Lennie Tristano Plays “All the Things You Are”

In the buildup to the transcriptions class I’m teaching at The Nash starting this Wednesday (June 28th, 4:30pm), I’m posting some new, and some archived transcriptions.

This one is from my time at New England Conservatory. NEC has a lot of unique coursework made possible by the large jazz department and the experimental nature of the curriculum. Allan Chase taught a course on Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano. A significant part of the study in this class involved creating transcriptions for analysis and study.

So here we have Lennie Tristano’s take on “All the Things You Are.” Enough time has passed since doing this that I don’t remember if there was a deeper point behind doing this particular solo, but its so rich and intricate one really isn’t needed. Tristano, for those unfamiliar, was a blind pianist usually put in the Bebop, Post Bop, or Cool schools of playing. He is recognized for his mathematical approach to improvisation, and that of his most celebrated students (Lee Kontiz, Warne Marsh, Bille Bauer), who all had their own takes on his ideas.

This solo gives us two choruses packed with detail. In it, you’ll find enclosures, side-slipping, passing diminished chords, tritone substitutions, and a few more tricky to understand moments.

A particularly striking technique used throughout is what I’ll call pre-side-slipping. He plays a line or arpeggio a half-step above the chord of the moment and then slips down to the chord to resolve. You can’t miss these lines. They are very dissonant and grab your ear immediately.

One other element worthy of mention would be the line starting at measure 47. This triplet figure has a quirky feel to it. I’ve grown used to Beboppers anticipating beats 1 and 3 with triplets. Here, Tristano uses the same rhythmic language, but into 2 and 4 instead, giving it a loping, exaggerated quality.

The solo was supported by very understated comping, and since I was playing this on tenor sax anyways, I’ve chosen to omit it. Maybe you can take on that challenge? Regardless, I’ve provided the Right Hand part in C and Bb for your exploration.

The Transcription

The Lee Konitz transcription on the Transcriptions page was from the same class, and the Ornette Coleman transcription was done for Allan’s Free Jazz Styles course.

Posted in Jazz, Practicing, Transcription | 19 Comments

Chris Potter Plays “Seven Eleven”

Starting next week (on Jun 28th), at The Nash, I’ll be teaching a 3-session class on transcription – this being the main means by which I’ve developed as a musician. We’re going to look at my process, what I do with it when I’m done, and how to get the most out of the process. Each participant will be challenged to take on all or at least part of a solo that interests them. Then, as a group, we’ll apply some of the strategies I use in my own practice to make transcription as effective as I feel it is.

With that in mind, I decided to go back and complete a solo I picked at years ago. Chris Potter has long been one of my favorite musicians. His fluency on the horn, rich sound, and the incredible fluidity of his ideas, have drawn me in time and time again. This solo was one of the very first that caught my ear. And it was one of the first times I’d ever heard a soloist navigate a really complex system of meters.

Lets break the tune down…

As the name suggests, the tune is largely in groups of 7 then 11, but I’ve chosen to write it 4/4 + 3/4 (7) 4/4 + 4/4 + 3/4 (11) just to make it easier to read and to see where the changes generally drop. To add to the intricacy, while the bridge is in 4/4, it’s grouped in 3-bar phrases, which Chris stays pretty faithful to in his solo. In contrast, Sco ignores the 3-bar structure and just jams out in 4-bar groups.

Chris’s solo, as is typical of his playing, is right down the middle on the tune, nailing every change and meter. Its a masterclass in “playing the changes” and navigating tricky rhythmic combinations. Rather than draw your attention to any one particular phrase, I suggest you just look at each mini-chorus in his solo and get a sense for the groupings and resolutions that give his lines the rock-solid feel it has.

And here’s the transcription:

A few practice takeaways

  • The opening lines at [F] give you an idea of how he manipulates rhythm to dance around the meters. Whatever idea he’s playing gets compressed over the 3’s. This is pretty easy to practice…just omit a few notes whenever the meter gets shorter.
  • Starting 4 before [L], Chris uses a lot of sounds inspired by the diminished scale. Given the D7 to F7 movement in the chords, and his tritone sub usage on A7 in the later choruses, all of this makes perfect sense. Its really nice to see some diminished lines that don’t fit all the cliches. Keep in mind that anything you play in the diminished scale can be cycled up or down in minor thirds, tritones…etc.
  • Not really much of a practice tip, but check out the leaps in the line around [I]. So cool

Let me know what you think in the comments. Also, if you catch any errors, hit me up. I’m a real stickler for precision and won’t mind the feedback.

