See Steve's Hand-Written Solo transcription
The band for the tune "Power Play," in addition to Eddie and Michael, you had: LeeAnn Ledgerwood(keyboards); and two drummers, both Steve Gadd and Al Foster. That was it. While preparing this piece for its final version, I had the good fortune to have a phone conversation with Jay Messina about the session, and he recalled something special, because this was to be the first time that Al and Steve had ever met, let alone actually played together. So, for that aspect alone, this performance was a truly magical moment.
The tune was played to a 16th-note funk oriented groove of that time, and that itself is marked by the incredible team of Steve and Al - while listening again, I think that it is one of the best examples of how two drummers could actually work together in serving the song and the music. To me, Jay Messina did a great job recording and mixing this performance. After the Gómez-Ledgerwood theme is played, the piece goes right into Mike's riveting solo, which is followed by a great one by LeeAnn on keyboards. Then, after a restatement of some thematic material, Eddie solos on the way out as the piece eventually fades. It's a great performance by all, and only a shame that it did not go on longer. But again, these were still the days of the LP, and not CD length tunes.
The composition and the solo format over which Mike was playing is very typical of the time period, and, in a sense, anything that has been recorded since Miles Davis' "KIND OF BLUE" - to which many attribute as being the beginning of "Modal Jazz"! On "Power Play," Mike is playing over two chord changes, 4 bars each. The 1st 4 bars are over Em7(9sus), and the 2nd 4 bars are over Fm9(sus)/Bb. On Mike's solo, that 8-bar grouping is played a total of 5 times, totaling 40 bars. With rather lush sonorous chords like these, one would expect E Dorian [E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D] over the Em7(9sus) bars, and then, F Dorian [F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb] over the Fm9sus/Bb bars. What is interesting is that, though the chords are only moving up or down by 1/2-step, because of the tritone (b5) movement in the bass, it sounds like more is going on than what is happening in actuality. I have decided to analyze this solo in 5 8-bar blocks, hoping to keep things organized in that way.
As always, this transcription is written in concert key, but transposed an octave up from where it sounds, as this is where one writes for the guitar. The tenor sax is actually written for one octave plus a whole-step above where it sounds. So, what you might be looking at is actually close in written register to what a tenor saxophonist actually sees. Here's hoping that this is not too confusing for those non-guitarists out there who are visiting these pages for the first time.
As this is such a groove-oriented tune, with its roots firmly placed in the R&B music of that time, or what had come along years before, there is a very strong sense of the quarter-note, but also a kind of funky swing to everything as the bass drum, for the most part, is always playing on beats 2 & 4. To remind everyone again, the 1st 4 bars are over an Em7(9sus) chord, which is a rich and lush sounding sonority, that many players would think of as E Dorian [E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D]. It is interesting that Mike begins Sector 1 by honking out his low A-natural on the downbeat, and then playing short thematic units that are deeply connected to the 16th-note oriented rhythms of the bass and drum groove. If you look at the notes that Mike plays in bar 1 of this section, they are all within the mode. However, the phrase at the end of bar 2 that answers his opening motif, you have D-natural as your point of emphasis, yet it is surrounded by both of its chromatic lower(C#) and upper neighbors(Eb). For my ears, the note that really reaches me the most is the Eb. Even though that note quickly returns to D-natural(b7), it is still the major 7th(Eb/D#), and that can be one of the most dissonant or "out" notes one can play over a minor 7th chord, but here, it sounds completely natural, because it is being employed as a neighboring tone. In bar 3, Mike honks out another low A-natural, this time perfectly placed on the and-of-1. The 2nd half of the bar continues the thematic development, but this time, even with the consonant notes of E-natural(root) and D-natural(7th), Mike plays an F-natural, a note that is not in the mode, but again it a chromatic upper neighbor to E-natural. The last phrase in bar 4 is completely consonant within the mode, and has more of a Soul or R&B flavor to it. But be assured the thematic groundwork for the entire solo has been firmly laid-out already.
