See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription
Michael Brecker's solo on:
"Descarga Khanalonious"(Steve Khan)
In the USA, the BGO Records(UK) release of the 3rd in a series of reissues of my recordings that span the late '70s, the early '80s, and now the mid-'90s happened this past March 23rd, 2018. It is especially great because it follows on the heels of my most recent album, "BACKLOG"(Tone Center). This new reissue embraces what I would refer to as the Eyewitness2 period from "PUBLIC ACCESS"('89) with Dave Weckl on drums; to "HEADLINE"('92) and finally "CROSSINGS"('94) both featuring Dennis Chambers on drums. The music on all of these albums represented a deepening of our music-making concepts, and the further exploration of feeling the presence of essential Latin elements in the music. "CROSSINGS" was probably the first full representation of that kind of expression. Yes, one could say that the ballads: "Pee Wee" and "Melancholee" had little or nothing to do with Latin music, and that would be true - but, the rest of music? It most certainly had Latin influences and feels.
With this reissue release now in its 2nd month, I was inspired to take the "Descarga Khanalonious" conversation a step further, having just presented my own solo on this tune, and the newly revised lead sheets as well. Now, after great struggle and effort, I am able to present to everyone Michael Brecker's brilliant tenor saxophone solo over a 2nd one-chord section designated specifically for him. It goes without saying that, ever since we recorded this album, I have loved and treasured Mike's appearances on 3 of the tunes. But, this one, as it opens the recording is really special to me, and what happened that day really never leaves my thoughts. It is fascinating to me that about 2 years later, Mike was recording "MEDIANOCHE""(Warner Bros.) with Don Grolnick and his incredible and very brief solo over Don's signature Latin blues, "Rainsville" carries with it some similar saxophone concepts that Mike had been exploring around this important time period. Appearing on the original "CROSSINGS"(Verve) album, Mike's solo over an extended tumbao centered around an Eb7(9) sonority is quite a journey. When you give a player of Michael's depth and experience an open canvas upon which to paint musical colors, there is no telling where things might go. As it turns out, this solo also represents so much of our group's style of music-making. None of this would have been possible without the intuitive and interactive brilliance of: Anthony Jackson(Contrabass Guitar), Dennis Chambers(Drums), and Manolo Badrena(Percussion). Through this solo analysis, I am going to try to point out moments where I believe special things are happening in terms of how these great players are responding to what Mike was playing.
When "Descarga Khanalonious" was first composed, it really had 3 melodic sections. I labeled the Intro as [I] which featured Anthony and Manolo, and eventually they were joined by Dennis. When the guitar enters, I played a chordal melody section which was labeled as [A]. Both of these sections were centered around G7. Then, a single-note line melody enters doubled by Mike Brecker on tenor sax, and that section was labeled as [B]. After repeating both [A]-[B], we moved on to a new section, also doubled by Mike, which was labeled as [C], and here the harmonic center shifted to Eb7. As that section ends, there is a brief 4-bar reprise labeled as [B2], and then we move into the guitar solo [D], which is played over the same G7 area. As the solo comes to its conclusion, once again, those same 4 melody bars are reprised as letter [B2], and then, the 1st 4 bars of [C] are used to give Michael Brecker a nice "ramp" into his solo which is centered around Eb7. For the purposes of discussing the guitar solo section, I have labeled all the sections just as they appeared on the lead sheet.
When one is attempting to play some form of Latin music, in this case, some kind of Latin Jazz Fusion, paying attention to the all important clave becomes crucial. After listening carefully to the 3 melodic sections, it was my sense that [A] was in 3:2 clave, and [B] felt best to me in 2:3 clave. Then, [C] returns to 3:2 clave. If one was to strictly adhere to this, there would have be some bars added or subtracted to keep the clave from being broken. Of course, back then, I wasn't even aware of these things and their traditional importance. Before presenting this here, I went to my usual source of rhythmic wisdom and contact the great Venezuelan saxophonist/composer/arranger, long-time member of Guaco, Rafael Greco. After much thought on his part, he actually concurred with my assessment, but hastened to add that, he felt that it would perfectly fine to just play the entire piece in 3:2 clave, and not worry about changing things going in and out of letter [B]. Rafa pointed out to me that, our dear Manolo Badrena on his cowbells was actually playing "a kind of Mozambique à la Manolo, and in an instinctive way, he makes the clave in 3:2, which says a lot about his personal roots and traditions. In such a case, it is preferable that Manolo made the decision." I hope that this explanation is both helpful and instructional.
