Steve Khan's Guitar solo on:
"Blue Subtext"(Steve Khan)
One of the most interesting aspects of improvised solos is that, of course, you just never know what is going to emerge from your imagination, and that imagination is also subject to a great backlog of musical memories and information. As much as I loved and adored Wes Montgomery's playing when I was considerably younger, there was a certain point in my development when I just felt that I could never really play like Wes, nor play as well as he played. So, after years of transcribing and studying his body of work, I decided that I had to let it all go and concentrate on finding my own center, and my own approach to playing. In some ways, it's much easier to become a superb clone or descendent of a great player, because your approach has been defined, and you simply have to try to do it well. To find a way to be yourself is a far more difficult task. I mention Wes Montgomery here, because one of the first things that I decided to eliminate from my own playing was the usage of Wes' patented octaves. Honestly, I don't recall using them at all on any of my recordings, though I have a recollection that I might have played a small portion of some melody in octaves, but only a phrase at most. So, the fact that you will hear a few passages in octaves contained within the "Blue Subtext" solo was probably more shocking to me than to anyone else. It is now my sense that the texture created by Rob Mounsey's beautiful keyboard sounds, especially during the montuno choruses 4 through 6 or [C]-[C3], triggered something within me, and signaled that, of all things, octaves would be an effective way to cut through the texture.
The question has come-up before when I have been asked, "Why would I be transcribing and presenting one of my own recorded solos?" The answer is actually pretty simple. As it sometimes happens, during the early stages of promotion for a new recording, the artist, if one is lucky, is asked for interviews in various formats, and sometimes, for some of the great Jazz and Guitar magazines in countries outside of the USA such as: Japan, Italy and France, the magazine will ask for a transcription of one of the solos from the recording. As there are so many excellent young musicians with great transcribing skills and tools, the chance that a transcription done by someone else would be accurate has increased greatly. But, in the end, for a nuance here or there, I prefer doing it myself. So, this is why you have seen some of the solos from the "SUBTEXT"(Tone Center) album presented here at KHAN'S KORNER 1. And with that said, let's get to work.
Out in front of Chorus 1/[B], there's a little "solo break," and though, prior to this empty space, the melody had concluded on Cm7, I played a line related to the V7 chord, G7(alt.) that contained all the notes from the G altered dominant scale[G, Ab, Bb, B, Db, D#, F]. If you look closely, you will find all of those pitches in descending order. As I was forced to listen to this solo too many times during post-production, mixing and mastering, it seems to me that the first phrase of this chorus is reminiscent of a line configuration that I've heard saxophonist Joe Henderson play many, many times. As you can see, though other notes appear, the line ascends from C-D-Eb-E-F, as the chord changes move from Cm7 through C7(alt.) on beats 3-4 of bar 2, and finally landing on Fm7 in bar 3. In bar 5, as a Dm7b5 was used as the ii chord, you find notes from F Dorian[F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb] with a touch of chromaticism leading to bar 6 and G7(alt.), where you find a fairly traditional triplet vault on beat 1 that outlines b9-3rd-#5-7-b9 before cadencing to an F-natural on beat 1 of bar 7. In bars 7-8, groupings in 5ths appear and highlight notes from the C minor pentatonic[C, Eb, F, G, Bb], which you would certainly expect to see alongside the C blues scale, when one is playing over changes so closely associated with a minor blues. As I discussed in the analysis of the lead sheets for "Blue Subtext," bars 9-12 offer a nice detour from the minor blues oriented changes with a ii-V to Dbmaj7. Throughout the solo, you are going hear little mannerisms, linear ornaments, that I associate with Jazz phrasing, and they are the kinds of things that few pay any attention to, but if they did not appear, I believe that the educated listeners would sense that something was missing. The descending line over Ebm7 begins in exactly that way with a small chromatic triplet pull-off from Ab, as the rest of the line descends through Eb Dorian[Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db]. In bar 10, over the lush keyboard sonority of Ab7(13b5), which also contains the natural 9th, over this chord color you would want to play Eb melodic minor or the Ab Lydian b7 scale[Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, Gb], and at that moment, I arpeggiated a simple Bb triad beginning on an F-natural on my A-string. As the line ascends, there is a nice touch of chromaticism, and you see a non-chord tone, a B-natural, on the downbeat of the Dbmaj7 chord. You hardly notice that dissonance, as the true resolution to Bb appears on beat 2. Again, the little chromatic triplet pull-off appears, this time from Eb down to C-natural, the major 7th, with the descending line alluding to F minor pentatonic[F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb], even though a Db does appear within the line. As Chorus 1 concludes, bar 13, another Dm7b5 chord, the line, with a touch chromaticism, begins on a high F-natural and descends through F Dorian again. In bar 14, over the G7(alt.) chord, another very traditional ornament appears, a grouping [an 8th-note w/ 2 16th-notes] on beat 3 that highlights the b9-#9(Ab-Bb) relationship before cadencing to a G-natural on beat 1 of bar 15. Bar 16 offers the first real appearance of the blues language over Cm7, as you see the inclusion of the blue note, Gb. The line nicely lands on a lower G-natural to coincide with the G7(alt.) chord that the note sits upon.