As the chord changes in bar 5 to Fm9(sus)/Bb, Mike's rhythmic emphasis remains on the 2nd half of the bar. and these notes, that mirror the rhythms that were played in bar 4, are all consonant within F Dorian [F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb]. Because the bass note has now become the 4th(Bb), and not the root of the chord, the richness of the harmonies is increased. In bar 6, he plays one of his typically chromatic fragments that, if you remove the extra 16th-notes, it would be Eb-E-Db-Bb. The key note here is that Db. As it is going to Bb, which is in the mode, but one could see that Db in several different ways. I like to look at it this way. If you view Bb as the "root" of the chord, Bb7 is the V7 of our iim7 chord(Fm7), then you could see that Db as a blue note. It would be drawn from the Bb blues scale [Bb, Db, (D-natural), Eb, E-natural, F, Ab]. Because of the interval being down a minor 3rd, it is beautifully thematically connected to the F-D that appeared in bar 2. In bar 8, as Mike makes his own linear transition to head back to Em9(sus), he employs one of the classic Jazz "tricks" that is to be playing in, or close to the mode to which you are headed. So, on beats 1, 2 and 4, you see/hear notes that are all within E Dorian. When you do something like this in your own playing, your ear has to grow accustomed to these sounds, knowing that they're going to be O.K. as soon as you hit your point of resolution on the next chord. The little "sideways" fragment that you see/hear on beat 3, I would consider it to be a chromatic part of the b5 substitute of Bbm7(even Bb7), where you have Eb-D-Db-F. You arrived there with Eb being the chromatic upper neighbor to D-natural, and then F-natural became the chromatic upper neighbor to E-natural as he spelled out an E minor 7 chord.
As Mike hits the Em9(sus) chord, and Sector 2 begins, the transition phrase from the last bar of the prior section is completed with another short 2-beat phrase on beat 1 of bar 9. Notice the long-short phrasing on beat 2. This is a crucial element in any great players arsenal of "swing." You had already heard this in bars 2 and 6. From the middle of bar 10 Mike places a wonderful emphasis on his higher A-natural, and because of his great rhythmic self-confidence, he alludes to a 6/8 feeling, via the accented triplets, over the 4/4. The phrase hits an emotional peak in bar 12 with the usage of both a C# and finally B-natural, before he descends with the first double-time passage of the solo. This time, the transition line takes a different approach, as he is descending via all of the E Dorian notes, except there's no G-natural, and the line cadences beautifully on beat 1 of the bar 13 with a low C-natural as the Fm9(sus)/Bb chord arrives.
Mike is still employing some space, taking a breath here and there, letting the rhythm section groove, or respond to his phrases. In bar 14, his phrase is a bit staggered, beginning with a wonderful sounding low Ab, before a long double-time line begins on beat 4 of that same bar. To my ears, this line is a fairly typical Michael Brecker mix of angular modal thinking, and a relation to the blues, and its particular language. But what makes this line so great is that, on the and-of-4 of bar 15, the E-natural, here a blue note if you are thinking in Bb7, sounds so 'out there' because of its rhythmic placement more than the quality and character of the note itself. As the line descends in bar 16, notice all of the chromatic passing tones amidst the modal notes. For example: C-B-Bb; F-E-Eb, D-Db-C and finally C-B-Bb again, and the line cadences to an A-natural at the arrival of the next section and the Em9(sus) chord.
As he arrives at Sector 3, and the 1st phrase is the completion of the long double-time line that began some 3 bars ago, the notes that he hears in this phrase are, where the blues is concerned, the emotional notes one always hears - just configured differently à la Michael Brecker. They are the 4th(A), the Root(E), and the 5th(B). Notice how, once again, the last notes of the phrase finish with long-short phrasing, perfectly in the groove, in the slot!!! Then, for this transcriber, mercifully a one bar breath, a rest. But, not so fast, there is a long flurry of double-time notes on the way. What he played between bars 19-21, and over the chord change to come, was easily more than enough to discourage me from continuing! But, ever the stubborn bastard, I would not let a passage like this completely defeat me, even if it might not be 100% accurate. For help in this area, I have no shame about turning to Andy Robinson's brilliant program, Transcribe!" which Michael Brecker told me about many years ago. Though I am not a saxophonist, the trickiest thing to notate in this passage becomes the extreme registers that are explored. The question becomes what is the best moment to go from Loco (played as you see it) to 8va (written an octave below where it should be played)? As Mike can really play some stratospheric notes on the saxophone, this time going up to a high Bb, that, for me, just makes for too many ledger lines. In bar 19, if you just look at the 1st note of each grouping, it is a consonant note within E Dorian [E, A, D, and D]. But, in between those pitches, Mike is traveling to other areas. Because of the F-naturals in the 1st 6 notes, could he be in a D Dorian or E Phyrgian area? But then, beginning with the Eb on the 2nd half of beat 2, could he be in an area of Eb Lydian, or C Dorian? Remember, depending upon how you analyze things, F7(using C Dorian or Eb Lydian) is the b5 substitute for B7(the V7 chord of E minor). Is that over-analyzing it? Who is to say? in the end, the only thing that is going to matter is, does it sound good to YOU?