Posted in Jazz, Practicing, Transcription | 3 Comments

Its Been a Hard Day’s Night

Hey infrequent visitors!

I disappeared for a while in the internet sphere. And I make no promises there’ll be any regular posts, but here’s what I have in the fire cooking for you…

My transcriptions continue, so I intend to add lots of that going forward. Bookmark the transcriptions page and check back once in a while for updates.

If you’d like to take a low commitment workshop on technology, or on using transcriptions to improve your improvisations, I’m at The Nash a few times this summer.

Beyond that, you can find me with some new projects around the valley. I’m playing with Running From Bears the second Monday of every month, which incidentally released its second album on Edgetone Records. I’ll be with The Nash Composers’ Coalition again in the fall if they’ll have me. Simply an amazing project! And I will continue to run the PVCC Wednesday Night Band. Upcoming, we’ll be featuring Lucas Pino’s music, some deep things from Dave Douglas, and with a little luck, I’m hoping to get my hands on some Joe Lovano medium sized-group repertoire. Anyone have a connection?

Ok…enough for now. More to come.

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Go Dig!

Here are the albums I can’t stop spinning:

An intricate suite of compositions revolving around a modern indie rock fusion with leanings towards the work of David Binney, Alas No Axis and the Bad Plus. A must listen!

Continuing my obsession with drums, I can’t get enough of the playing on this record. Not only does Sanchez dominate with style, Chris Potter and David Sanchez show us just how intricate and complex these relaxed, open forms can get.

A classic, but one that’s returned to high rotation. Sco put together a live recording from some of his ing-time associations. The rapport on this set is practically psychic. Bill Stewart demonstrates why he’s a top call drummer, and Steve Swallow’s charming eccentricities are a joyous treat.

Posted in Jazz, Music | 4 Comments

In Celebration of Drums

There’s been a ton of good music this year, but for the last month or so, the music scene has felt slow. So rather than plug recent records, I think I’ll take inspiration from my Summer obsession – learning drum set. In honor of this, here’s a few drum records I’m really digging right now:

Bert’s Playground, Ari Hoenig

Ari is celebrated for playing melodies on his drum set. He has several albums on his site playing standards on solo drum set. Wild stuff…you can actually hear the melodies going by. And sometimes, he plays some crazy stuff while singing…so…

This album is him with a band of monsters. Chris Potter and Jonathan Kriesberg are amazing additions. And the rest of the band are no slouches. The set opens up with a ridiculously chopsy version of “Moment’s Notice” in 7/8. And it features a nasty little reharm. on the extended C section of the tune. Great solos throughout. I also recommend “Green Spleen”.

Birds of a Feather, Roy Haynes

One of the great drum heroes and a celebrated master of bebop released this tribute to Charlie Parker in 2001. It features a line up of young lions including Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, David Kikowski and Dave Holland, but the real features here are the arrangements. “Yardbird Suite” and “Barbados” are real standouts.

Telepathy, Bill Stewart

One of my favorite drummers! He has an intricate, highly textured style featuring amazing cymbal work. All of his albums are worth checking out, as well as several of his sideman dates (En Route from John Scofield being a personal favorite), but Telepathy comes up time and time again among critics as a masterpiece.

So, tell me…what are your favorite drum records from any style?

Posted in Jazz, Music | 1 Comment

Recent Music Reviews: Ultraísta, Wires Under Tension and Soundgarden

There’s been a ton of great music being released recently…enough that I’ve nearly burned through my credit it Zia, one of our local CD stores. I’m going to hit a few highlights I recommend here.

UltraístaUltraísta, by Ultraísta (8/10)

Nigel Godrich, best known to my friends as Radiohead’s producer, but a talented songwriter in his own, has just put out a new project with singer Laura Bettinson. Its very reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, which is not surprising since Nigel was instrumental in engineering this record.

