Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Con Alma Transcription Project

I will keep updating this particular post as I complete the process of Transcribing Con Alma -- Alan Pasqua solo on the 'Standards' Album, this album was a Jazz Grammy Finalist, I think in 2010.

Now the whole point of this is to learn the reharmonization structures he uses to make this tune sound outside on the A section. It uses intervallic lines based around augmented triads. So this is a continuation of my discovery blog on 'Playing Outside'.

Unfortunately, I can't find the actual track on Youtube so below is a live performance so it will not match the transcription. After listening to this particular one, he's sticking to the same tonality and I can hear the same structure but he's playing it completely differently from the original record (as I would expect).

Anyway, the starting point is the leadsheet below. This sounds like what the bass player was playing.

Now this is an interesting version to figure out because if you listen to the original recording, you can hear that it sounds pretty 'out' on the A section.

Specifically,  AP reharmonized this with Maj7#5, Dom 7 with #5 b9 and #11 in the A section. The intervals used are primarily triad shapes. So they're made to imply harmony.

The B section is played completely inside the standard harmony as far as I could hear (I've transcribed the first chorus only). There are only two chords per bar so all extra chords beyond 2 are not played.

Transcription is based on this track:
Partial Transcription. First A section of solo.
As the transcription shows, all the Maj7 chords have a #5. The first EMaj7 has a #5 but before the first chord is played. The EMaj7 is implied I think since no chords are played on the pickup. Alterations on the dominants vary. Sometimes only a #5, and at the most b9, #11, and #5. The solo is heavy on triad shapes, including Augmented triads. I'm not sure if I positioned the triplets correctly on the bar line but it's close enough for analysis purposes. I'm just not good at notating rhythm.
As a practice strategy here, clearly one needs to visualize the various dominant alterations as triad shapes. To be able to pull this at will like below requires complete mastery of 12 tones for each chord.
This whole Con Alma transcription project revealed some new shapes to me, like arpeggiations within a whole tone scale. When I got familiar with that, going a little out on Con Alma isn't that hard at all. The issue is how not to overdo it. I got a lot of ideas here. By looking for triad shapes in the WT scale, I could really have only one 'out' note. Either a #11 or a #5.
Now AP isn't just using a WT scale. Lots of triad upper structures. But if I'm going to have a take on what I learned here, it's that I shouldn't abuse the 'color'.
One could play this tune completely inside at moments than subtly switch to what AP is doing. And thus it really offers some fun opportunities for playing with tension/release and surprise the audience a little.
I guess these realizations are the payback for the hard transcription work.




Playing 'Outside' Part 3

So far, I've only discussed my forays into structured approaches to playing outside (or adding colors).

There's an alternative strategy and one that I've just recently gotten comfortable with. This is the Kenny Werner version of "Free" playing. His idea is THERE IS NO WRONG NOTE.

This is a little different because how does the ear perceive a mistake in jazz vs. an intent? Each time I start a gig now, before the band starts, I just get into a Kenny Werner mode of just playing random notes on the piano. And I have to admit, that because I do it with intent, it doesn't sound out of place or dissonant.

I think when we lack intent, it becomes obvious in the phrasing. We leave the dissonant note extremely fast in our embarrassment. But it really sounds different when you hold on to a dissonant note. It may actually start to fit the harmony after a few bars. I'm actually amazed at some unusual harmonies that come out of free play.

What's more important here is that phrasing a line dominates more than the actual notes selected. At least this has been my observation.

Now do I have the guts to play free while there's a combo backing me up and I'd have to conflict with the bass player? At this point, I don't have that confidence to try it at a gig. Maybe once of these days I'll experiment at a jam when it's the last tune or something.

In the end, music is, as my teacher would emphasize, is a play on tension and release.  How we arrive at the tension and how much of it, is a personal taste and can be of the Cecil Taylor extreme, or the more mild one or two note dissonances. This is the art of it.

I thought the Jaki Byard's dissonant notes were fine. It added interest for me. Apparently it's even too much for some. I have to admit that when I first started learning about Jazz in late 2004, I actually searched for tunes that had unexpected 'outside' colors. So maybe I'm outside (no pun intended) the norm here. Maybe it's why I like Modern jazz more because there's more of this.

Time to listen to more Herbie and Wayne Shorter! (I have tickets for May 2013). When I heard them before, they will just play the melody and switch keys so the melody was more important than the key. I think this year, I will have more understanding of what's going on.

Playing 'Outside' Part 2

Over a year ago, I took a few lessons from a teacher from the East Coast and one of the earliest comments I got was my lack of 'hip' colors in my playing. My lines were completely diatonic (excluding passing tones) and I didn't play anything out. He told me to work on that.