Another issue that always comes into play when transcribing is how one is going to best choose to spell the notes, and in making that choice, will it best reflect what is actually going on in the player's mind, harmonically speaking? Here, because E minor is a sharp key, I chose to spell the next passage that crosses into bar 20 using sharps. First you see an F# triad (with a D# added in) that quickly shifts to an F#m7(9) that takes Mike back to an area that is closer to F7 (except no 3rd is present - so it could be dominant or minor). If you want to see it this way, you could say that Mike was playing 1/2-step above where he was headed. Playing in F# Dorian [F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E] in anticipation of landing, eventually, on F Dorian. This technique is also a standard part of Jazz improvising and, especially in modal Jazz, creates a nice transition to the next modal area. As the Fm7(9)/Bb chord arrives in bar 21, you can hear the notes become more consonant, using the F Dorian mode, with some chromaticism on beat 2-3. Finally, on beat 4, he vaults upwards to the aforementioned high Bb before descending again using some tones clearly outside of the mode like: B-natural, Db, and Cb. On beat 3 of bar 23, he passes through, what I would call, a portion of an Em7(9) arpeggio (minus the root) before going chromatically down from Bb to the ever consonant Ab on beat 1 of bar 24. On beats 3-4 of that last bar, his transition is really wonderful while playing some chromatic bebop in F Dorian, he uses G-natural as the common tone to find a window back to the coming Em7(9sus). Going down the interval of a minor 3rd sounds really great to these ears, as on beat 1 of the next section, he throws away a quick phrase born of E minor Pentatonic [E, G, A, B, D].
After the first phrase over the Em7(9sus) completes what came before it, Mike mercifully takes 3 beats off in bar 25. Sector 4 really begins with yet another flurry of notes, and though beat 1 of bar 26 contains notes from E Dorian as we might expect, the next 2 beats reminded me of some portion of Mike's Joe Henderson impression, but this time, because the groove is so insistent with a 16th-note pulse, Mike's phrasing reflects that, and in a good way. When it goes by, it can sound like some wild trilling of some sort, but you see that beats 2 and 3 are consistent, and the wild note in this expression is that Eb as an upper neighbor to the consonant D-natural. But that Eb really sticks out in a good way - at least to me. Then we have another perilous 8va sign to negotiate as he vaults up into his upper register, and again he touches upon that super-high Bb. But this time, that note is just a chromatic upper neighbor to the more consonant note of A-natural, which was really the target note. In bar 27, he then descends by using E minor pentatonic. On beat 4 of this same bar, the little B-G-B serves as a window to go to a Bb, and then, for 2 beats of bar 28, to me he is touching upon F Dorian, and you must remember that this contains the same notes as Eb Ionian or Eb Major [Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D]. But then, as he touches upon a B-natural again at the end of beat 2, suddenly he's back in the area of E Dorian. Finally, he descends chromatically via A-Ab-G-Gb to land on F(the root) of the arriving Fm9(sus)/Bb chord.
As the chord has changed, Mike now plays a completely consonant passage, descending down a Gm7 chord arpeggio, an Fm7 chord arpeggio, and an Eb major arpeggio, finally landing on beat 4 on his wonderful low Ab. When you hear those arpeggios go by in real time, you barely hear that last 16th-note of each grouping, and it can sound like he's playing 2 16th notes and a short 8th note, but he's actually playing all 4 notes with the last one a bit ghosted. Once again, he gives us a half-note rest before launching into another wild double-time passage in bar 30. I love the phrase on beats 3 & 4 of that bar. It is wonderful, and so very saxophonistically romantic. In bars 31-32, he plays a chromatically ascending and descending passage, mostly in 3rds, if you just focus on the notes played on the 8th-notes, you will see that he is playing from: C-Eb | E-F | Gb-G and then on beat 4, the rhythmic groupings become groups of 6 notes, and you move from Ab-A-Bb | B-Bb-A | Ab-G-Gb. On beat 3, he's finally back in the general area of Fm7, but the last 2 notes, Gb-Eb lead him into a rapid grouping of 6 in E Dorian anticipating the arrival of Em9(sus) and the last 8 bars of the solo.
