See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription

Steve Khan's acoustic guitar solo on:

"Rojo"(Bobby Hutcherson)

    Without a doubt, Bobby Hutcherson's 1996 album "HAPPENINGS"(Blue Note), since its release, had been one of my all-time favorite recordings. At that time, I certainly knew of all the players: Herbie Hancock(piano), Bob Cranshaw(ac. bass) and Joe Chambers(drums), but as I was searching the LP bins in West Los Angeles, while attending U.C.L.A.,Happenings - Bobby Hutcherson I was probably drawn to the album because I saw that they had interpreted Hancock's "Maiden Voyage." I loved this new interpretation, because it was such a different way of playing this classic tune from the most incredible original version that appeared on Herbie's album of the same name, just one year earlier, 1965. Gone was the beautiful elasticity of the original, the impression that the piece could slow down or speed up just a little bit as was needed or felt. Suddenly, there was a driving 8th-note pulse from Joe Chambers' ride cymbal, and though the music was still delicate and romantic, it had a relentless quality to it. I was also struck by the fact that, on the Hutcherson version, Hancock was the first soloist, and his solo perfectly built the intensity towards Bobby's solo. It was all, for me, a lesson in the art of the possible!
    Of course, one of my favorite tunes on that album was always, Hutcherson's composition, "Rojo." But, it should not go unsaid that, I had recorded another one of his tunes from this same album "Bouquet" on "TWO FOR THE ROAD", a live acoustic guitar duet album with Larry Coryell in 1974. It wasn't until I was a co-leader of the Caribbean Jazz Project alongside Dave Samuels and Dave Valentín between 1999-2002, that my thoughts again drifted towards "Rojo" and the arrangement for the piece that I had labored to write. At that time, I was thinking that Samuels' vibes and my guitar could somehow cover all the complex chordal clusters that Herbie Hancock had created for the tune. Unfortunately, I left the group before we ever had a chance to even rehearse the arrangement. So, it just sat in an envelope for years. As I was in the process of selecting material for "BACKLOG," I again thought of "Rojo," remembered my arrangement, and went digging in the closet to find that damn envelope. Upon review, it seemed that I had captured the feeling of those special harmonies, but rhythmically, I just wasn't sure which kind of Latin feel would be right for this tune. To me, the original, though very much performed with an even 8th-note feel, evokes flavors of Latin music, blues, Spanish music, and a lot of Brazilian music. As Hutcherson's solo begins, you can hear Chambers playing rhythms with his cross-stick on the snare that are reminiscent of a bright bossa nova of some kind. The more I thought about the rhythms, the less certain I was that I knew what to do. I did have an idea about how to treat, what I would have labeled as, the [B] section of the piece, but the Intro and the main melody sections were a mystery to me. So, as I often do, in my confusion, I sought out the help and wisdom of my dear friend, the great saxophonist/arranger from Venezuela, Rafael Greco, to see what he might suggest. Eventually, he sent me some sample rhythmic grooves that I then integrated into my own Pro Tools arrangement, and, I was most grateful to then have a place to start.
    When we all gathered together on April 24th, 2016, for our one long-ass rehearsal at Euphoria Rehearsal Studios here in New York, the rhythmic path of "Rojo" was going to be solidified. The brilliant Marc Quiñones(timbal) came in with a plan in mind for the piece, and, as he is, to my mind, the rhythmic captain of the ship, I just let him take over, and I would trust in his judgment completely. From the perspective of the timbal, when we recorded "PARTING SHOT"(2011), Marc played everything with a campana mounted on his timbal kit.Bobby Hutcherson - Francis Wolff Many modern timbaleros play this way, especially when there is not enough money to have a bongocero in the band. The problem with recording this way, at least for me, is that you can't create, in the stereo field, the way Classic Salsa was recorded and mixed, where the mambo bell from the timbal is on one side of the mix, and the campana, from the bongocero, is on the other side of the mix. This is what I love the most! 3 years later, when we went in to record "SUBTEXT"(2014), I insisted to Marc and Bobby Allende(conga) that we record the old school way, so that I could present the music with the stereo image that I liked best, and that's what we did. Of course, I wanted to approach this recording that very same way. However, the one tune that Marc insisted that he play in the way where the campana is again mounted on his timbal kit, ended-up being "Rojo." And that is the way that you now hear it. Supported by Rubén Rodríguez' immense baby bass sound, and his proud tumbao, and Mark Walker's drums, everything quickly fell into place. During the melody sections, we are still approaching the piece as a Son Montuno which feels perfect to me.
