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!
One of the things that impresses me about Lenny Pickett is that he’s not just a virtuoso on one instrument (the tenor saxophone), he’s also a prolific doubler.
He’s got amazing tone and technique on the flute, and in this recording he really gets to stretch out and show off his flute chops. I’ve seen TOP a number of times, and I’ve always wished that they would incorporate more flute in the horn section. It fits so beautifully in to the classic soul ballad sound.
This track is no exception. For me, it’s the epitome of a sould ballad. Powerful lead vocal with beautiful backing vocals, soaring horns, and a bubbling rhythm section underneath. The solo section slips into a double time latin feel that’s just perfect.
This a live recording, and they execute it brilliantly. Well done guys!
If you’ve never heard this live Rufus and Chaka Khan record, stop what you’re doing right now and go get it! It’s one of my all-time favorites!
Both Chaka and the band are in top form here, and it’s great to hear what the horn section adds to these tunes. I believe Jerry Hey did the horn writing, so it’s no surprise there.
This tune is a beautiful duet, and Ernie Watts turns in a masterful 16-bar solo. I love the phrasing, how he sets up and executes these perfect four-bar ideas that build to a logical conclusion that ties right back in to the tune.
Obviously, the ‘black ink’ through bars 9-10 are the most difficult. But as with many passages, the faster it is, the better it lays on the horn. The tricky part here is how Ernie changes it up in the second bar. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing on the horn, but he’s overblowing the line to hit a higher harmonic. My suspicion is that he’s essentially playing the same line, but adding the front ‘fork’ key in the left hand to facilitate the overtone. When done quickly, it’s a cool effect and very tasteful.
Here’s the last ‘Bass Day’ transcription. It has the same lineup as the previous ones, featuring the quartet of LP, DG, JT, and Rocco. This video looks somewhat ‘official’, perhaps a sponsor of DG? But please support Rocco by buying the DVD from the link below.
Here’s the YouTube video:
This is a pretty straightforward interpretation of the song, just with a smaller ensemble. There’s a quick presentation of the melody, then an eight bar drum solo. Then there’s a sixteen-bar sax solo by LP, which is actually pretty approachable from a technical standpoint. There’s no crazy altissimo, just two Gs and a Bb. There’s a four-bar stretch of alternate Es, which continues to elude me in terms of which alternate fingering he’s using.
I’m still recovering from jaw surgery, so no video from me this week (and for many more weeks), but I may come back and record one for this solo since it’s not that difficult.
Here again is the GoFundMe link to benefit David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen’s recovery:
Here’s another ‘Bass Day’ video featuring the quartet of LP, DG, JT, and Rocco. This time I was able to find a bootleg video on YouTube, but since it doesn’t look ‘official’, please support Rocco by buying the DVD below.
What is Hip starts around 1:50 in to the video
This time, LP has to cover the vocal melody in addition to the horn/organ parts – quite a feat but he handles it well in addition to turning in a fantastic solo. This is a tune that traditionally only has an organ solo on, so it’s nice to hear a horn player stretch out on it. I also love the way LP takes it up and up and up at the end!
Here again is the GoFundMe link to benefit David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen’s recovery:
I apologize in advance since I don’t have a video to refer you to for this transcription. When I transcribed it I was able to find a recording on YouTube, but it has since been taken down. There’s a link to a DVD at the end, which I highly recommend.
The recording was taken from a ‘Bass Day’ performance in 2004 featuring Rocco (legendary Tower of Power bass player). Bass Day is a showcase for bass players, so the performance does not include the full ten-piece Tower of Power band. Instead it’s a quartet performance of some of their songs. I have transcriptions of several that I’ll post in the coming weeks.
LP is the only horn player, so it’s interesting to see which parts he chooses to play to represent the missing band members. The rhythm section include Rocco on bass (of course), David Garibaldi on drums, and Jeff Tamelier on guitar.
I’ve talked before about the special chemistry of the funk rhythm section and this concert shows it beautifully. Even without the organ, the interplay between guitar bass and drums creates a powerful groove for Lenny to solo over.
LP plays some section parts, and then takes a long solo. Actually it feels like he plays two full solos since he brings things to a logical conclusion with a long high note mid-way in to page three. But the rhythm section is still grooving so he re-groups and starts a second solo after briefly re-grouping. It feels like a pretty loose jam so I’m not surprised it wasn’t more carefully orchestrated.
I’ve seen Rocco and Garibaldi play together many times and they both seem to go almost into a trance or meditative state when they play. There is very little communication between them – they are so locked in and can generally anticipate each others’ next move.
On a related note, you may have heard the news recently that David Garibaldi and bass player Marc Van Wageningen were both struck by a train on their way to a TOP gig on January 12. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help them with medical bills:
Here’s the alternate take (previously unreleased) of Squib Cakes, this time from 1981’s Direct album. You may also find it as Direct Plus (re-released in 1997).
This is the same arrangement as the main track (transcription here). It starts off rubato with very loose time, and in fact the rhythm section drops out completely for an out of time cadenza.
It’s interesting to hear LP’s take on these two tracks. You can hear him experimenting with very different ideas and themes within the same framework. I can’t really say I have a preference for one take over the other. When you’re just looking at the sax solo, I find them both interesting in different ways.
I’ve got one more Squib Cakes transcription up my sleeves…stay tuned!