Here’s another Tommy P. solo from the latest TOP album. This is one of my favorite songs on the album to listen to, the groove is so funky. I love the background vocals, and I’m pretty sure that’s Chuck Hansen dropping the low notes on Bass sax as well!
This solo is super tough for me to play. I had a really hard time with the pitch on this track. I had to adjust the tuning about 20 cents to get it to lock in, which then made it harder to play. The break on the first bar is a good example. I’m pretty sure that he’s going for the tri-tone, but the pitch on the top note is between the F and F# to my ear. I doubt he’s playing F#, so I’m guessing the F is just high.
Aside from the pitch, there’s a lot of altissimo across the break, which is always tough for me. And then he really goes for it at the end up to the double F#!
Page tow of the transcription is more of a solo over the ride out as the track fades. It’s a long fade so I didn’t bother to record that part.
Sadly, we lost the Queen of Soul recently. As is my tradition here, I honor them in the best way that I can, by highlighting the parts of their catalog that resonate the most with me as a saxophone player.
I found myself on a cross-country airline flight shortly after Aretha’s passing, and I fired up one of her ‘greatest hits’ collections on my phone. Listening back to songs I had heard and played dozens of times, I was struck by how well they have stood the test of time. Dozens of masterpieces, each one more powerful than the next. Not just her singing, but the compositions, the arrangements, the background vocals, the horn parts, the rhythm section – it was all genius of the like we will never see again.
Saxophone solos don’t figure prominently in many of her works, but there are a few. I decided to work up the King Curtis solo from “Respect”. Fun fact – the chords are from one of my favorite Sam and Dave songs: “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”.
The key is a killer for saxophone: Ab/G#! I battled with Finale to try and make the accidentals and key signature readable, and finally gave up. I ended up re-spelling everything as sharps because it insisted on writing triple flats instead of naturals when there were accidentals. So it’s a mess, but the notes are correct.
The rhythm was super challenging to notate, and really, you just have to listen to it and feel it as well as you can. I got it as close as I could while still being readable.
After the rhythm, the hardest part for me to play was the high Ab/G#s. That’s always been my worst altissimo note on any horn. I used the ‘long’ fingering of 1+3 (LH), 1 + side C (RH). If you have a better fingering on Tenor, please share. He does wide jumps each time, so it was hard to get the note to speak.
I think I’ll tackle Blue Lou Marini’s Alto solo from “Think” next (from the Blues Brothers Soundtrack). It’s low in the mix in spots, and of course filled with killer altissimo throughout, so wish me luck!
I think this is the first flute transcription that I’ve posted (and actually played), so hooray! My flute playing needs a lot of work I know, but this solo is just about the level of difficulty I can handle.
Tommy P plays two solos back-to-back on this track, both tenor and flute. I’ll post the tenor one next.
Here’s the sister track to the previous post – the last track of the album. It’s the same song, another take, with the sax solo in the middle this time. They changed the name of the track for some reason.
It’s an eight-bar section, all over the F# pentatonic minor blues scale. It’s really just four licks. I love the F#-C lick (tonic to flat five – using the tritone). I also like how percussive the articulation is, you really need to spit it out!
I’ve been really getting in to the new Tower of Power album – The Soul Side of Town. Tommy P takes a million solos on it, and this is the first one, right out of the gate.
It’s only four bars, but it’s a killer! The altissimo isn’t too high, but he gets around pretty fast. The way he crossed the break in the first bar is amazingly clean. He sticks to the blues scale, and does a trill on the last note, which was unexpected but cool.
This track is very much in the style of ‘Oakland Stroke’, opening and closing the album with a (mostly) instrumental jam. Burning solos by my pal Roger Smith on the organ as well! I’ll work on the closing track next, it’s got a longer solo.
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.
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!