Obviously, each player has his/her own way of thinking about soloing, especially when it is over a one chord pedal. One could certainly just shred away, and go for it - and that approach might turn out fine. However, for me, I prefer to remain connected to melodic material that had come before, especially during the original [B] single-note melody section, which was rich with linear ideas, I chose to explore those very things. Michael Brecker had a bit less melodic material to draw from with letter [C], so his solo exploration is more from a pure stream of consciousness place within. Play, listen, react, converse, feed the conversation. He does all of those things. I remember that he wanted his solo section to begin in as sparse a texture as was possible. The guitar does not even enter until bar 29.
When one is going to improvise over a one-chord pedal point, or tonal center, there can be any number of ways to place yourself in the most comfortable starting point. In a case like this one, where there is not really a vamp, not a montuno, and Anthony's approach to tumbao, the bass groove, is much looser and freer than how many players in this kind of context might play. For me, of course, I view that as a most positive thing. When it comes to modes and a static Eb7(9) chord, which is what Mike is playing over, the correct mode for the root would Eb Mixolydian, but, as I view everything in terms of minor, I see this as Bb Dorian [Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab]. Both of these modes contain exactly the same notes. For all the conversations that Mike and I had over the many years of friendship and working together, on the cerebral level, I believe that he thought of everything as Lydian. So perhaps, for him, He might have been hearing this all as Db Lydian [Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C]. Again, the notes are all the same as the other ways of viewing it shared earlier. Then, of course, one must acknowledge the blues, and so the Eb Blues Scale [Eb, Gb, (G), Ab, A, Bb, Db] should come into play throughout. Last, but not least, there are some pentatonic options that can be great, but principal amongst them would be Bb minor pentatonic [Bb, Db, Eb, F, Ab]. So, keep these things in mind as we go thought the solo.
As there really is no particular structure to this kind of an improvisation, I have decided to try to discuss it in terms of "episodes" as Mike's intuition guides him through various moments within the 100 bars of the solo. The number of bars really doesn't matter, but if one looks at playing in a context like this and "Western" phrasing, where we tend to hear and feel things in 4-bar or 8-bar units, and those smaller units can become groups of 32 bars, 64 bars, and 96 bars. Mike's solo could even conform to that kind of feeling for structure, and that there is an extra 4-bar tail-off to bring us back to the reprise of the [B] melody.
Just after the big accent in bar 3 of [C2], Mike rockets himself into Episode 1 with a string of 16th-notes, which in cut-time are extremely fast. As he lands on bar 1, he has arrived at the lowest register of the tenor saxophone, and, during this solo, you will see and hear that he covers the entire written range of his instrument. That alone is pretty remarkable! Thematically speaking, in this part of the solo, he is using a Jazz device that is probably as old as the genre itself. I'm referring to a sense of, what used to be called in the classroom, call and response. But this concept really refers the field hollers or work songs more than to one person playing something and the group, or the big band responding to that. In this case, Mike is playing something in a medium register, and then answering it with low note punctuations, here centered around Ab to Bb, and sometimes an Eb is thrown in. I see this kind of playing as being connected to what Eddie Harris was doing on his Soul/Jazz classic, "Listen Here" from his 1968 album, "THE ELECTRIFYING EDDIE HARRIS"(Atlantic). Mike is just taking it to another level. I view all the 16th-note flurries as being derived from the aforementioned Bb Dorian mode, but perhaps drawn more from Bb minor pentatonic. The only note that is really a bit outside the bounds of those two linear places is the Gb that you hear in bar 5. However, it is when he lands on a B-natural on beat 3 of bar 7 that the tone of the solo takes a huge change. That B-natural begins a characteristic Brecker line configuration that snakes its way down an octave to a low C-natural to B-natural, in bar 9.
Beginning at bar 9, I am going to refer to this portion as Episode 2. It feels to me like Mike was looking, searching for something within the rather spacious groove that is so characteristic of the Eyewitness style of music-making. Marked by Michael's virtuosity, you have a series of ascending and descending chromatic passages where, guided by his eminent intuition, in bar 12 the top note is an A-natural, and in bar 13, the top note is a C-natural. Though I will get into this in more detail a bit later in the analysis, when I see and hear notes of emphasis over this tonal center like A-natural, C and Eb, I tend to wonder if there is some kind of diminished cycling going on. Though here, I am not convinced that it was, it is worth a thought. In bars 14 & 15, he continues to ascend, hitting an Eb, then an F-natural, and finally an A-natural in bar 15, before he finally arrives at something consonant over Eb7(9), a short little phrase in bar 16. Once again, if you examine the notes in bars 16 and 17, they conform to the notes within the Bb Dorian mode.