    Long before that aforementioned rehearsal, I had presented Rob Mounsey with the score for my keyboard arrangement for "Rojo" and, as we went through it together, I was certain that the best melodic choice for me was going to be to play the piece on my Martin MC-28 steel-string acoustic guitar. Had I decided to play my Gibson 335 on this tune, I believe that its sound would have taken some of the clarity away from Rob's great keyboard sounds. So, my idea was that the acoustic guitar could sit on top of these very sophisticated clustered chords, and maintain a distinct melodic voice throughout the performance. However, everything that can, in one moment, seem so clear, can become very cloudy and confusing in the next. Initially, I had envisioned playing the melody in the higher register of the guitar, but, when I tried playing it in that register, Rob said, and with great certainty, that it would sound better down the octave!!! Of course, I knew that he had to be right. So that is the way that you now hear the piece performed. This particular melodic range concept did pose some sonic problems for engineer James Farber and me, when we went to mix the recording in June of 2016, but, I'm reasonably pleased with the results. In hindsight, always a better place to be, I think that I would have preferred a little more reverb on my acoustic guitar!
    Then there comes the process of using your imagination to envision another way to interpret "Rojo" while still maintaining all of the elements that make it such a wonderful composition. Once again, in order to create a Latin context for this song, I began by coming up with a keyboard montuno that establishes the feeling, the mood, and the attitude of the entire piece. One of the many reasons that I love working with Rob Mounsey is that he is always seeking a way to create a distinctly unique Rhodes sound for each tune that we work on. Often times, even if I loved a sound that he had created for one tune, he will still work at creating a slightly new one for the next song. In the end, all of these options and choices are aimed at fitting into a particular style of keyboard playing and accompaniment that I appreciate so much. Generally speaking, I am looking for a sound that is, in the end, warm and romantic, and fits into a style of playing where the sustain pedal enjoys liberal usage, while never losing a sense of a forceful attack, when necessary, to give a song like this its Latin character. In general, the sounds that resonate the most with me, and my sense of taste, are not necessarily the keyboard sounds most associated with Latin music, because those sonic choices are often based upon a bright and very percussive attack. That might, for many, serve the music well, but it is not what I am looking for. Again, I think of how Clare Fischer used the Fender Rhodes in a Latin context many years ago, and that has been the sonic model for me. But Latin music or not, the Rhodes style that both Don Grolnick and Rob Mounsey seem to hear and feel is right for the approach that I want to employ. The way that Rob performed the Intro, and all the composed sections that followed, was perfect for what I was trying to achieve for "Rojo."
    The final piece of crafting the overall arrangement for me was to invent a solo format and structure that mirrored the composition, but was not as rigidly attached to that form as is most in keeping with the greater Jazz tradition. I wanted a harmonic rhythm [How fast are the chord changes moving?] that felt comfortable for me. This idea led me to expanding the length of some bars, and of some chords, but I felt that, in doing that, the music should never lose its connection to "Rojo" as Hutcherson and Hancock performed it. I also did not want to lose that sense of blues that Herbie brought to the performance. The "bridge" like sections that involve the descending dominant 7th(13) chords are also part of the overall structure, and both sets of changes are used during the guitar solo format. Once I had something that felt comfortable for me, and made musical sense, I looked at including other solos to the layout of the song.Herbie Hancock - Francis Wolff I decided that there would be one percussion solo, and it could be either timbal or conga, and that, after a restatement of the melody, there would be a long, open-ended drum solo that would, at some point, feature Rob Mounsey's beautiful pads, entering underneath the keyboard and acoustic guitar montuno, to add some intensity in support of the drum solo.