Chorus 2 or [B2] begins with a very simple C minor triad arpeggio, but it's the rhythm in which it was played that is of some significance for me. When one is trying to immerse oneself in a particular genre or style of music, the hope is that certain elements of that genre will eventually just flow out of you by instinct, and that you won't be totally dependent on phrases that you have memorized. The rhythms that I played for this simple arpeggio just happened and would be very familiar to those who are used to hearing certain montuno or guajeo styles in Latin music coming from the piano. So, though it doesn't sound like much, in hindsight, this was really a great mini-moment for me. The phrase in Bar 2 is very similar to the blues language that you heard as Chorus 1 ended, but this time, it leads us to the C7(alt.) chord where, again, the line reflects the chord change with an E-natural, and then the traditional usage of #9(Eb) to b9(Db) before landing on C-natrual as the iv chord, Fm7, arrives in bar 3. Going into bar 4, that entire fragment is derived from the F minor pentatonic[F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb], and gives the flow of the line a more angular quality. If you have read the analysis that accompanies the keyboard lead sheets for "Blue Subtext," you would know that the D7(alt.) chord that appears in bar 5 is a common substitute for Dm7b5, and so the line reflects, as it should, this change in harmony by putting to use a configuration that includes an Ab triad: Ab(b5)-Eb(b9)-C(7th) that then lands on an F-natural(#9). By doing that, you have ended-up playing 3 of the 4 altered tones. It is never about that, it's just about being comfortable hearing those kinds of sounds, so that when you play such things, it never sounds forced. Over the G7(alt.) chord in bar 6, you see another arpeggio, and this time, a Db7 chord appears: Cb/B(3rd)-Db(b5)-F(7th)-Ab(b9) ascending to Cb, and eventually landing on a Bb(#9) before going down a 6th to B-natural. Just as it served the D7(alt.) chord, using the sounds of the b5 chord provided you with 3 of the altered tones. In bars 7-8, the phrase concludes with more of the same blues language centering around the 4th and b5 before descending into a warm area of the guitar's lower register around the 6th fret. As the chord progression moves to the ii-V to Dbmaj7, the line begins by ascending right up an Ebm7 arpeggio that anticipates the arrival of the actual chord in bar 9. However, in that bar, you hear how F minor pentatonic, with a touch of chromaticism, sounds over Ebm7, where you get: F(9th)-Eb(R)-Ab(4th). On the and-of-4, leading into the Ab7(13b5) sonority, you hear a Cb(b9) and then A/Bbb before landing on Ab, your root. On beat 2, the ornament for this particular rhythmic grouping of a 16th-note triplet with an 8th-note is very common to Jazz phrasing, and is an essential part of the language. You only have to look through any Charlie Parker transcription to see this phrasing appear countless times. The last 8th-notes in bar 10: Fb(#5)-C(3rd)-Cb(#9)-A/Bbb(b9) are a most common linear cadence, usually landing on Ab, which would be the 5th of the about-to-arrive Dbmaj7 chord. However, the cadence is delayed by the appearance of a C/Db sonority on beat one of bar 11, and an arpeggio touching around a C triad works its way to an F-natural(3rd), and finally, there is a sense of resolution. The phrase that answers in bar 12, though using the root and 5th of the major 7th chord, C(maj7th) and Bb(6th) are really the featured notes! In bar 13, though the keyboard is actually playing D7(alt.), the #9(F-natural) and b5(Ab) are still part of the voicing, so it's not too distant from the expected, and more traditional Dm7b5 [D-F-Ab-C]. Over this chord, I played an Fm7(9) arpeggio vaulting upwards only to descend in bar 14 via notes that I would again associate with the G altered dominant scale[G, Ab, Bb, B-natural, Db, Eb, F]. All those notes appear, except for Db. The chorus concludes in bar 15 with a line that I would associate more with C minor pentatonic. because here the blue-note of Gb is ignored.
