Here’s another Brecker solo from the Wiz. It’s from the first “Ease on Down” rendition, when Michael Jackson and Diana Ross first find the yellow brick road and start dancing across the bridge. For some reason, the solo is heard in the movie, but noton the soundtrack! On the soundtrack recording you just hear the rhythm track with no solo. I don’t know why they did it that way, since the other soundtrack recordings seem to be identical to what is used in the film.
Once again I’m using the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls to replicate the auto-wah effect that he used. I’m using mostly the same settings as the previous post, although I turned the ‘Q’ knob down a bit to about the 3 o’clock position. I also realized after the fact that I had some reverb on in the effect chain. Next time I’ll kill that – it’s too much!
He plays an eight-bar solo, and then doubles the horn line for two bars before the vocals come back in. He sticks pretty closely to the minor pentatonic blues scale, but also juxtaposes the major and minor third (or sharp nine) against each other a lot.
Just like the other solo, he does a killer altissimo run at the peak of the solo. I confess I had to punch that one in, I’m sure you can hear the edit on the recording 😉
I’ve been traveling for work, so no video this week. I wanted to finish up the Poppy Girls solo, and I knew that the back half was going to be too technical for me to play anyhow. So I’m posting the remainder of the solo this week (both parts in one PDF for your convenience)
My business trip was extra long, and I wanted to keep making progress, so I worked up a little hotel room rig that would allow me to keep transcribing on the road. These days I pretty do about 90% of my transcribing on the piano instead of the saxophone anyways, so I’m used to not having my horn handy. It’s quicker for me, and quieter for my family 🙂 This also lets me transcribe straight in to Finale and I generally work in concert key as a result.
For this week I went old school and did my transcribing by hand. I picked up a little pocket-sized book of staff paper at a fancy paper store in San Francisco. I put Transcribe! on my laptop, and a little virtual piano app on my tablet. Transcribe! has a built-in piano but it sounds awful and since I don’t have a touch-screen laptop, it’s not very convenient.
All of this worked pretty well, with the only real problem being that I had two sound sources and no way to mix them. The tablet speakers are good enough, but the laptop speakers are terrible, and you really need good quality sound to pick out the pitches. At one point I had one earphone from each in each ear. I’m not quite sure how to solve this without making it complicated, but it worked well enough.
So here’s the full Poppy Girls solo. The second part is pretty involved (it’s three pages and the first part is only one page). Lots of hard altissimo and technical runs. I did some spot-checking after transferring from my notebook to Finale, but there may be some typos along the way, please forgive me!
Here’s another Michael Brecker solo from The Wiz. This one is an extended solo in two parts. I’m still working on the second part (which is much longer and harder), but I want to queue this up before I leave the country for a few weeks!
This is basically The O’Jays “For the Love of Money”. An extended solo over the groove with no melody. Super funky!
Once again, I’ve done my best to replicate the effect with the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls. This time I dialed back the ‘stop’ knob just a bit because I felt like I was getting too many high partials in the tone.
I barely had time to work this one up, and I totally botched the high part (what else is new)! The opening develops an idea sliding down from the 7th to the 3rd, playing with the time. There’s the usual pentatonic runs throughout, but he also plays around with the b5. Right before the big run up he does a cool rhythmic pattern between the 7 and the root.
It’s nice to hear a funk solo where Brecker can really stretch out. He develops the ideas rhythmically really well.
I’ll probably just post the full transcription when I’m done with no video. I can already tell that it’s out of my league! Michael Brecker man…
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!
Here’s the last solo from the Peter Gunn Theme that I’m going to post, maybe the last Blues Brothers solo, we’ll see (for awhile).
Lew plays a great solo on this track. I don’t feel as though I quite replicated his sound on this one. He’s got a really strong upper register with a hint of growl to it. I never really solo on bari, I pretty much just play low, punchy notes. So this is good for me to work on.
I love how in-the-pocket his playing is in the first part of the solo. Really authoritative and driving. He does a couple trills at the end to wind things down. Nice and simple but effective.