    Of course, at the rehearsal, things changed a bit from my original plan, and I became really happy with the result. I had created a section with breaks, letter [E], as a prelude to the percussion solo, but when I spoke to Marc and Bobby about that, Marc suggested that Bobby would play during those breaks, but that he(Marc) would then play the actual solo format on timbal, which is all played with a mambo feel. The end result was positively brilliant, and Marc played one of his best solos on this recording, and really on any of my recordings to this point. It's really great, and so very musical. For some reason, the montuno, letter [E3], under Marc's solo is 8 bars in length. From a harmonic perspective there is one curious element, and it occurs in bar 5 as the chord change moves from Fm9(maj7)/C to Ebm9(maj7)/Bb, you might notice that, for some crazy reason, I have a G-natural(maj3rd) on beat 1, and then, of all things, on the and-of-4 of that same bar, the Gb(m3rd) finally appears, and stays for the remaining 3 bars. When he performed this, Rob Mounsey found this to be a bit odd, but, to me, it had always sounded perfectly normal. What becomes interesting is that, for some reason, when the final section arrives for Mark Walker's fiery drum solo, letter [F], instead of having 4 bars per chord change, it becomes 2 bars per chord change. How? Why did that happen? Honestly, I don't even remember, but it is actually hard to imagine that this was by intellectual design. I honestly think that it was purely by feel, and that it just happened when I was constructing the arrangement. Once again this little aforementioned linear/harmonic oddity occurs on the downbeat of the chord change. The last detail was, how long was [F] going to be before the pads arrived at letter [F2]? What I cared most about was that Mark would have enough time to develop his solo from something simple, and that he would never feel rushed to move up the intensity level too quickly. After some thought and discussion, we felt that 32 bars was a good length, and then pads would arrive, and, at some point, the actual Fade would begin. Where fades are concerned, my philosophy is always that, to some degree, you want the listener to wish that there had been more, or that, they are saying to themselves, "I wonder what happened after that?" The truth, in this case, is that engineer James Farber and I tried to include every possible moment that Mark actually played, even as the fade is dying out. So, you are actually hearing pretty much everything that was there. Bravo Mark!!!

    After the statement of the melody, there is a little 8-bar section, [I2], that serves as a lead-in to the guitar solo. The first part of the solo section, which I have labeled as letter [C] consists of 12 bars of the basic chords for the main melody of "Rojo" except, instead of being 1 bar each, they now appear as 2 bars each. Another vital element as this section arrives is that Marc Quiñones then employs one of the many variations to create a Cha-cha feel, which always feels great to me! Each time that [C] is played, there are 2 bars added on which, though rhythmically different, they mirror the 2-bar figures that appear in the main melody sections for both [A] and [B]. So this part of the solo format is very much connected to the song. Heading into [C], the solo begins with a pick-up that ascends through a Bb triad, and then, the initial phrases over the sophisticated sonority of Fm9(maj7)/C and the big tumbao of Rubén Rodríguez' baby bass in C. The lines in the first 2 bars have more of a bluesy flavor, not too far from playing the blues in C. As the chord changes to Ebm9(maj7)/Bb, the lines are even more closely related to Bb blues material. This continues in bar 3, as the chord returns to Fm9(maj7). The line in triplets is again related to blues via the C minor pentatonic [C, Eb, F, G, Bb], with the inclusion of an E-natural at the end of the line, which also observes the chord, as it is the major 7th of Fmin9. In bar 7, as the chord is changing to Ebm9(maj7), the line is still connected to the previous chord, which is a common device when chord changes are moving down by a whole-step. However, the line is really derived from F melodic minor [F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, E]. Relative to the newer modal area, E-natural and G-natural should be strange sounding notes but somehow, they function well. Perhaps this is because, if you consider that Rubén is playing a lot of Bb's and F's, and you relate to the chord more as Bb7(9b5), then the usage of F melodic minor makes perfect sense. In bars 9-10, back to the Fm9(maj7)/C chord, the line reflects more of a C blues feeling. In bar 9, pay attention to the phrasing idea with the 16th-note triplet grouping, as this kind of phrasing is so very important to the Jazz tradition, a small but vital detail! In bars 11-12, over the Ebm9(maj7), again I am playing in area where the flavor is closer to Bb7, and Bb blues ideas than anything modal-related. Over the 2-bar figure that will reappear during the solo, in bar 13, the first part of the line seems to reflect Bb Dorian [Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab], and as the line descends into bar 14, a chromatic sense of C blues returns.
