Here’s one more Charles Neville track, this time on Tenor. I have a soft spot for this tune because an old band of mine used to play it in college. It’s super funky.
It’s a super short solo, only eight bars. The interesting thing is that he plays the entire solo in the bottom octave of the horn, which you almost never see in pop music. It doesn’t usually cut through the mix, so guys are always trying to play higher and higher to stand out. It takes a fair amount of control to play down low with control and nuance. He’s almost subtoning in spots, but the sound never cracks.
I included some of the backing lines in the transcription, but not in the video. It’s basically a two-bar phrase played over and over, sometimes repeated, sometimes not. There’s a key change at the bridge, but that’s just chorded in a section, no individual parts stand out.
The key is C# minor on the verses and solos, and Charles sticks strictly to the minor pentatonic. Always a safe choice, and it works here.
Charles Neville passed away this week, and has become my custom, I’m honoring him this week with a transcription of one of his most famous solos from the Neville Brothers hit Yellow Moon.
I love the Neville Brothers, and have been lucky enough to see them live a few times over the years. What an amazing feel, great songs, and of course, Aaron Neville’s voice is one of a kind.
I’ll be honest, I’ve not been a huge fan of Charles Neville as a saxophonist. Specifically, I always feel like he’s trying to play ‘outside’, but never quite pulling it off. Some players, like Maceo, never play outside. They don’t need to. Others, like David Sanborn, do it rarely, but when they do, it has a huge impact. And then there are players like Chris Potter for whom it is a higher art form, woven seamlessly in to the fabric of everything that they do. For me, playing outside the changes can add beautiful color, contrast, texture, and tension. But you have to do it with intention. The real payoff comes with the resolution, when you bring it all together. But it’s a fine line, and if it doesn’t feel intentional, or doesn’t resolve properly, it can cross that line and just feel like wrong notes.
In this solo, Charles is playing chromatically almost the entire time. That can also be used to great effect to build tension, which he does in this solo. I think he pulls it off well in this solo, although there are a few note choices that are questionable to me.
This track starts with a four bar solo before the vocal, and eight bar solo over the verse changes in the middle, and then another longer solo over the fade at the end – the same verse changes. I’ve included all three sections. You’ll need A LOT of air to get through the first solo. It’s basically two four bar phrases, and I could barely make it through each in one breath. There’s an interesting delay effect applied to parts of the solo, which makes the chromatic lines sound particularly dissonant. I chose not to emulate that in my performance because it can make it hard to hear what’s going on.
I’ve been listening to a handful of Neville Brothers recordings this week, and the one thing that strikes me most about Charles’ playing is his tone. He has such a bright, pure tone on Alto that I almost mistake it for soprano sometimes. That’s hard to pull off without sounding shrill on Alto. I guess that’s one of the things that makes the Neville Brothers sound so interesting – Aaron Neville’s has such a tender, lilting quality to it, Charles’ sax playing is clear and bright, yet the rhythm section is funky and dirty. Contrast works.
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!
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.
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 was listening to some old Brand New Heavies this week, and heard this track. I was really in to this CD in college, and transcribed the alto solo. It’s short, but it really burns. It’s pretty straight-forward: blues/pentatonic over C with some chromatic runs. But I love the sound and the attack.
As I was getting ready to post this week, I realized I didn’t know who the alto player was! They aren’t credited on the liner notes. The sax credits I see are Tim Garland or Jim Wellman. I suspect Tim Garland takes the tenor solo on this track. The alto solo comes in right before the fade at the end.
I don’t think it’s the same player laying down both solos. The alto player is definitely on the leading edge of the beat, whereas the tenor player is more in the pocket. That said, I play pretty differently on Alto vs. Tenor, so maybe that’s irrelevant.
If you know who the soloists are on this track, help me out so I can give credit where credit is due!
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…