The vibe of the record is stark, synth-laden and a bit droning. And it took a little time to adapt to it. The first time I let it roll, I was unimpressed. The barren soundscapes didn’t click. But there was enough to come back for to make me leave it in the car cd player. With each repeat, I found more to enjoy – clever harmonies, melodies that were elusive on the first pass, surprise twists in the arrangements… All in all, this has been a good slow-burn recording.

Stand-out tracks include “Bad Insect”, “Smalltalk” and “Static Light”. Recommended for fans of Yorke’s The Eraser, James Blake, electronic music with vocals.

Wires Under Tension's ReplicantReplicant, by Wires Under Tension (8/10)

In the vein of Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai and the instrumental experiments of Sufjan Stevens, Wires Under Tension is an electronic meets live / acoustic instruments ensemble featuring two thoughtful, classically-minded collaborators. The music is full of looping, electronic manipulations, and live improvisation all fed into some software tools to create some very complex soundscapes. I liked this right off the bat, but I’ve been exposed to music like this a lot. Much like jazz, there’s a certain language to this style of performance that not everyone will get right off.

Plan to give it a few passes if instrumental exploration isn’t your normal thing. Here’s a bit of performance footage to get you started.

Soundgarden's King AnimalKing Animal, by Soundgarden (9/10)

After 15 years doing other things, the Seattle boys in Soundgarden have released a new album. Given the weakness of Audioslave and Chris Cornell’s solo projects, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in this one being any good. I mean, “Like a Stone”, really?

Thankfully, it turns out that Cornell is at his ballsiest, bluesiest, and most experimental when he’s backed up by Shepard, Cameron and Thayil. The band sounds energized and back to form. The songs are rich, layered and complex. Chris’s vocals have his trademark roar all over them. Kim’s guitar work is just as quirky and exotic as ever. And there’s more key changes, meter changes and odd chords per track than I’ve heard since Radiohead on Kid A.

As the disc started, I was let down by the not-bad-but-very-trite “Been Away Too Long” that probably opened the record only for its goofy symbolism, and “Non-State Actor”, which while good, is a typical Shepard art-punk track that didn’t wow me. Not bad songs, but nothing to pull you in.

But that’s when track three began…

Starting with “On Crooked Steps”, there’s a brilliant 3-song run that hooked me in. This is the triumphant return of Soundgarden! Its all here – quirky, blues-scale choruses layered over odd meter, and strange chord choices that only Soundgarden would ever think of, freshly pouring from your speakers. From that point on, excluding the throwaway track “Halfway There”, which will mostly only appeal to fans of Chris’ recent solo work , its a uniformly strong album.

If you’re new to Soundgarden, you’ll probably still like this record, but its decidedly 90s vibe will appeal more to long-time fans of the band. The music sounds fresh to my ears, but this is a signature sound of an older era. The sludgy 90s art rock kings are back with this album.

Recommended tracks include “On Crooked Steps”, “Blood on the Valley Floor”, “Eyelid’s Mouth” (the “Limo-Wreck” of this collection) and the oddly plodding but groove-driven “Rowing”.

Posted in Music, News | 2 Comments

Riffing On Audio Quality…

Ian in Headphones

I’ve been ripping my CD collection to my computer for (oh, what…like) 2 years or so. I chose to use 258kbps aac files, the Apple standard for lossy encoding (meaning audio data is lost). It sounds good and yields small files. Great for archiving…or so I thought.

See…I’ve been selling off the bulk of those CDs to local record shops to recoup some of my investment…but my archive was a lossy format. Maybe I’m a bit OCD (haha…a bit…), but the fact that the audio on the CDs was superior to the versions I’d archived started to get under my skin. At first, my solution was to upgrade the files to 320kbps…

That didn’t help…the files sound good but its still a lossy format. And it didn’t take long before I began to get bugged again. Even though CDs (16 bit typically) themselves are lower quality than acoustic / analog sound (ugh…don’t get me started), it’s what I had, and in most cases, the best available way to hear a particular recording. And I owned them in that format but was selling them relatively cheap without properly ripping them…arrgghhh!

See, now I’ve got myself all worked up. 🙂

Well, now I rip everything with Apple Lossless. As the name says, it’s lossless…the files are pretty big. But now I don’t lose anything except the physical stuff, which was taking up too much space anyways.