    The solo format then repeats letter [C] with Rob's accompaniment expanding subtly, and the line reflects a sense of C blues again, though in bar 2 there is touch of F melodic minor. In bar 3-4, over Ebm9(maj7) there is a run of triplets that passes through Eb melodic minor [Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, D]. And then, finally in bars 5-6, you can see/hear a more true sense of F melodic minor over Fm9(maj7)/C, but this time in bars 7-8, over Ebm9(maj7)/Bb, you hear more of an emphasis placed on the area of Bb blues, as the line even passes through the spelling of a Bb7 chord [D, Ab, F and eventually Bb]. in bar 9, the line that I play, which should be very familiar to most guitarists no matter what their genre of interest might be, is something that, for me, is very connected to a moment that Bobby Hutcherson played on the original version. The phrase in bar 10 is developed in bar 11, and then, notice that, in bar 12, the final phrase of the section actually descends through a line that I associate with G7(alt.), and the G altered dominant scale [G, Ab, Bb, B, Db, Eb, F] as the line resolves to a sense of C blues.Marc Quiñones - Richard Laird Finally, over the 2-bar rhythmic figure in bars 13-14, the line is, without question, drawing from the C blues scale [C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb]. I am often asked, "How do you get that twangy sound on your steel-string acoustic?" If that's what you hear, the answer is really simple. I substitute a plain G-string for the normal one that comes with a set of D'Arco New Yorker Extra Light Gauge acoustic guitar strings, with the high E-string being a .010 gauge. The normal wound G-string is at .023 gauge. For years, I have been replacing that string with a plain .017 G-string!!! So, that's how I do it. The sound, at times, is not for everyone, but, that's what works for me, and I have adapted my technique, such as it is, to accommodate this change.
    As letter [D] arrives, and Rob Mounsey goes into a full montuno zone, you can hear Marc Quiñones add in his mounted campana to the expected mambo bell pattern, and from these two elements, and Mark Walker going to his ride cymbal, the track gets a huge lift. In bar 1 of the new section, we begin a sequence of descending dominant 7th(13) chords going down in whole-steps with each chord getting 4 bars. The first 2 beats of bar 1, I'm taking a breath before the line begins over Db7(13), and it is a formation that I see as being a part of Db dominant 7th pentatonic [Db, Eb, F, Ab, Cb]. This continues through bar 4. In bars 5-8, as the chord changes to B7(13), the approach is more modal, and though I think of it as F# Dorian [F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E], one could just as easily think of it as B Mixolydian as they contain the same notes. In the final analysis, all of this "thinking" is meant for your practice time. When one is actually playing, there should be no "thinking" involved, and you should just in the flow of the music, and hearing melodic ideas as they come to you. In a sense, the line is playing YOU, not the other way around!!! in bar 9, the last chord in the sequence, A7(13) arrives, and over these 4 bars we find a couple small "sweeps" within the lines. To me, the lines are still connected to E Dorian [E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D] with some chromaticism added in. Those aforementioned triplet sweeps appear in bars 9-11. Bar 12, to these ears, is purely blues in the A7 area, and the section concludes with another bluesy phrase in the C area.