There is a pick-up into Chorus 3/[B3], beginning on beat 3 of bar 16 of the prior chorus, and it features the first bent notes of this particular solo. The language again is right out of the C blues scale as applied to Cm7. The rhythms in bar 1 show that feeling the 3:2 clave has become much more natural for me when soloing. You can see notes on beat 1, the and-of-2, and on beat 4, they are right in clave! From the 2nd-half of bar 2 through bar 4, we have more blues language, but this time, as part of some traditional double-stops for the guitar which, no doubt, came from the piano. You'll notice that the top voice, C-natural, is struck several times, while you hear blue notes below it: Gb-F-Eb-C. In bar 5, over the Dm7b5 chord, I am now applying Bb dominant 7th pentatonic[Bb, C, D, F, Ab], and what makes this so effective is that unlike the F minor pentatonic, Bb dominant 7th pentatonic contains a D-natural, and that further helps to outline the chord. Over the G7(alt.) chord, there a descending sweep through Ab(b9)-F(7th)-Eb(#5)-Cb/B(3rd), which then lands on Bb(#9)-Ab(b9). In bars 7-8, the lines of Cm7 put to use both the raised 7th(B-natural) and the natural 6th(A-natural). In a tune that sounds so much, at times, like a minor blues, you don't often hear the 6th or 13th, because A-natural is obviously not found in Fm7. Here, the inclusion of these tones, as part of a rapid passage like this provides some variety. You will also notice that there is an Ab as part of the 16th-note grouping, and this is another indication that, most times, players hear C Aeolian rather than C Dorian when playing scalar lines during a minor blues. As we arrive at bars 9-12 and the ii-V to Dbmaj7, the approach changes, and you can clearly see that I've applied notes from the Bb minor pentatonic[Bb, Db, Eb, F(9th), Ab(4th)] over the Ebm7 chord, which gives us some nice color tones. Once again, the chord color for the Ab7 includes the 13th(F), b9(A), and b5(D), and the line reflects this by glancing over an F triad[F, A, C] to land on the angular grouping of B-natural-C-Ab. This 3-note grouping could be seen as being part of either the Ab altered dominant scale[Ab, A/Bbb, B/Cb, C, D/Ebb, Fb, Gb] or the Ab 1/2-tone/whole-tone diminished scale[Ab, A, B, C, D, Eb, F, Gb]. As you can see, the first 5 notes of both scales are exactly the same. Then, quite suddenly, as I had mentioned in the 1st paragraph, some Montgomery-esque octaves make their first appearance. In the final bar, bar 16, there's a brief flurry of descending triplets that outline the C minor pentatonic[C, Eb, F, G, Bb] which, over a Dbmaj7 chord introduces the degree of the #4(G). When tucked inside a relatively quick line, one hardly notices this pitch going by, and to me, that's a good thing. Had I played F minor pentatonic[F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb], the line would have been just as effective. The last 4 bars of Chorus 3 over the D7(#5#9)-G7(alt)-Cm7 concludes in octaves. In essence, I'm ignoring the II7 chord, and playing bars 13-14 as if it was all G7(alt.), and, of course, the notes reflect that. Over the Cm7, it is all the blues language. As the texture for [C] is about to completely change with the commencing of the montunos from Rob Mounsey's Rhodes-like accompaniment, the punchy strength of the octaves must have been an unconscious and instinctive choice to cut through the texture.
The first 3 bars of Chorus 4/[C] feature more octaves that outline C minor triads, and land strongly on beat 1 as the change in rhythms and texture begins. You should notice that Marc Quiñones has switched from his cha-cha bell to his mambo/salsa bell, and the bongo departs for the campana(the bongo bell). This alone is a big shift, but the beginning of Rob's Clare Fischer-voiced montunos creates a much more dense texture, and, at times, it's not easy for the guitar to speak through that! In bar 5, as the Dm7b5 chord arrives, the single-note lines return, and you can see that the approach is to apply F Dorian with some chromaticism. In bar 6, over the G7(alt.) chord, I played a very traditional backwards sweep, outlining G7#9(Bb-F-B-natural) that ends with the expected long-short phrases, one of the most important elements in Jazz, from Bb to Ab. Bars 7-8 conclude over Cm7, and the bluesy feeling returns with the piano-like double-stops appearing again in bar 8. With bars 9-12 comes the ii-V to Dbmaj7, and this time, over the Ebm7, the notes in the triad are featured. Over the Ab7(13b9) sonority, I played a grouping of ascending 8th-note triplets, all played with slurred/legato phrasing, that features the Ab 1/2-tone/whole-tone diminished scale[Ab, A, B, C, D, Eb, F, Gb], and cadences smoothly to an F-natural, the 3rd of Dbmaj7. Then there's a nice breath for a few beats, and the answering phrase in bar 12 features a bent-note up to C-natural, and a descent via the F minor pentatonic[F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb]. Over the Dm7b5 in bar 13, the phrase really ignores the chord, and again the C blues language is applied. That phrases leads me to a D-natural over the G7(alt.) chord that passes through the b9(Ab) en route to G-natural, but the final cadence is expressed through a Db triad[Db(b5)-F(7th)-Ab(b9)] which leads to a phrase that surrounds G-natural with both of its chromatic neighbors: Ab and F#. The chorus concludes with a simple double-stop G-C on the and-of-3, and again, there's time for a nice breath before Chorus 5, or the 2nd montuno chorus begins.