A size and sound comparison…

The 4 minute Radiohead song “15 Step” is 7.5mb if you use the “standard” 258kbps format.

That same 4 minute Radiohead song is 25.8mb using Apple Lossless.

That’s a pretty huge leap in file size. And how big is the difference in sound quality? Well, in headphones, the Apple Lossless track is warmer (not by a lot, but its there) and a lot louder. I get better definition in the bass and cymbals, and saxes and brass sound fuller to my ear. But it’s all just a marginal improvement. Without headphones, this is way more subtle. I really only notice the volume change and a general warmer sound to the track.

Worth it? To me, yes. But my collection takes up a laughably huge amount of space on a separate terabyte hard drive I have (457 gigabytes currently and I have 500+ discs to go). A small-ish price to pay for peace of mind…

Does this stuff bother you? What solution have you come up with? Or are you blissfully unconcerned?

Posted in Music, Technology | 6 Comments

Chris Potter plays Pat Metheny’s “New Year”

Pat Metheny - Unity Band

Pat Metheny has always been one of my heroes. With Michael Brecker as a saxophone hero in the 90s, you really couldn’t miss Pat, as he was on many of Brecker’s albums, and vice versa. Well, as I’m sure most of you know, we lost Michael on January 13th, 2007, breaking this duo up for good.

While Brecker will be greatly missed, it seems Metheny has found a new saxophone virtuoso to work with. This time, Chris Potter is taking the tenor chair. Needless to say, the match is fantastic. Their CD Unity Band is an explosive, dynamic and complex recording featuring Pat’s usual melodic, folk rock infused compositions and extraordinarily technical solos. To add to the weight of the album, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams make for a fantastic back line.

I was inspired to pick this track due to the band’s impending concert, this Saturday (the 29th) at Mesa Arts Center. It promises to be amazing. I can’t wait!

On to the transcription!

This is the first track from Unity Band, called “New Year”. It’s a latin tinged composition with twisting harmonies. After a quasi-classical rubato guitar intro by Metheny, the head enters, loosely playing off a quarter note triplet theme. Pat’s solo is surprisingly understated, probably due to the acoustic guitar, but very melodic and smooth despite the colorful harmonies.

But onto Chris…

This solo is masterclass on arpeggios. His opening lines (at D) are sweeping, unadorned outlines of the harmonies. And in the rare moments he veers away from that, he contrast them with elegant melodies and lightning fast displays of his bebop chops. Its a very refined solo, even for Chris.

A few favorite moments

  • Measure 147 begins one of those bebop displays. Check out the slick pivot from concert A-7 to C-7, with a strong implied F7.
  • Chorus (E) shows off some development with a triplet run that meticulously outlines the changes. Note where he places the starting and ending notes of each grouping.
  • 169 is a playful line that has the feel of a Rousseau classic etude and is played in a similar fashion. I love the ear-twisiting shift to the G-∆7.
  • The coda (starting at H) takes the alternate end of the 2nd solo chorus form and turns it into a 14-beat loop. As always, Chris’s ability to navigate these shifts in meter is flawless. Check out the double-time moment at 271!

This solo is probably one of the more straight ahead ones to draw ideas from. The lines are perfectly on the chords, the changes, while unusual, follow a lot of logical patterns, and many of the juiciest moments land on common sequences of chords. So instead of practice tips, I’m going to suggest you just dig in and steal to your heart’s content.

See you at the concert on Saturday!

Posted in Jazz, Transcription | 4 Comments

New St. Vincent, Now with Avant-Garde Master David Byrne and a Brass Band

The new David Byrne / St. Vincent record dropped today via email. Its pop, hook laden, but as odd as you’d expect from these two playful weirdos. Here’s the video for “Who”, the 1st track in the collection:

I’m going to be reviewing this one and the new Deerhoof in a double review up later this week…for those that like that sort of thing…

Posted in Music, News | 1 Comment

Tom Waits, “Hell Broke Luce”

The wait is over! Tom teased this for a few days in a row with stills and odd slogans, only to release a fantastically odd video. It seems to be a hardened, roughneck soldier dealing with the horrors of war.

Posted in Music | 3 Comments