    I suppose that you could say that, as [C2] begins, this is really like a 2nd chorus, though not exactly, as you will see. In bars 1-4, we see a paraphrase of a line configuration that first appeared in bar 9 of the repeat of [C]. This time, over the Fm9(maj7)/C sonority, I'm in the upper register beginning at the 12th fret(E) and stretching up to the 16th fret(Ab), and over the course of the notes that are played, you still see the sense of a C triad(E-G-C). If spelled up from F, the root of the sonority: F-Ab-C-E-G-B, you see how important that same C triad is in creating this chordal sound with your line. And speaking of chords, you should have noticed by now that I have not played a single chord voicing during this solo, not even a double-stop! I think that there is an internal instinct that takes over when I hear beautiful Rhodes playing like this, and I just know to stick to single-note lines, because that's what is going to speak best through the texture. Bars 5-9 of the section introduce a new motivic idea where you see, for example, in bar 5 the notes going from Ab-G-Ab via pull-off slurring. Then, in bar 6, over the same Fm9(maj7)/C, you find G-F#-G executed by simply sliding my 1st finger across the notes. Then, in bars 7-8, over the Ebm9(maj7), you see/hear notes that are really coming from F Dorian [F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb] over this chordal sound which I view as being connected to the concept of hearing the chord as related more to Bb7 than to Ebm9. Also pay attention to the little phrasing detail on beat 4 of bar 7 with the 8th-note/2 16th-notes grouping. This is another familiar but key element to your Jazz phrasing vocabulary. As the line descends to its conclusion in bar 9, and the Fm9(maj7) returns, the motif reappears as you find E-D#-E. The phrase that answers this idea again concludes with long-short phrasing. Over the Ebm9(maj7), we find that I am applying F melodic minor lines. Again, whatever I might have played over these two chordal sonorities, one whole-step apart: Fm9(maj7)/C to Ebm9(maj7)/Bb, it really has to be dictated by what YOU HEAR, that is all that matters. Over the rhythmic 2-bar figure that closes each section of the solo, I played a line that again alludes to C blues, but this time embraces the rhythms of the figure!
    As [D2], the final section of the solo arrives, you will notice that, the chords are different from [D], but this does correspond to the chords that appear in both [A] and [B] of the melody sections.Steve Khan - Prisma What is common to both [D] sections is that you have dominant 7th(13) chords moving down by whole-steps. This time, for [D2], they are only 2 bars in length, as opposed to 4 bars. The section begins on a Bb7(13) chord, and a line in the previous bar, beginning on the and-of-3, anticipates the arrival of the chord change. Then, there is a nice breath for almost all of bar 1. The line itself in bar 2 could be viewed as being derived from F Dorian, or from Bb blues material, either way makes perfect sense. If you recall, I mentioned that, at times, when playing over chords that are from the same dominant family and moving down by a whole-step, you can often continue in the mode of the first chord, or playing blues-connected material related to the first chord. So, if you look at what I played over the Ab7(13), I am still playing a linear passage that, because of the presence of the G-natural, a note that is NOT in the mode for Ab7(13), the line appears to still be coming from F Dorian. However, from beat 3 of bar 4 of the section, and through the Gb7(13), the lines reflect Db Dorian [Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb]. As the solo closes over the 2-bar rhythmic figure, the line begins as being part of F melodic minor, notice the E-natural, but the 2nd half of the line, because of the presence of Eb, sounds more like F Dorian. And yet, the closing note of the long descending triplet passage is an E-natural again. The melodic answer to that note, is to surround a low C-natural by both of its chromatic upper(Db) and lower(B) neighbors. In this case, it is an effective way to put a punctuation mark on the solo.

    Because I did not compose any original tunes for "BACKLOG," I had not planned on posting any of the arrangements for the tunes played at KORNER 2 where they normally would appear. So "Rojo" becomes an example where I am sharing some extra details, even though it is appearing as a transcription of KORNER 1. I decided to add on to this transcription what I played at letter [E], which is an 8-bar transition section between the end of the guitar solo and the beginning of the percussion solos. Several very kind people have commented on how much they like what I played in this brief section, as I tried to find a way to blend in nicely with what Rob was playing. In the end, as I relate to what I did, and because I played these very simple and transparent voicings played finger-style, the feeling that I tried to create was more Brazilian in nature than purely Latin. So, I hope that a few of you will enjoy being able to view it.
