See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription

Herbie Hancock's Fender Rhodes Solo on:
"Scarborough Fair/Canticle"(Paul Simon)

        As I wrote in a prior presentation here, I had been trying to acquire the CD version of Paul Desmond's "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER"(A&M), recorded in 1969 and featuring only music composed by Paul Simon. When the CD finally arrived, I sat for the full 36-minutes and listened to everything again. More than the beauty of the songs and Don Sebesky's wonderful arrangements, I was struck by two brilliant solos performed by Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes.
    On many of Paul Desmond's recordings, since his years with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, arrangers have chosen to treat standards in odd meters because of Desmond's association with "Take 5." And so, on "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," it was played in a 5/4 rhythm. and Herbie's solo is over an Fm7 chord. However, as he did on the previous solo we shared with you, his sense of invention was again at a very high level. Once again, Herbie is joined in the rhythm section by Ron Carter on acoustic bass and Airto Moreira playing drums. I would imagine that they were trying to keep this solo at a 32-bar length, but because of the open nature of the harmony and the rhythm, it happened to come out a little longer. The solo dovetails nicely into a few moments of just bass and drums, and then Ron Carter's bass gives way to a brief drum solo, which focuses on the tom-toms, probably played with mallets.
    Of interest in Herbie's approach to this solo is that, as he begins, his left-hand clearly acknowleges the 5/4 rhythm, but the melodies in right-hand seem to float over the time, and over the bar-lines. The phrases do not seem to conform to the expected groupings of 4 and 8 bars. For example, the 'answer' to his opening phrase, begins in the 8th bar. It could be said that both of these phrases are but 6-bars in length. However, what is of greater interest than this is the sense of harmony. Remember, we are only given an Fm7 sonority as a base. Normally, one would expect to see notes which conform to the F Dorian mode(F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb). His opening motif does exactly that and, in a way, could be considered a 'creative' paraphrase of the melody. Notice that there is an emphasis placed on the note, Eb. His left-hand voicings are clearly in F minor and are in the style of the times, perhaps influenced by McCoy Tyner. But, such things could have come from his love for the piano music of Debussy or Ravel too?
    But, his answer to his opening statement, takes us all by surprise. Suddenly, in bar 8, while the emphasis remains on the Eb, everything else changes. The left-hand is playing voicings in 4ths which, to these ears, would indicate a shift to Bbm7, though Ron Carter remains firmly rooted around 'F.' It is also possible to interpret this shift as being connected to F altered dominant 7th sounds. The 2nd voicing, spelling up: Eb-Ab-Db could be viewed as part of an F7(#9#5) chord. Spelling up, normally that full voicing would be: A-natural-Eb-Ab-Db-F(or Gb often appears, adding the b9). This might explain what then appears as his right-hand melody makes a far more radical move, harmonically speaking, as Herbie plays notes from Ab minor pentatonic(Ab, Cb, Db, Eb, Gb). From this point forward, the left-hand never again sounds purely Fm7.
    What happens next is of equal harmonic interest. Remember that the left-hand is continuing in an area which could be considered to be Bbm7 or in the extreme, F7(alt.). But, the right-hand melody takes another radical turn and sounds like it is in the area of B Dorian(B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A). When isolated, there is almost a sense that the phrase could resolve to Db major, in a "Flamenco" harmonic way, if Herbie had descended further down and employed F#-F-natural-D-natural-Db. It all serves the purpose of creating great harmonic tension where, according to the vamp, none exists!
    In bar 17, Herbie goes on a C half-tone/whole-tone diminished scale(C, Db, Eb, E-natural, Gb, G-natural, A, Bb) adventure, but with the left-hand remaining the same. Normally, when one is in a minor key, or one is going to resolve to im7, the usage of the diminished scale is not advised! This is because the scale contains the natural 6th or 13th(in this key that would be A-natural), and you are trying to resolve to F minor where the 3rd of the chord is Ab. To resolve from Ab to A-natural is a terrible sounding resolution. What makes Herbie's usage of the diminished scale successful here is: [1] he is the only chordal instrument, and he can 'harmonize himself' and [2], in the rapidly descending diminshed scale line in bar 20, you will notice that all the 'A's are tucked inside, none appear on the quarter-note. That helps too!!! And [3], the line resolves to a very consonant note: 'C.'
