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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RIP John Taylor

I had the great pleasure of taking some lessons over the years from the great UK based pianist John Taylor. In all our meetings John was candid, forthcoming, funny, and present.  As an improviser, pianist, and composer his output stands as an prime example of a jazz musician who had reached the pinnacle of what is possible musically, a musician who's expression transcended the piano and reached a wide audience.

Of course like many others I came to know John's music through the recordings of Kenny Wheeler. There was a time during the '90s that Wheeler's recordings and concerts were mandatory listening for any student of jazz. Wheeler himself presided over us godlike in his stature as a band leader and sideman, a superlative improviser, also constantly humble and self-depricating. Taylor bared a resemblance to Wheeler in that he was both an energetic and astonishingly advanced and fearless improviser and yet quiet and humble in person.

One group that John participated in during this time was the Peter Erskine trio. Although they only managed to release 4 records that I know of each one reached new levels of group interaction. Featured prominently in this group were the compositions of Taylor himself. The following tune was always one that captured my imagination as I found I could follow it melodically and harmonically and at the same time feel lost a bit. That feeling of being both oriented in the music and yet lost is definitively what characterizes Taylor's compositions for me.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept Part V: Even More Herbie!

In this example we see how Herbie uses his rhythmic concept in combination with upper structures to generate melodic material. The example was chosen because it shows both the use of triads and 4ths structures as upper structures. The first system is a vertical rendering of the melodic line to show both the type of upper structure as well as the harmonic rhythm. Note that the harmonic rhythm is displaced by a triplet eighth which we already saw in Part IV. This displacement seems to be Herbie's favourite way of playing his signature polyrhythmic groupings. I would consider to be the foundation of Herbie's rhythmic concept in general.

The bellow transcription is from mm 65-70 which starts at 3:56.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept Part IV: More Herbie!

Here is another example of the kinds of lines you can build using Herbie's Eighth note groupings. The chord progression is a II-V7-I turn around. Note that it is possible to displace the beginnings of the groupings. You can basically start on any of the 3 triplet subdivisions. Also by combining eight and quarter note triplets you can create larger grouping. This quickly becomes complex as it modulates the meter. So make sure when you're practising longer phrases that you teach yourself how to resolve metrically modulated phrases. As you'll see the more complex your rhythmic concept the more easily it is to train wreck your solo!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept Part III

Ok so now that we've been trying to think more like a drummer both at our instrument and away from our instrument I though it would be instructive to find some real live music performances to model and study. Remember the goal is to try and use polyrhythms and formulate some new concepts in your own improvising. The example I've chosen is from my own mentor Herbie Hancock who is someone I've spent a lot of time studying and emulating.

Herbie has had some very developed rhythmic concepts in his playing ever since he burst on the jazz scene in New York at the young age of 21. I find it exhilarating to follow the development of how Herbie expands on these concepts throughout his career. Recordings of Herbie from 2015 next to recordings of him from 1962 bear an incredible resemblance in the way Herbie presents his conceptual elements of rhythm, harmony, and melody. And yet we also hear a remarkable maturation and deepening of these musical elements.

The clip below is from 1964 and demonstrates one of Herbie's hallmark rhythmic concepts. After navigating the changes during the exposition part of many of his solos Herbie is then able to continue to build intensity by using some basic polyrhythmic groupings in different interesting ways. In this case he's basically taking a scale and organizing it into subdivisions of quarter note triplets.

The exercise below demonstrates a way of taking Herbie's rhythmic concept during the last part of his solo. The bar numbers are a bit messed up because I transcribed the solo off the original released recording in which Herbie's solo is heavily edited to take out 2 choruses of material. But just advance the solo to the end part where they stop blowing on the form and are vamping over a II-V7-I-VI cycle.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept II

This week we are going to continue with some examples of how to use our polyrhythmic groupings.  For this exercise I've changed the harmonic/melodic colour to the Lydian mode. Although the result might sound a little "new age-y" you might use it to begin to see the possibilities of applying a rhythmic concept to any chord/scale.  Next post we'll take a look at how one of my favourite jazz pianists, Herbie Hancock, uses polyrhythmic groupings in his solos.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept

Happy new year! To everyone who, like me, is wondering where the time went from last year allow me to introduce an new topic on time...

When I talk about a rhythmic concept in our playing I'm referring to a way of approaching and thinking about improvisation that puts rhythm as the chief organizational concept. Music of course has to have rhythm as well as melody and harmony (or does it?) at least the kind of soloing that I'll be referring to in the next few posts. What I'll be illustrating is the way in which I've been able to relate some of the rhythmic exercises I developed in the "Think like a drummer" posts to my instrument, the piano. I've attempted to make a few of the exercises playable by both pianists and non pianists alike. Because of the way in which playing the piano co-ordinates two hands it's useful for all instrumentalists to work on these exercises as a way of internalizing the concepts. Later I'll analyze a solo by Herbie Hancock to demonstrate how a true master uses them.

For the first exercise I've taken the octatonic scale and divided it equally between the two hands. Once you've finished learning these make sure you try switching hands. Alway put the metronome on and keep tapping your foot in eighth notes.