I would say that Episode 3 begins at bar 18. Again, it feels as though he still searching for a slot in this Latin-esque feel. Notice that he is now descending in 8th-notes from D-natural all the way down past an F#, and finally landing on the consonant F-natural in bar 20, before hitting a Db firmly on beat 1 of bar 21. The rapid 16th-note line has one great 'outside' touch in bar 23 on beats 1 & 2, there he appears to dart away to an area that feels to me like A Dorian [A, B, C, D, E, F#, G] with some chromaticism. Notice how he got there from an F-natural, and then returned to the inside world via a Bb on beat 3 of bar 23. The episode winds down with some rapid 16th-note fragments, as he seems to finally 'find it' with the 8th-notes in bar 29. Relative to the feel or the groove, I had tried to lay-out and leave all this space for Mike, and I did not play a voicing until the rather lush Bbm7/Eb in bar 29-30. For me, the episode concludes with the low-notes: A-natural-Eb-F in bar 33. Notice that the 16th-note passage at the end of bar 32 has some touches of A7 [A, C#, E, G], the b5 substitute for Eb7.
Episode 4 begins in bar 34 with a wonderfully consonant passage of 8th-notes, and in bars 36-37 there is a brief homage to one of Mike's all-time favorite saxophone stylists, the great Stanley Turrentine. Notice the very particular way that those Eb's and Db's are articulated, but only a tenor saxophonist could really explain to you how exactly this is done. Me? I just recognize what it is the second that I hear it, and I'm certain that if more guys knew what that 'secret' was, they would be doing it too!!! Once again, the thematic call & response continues in bar 38, with a low Ab to Bb. This particular train of thought ramps up in bar 39 with another passage of 16th-notes that dart in and out of the consonant. Notice how he begins with a 'honk' on a low A-natural, and then, the next 5 notes would seem to be in or around D Dorian before hitting a common Eb motif à la Trane: Eb-F-G-Bb, but on beat 2, Gb's are included before on beat 4, he seems to hit upon an area that looks like B-natural blues a bit. As the line rises up to a Db, it then descends to an emotional B-natural. Finally, on beat 2 of bar 43, he lands on a consonant F-natural which, after following a B-natural, does not sound so centered. I would like to point out what Anthony Jackson was doing between bars 41 to 43. Of all things, first he plays a long Gb/F#, and then he moves up to B-natural and finally down to E-natural to D-natural. All of this while Mike was holding a B-natural briefly!!! Remember, we are in an area of Eb7(9), so think about these note choices!!! This episode concludes on Pg. 2 with bar 45, not quite as low as the prior Eddie Harris referenced ideas, but, his low Eb nonetheless. Notice that here, he is surrounding that Eb with both of its chromatic upper and lower neighbors: E-natural and D-natural which gives it so much more character.
Episode 5 commences with another small 16th-note fragment in bar 46, which leads Mike to a series of short, choppy but precise phrases from bar 48 through 53. I tried to analyze the groupings within each phrase searching for the intellectual logic in all of it, and I'm not at all certain that I came-up with anything useful. But, if we look at the Eb half-tone/whole tone diminished scale [Eb, E, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, C, Db], beyond the fact that there are m3rd intervals throughout, we can also see that there are both major and minor triads for each of the tones. Ebmaj/min; Gbmaj/min; Amaj/min; and Cmaj/min. When listening to what Mike had played in this episode, I thought that maybe he was trying to create something using this kind of diminished cycle. But, with the appearance of Ab as a top note, and more than once, I had to let go of this theory. However, when you see C-natural, Eb, and Gb on top, it would seem that perhaps I am onto something. The passage ends in bar 53 with the Eddie Harris-like Eb-Db-Eb. Once again, I have to ask you all to listen to what Anthony Jackson was playing at this particular moment was going by. In bar 47, he plays Eb to E-natural. This is followed in bar 48 by a Gb/F#, and finally in bar 49, he plays B-natural to Db/C#. Remember, we are still in the center of Eb7(9). What is interesting to think about is what might have been going on in Michael Brecker's mind and imagination upon hearing all of this underneath? It is cause to re-think what he was playing in those moments.