The pick-up to Chorus 5/[C2], in single notes, is very similar to what was played at the beginning of Chorus 4 in octaves. Sometimes, when one is improvising, one's frame of mind is in a particular place, and certain phrases and note groupings come out. One is really not even aware that this is what is going on. It is only with some hindsight, listening back, that you realize just where you were. The phrase from bars 1-3 is completely blues or R&B related, and is very much connected to the C minor pentatonic[C, Eb, F, G, Bb]. Again, between bars 3 and 4, there's a nice breath, which was probably necessary because of all the keyboard activity. In bars 5, as the montuno transits from Dm7b5 to D7(alt.), the line configuration reflects F Dorian, but as the G7(alt.) arrives, you see a B-natural as the pick-up, and some string-skipping phrasing accentuating the sound of b9(Ab). Bars 7-8 conclude with a particular bent-note phrase that seemed to be drifting in and out of my playing throughout the entire album. Even though, let's face it, that's only 2 days of one's life. The pick-up into bar 9, and the arrival of the Ebm7 chord, is a very traditional arpeggio that vaults up to a high Ab and descends straight down Eb Dorian, but concludes with a line shape that anticipates the coming chord, Ab7, with both the 13th and the b9. This rather jagged shape is followed by a descending D arpeggio(D-A-F#), which is the b5 substitute of Ab7, and concludes with some chromaticism from F-E-Eb. This gives the line a nice consonant landing spot. Over the Dbmaj7 chord, the line in bar 11 is completely chromatic with the target note being a high C-natural, but beginning on a non-chord tone, A-natural. Bar 12 reflects a line shape that is somewhere between F minor pentatonic and Db major. Over the D7(alt.) chord in bar 13, I'm really playing out of a Bb dominant 7th pentatonic idea[Bb(#5), C, D, F(#9), Ab(b5)] which, as you can see, gives me 3 of the altered tones for D7. The cadence leading us back to Cm7 reflects notes that could be related to Eb Dorian[Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db], but the true thrust of the line is to get us to a resolution on G-natural, and hear something consonant after that little harmonic detour!!!
As the keyboard part is really an arrangement, brilliantly performed by Rob Mounsey, I knew how Chorus 6/[C3] was going to begin, so I decided to make the accents with Rob and the rest of band. The hits were played in octaves with a 5th in the middle. In this case, spelling up: G-C-G, glissing into each hit. Though this voicing can be found in Wes Montgomery's work, I tend associate it more with the great George Benson, who turned it into both a melodic and soloistic device. From the middle of bar 2 through the downbeat of bar 5, everything is performed in octaves. The arpeggio with a back-sweep in bar 3, to me, is classic Wes Montgomery. Of course, he played this kind of configuration in single-notes, but he also mastered doing it in octaves. When I was young and his biggest fan, I never thought that I would be able to play that figure in octaves. But, at some point along the way, I realized that there was a "trick" to it. Once I mastered the trick, it was much easier. And now, here it is, being played on this recording. As bar 5, in the keyboard, is really a D7(alt.) area, I revisited a previous linear motif: down a major 7th and up a 6th: F-F#-D. This idea continues over the G7(alt.) chord, but with wide intervallic leaps between each part of the idea. Landing on a G-natural in bar 7, I ride that note using the double-string effect of playing the same G-natural on the G-string, and on the B-string. On a saxophone, this would be like using two distinct fingerings for the same note, the effect would be the same. As the ii-V to Dbmaj7 reappears, the lines over Ebm7 feature all notes in Eb Dorian, but for the Ab7 chord which, on beat 3, touches upon an Ab7(13b5) sonority, The motif returns with Cb down to C-natural and back up to Ab, and then an F triad[C(3rd)-F(13)-A(b9) cadencing to a Bb on beat 1 of the Dbmaj7 chord in bar 11. The linear sense of F/Db returns during the first half of bar 12, before landing on the more consonant tones of: Bb-Eb-Ab. The final cadences in bars 13-16 feature an interesting chromatic touch in bar 13 that focuses on Bb-Ab and F#, even though they are at times surrounding non-chordal tones like Cb and G. Bar 14, over the G7(alt.) chord, the line seems to outline a simple G7 chord, but the inclusion of a Db(b5) gives a nice touch to the line. Finally, we land on Cm7, and descend chromatically from Bb down to G-natural. The final hit in bar 16 was played with the same 3-note voicing: G-C-G that appeared as this chorus began!
