Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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)

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