This time I'm going to say that, as the prior episode ends in bar 53, Episode 6 could just as easily begin there as well. Once again, Mike is in more of an in-the-slot 8th-note frame of mind, and this is one of those moments that I alluded to in my introduction where, perhaps, the brilliance of Anthony Jackson pushes the musical conversation in a particular direction. Notice how, in bars 55-56, Anthony ascends and hits a rather pronounced A-natural, and just moments later, Mike hits his A-natural on beat 4 of bar 56! You then hear Mike descend and ascend via an F major arpeggio rising to his high F-natural before descending slowing down through Eb, Db, C, and Bb, before rising up on his mighty tenor sax and hitting its highest note, a Bb in bar 61. Backtracking just a bit, and thinking about the passage in bars 58-59, Anthony once again inserts himself into the musical conversation, and plays a lot of syncopated 16th-notes, which all lead towards a big low Eb in bar 61. At bar 65, there's another moment during this solo that I would like to point out and embarrassingly so! On the downbeat of that bar, in error, but not the worst error ever, I played Ebm7(9) which interrupted Mike's flow, and you'll notice that he stops playing for 4 full beats. When he joins back in, he goes from an Eb to F-natural, which was the top note of the voicing that I had played, spelling up: Gb-Ab-Db-F.
For me, bar 69 is the beginning of the next episode, which we will call here as Episode 7. At this point, the Eyewitness combo is hitting it on all cylinders, and Michael can feel that. His 8th-notes are just perfectly inside this groove with another descending line with well-placed chromaticism leading to a very emotional A-natural(b5) on beat 2 of bar 72. Take note of the little 'extra' he gives that note with his wonderful vibrato. From there, in bar 73, we do finally see a sequence of intervallic short phrases that reveal the kind of diminished idea that I mentioned earlier during Episode 5. Focus on just the top notes: Gb(F#)-A-natural-C-natural-Eb. Each one up a m3rd from the preceding note. From there, you see Mike's great rhythmic command, the usage of short notes, but what I personally love the most is how he chooses to surround the root, Eb, with both Db, a consonant note, and the chromatic upper neighbor E-natural, which might not be the note most players would choose, as the ever consonant F-natural is sitting right there! Finally, as the line comes to its conclusion in bar 81, with Db to Eb, again, via his vibrato, you can feel the strength and soul in his playing.
Episode 8 begins in bar 82 where, once again, Mike is creating a whirlwind of energy with his 16th-notes that will lead him back to very precise 8th-note rhythms with arpeggios that propel him right up to his stratospheric Bb on the horn. You will also now see a return to the Eddie Harris driven ideas, where his low Ab's to Bb's serve to answer the extreme high register passages. It is a wonderful and very intense moment, and carries us right through to the effective end of the solo in bar 96. However, as I mentioned when we began, he adds a wonderful 4-bar denouement consisting of only pronounced quarter-notes and 8th-notes, all with consonant modal tones leading us back to a reprise of our [B] melody. What a wonderful solo ride this was by one of our greatest tenor sax voices ever, Michael Brecker!!! Bravo!!!
I would like to point you in the direction of the "Descarga Khanalonious" LEAD SHEETS which I just decided to re-write and post here at the website for the very first time. As the site was first getting launched in 1998, and one year later I was a co-leader of the Caribbean Jazz Project alongside Dave Samuels and Dave Valentín, we recorded a version of this tune, but it was retitled "Descarga Canelón" and appeared on our CD, "NEW HORIZONS"(Concord Picante) in 1999. Because of the constant shifts in the melodic rhythms of the various sections of the original, bassist John Benitez was concerned about the clave problems and so, in order to solve those issues, some bars had to be deleted here and there, especially in the [C] sections. Honestly, I don't know that there was ever a really completely musical solution to this, but we tried our best. As I often do, when writing out new lead sheets, I try to listen carefully to what Anthony Jackson actually played on the bass and include some his incredible personal touches on the lead sheet. You will see those things if you choose to follow along. Pay special attention to what he played in bars 13-16 of [C], it is quite remarkable. Looking at these particular lead sheets, I am again struck by the changes to my music writing "hand" over the past 25 years, or longer, and I see a great improvement. Just look at the difference between the lead sheets and the solo transcription. Of course, every so often, someone will write to me and complain that I am not using Finale or Sibelius, but, as I always explain, I just enjoy doing them by hand. My apologies to those who continue to be upset with me about this.
