The Wiz is probably my favorite musical of all time. The music is just amazing. Or course Diana Ross and Michael Jackson stand out, but the backing music is also worth a listen. In case you didn’t notice, that’s Michael Brecker blowing on all of those tracks!
He’s using some kind of auto-wah effect. The technology was probably a lot different in the 70s, but I’ve done my best to replicate the effect with the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls.
I set it on the high-pass filter mode, and pretty much turned every knob to its most sensitive settings, but with the start/stop knobs set around ’10 and 2′ respectively (clock face settings).
The solo itself is pretty short and sweet, but very funky. He sticks to the blues scale almost exclusively. He makes great use of repetition. Bar three calls back to bar one. Bar six calls back to bar five. The peak of the solo is a run that doubles (perfectly) up the octave leading up to the altissimo b5. That run is still super tough for me. I can nail it at 80% speed, but didn’t have time to work it all the way to 100% this week. I spent too much time futzing with the new pedal!
More Blues Brothers. Another Tom “Bones” Malone Bone solo, transposed for Tenor.
Bone solos are interesting to play on saxophone. The slide makes glisses and bends such a natural part of every note, and it’s different than the way a lip bend works on the saxophone. Check out the last measure. Since it’s too fast to do a lip bend, I went for the 1-2 RH key alternate fingering for A to flatten the note instead of playing it straight down to G#
This song is pretty simple – one chord with the same driving background riff the whole time. Everyone takes 16 bars. I’ll post some of the other solos over the coming weeks as well.
We’re definitely in a ‘guitar’ key. Tom sticks pretty much to the minor pentatonic scale with the occasional flat 5 and 13 for color.
Continuing on the Blues Brother theme…this solo is definitely by Tom “Bones” Malone. My first trombone solo on this blog! I transposed for Tenor since the range is fairly similar.
I love the 12/8 feel on this one, it really swings hard. Harmonically, it’s a little more complex. While he relies a lot on the pentatonic scale, he uses a lot more 9s and 13s on this solo.
I love the transition from the end of the first chorus in to the start of the second chorus. It’s a great example of building on a simple theme. He takes it up an octave at the top of the chorus to kick the solo into the next gear. The lick over the four chord on the second chorus is great. There’s so much gold to mine in this solo!
I was saddened to hear about the loss of Walter Becker, one of the founders of Steely Dan. I’ll admit, I have more of an academic appreciation for Steely Dan than true passion. It’s not music that I sit and listen to often, but when I do, I can recognize the craft that went in to its creation. No band has bridged pop, rock, and jazz so beautifully. The horn arrangements are always great, and they have worked with some of the best sax players ever.
This is one of the classic Steely Dan sax solos – by Pete Christlieb. I met Pete when he was the guest artist at my high school’s jazz festival one year. Of course I didn’t know much about him at the time, and I certainly wasn’t hip to Steely Dan back then. But he was a hell of a tenor player and left a big impression on me.
I’ve had this transcription on the shelf for a while. I should have posted it before my surgery. I spent a few days trying to work it back up, but my high chops aren’t where they need to be to pull it off. Maybe in a few months?
Update: I finally posted the video. It’s not perfect, but then, they never are!
Like most Steely Dan songs, the changes are pretty intimidating, but Pete plays beautifully over them. Picking out chord changes by ear is my weakness, so I cross-checked a few sources until I found chords that seem to match.
Finishing off the track from last week’s post – here’s the tenor solo from People Get Ready. I’m pretty sure that this is Tim Garland. He’s actually credited on the liner notes.
A nice 16-bar funk solo over (concert) C. Pretty straightforward tonally. I like how he plays the major and minor third against each other in bars 3. Nice use of the 13 in the next bar to give some tonal contrast, and he leans on the 9 a few bars later. With the exception of a few 9s and 13s, he sticks pretty closely to the blues scale. throughout.
I fly for work a fair amount, and this week I luckily found myself upgraded to first class! I posted on Facebook that I had been ‘bumped up to first class’ and a musician friend of mine replied with the album cover to this CD. He got the reference!
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Doc Kupka (founding member and baritone sax player for Tower of Power) started his own record label a few years back called ‘Strokeland Records‘. Doctorfunk was fortunate enough to be one of the early bands distributed by the label. Doc’s own ‘Strokeland Superband‘ also records for the label of course.