    In bar 21, as the solo continues to pick-up in intensity, all generated by the skillful usage of shifting harmonic centers, Herbie goes up in register and now employs notes which could come from: [1] the F blues scale(F, Ab, Bb, B-natural, C, Eb); or [2] the Ab Dorian(Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, Gb). In bar 27, as the phrase drives towards its conclusion, Herbie even employs a D-natural, which could be considered a "blue note" within the Ab blues scale(Ab, Cb, Db, D-natural, Eb, Gb). Not being a keyboard player, it is highly possible that some of these notes are played in octaves. Iım especially speaking of the high B-naturals. However, when I played along with the track, using single notes on my antiquated DX-7, it sounded correct to me. Lucky for me, my dear friend, and great keyboard artist, Otmaro Ruíz advised me that the entire passage is in octaves!
    In bar 31, Hancock plays a very brief 'blues lick' before pounding out a phrase in 5ths where, if you only follow the top notes, it appears to be in the Bb Dorian area(Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab). However, to retain the nature of the perfect 5ths, a Gb had to be included, but I don't believe that we have to over-analyze that one note!
    Bars 34-38 were very difficult to make total sense of, but one could stop right there, and simply answer the most fundamental question: Does it sound good or not? To me, to these ears, it sounds absolutely fantastic! But, from a harmonic perspective, this is a very cloudy phrase. The first voicing, and all the voicings are stacked in 4ths, Bb-Eb-Ab could easily be considered as part of an Fm7(sus) sound. But, this voicing goes DOWN a whole-step to Ab-Db-Gb which should be considered as part of Ebm7(sus). In bar 35, Herbie even briefly touches upon an A-natural as part of the voicing: B-natural-E-natural-A-natural. But, this should only be considered as no more than a chromatic upper neighbor to the consonant Ab voicing. But, one could consider it to be a "blue note" in Eb blues(Eb, Gb, Ab, A-natural, Bb, Db). As you can see, ALL of those notes appear somewhere in these voicings! But again, the key is the moment of resolution, and in bar 38, on beats 4 and 5, you see an F minor triad. What could be more clear and centered than that?
    From a rhythmic perspective, this passage was just enough to make me want to throw the transcription right out the window, and I almost did! The problem for me was that Herbie's time feel felt so loose and free, as if it was 'floating' over the beats, over the bar lines, over any sense of 5/4, that it was hard to imagine that there could be a 3 over 2 going on with a 2 against 3 within the quarter-note triplets. It becomes terribly complex. Having spent so much time, in recent years, with so many tremendous Latin musicians, it's remarkable how effortlessly they can go back forth between these two rhythmic feels without ever raising an eyebrow. And you always know, can feel, exactly what they're doing. However, breaking down the phrase, in a mathematical way, just to get it notated reasonably well, it does work itself out. But, even with a 5/4 rhythm to contend with, one would still expect an improvisation to end-up being in groups of 4 and 8 bar phrases. This improvisation, when viewed from top to bottom, never really conforms to that. Obviously, the first phrase does begin in bar 1, but after that, they commence in bars: 8; 14; 17; 22; 31; and 34. Generally speaking, one might expect to see phrases which began on only the odd-numbered bars. For example: bars: 1; 9; 17; 25; etc., or smaller groupings of 2 and 4-bar phrases.
    But, Herbie's solo has 'something' which can not be quantified, because it is rich with 'feel,' 'mood,' 'attitude' and lots of soul and funk. When you add-up all those elements, it is a triumph of one musician's individuality and imagination. The ability to make "something out of nothing!" A simple 5/4 vamp in F minor, and I believe that I hear, in Herbie's opening phrase, the slightest hint of the melodic phrase from where Simon & Garfunkel sang the words: "She once was a true love of mine." Perhaps I'm reaching for too much here? Perhaps I'm over-analyzing? But, this the danger and the fun of writing about something someone else has performed. I wrote something like this before, and I can only echo it now: Herbie, you are 'badder' than bad, you are just too damn funky for your own good! "Show 'em my mot-to!!!" Oh yes I will: "Obey your thirst!"

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