towards the important junctures of the tunes, and all the musical forces converging at these points. As a means of generating interesting melodic lines Kromolodics is exciting and compelling, and has all sorts of implications across the board.

  The late, great free jazz trombonist Albert Manglesdorff showed me at a class some years ago how he sometimes visualised imaginary chord progressions, as an alternative to playing 'free'. Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game, beloved of composer Karl Heinz Stockhausen, is a fascinating book about examining seemingly unconnected elements and finding commonalities. Kromolodics is a very new art with all sorts of interesting applications. It remains to be seen how far improvising musicians will be able to take it.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Kromolodics - A Revolutionary Concept in Jazz

The celebrated London-based, Dutch/U.S. drummer Sebastiaan De Krom has hit upon a completely new intellectual concept in melodic jazz, which is making musicians' heads spin all over town. His weekly trio gig at the Troubadour in Kensington, at which Sebastiaan has been reworking the Sonny Rollins trio concept, has become a laboratory for radical ideas and ground-breaking techniques. De Krom's trio arrangement of Green Dolphin Street requires that the saxophone and bass player, for extended periods, visualise the chord sequence of the song, and the sequence of Night and Day at the same time! This also takes into account the fact that the lengths of the forms of the tunes are different. At first glance this looks like madness, but when you take the plunge it is incredibly liberating. With a lot of listening the experience is similar to how Charlie Haden must have felt, following Ornette Coleman's harmolodics by ear into unknown territories in the early 1960s.

  In the 'Kromolodics' arrangement of Green Dolphin vs. Night and Day, there is plenty to work with, There are tonic polarity points every four or eight bars, and contemporary melodic improvisers should have no problem with blurring the lines between major and minor tonality, or using Phrygian modes in place of dominants. The second half of the bridge of Green Dolphin Street, superimposed a minor third above the tonic II-V-I has a diminished 'four tonics' sound, or even the Negative Harmony, minor plagal feel to it. However, the idea for the improvising musician of holding two ideas in the mind at once for such an extended period of time is perhaps the most revolutionary idea De Krom has come up with. At a recent session, by dipping into Jerry Bergonzi's famous Night and Day vs. Giant Steps sequence, I was able to keep three plates spinning at once. The bass player present was the superb, open-minded and -eared Oli Hayhurst, with De Krom himself grinning broadly from the drums as the mayhem unfolded.