A year later, and I'm just beginning to foray using a little bit and there for live performances. It still takes too much thinking so often I have to prepare for it tune by tune (studying the progressions).

So to force myself to apply this in my playing, I'm going to lay out some of the specific exercises I need to do so I can integrate some hip colors in my solo, starting with the easiest.

1.       One of the easier places to play out is in a Dorian mode. This I do apply frequently. In the tune So What, which is in D Dorian, and then Eb Dorian, you have an example of being able to clearly see when you are playing out.

When in D Dorian (Dm), all the white notes can be used in the solo. All those notes are diatonic. So if one uses some black notes, then you are clearly outside of the harmony and you are a half-step up. I saw this done in a video on Youtube and it sounded good. You can control how much you play out by how often you go to a black note (which is in effect playing Eb Dorian over Dm). This one is easily implemented and I do it now for a portion of my solo in So What.

Now where I can take this further is not to think of the scale but actually come up with a melodic line in D Dorian and then translate it a half step up to Eb Dorian. That would be an excellent practice strategy for me to move this up a notch.

2.      Another area that I could easily implement on playing with more colors or more outside sounding lines, is to do diminished cycle substitutions on my dominants. I did practice it before but I slacked off. The idea here is to sub a dominant a minor third away so you have 4 variations, b9, b5, #11, and 13. It's pretty easy to do. Just move the rootless (7)(13) voicing up and down in minor thirds. What I'm not implementing correctly though is the translate the LH voicing to a RH triad shapes which apply to the color of the LH voicing. So more woodshedding to be done here.

3.      An easy trick on dominants is to play a minor triad a half step up from the root. So you end up with a b9-3-#5. This is easy to visualize so I've been doing this a lot now and it's very commonly used (heard it on the AP and Herbie videos too). But thinking about this more, one can modify the triad to 9-3-#5, 1-3-#5, b9-3-5 (in inversions) so that you don't overdo the color. This requires really deep visualization of all the possibilities in real time. I can do it without thinking now on many ii-V's but some are not handy to the fingers.

On a related point, I transcribed a little lick that melodically inserts the  #5 in the dominant. The main feature of the ii-V-I lick was a descending chromatic series of 3 notes where the first note is the 9 of the ii,  middle note lands on the #5 of the V and the last note ends on the 9 of the I.

4.     Specifically applicable to dominants, I need to start implementing playing of alternate scales such as H-W Diminished, Whole-Tone, and ALT. And ALT scale would imply a full Tritone sub, while the H-W diminished gives the next level of outside tones (b9, #9, #11) and then the Whole-Tone scale gives 2 notes of outside tones (#11, #5). So here it's a matter of degree of color needed.

I did transcribe some Chick Corea lines to see how he handled H-W Diminished. It's too easy to think of these as scales. I really haven't worked them to the level of intervallic playing or triad shapes. I need to do that.

This reminds me, someone on the forum was saying that at the Aebersold camp, they were pushing the use of Lydian Dominants (Dom7#11). Maybe I need to find lines that show this is an example since I don't know why they were pushing for Lydian specifically vs. any of the other color options above. I guess Lydian would be the lightest alteration scale wise. Only 1 color tone. Maybe this is the easiest to absorb? I don't know.

5.      Something easily done (and copied from Herbie) was the use of chromatic chord movements on minor chords. For example, if a tune stays for a long time in Cm7, then one can voice C#m7, Bm7 as passing chords. This means the melodic lines can sway back and forth like that too. I've been using this a lot in slower minor blues or Footprints.

6.       A more advanced technique that requires intense practice is the use of Augmented triads. I mentioned this as the technique being used by Alan in the prior video. Basically it involves reharmonization of a ii-V-I along the lines of using augmented triads as follows:
ii --> min(maj)7 #5  - Aug Triad shape centered on b3.
V --> Dom 7 #5 - Aug Triad shape centered on 3
I --> Maj7 #5 - Aug Triad shape centered on 3

So each of the above chords in a ii-V-I receives one note that is outside the expected diatonic harmony. I just transcribed a portion of the use of this in Alan's version of Con Alma. Clearly, one needs to be more aware of melodic movement and not just think of the triad. There's a lot more to learn here.

7.      Rhythmic Displacement is another technique to bring out tension notes. The problem is that I haven't studied were this is best used. It's not so interesting when used for example in delaying the ii in a ii-V (sounds like a Sus chord) or anticipating the V (sounds like a ii(m6) ). It has to be used where the next chord or prior chord is a modulation or at least enough difference in the notes that you know exactly which note is being sounded out as dissonant. I really haven't studied this one deeply enough. It requires a lot more research. All I know is that in a ii-V, there are alternate explanations (like delayed resolution) that translate really to reharms like Sus chords and Cm6 tonic sounds etc.

