Soundclips - Lead Sheet: | Guitar Solo:
Steve Khan's Acoustic Guitar
This was the first appearance on any of my own recordings, specifically "TIGHTROPE", of the concept of having my steel-string acoustic guitar appear as a solo voice, but floating over an electric keyboard texture. That texture, for this track, was beautifully supplied by Bob James on Fender Rhodes, and Don Grolnick, this time playing a very funky clavinet. The real inspiration for this was also from the same recording by Herbie Hancock, but this time the track was "Hang Up Your Hang Ups." At the end of a very funky, very brassy, very electric track, Herbie suddenly appears, for the first time, on acoustic piano with string pads added to the funky/brassy texture which continued. To me, this was a striking and brilliant idea. My solo on "Star Chamber" was performed as an overdub because I wanted to perform the electric melodies live with the band. Looking back, I think I would have done this completely differently and played the acoustic solo live. On the plus side, the good thing is that the solo you now hear was the first and only take!
The solo is 32-bars long and simply follows the changes, the harmonic movement from letter [A] of the composition; that being 4 bars of Em7 and 4 bars of C#m7. When one has parallel chords moving up or down in minor 3rds, it's a pretty sure-fire device. No matter what the chord colors might be, major; minor; or dominant, it always works. Often times, writers choose to have the movement going up, however here I chose to have it moving down first. The modal approach to such changes is very simple: for the Em7 chord one would use E-Dorian(E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D) and for the C#m7 chord, you would use C#-Dorian(C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B). I have tried to highlight the 'common tones' which should be a most important consideration when building an improvisation where you want your solo to flow over the bar lines.
With the benefit of hindsight, some 25 yrs. of it, what is most striking to me now about this solo is its complete lacking of chromaticism. Within each modal area, it is totally diatonic, and very consonant. There are also no 'blue notes' to be found. However, this is compensated for by the very 'bluesy' feeling that permeates the solo, with lots of bent notes and the usage of vibrato for expressiveness. It should be noted that on my steel-string acoustic guitars, in this case it was my David Russell Young, I use a plain 'G'-string! Usually, it's either a .016 or .017. It gives the guitar a 'twangy' thing which I find best expresses the way I like to play. I suppose one could say that my left-hand is just not strong enough to do similar things with a wound 'G'-string. Either way you view it, it gives the guitar a unique sound. You gain something as a soloist but you lose a bit of body to the sound overall where chords are concerned. In a context such as this, it is a sacrifice I have always been willing to make.
Though it's not a particularly easy thing to listen to one's own solo, and then critique it, I have come to feel that one of the best elements in the "Star Chamber" solo is that it was played with a very laid-back time feeling. I believe that it's this element which makes the solo that much more expressive. When this solo was originally transcribed, I actually notated some specific bars where this occurs: bars 3-4; 9; 14; 22; 31-32. Often times people perceive 'time,' where music is concerned, in a very finite manner; that is to say that, the 'beat'(any single quarter note) occupies a rather narrow space in time. However, I like to see this as the 'beat' is wide and, within it, there is room for great personal interpretation. And this holds true within the solo itself, within a phrase, and even, at times, from note to note. Again, it's about having a sense of rhythmic self-confidence. To make this idea more visual, if you just hold your thumb and index finger out in front of you, and view them as they are naturally spaced apart. You can see that there is actually room there to place a finger from your other hand between them. Within that space, there's room, if you so chose, to be closer to the thumb, or closer to the index finger; and room to sit equidistant from both. That is to say, right down the middle. If you translate that visual perception into musical terms, were you to play more towards the thumb, you'd be 'laying back;' and more towards the index finger, you'd be playing 'on top' of the beat. I suppose, generally speaking, that when a player is at his/her most relaxed, they are using the full range of expression within the beat, the wide beat!!!
Though the solo itself, at least when you view it as it was written out, seems to be very dense, lots of notes; when one listens to it, I don't believe that it really sounds that way. The tempo is relatively slow, Q=80, and this accounts for why you see so many 16th-note subdivisions. Again, it's all done within the rhythmic flow. The solo really has an organic melodic flow to it as well, a flow which glides through the chord changes. It never feels 'choppy' or as if a break was made to simply accommodate the arrival of the next chord change.
Where "Star Chamber," the composition, is concerned, it's really a relatively simple piece of music, with essentially only two sections. The mood, the 'feeling' created, is again of greater significance than any of the other elements. The Intro[I] sets up this mood, and here I used an old device, beginning the piece in a tonality which is a minor-3rd above where we will eventually want to be for the melody. As the chords descend, just prior to [A], it gives the impression of relaxing the tempo though nothing has really changed. At [A], Dave Sanborn's soprano sax enters and plays the main theme as the rhythm section continues the 'spacey' groove. I should mention that I did one additional overdub, and that was to add the texture of my Gibson ES-335 electric 12-string.
The transition to letter [B], which you will find in bar 2 of the 2nd ending, is really the contribution of Bob James. I don't recall all the details on how this happened, but I know that Bob added the little figures which now appear. I am certain that I had been counting on getting to [B] without such a device, but Bob's idea made everything better. And again, that's what a great producer is there for! As I listen to this track now, I don't believe that I would perform this melody with such a loud and stinging electric guitar sound. I think something with a little more warmth would be better, perhaps I should have just done it all on acoustic steel-string? The Fender Rhodes part in [B] contains simple voicings primarily with groupings of 4ths which bear the influence of players like Chick Corea; McCoy Tyner; Herbie Hancock; Joe Zawinul and Larry Young, all familiar names at this website!
I should take a moment to 'sing the praises' of bassist Will Lee yet again. What you now see written as the bass part in [B] is really a composite of things Will played during the track. When you make such a composite after a track has been performed and recorded, it usually gives the appearance of being very well organized. As we recorded, it became obvious that Will was developing his 'part' with each performance. The 2nd time [B] appears in the tune, his part had a better sense of shape to it. Most of what you now see is transcribed from that portion of the track.
As [B] ends, I used another device which gives the piece a harmonic 'lift' to begin the solo section. The last chord of [B] is one half-step below where we are headed, an Ebm7(9)/Ab chord, which smoothly glides into the Em7(9)/A as [C] and the acoustic guitar solo begin. As the solo ends, we use the same Bob James 'cue' figure to return to [B]. This time, after the held chord of Ebm7(9)/Ab, we take the Coda and reprise the [A] melody at [A2]. This time, it is only played once before Dave Sanborn begins to solo, at [D] and from there the tune fades out. For a piece such as this, perhaps a 'fade' is not such a bad idea as it allows the dream-like state to continue. But, where composition is concerned, I think that it is always best to have an ending in mind even if, in the studio, you decide not to use it.
This is a first for KHAN'S KORNER having a piece which appears in both KORNER 1 and KORNER 2. I will hope that everyone enjoys having the access to both aspects, the solo and the composition. Please know that we are wishing everyone a wonderful summer, hopefully a very peaceful one all over the world.