Forgive me but, at this point, I must return to something that Michael has always said about himself, and that is that, he was more of an intuitive player rather than a schooled player. Of course, I don't know that I want to totally believe that, even if he said it repeatedly himself. As hard as he worked, all the incessant practicing, it couldn't have been all intuition that guided him through complex passages of moving harmonies - harmonies not in the chord progression, but only in his imaginative way of finding a path, perhaps a new path, from Point A to Point B. Put simply, he heard things, he heard them his way, and made us all believe that what was being played was coming from a deep place within his soul, his being - and yes, as it is happening, it has NOTHING to do with the intellect, or any kind of cerebral process. That aspect took place in all the endless hours of practice, jamming, playing drum duos until the sun came up, but when it is really time to play, there is no B.S.'ing around!!! Not at all - you have to hear something, and then, play it!!!
As Sector 5 begins at bar 33, you can't help but notice that Mike has returned to the same kind of rhythmic thematic fragment that we saw in bar 1. This is a wonderful way of not losing touch with how and where you began. Ideally, any solo should have thematic development, and a sense of connection to what had come before. Then, as he had previously done in bars 10-11, he again is riding a most forceful A-natural above the staff. On beat 2 of bar 35, he vaults up an octave to that super high A-natural, a perfect note from the blues for emotional emphasis. In bar 36, the 1st 2 beats are completely derived from the blues language, which so closely related to E minor pentatonic. The last 2 beats are out of E Dorian as he ascends up the mode from G-natural to C#, and then descends through an Em7 arpeggio: D-B-G-E. But, as the chord changes, instead of finding a modal tone in F Dorian that is close to that E-natural, he goes up a b5 to a Bb, and plays phrases within this mode vaulting up to the 4th again, this time to a Bb, for its emotional impact. On beat 4 of bar 38, he plays an upper Ab, and repeats that note on beat 1 of bar 39 as he descends 2 octaves down to his wonderful low Ab. It feels a bit like a throwaway phrase. Easy for Mike! Then the solo reaches its glorious conclusion with a long one bar super double-time line that begins on an Eb, the 7th of F Dorian, and ascends up to a Db, which, in this context, is really a chromatic upper neighbor to the more consonant tone of C-natural, the 5th of F Dorian. He passes all the way down chromatically for 2 octaves with the last note in bar 39 being a Bb, and finally landing on an A-natural, which is the note from which this linear adventure began some 40 bars ago. From here LeeAnn Ledgerwood's wonderful keyboard solo takes over.
It goes without saying how much love and respect I have always had for Eddie Gómez since he first joined Bill Evans. How many times I saw him playing with Bill at the Top of the Gate, which one could do for free, no music charge. Hard to imagine that now. But for me, on a personal note, Eddie is always a rich part of my life, because he and I were playing trio at Bradley's in lower Manhattan with pianist Mike Abene, and it was during that gig that I met my eventual son's mother, Erika. Every so often, even though my son is now 44 years old, when I think of Eddie or Mike Abene this is a moment in my life that I will never forget.
When all is said and done, or, in this case, written and done, Michael Brecker was probably the most dedicated and hard working musician that I ever met in my life. I am in no way discounting the incredible hard work of all the great tenor players who were coming up as the '70s began - it's obvious that they all put in their time, and were completely dedicated to their craft, and this music. But I witnessed Mike's struggles on a more first-hand basis. I remember how many times I went to his W. 19th St. loft to visit, and I would walk in, and see this very bare space with a bed on the floor, unmade of course, Tropicana orange juice cartons thrown all over the place, and a single round table placed with no particular concern for eating, or anything remotely social. On that table were countless mouthpieces and reeds. And almost every time that I would enter the loft he would say to me, "Come here, I want you to listen to something, and see if you can hear the difference!" Then, we would walk over by that table, and he would pick-up his beautiful tenor sax, and pick a mouthpiece, inserting a reed, and would then play something completely incredible. Listening, I wasn't really thinking too much about the actual sound - because he always sounded so beautiful to me. Then? He would pick-up a 2nd mouthpiece, play something equally incredible, and would then ask me, "Well, which one sounded better to you?" By then, I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know what to say. So, I usually said something like: "Mike, they both sound great to me!!!" He would give me a look of complete exasperation, shake his head, as if there was 'something' - some difference - that I clearly should have heard. This process never stopped as long as I knew him. At least he wasn't crazy enough to be going out and buying and trying new saxophones all the time!
In the end, he heard things, magical things, in his musical imagination, and he played those things as only he could - including all the influences, and all influences aside. I listen to what he has left behind for all of us, and I still shake my head in utter amazement that this once in a generation type of musician could have been my friend and my bandmate. He is never forgotten by me, nor anyone who felt these same things.
[Photos: Michael Brecker with Style® John Considine Treatment
Steve Gadd and Al Foster Collage]