8.      A specific sound that I learned from Stolen Moments is how the C-7 chord gets some color by playing Dm7(9) voicing underneath as a passing chord. This gets into forays into shifting from major to minor. I don't think this is particularly being outside but it provides color if there's no conflict in playing the 3 instead of the b3 on C-7.

The above is my starting point. I should master the above before proceeding to other things but at least I need to expand the list.

In my early discovery here, I've noticed that one can play with this and work it out on the keyboard. The best outside lines seem to be ones that only highlight a note or two as having dissonance. So one could attack this as upper structure triads too.

I haven't really gone into thinking about this as upper structure triads because I've gone to more specific identification of the alterations. For example playing D/CMaj7  gives as a nice #11. But it's too obvious to me. I already know where the #11 is. I don't need to think of D since the #11 is the more important color. But that's just me.

Playing 'Outside' - Part 1

We're having a discussion about playing outside in the Piano Forum ABF and I'd like to blog some of that for posterity.

The debate arose when we listened to Beatrice (Sam Rivers) and specifically to Jaki Byard's solo in the middle of the video.

The issue here is that during Jaki Byard's solo, over a progression of | Dm7 | EbMaj7#11 | he plays a D dorian run emphasizing B and then E twice. The problem is using standard harmonic rules, one could say that playing the b9, and #5 on an EbMaj7#11 is a no-no. The line in question can be heard at 2:59 in the video above.

I think there's no question that here he is playing outside. To try to explain this as some chord EbMaj7(b9)(#11)(#5) would be a waste of energy. The question raised was if this was a mistake or intentional. Of course we can only look in hindsight and we can't ask Jaki since he died long ago. Later on I think the #5 can be justified in current practice so I would assume this was no mistake,

So anyway it raised some discussions on approaches to playing outside. Is it "structured" or just "free play"? I only react from what I was taught since my teacher was a student of Jaki Byard. From what I know, going outside has always been a structured matter, where one becomes ever so conscious of the underlying harmony and selectively choosing just a note or two outside of the expected harmony to titillate the senses. At least that's my sense of it when done well.

When playing completely outside (no connection to current harmony -- such as playing a scale 1/2 step up) it may be perceived as a mistake. I have a recording (that I will NOT post) that proves this. We were playing Windows in B- and the Sax player soloed over it in Bb-. Wow that grated my ears big time.

Now listen to these two recordings. One by the Alan Pasqua/Peter Erskine Trio and the other is Herbie Hancock playing Autumn Leaves. Both sounding really out.


So the question here is, are the above indicative of outside playing? Most of the current versions of outside playing have been formulaic and pre-determined based on the copying what others have done before.

I will note to you that some of it I can hear in the Herbie Clip, particulary #5 and b9 triads in dominants, playing a half-step up, playing minor chords half-step up and then back down, and tons more I don't yet understand particularly on non-dominants.These sound like formulas too (reharmonizations) but he just had so much in there that I'd have to try to study it very carefully.

The AP version of outside playing was based on specific decisions about doing harmonic overlays (i.e. reharmonization). I know specifically what was done above.  I worked on it bar by bar. I use it sometimes but cannot sustain it. It is based on augmented triad shapes and developed using the following reharmonization concepts in ii-V-I's.
ii --> min(maj)7
V --> V7(#5)
I --> Maj7(#5)
With the above reharmonizations you can see that augmented triads can be found and this results in ONE note in each chord sounding "out". It's interesting in that (a) the 'outside' sound is not sustained in all notes. You just hear the occasional dissonance. (b) normally we think of going outside on dominant chords and this particular reharmonization sounds out on the entire ii-V-I, but not obsessively so.

In addition to the harmonic overlays, AP did rhythmic displacement (chord anticipation).  I was told that this rhythmic displacement existed with Bud Powell, Tristano, Bill Evans. I couldn't tell you the tunes but it was demonstrated to me in person by my teacher.

So at least in the AP instance above, clearly it wasn't some random playing to go outside. Neither was it some random effect like playing a melody in a different key. AP actually studied the sound and used some particular substitutions.

You will hear a similar sound in his version of  Con Alma. Now did he learn this from Jaki Byard? I don't know.  He doesn't play like Jaki. Not even close. Their sounds are completely opposite.

(To be Continued)

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 2013

Some tunes from tonight's gig.

Inner Urge



Inner Urge is a new tune that I've been working on. Tough! Anyway, I couldn't get the head perfectly each time. There was always some little problem. This is a work in progress. But it's a great challenge since I seem to learn something new each time I play it. It's also very fast and doesn't sound good slow.