One of the things that I admire about Doc is the fact that despite all of the success he’s had with Tower of Power, he still has more to give. He writes A LOT, and if stuck to TOP 100%, he wouldn’t be able to get his own music out there as much as he wanted. So he started Strokeland. Doctorfunk even recorded a few of his songs on our first CD. He wants to get his stuff out there. Strokeland is a vehicle for that. So if you haven’t checked it out – go do it!
The Superband recordings are great. He uses different vocalists for every tune – whoever fits the music best. It’s amazing to hear Huey Lewis on this stuff, he was made for it! Fred Ross sings on this track. And Lenny Pickett takes a sax solo. If you’re putting together a funk/soul super band, who else are you going to get to take the sax solos?
This one is pretty short, an eight bar bridge over the four chord. Some pretty high stuff in the last few bars but otherwise fairly approachable. This is on my list to work up when I’ve recovered from my jaw surgery. I’m coming up on five months now and playing is still nearly impossible. But I’ve still got my transcriptions…
Years ago, I got a copy of a rare bootleg of TOP playing live in-studio at a radio station. The sound quality wasn’t great, but the playing was. It was early 70s, with the classic lineup, including Lenny Pickett.
Then a few years ago, they officially released those recordings as ‘The East Bay Archives’, a re-mastered 2-CD set. The sound quality still isn’t great, but I still recommend picking it up. There’s only so much they can do given the quality of the source material. The audio cuts out entirely in two spots during the solo. Some sound engineer must have been messing with something and hit a button that he shouldn’t have (twice).
This solo give us the chance to check out Lenny’s approach to Funkifize. I transcribed the original Skip Mesquite solo here a while back.
It’s a 24-bar solo, and the first 12 bars are pretty approachable from a technical standpoint. He uses that false-fingering on middle E that he likes so much for about two bars. It drives me crazy that I can’t figure out exactly what he’s doing there.
The next 12 bars get a little more interesting, jumping up to the upper register, with a climb at the end that slides up to a double-A. Crazy!
Since I’m still unable to play due to my jaw surgery recovery, I might as well break out the Brecker transcriptions!
Actually, this may be the only one I’ve done. I’m certainly no Carl Coan! Brecker’s stuff is impossibly hard to transcribe and play, and this solo is no exception. So I’m sure that it’s full of mistakes, but it’s the best that I can do.
I can play the first half reasonably well, but things get crazy in the second half (in typical Brecker fashion).
I recommend learning the first part if you can. It’s quite approachable, and has some great ideas. The first eight bars are a master class in developing an idea.
The next four bars play with rhythm and space, and then the next four bars add some interesting harmony and layer in some intervals to provide some contrast.
Brecker does an amazing job on this harmonically simple song. He brings in such rich ideas. He had such breadth and depth in his playing, it’s a tragedy that we lost him so prematurely.
Second Opinion was all original material, with the exception of this song. Yes, it’s that “Back in Black”, by AC/DC.
We thought it would be fun to throw in one cover song, but to do something really different, that we could put our own stamp on. We had done that on the first album with “I’m a Man” by Spencer Davis, and it went over really well.
There’s some debate about where the idea came from. My wife is a huge AC/DC fan, and we had seen them live around the time we were gearing up for the album. I think she might have suggested it to me, and I brought it to the band. We were already working with Jeff on the material at that point, so we were getting pretty close to going in to the studio.
The rhythm section guys recorded their tracks before we had any horn parts, which was pretty unusual for us. So they did a rough arrangement, and then when the horns went to do their parts, Jack wrote stuff to fit. So we never played this one live until after the album was done. But it goes over very well live – we usually close a set with it.
It starts off slow, just drums, and it’s pretty down-tempo. Most people don’t recognize the song until the lyrics come in, and some people still don’t until the chorus hits. By that time, everyone is on-board and singing along!
Alexey plays a very cool solo here. He pushes the harmony a bit to create tension. The fast runs at the end are tough to transcribe, but I think they are pretty close. And then of course he takes it way up high to end the solo!
Promises is another tune from Doctorfunk’s album “Second Opinion”. This one was written by Jack Halsey, our lead trumpet player, horn arranger, and musical director. It’s a slow funk groove with a great feel to it.
Alexey Nikolaev turns in another great solo on this one, with both fills around the verses as well as a feature solo as well. I love the intervallic work he does during the solo, both up in the altissimo range, but also down to the bottom end of the horn. It really gives the solo some nice contrast and feels unexpected.