Michael Brecker plays “Midnight Voyage”

Michael Brecker - Tales Hudson CoverMichael Brecker and I have a long, rich history…not the person himself (God rest his soul) unfortunately, but his recordings for sure. Michael’s records brought me into Jazz, and I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, which were wonderful moments for me, and I’m sure quite uneventful for him, me being just another in his legion of fans.

You see, when I was just cutting my teeth on Jazz in the early 90s, I found a cassette tape of Brecker’s recording Now You See It, Now You Don’t. Saxophone monster (and fellow Bulldog) Josh Cook gave it to me in while I was in High School, which I had listened to and then dropped into a box of tapes. I didn’t get it at the time. I was still freaking out over Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and raiding my parents’ closet for Flannel shirts.

A year later, I found my way back to the tape. I had my wisdom teeth out…all 4 cracked in my gums while being pulled. To compensate, the dentist hit me with a blast of anesthesia that had me delirious for almost a week. So in that “enlightened” mental state, I lay in my bed, zoning out. To break the silence, I grabbed a random tape from a box next to me, tossed it in the deck, and was blown away by what I heard. Incredible virtuosity, exotic harmonies, and that incredible sound! I was hooked. Jazz, and Brecker were in my life for better or worse.

So Michael Brecker became my guide into the world of jazz…a hell of a way to start if you ask me. Ridiculous chops, tremendous harmonic vocabulary, and a body of work larger than most players could dream of…now mine for browsing and exploring. Now, even though I’ve moved on to other players and studied much more of the music’s history, Brecker has remained a touchstone for me.

Ok, ok…get to the point already, right?

Michael Brecker’s solo on Midnight Voyage

So this week’s transcription (in honor of his passing, 4 years ago yesterday) is one I did back then…circa 1998 while in Dave Schmidt’s Improvisation class at Glendale Community College. It was only the 2nd solo I ever learned, and man did I push myself with this one. I’ve since gone back and revised this a few times, finding some wrong notes and rhythms here and there, and I took the time to redo the chords I originally wrote…I had the bass notes, but the chord qualities were all wonky.

I gave an earlier version to Eric Dannewitz to publish over at his siteĀ Jazz-sax.com, and I’ve seen this floating around online on several sites that collect piles of transcriptions. Well, forget about those versions. This is the final revision. Version 2.0 if you will. Far more accurate and as clean as I can notate it.

A little analysis

This is a hell of a solo. Blues-inspired lines, pentatonics, melodic minor modes, and hard-edged R&B phrasing, all in the context of a minor blues-influenced form written by Joey Calderazzo. While there’s really a lot that could be said of this one, I tend to focus on just a couple things throughout.

  1. Notice the variety brought to the Bb7, A7b9 progression that ends every 8 bar phrase? Brecker brings a lot of ideas and shapes to this, but almost all of the lines can be seen as implying F-7 over the Bb7, and using A Super-Locrian (Bb Melodic Minor) over the A7b9. Doing a little beat-by-beat analysis shows that Brecker places the more dissonant tones (b9, #9, #5) on the beat or at emphasized points in the line, giving them more attention and “grind”.
  2. I’ve been paying attention to “Forward Motion” (from Hal Galper’s book of the same title) lately. There are several concepts to be had in that text, but a significant one is that well-crafted “singing melodies” lead into target tones (guide tones), rather than lead from them. Brecker’s lines show this all over the place. Notice how he often anticipates a chord by a few beats? This gives his solo a sense of freedom, of not being restricted by perceived bar-lines. It also lends a driving quality to his lines…pushing forward relentlessly.

A Few Brecker-Inspired Practice Tips

  1. Get your Melodic Minor modes working. This solo is a treasure-trove of licks from that vocabulary. Just find an A7b9 in the transcription below and go to town.
  2. Practice Forward Motion. Look ahead to the next chord. Hear a target tone on that chord…whatever comes to mind. Now drive towards it deliberately. You will really get the effect if you lead in with notes in the target chord, rather than the one you’re playing against. This is often called anticipation, and it will help break down the boxy feel of a solo by blurring the lines between chords.
  3. Better yet…read Forward Motion and get to work.
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6 Responses to Michael Brecker plays “Midnight Voyage”

  1. Awesome! I love the idea that melodies go towards targets instead of from them. It’s really something we can learn from great classical music. Thanks for updating the transcription!

  2. Adam says:

    Oh yeah…I need to add you to my Blogroll, Moni. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Neal says:

    That’s funny, I was talking with someone about moving towards notes earlier today, never thinking about the note you’re on, always moving forward. The violin player Heifetz had some ideas about that.

    I liked the part about being in delirium and listening to Brecker.


  4. Adam says:

    Thanks for stopping by Neal! Glad you dug it. BTW…nice site. I’ll keep an eye on it.

  5. Hello,
    Just came to your website when searching google for a transcription of mine of the same Midnight Voyage Brecker solo.
    Wonderful surprise, above all your analysis and tips. Thanks a lot. If you like check out some of my own transcriptions, even if the comments are in portuguese…
    All the best,

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