As "CROSSINGS" was recorded in 1994, that was 4 years before I even had my first computer!!! Yes, I am and was a dinosaur - too damn slow to adapt! And, of course, this was pretty much before digital recording programs like ProTools, released in 1989, had become standard at most studios! In other words, musicians could punch-in and repair little errors here and there, but, doing things like punching-in an entire drum kit could become risky beyond belief. To preface my point of this story, I want to say that I love and respect Dennis Chambers as much as anyone I've ever worked with and become friends with in my life. He's one of the greatest living drummers ever!!! As Dennis has shared in countless interviews, he doesn't read music, and he learns all of the complex music that he has ever performed by listening to beautifully prepared demos, or perhaps live performance recordings. He studies what he is given, and arrives at the rehearsal or the studio better prepared than anyone else - sometimes even the artist! The problem, of course, can be that if a last minute change is necessary - everyone else can just get out a pencil and add 2 extras bars before [C]. But Dennis won't know what we're talking about, and when those bars return, he's going to be thrown off and lost. It can become difficult and requires further rehearsing. If you look at the lead sheet for "Descarga Khanalonious" you will see that there are lots of little accents to catch, especially during letters [B] and [C]. If you listen to the performance, you can hear that Dennis played some of them and missed others. What does one do in a case like this? Do you keep doing take after take after take? For me, no way! You just have to live with these minor imperfections! My philosophy has always been that you can't ask great musicians, especially great drummers to just keep doing takes! Look at it this way, if you know this piece, how could I ask Michael Brecker to do more solos just because of a few missed accents? To me, one has to be mentally and spiritually prepared to play something of some depth within the first 2 takes, and that's it!!! One other strange little oddity that can occur with Dennis' work method is that, this piece was modeled on Cal Tjader's "Descarga Cubana" from his 1966 album "SOUL BURST"(Verve). So, I gave Dennis a cassette of that tune and asked him to learn the cymbal bell pattern. Well, he learned it, but he took the whole thing so literally that, if you will notice, he didn't even hit his bass drum once during the melody - because? He thought that that was what I wanted. If you can believe this, I didn't even notice that detail until years later!!! Crazy, right?
It wasn't so long ago that John Kelman wrote a wonderful piece, Eyewitness Remembered, for AllAboutJazz.com, and that very same piece served as an inspiration to float the idea of an Eyewitness reissue to BGO Records. Now, here we are, a couple of years later, and now, an Eyewitness2 reissue has been officially released. Now, Mr. Kelman has written yet another brilliant Review of this new package. We hope that everyone will take a moment to read what he had to say about these recordings and the players.
In this spectacular review, Mr. Kelman wrote the following:
"If The Eyewitness Trilogy introduced a group whose concept was innovative at the time and remains so today, the essential PUBLIC ACCESS-HEADLINE-CROSSINGS takes it more than a few steps further, both in its move from original material to imaginative interpretations, and in acting as a bridge between the guitarist's earlier recordings and later, even more decidedly Latin-oriented albums.
Khan, more than many guitarists alive today, demonstrates remarkable knowledge and breadth when it comes to jazz, and as an astute and individual interpreter of the Great American Songbook traditions. Eyewitness is often lauded for its unique (especially for its time) language and approach, deeply felt grooves and stellar playing. Still, the group's telepathic ability to engage with one another on a profound level must not be overlooked, its intrinsic conversational ability, a definitive one. It was the Steve Khan of his career defining EVIDENCE(1980), who introduced the concept for Eyewitness, whose approach would continue and evolve, and ultimately imbue other projects throughout the rest of his career. If anything, Khan's guitar gymnastics and light-speed phrasings have become all the more effective for the greater care with which he uses them. In the post-EVIDENCE world, nothing about Khan's playing could ever be considered superfluous; instead, every note counts, every note matters."
I am so very grateful to Mr. Kelman because reissues get such little attention from the press and are never serviced to radio around the USA, so any kind of attention given to a release like this means more than most people can imagine.
Of course, the original intent of this piece was to celebrate the life and the exceptional musical legacy of Michael Brecker. All that he is and was is never to be forgotten, but revered and treasured for all times. It is now May 1st, and for me, another birthday has passed, and hopefully there are better days ahead looking down the road. The turbulence and uncertainty of 2017, and the most difficult beginning to 2018 have been cause for great reflection and self-examination. In the final analysis, one must take what has been learned, and put it to good use for a better future. That is my fervent hope. Wishing everyone who regularly visits these pages a joyous spring, and a summer that is filled with memorable moments.
[Photos: Michael Brecker - Steve Khan
Dennis Chambers-Anthony Jackson-Manolo Badrena Collage
Photos by: David Tan @ Skyline Studios, December 29-30, 1993]