    Without question, "Rojo" is the most keyboard-centric arrangement on the entire album, and, as we have discussed so many of the compositional elements to this great tune, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to present the KEYBOARD LEAD SHEETS as they were presented to Rob Mounsey. Of course, these lead sheets now reflect some refinements that Rob made, because he was the one who actually had to play the parts in real time. It should never be overlooked that Herbie Hancock probably came-up with those clustered harmonies spontaneously, making what he did all the more brilliant. In my case, I tried take what he did and just expand upon it, using my own sense of keyboard harmony and also my years of studying the way that Clare Fischer organizes harmony on the keyboard.
    If you look at, and listen to the keyboard montunos in both the [E3] and [F] sections, although Rob pointed out this inconsistency to me that, those same montunos should really be played completely in 6ths, I certainly felt that he was right, and I thought that he was going to correct what I had written in both sections, but, as I listen now,Rob Mounsey - Avatar 2016 I realize that in [E3], on beat 3 of the 1st bar, I still see one perfect 5th(C-G), but in that same spot in bar 1 of letter [F] it had been adjusted to becoming a 6th, and you see: Bb-G. It becomes a fascinating small detail that you hardly notice it as it is all going by in real time. Another extra detail that I included on these lead sheets is on Pg. 6, where you can view all the voicings to the string pads that I asked Rob to perform, while assigning better, or more interesting, sounds to those notes. Notice how, as the intensity of Mark Walker's drum solo would have been building at that point, the voicings are all ascending for the first 16 bars, then they are descending for the next 8 bars before ascending again. In the end, Rob did a brilliant job of making a "sandwich" of various creative sounds, and that's what you hear tucked-in as Mark is soloing. I hope that those of you who take interest in seeing such things will take advantage of this opportunity to have access to them right here.
    Over the many years, Rob and I have contributed to each other's projects, and made two wonderful recordings together as well: "LOCAL COLOR"(1987) and "YOU ARE HERE"(1998). I treasure both of them. Rob's contributions to my recordings beginning in 2005 with "THE GREEN FIELD" have been immense. In the end, I could not have done any of them without his help, guidance, voice of sanity & supreme musicality. In the end, I value Rob's opinion so much that I'm grateful for anything that he has to say. Fortunately for me, where "Rojo" was concerned, any of the changes or additions that Rob made were welcomed by me. For those of you who choose to investigate these lead sheets, I hope that you will discover something more about Rob's artistry and his superlative musicianship.

    At some point, before we actually went into Avatar Studios to record the album, I had a meeting with Mike Mainieri, who played so brilliantly on Bobby Hutcherson's tune "Head Start" from the the same "HAPPENINGS" album, and while together at his apartment here in New York, we discussed the approach to that tune, and I gave him the part that I had written specifically for him and his vibes. It was during that meeting that Mike told me that, Bobby Hutcherson was not feeling well, and that he had been forced to cancel some concerts that they had been scheduled to do together. When I heard that, I just knew that this had to be something very serious and, needless to say, it made me feel very sad. Then, on August 16th, 2016, well after we had recorded the album in April. and mixed and mastered it in June, we all learned that the great Bobby Hutcherson had passed away. It was yet another very, very sad day for the entire Jazz community. If you are at all interested, I sat down then, and wrote an homage to him at the TRIBUTES page at the site to express how much his playing and recordings had meant to me. Once you're there, just scroll down a bit, and you will see it. It becomes a strange irony that three of the tunes that appear on "BACKLOG" came from Hutcherson's albums: "HAPPENINGS" and "DIALOGUE."

[Photos: Bobby Hutcherson and Herbie Hancock Photos by: Francis Wolff
Marc Quiñones and Richard Laird @ Avatar Studios Photo by Adela Blanco
Steve Khan @ Avatar Studios by Richard Laird
Prisma® Lichtenstein Treatment by Adela Blanco
Rob Mounsey @Avatar Studios by Richard Laird]

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