Continuing on my Blues Brothers kick with another “Blue” Lou Marini solo. This is short, but its a doozy! I transcribed this back in high school. It played an integral role in the development of my upper register, which I’m now learning all over again. I almost posted this with no video, but I decided to tough it out and work it up (as best as I can right now).
The first part of the solo is very cool. The timing is amazing to me, it’s way behind the beat, but somehow keeps it together without dragging. Lou relies on the 9th and 13ths a lot for harmonic color.
The last four bars are pretty tough for me right now. High Ab has always been the hardest altissimo note to hit consistently. The best fingering I can come up with is LH:1,3 + RH: 1, middle side key, and D# key. For B and C# I overblow D and E respectively.
The hardest part I have with my surgery recovery is control. Keeping the note from getting away from me and going too high is the challenge. The numbness makes it hard to get the feedback I need. But it’s a work in progress. A month or two ago I couldn’t get above high F at all.
More Blues Brothers! This time, a solo from the legendary “Blue” Lou Marini. Lou is such a distinctive player. His sound and his approach are instantly recognizable. For someone who is so highly regarded as a Blues/R&B player, his approach is much more ‘outside’ than you would expect (harmonically)
This solo is no exception. It opens with a minor third trill from the 5 to the flat 7. He bends up from the flat 5 to create tension. I chose to write it out, because it’s very even in time, and transitions so smoothly into the next line, I struggled find any other way to notate it. How many of us have started an idea with a trill like that only to get stuck with no way out of it? Lou shows how it’s done here, developing an idea and building it into a phrase that leads into the four chord.
The four chord of the first chorus is a good example of his harmonic approach, which is built on the extensions. He’s playing a line around the 5th and 7th, so it’s firmly rooted in the chord, but the other notes are the 9th and 11th.
The feel is also very different from Tom Malone’s solos, which are very on top of the beat. Lou plays with the time quite a bit and often sits on the back end of the beat.
This is another transcription that will have to wait for a video from me. My high chops are out of commission while I’m recovering from surgery, and Lou does a lot of very tricky altissimo work right across the break, which is hard for me to pull off accurately right now.
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.
For my first post back after surgery, I decided to go with an old favorite. As a kid growing up in Chicago in the 70s and 80s, few movies had a bigger impact on me than the Blues Brothers. This song in particular touches my heart, and the playing on it is great, so what better place to start?
This solo really swings, and I really love how he utilizes the full range of the horn. I play a lot of bari and use a lot of air, but I really struggled in spots to drive the whole phrase through to the end with the power that I needed. These are long phrases!
Harmonically, the solo is super straightforward, which is one of the things I love about it. C# (concert E) is a real ‘guitar key’, not always fun for an Eb transposing horn player to get around in, but he plays it beautifully with simple pentatonics, and very sparing use of the flat five for emphasis.
Update: I’m updating this post to credit Lew Del Gatto with the solo. Lew attributes the solos to himself in his bio (https://www.lewdelgatto.com/bio) and this is backed up by the fact that he was in the SNL house band (where the Blues Brothers originated) in the early days. Discogs.com gives him a vague credit of ‘horns’ on the track (citation)
It was Stevie Wonder’s birthday again this week, so I figured I’d work up a transcription of one of his harmonica solos again. Boogie On Reggae Woman is a classic funk groove, and Stevie plays two solos.
These are incredibly hard for me to notate because I try to be super precise in capturing what’s happening. Virtually every note is ornamented in some way – usually with a bend on the entrance or exit of the note. Sometimes it’s a clear grace note while other times it’s a bend.
I read about this solo from a harmonica player’s perspective here: http://www.harpsurgery.com/boogie-on-reggae-woman-harmonica/
You can see from the tab transcription on this page that it’s much simpler to read the tab notation for something like this, especially with dedicated shorthand for bends.
Stevie plays a diatonic harp on this track, which is very rare for him (he almost always plays chromatic). You would think that simplifies the transcription, but it doesn’t. He is such an expert at bending notes that he clearly plays notes that are not found on the diatonic harp. I slowed the recording way down to be sure!
I was hoping to have both solos done, but time got away from me this week, so I’ll post the second half later.