The reprise of the Intro [I2], which has become 12-bars on this repeat, becomes a secondary vehicle for soloing over this G7-pedal that features many Clare Fischer-esque alterations. What is common to virtually all the voicings that appear is that they contain notes that seem to clearly indicate Db7, the b5 substitute. You can view the actual voicings on Pg. 7 of the Keyboard Lead Sheet. What I wanted to do during this section was to try to ground these very sophisticated voicings by playing phrases, no matter how sideways they might appear to bee, that speak from a blues-based place. So, in bars 1-4, you see elements that are connected to Db7 areas, but they always finish going from G-natural up to the Bb blue-note. Bars 5-7 do very much the same thing, and you even see a Db triad clearly outlined. From bar 8 through 9, the line highlights notes that could easily be part of Ab Dorian[Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, Gb], and it concludes on a Db(b5). The last phrase in bars 10 and 11, can much more easily be seen as part of G7(alt.), and the solo has concluded leading us back to the 3rd and final statement of the melody in [A3].
So, how were we able to record everything for this tune? In truth, the keyboard parts for this arrangement were completely notated. Every single voicing is written-out. And yes, there are many great Latin keyboard artists who probably could have read this down, and added their own Salsa touches w/ montunos and guajeos, but I am not really close friends with many of them. So, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to call upon the vast talents of my dear friend, Rob Mounsey. As I have stated on countless occasions, he possesses the musicianship, the musical sensitivity, plus his own fascination with the harmonies of both Clare Fischer and McCoy Tyner. Add in his computer wizardry, and all the various elements are brought together. Considering the fact that the keyboard arrangement was not going to change, I thought that it would be best if Rob just replayed everything that I had sequenced long before on my original demo, but with a much better sound. I wanted to allow him the time and the space to craft this important part in his own way. Then, at the session, which ended-up taking place at Avatar's Studio 'A' on January 29th, 2014, Rubén, Dennis, Bobby, Marc and I would simply play along live to the newly sequenced keyboard. Not exactly the ideal way to execute what I had envisioned but, I think that the results speak volumes to the fact that we got it done. As there is an educational element to these pages, and we are now well 'after the fact' - I believe that it's important to be reasonably forthcoming about these things, so that players, younger and older, can benefit from my experiences.
The journey from inception to signing-off on your master always seems endless and filled with troubled waters of varying kinds that one can't avoid and must negotiate. So, over the course of all this time, one's feelings about the various tunes can go through tremendous changes. For a few valid reasons, James Farber, the great recording engineer, and I felt that we had to recall this mix, and make some adjustments and improvements. As it always seems to be, even if one is subtle and careful in making these changes, you might gain something, and you might lose something too. In this case, I know that we bettered the mix that we had, but, of all things, in the end, I believe that I actually undermixed my own guitar. This is especially evident to me each time I listen to the melody as stated in the first [A] section. It might be the most important element, and I have been feeling, well after the fact, that the guitar wasn't loud enough - but not worth actually going back in the studio and recalling the mix yet again!!! Sometimes, you just have to let things go, even if, to you, they are flawed. So, because of that, my capacity to appreciate this tune, and that includes the solo, has been diminished a bit. However, the first people who heard the entire album as one piece of work, all seemed to list "Blue Subtext" as one of their favorite tunes. So, I guess I have to pay more attention to them, rather than to my own internal struggles and exercises in self-torture!!! As always, my deepest thanks to Rob, Rubén, Dennis, Marc and Bobby for their ideas and their performances that made this tune feel so great!!! Mil gracias hermanos!!!
As another HALLOWEEN approaches, I am reminded that the Krackel® bar by Hershey's is longer being made! It now only appears as part of the Hershey's miniatures package. HOW could this have happened? I guess it couldn't compete with Nestle's Crunch bar? But, let us not forget who was copying who? Anyway, this was a most distressing development, even though it happened several years ago. I'm always behind the times when it comes to these huge events!!!!
[Photos: Clare Fischer(Bruni Gallery);
Steve, Marc Quiñones, Bobby Allende &
Rubén Rodríguez by Richard Laird]