See Steve's Hand-Written Transcription
Michael Brecker's EWI Solo on:
"Chief"(Mike Stern)

     The title of "Producer" is perhaps one of the most misunderstood appellations and 'jobs' in music. I suppose, at its best, the job entails mostly skills of organization and diplomacy above all. But, at times, one can feel as if they are being asked to be a combination of a: father, psychologist, baby-sitter, big brother, manager or coach, and any number of other things. One can certainly bring a variety of musical skills and talents 'to the table' as well. Obviously being a musician can be most helpful. But, there are also some wonderful producers who are recording engineers, and one can never underestimate the value of delivering a 1st class piece of audio work. At times, for me, working with an engineer, like a Malcolm Pollack or James Farber, in this capacity is best because it's such a relief to turn over the sonic responsibilities to them because of the great trust that exists, and then just be free to concentrate of the music.
     For me, as a producer, working with an artist(and fellow guitarist) like Mike Stern is, in some regards, a most easy and pleasurable task. In others, a most difficult one. On the plus side, he knows exactly what he wants and what he is after. He knows the players he needs and with whom he feels most comfortable. And, in most cases, his compositions are at least 95% complete when the first rehearsal arrives. So, what remains for me to do is to firstly, be an objective set of 'extra ears,' meaning to listen carefully and make little suggestions here and there. To tell you the truth, I can't remember too many of my suggestions Mike has actually heeded. Next, you must take care of all the details of scheduling between the studio, the musicians, and the engineer. The more people involved the more complex the 'juggling act' of assembling everyone in the same room at the same time becomes. It's even more difficult if the personnel changes for a couple of tracks. Mike is an artist who likes to do a lot of takes and in doing this, he often forgets about the feelings of the other players, especially drummers who have a physically and mentally MUCH MORE taxing gig than the others. In truth, in today's contemporary recording, even with all the advantages, the drummer remains the only person who can NOT make a mistake during a take. It's a tremendous amount of pressure, even for the top players. So, when one continues to push for more, and more takes, lots of bad feelings can arise. Often times, the drummer has given his very best performance within the first 2 takes. In my view, it's the artist's responsibility to be mentally and emotionally prepared to get a take within that amount of time. As a producer, I try to keep an artist like Mike mindful of the fact that the feelings of others must not be ignored.
     This brings us to the case of the Mike Stern recording entitled, "JIGSAW"(Atlantic). Recorded in 1989, this was the 2nd CD I produced for him and it followed, "TIME IN PLACE."JIGSAW - Mike Stern In addition to his playing, for my tastes, Mike is truly one of the best composers of all the guitarists, and there are many great writers amongst them. Of the seven tracks we recorded, "Chief" was truly my favorite, and it is obvious how much care went into every detail of the piece. Dedicated to Mike's former 'boss,' Miles Davis, it features some brilliant performances. 'Chief' amongst them, an incredible one-chorus EWI solo by Michael Brecker. I would also want to single-out the synth colors provided by Jim Beard, who is one of the great minds for sounds and harmony. The drumming of Dennis Chambers was, as it always is, funky, powerful, and perfect for this type of piece. The final touch, which was added later, a suggestion of mine which Mike actually did listen to, was to have Manolo Badrena play bongos and catch some of the intricate 'hits' in the melody. A subtle touch but one which adds a lot. Now let's begin discussing the specifics of this fantastic solo.
     There are times when soloing can be such a labor, bringing to the surface all of one's insecurities. At such times, one often will say to their bandmates something like this: "I don't know what to play on this tune!" This same sentiment holds true for music students and more specifically those who study improvising. I believe that the analysis of Micheal Brecker's solo provides one of the best answers to this question. For when one is 'stuck' or at a loss as to where to begin any improvisation, one has to look no further than the composition, the tune, itself. One can always find something within it to grab onto and utilize as point of departure for any solo. This is not to say that I have a clue as to what Mike might have been 'thinking' about prior to playing this 'live' solo, but, one thing is for certain. You can see and hear fragments of the composition used throughout the solo and it gives it a great connection to all that has gone before and that which comes at the end.
     The composition "Chief" affords any player a lot of thematic options, both melodic and rhythmic. In some cases, those two elements are combined because of the very specific nature of the phrases within the melody of letter [A]. The melody itself is a fitting tribute to Miles and in some twisted way to horn figures we've all heard since childhood in the famous songs of James Brown. You hear lots of rapid staccato groupings of both 8th and 16th-notes. All this stated with tremendous rhythmic clarity by Michael Brecker. I should also mention that, from his vast palette of EWI/synth patches, Mike chose to use a muted trumpet sound as his own personal tribute to Miles, and to fit the character of the piece. Obviously, a perfect choice.
     One of the most interesting elements of "Chief" is its ostinato bass line, as performed by Jeff Andrews. Usually when one is playing over a minor chord for an extended period of time, it's either clearly in the dorian or aeolian mode. Here however, the very syncopated line contains both colors of the 6th degree of the scale. If one was strictly playing in Ab-Aeolian(Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, and Gb) and for the first bar-and-a-half, this would appear to be so, you would expect to see some Fb's, though I've chosen to write the bass line with 'E'-naturals. However, in the second-half of the second bar you see and hear a 'F' natural which would seem to indicate that the Ab-Dorian mode(Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F and Gb) is being employed. In Michael's solo, you see that he, for the most part, uses 'F's and 'Eb's, and that 'E'-natural only appears as a passing tone.JIGSAW - Mike Stern Because the rhythms of the bass line are so syncopated and spaced widely apart, it affords the soloist a lot of 'air'(space) and Michael makes great usage of this. It also allows Jim Beard to 'color' the accompaniment perfectly. Micheal employs two very interesting note choices during the exposition of the solo. Firstly in bar 6 of [A] and bars 11-12 of [B], you hear a 'G'-natural which is the major 7th of Ab-minor and so we might conclude that for a moment, the melodic minor is being used(Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, G). But, to my ears, it's really only an issue of allowing the line play you...following the flow of your own ideas more than any specific 'thinking' process. At this level, one does not "THINK" when playing. You are in the 'flow' of the music, and you just "do it!" The other interesting pitch is Michael's usage of a 'C'-natural(the major 3rd of all things) which appears in bars 9 and 12 of [A] and in bars 38-40 of [C] where it is used as a most colorful 'neighboring' tone to Cb. I don't know that Michael would necessarily say this, but this is a device I associate with his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker. When listening to this solo unfold and develop, pay attention to these specific moments and see what kind of an emotional reaction, if any, you have. If it's positive, then this is something you might want to continue to explore in your own soloing.
     In the solo form, letter [B] serves as a release from the hard-edged groove of [A], within it you are fundamentally dealing with a series of Dorian mode areas in Db, C, Ab and G and F#. However, these areas are briefly broken-up by the inclusion of a chord which Mike Stern labeled as Eb/B(making it appear more complex than it really is). I would have called it B Maj7(#5). It simply asks for one to play the 'B'-Lydian augmented scale(B, C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#), or in my system of organization, which converts everything to minor, one could simply look at the solution to this as G#-melodic minor. They both contain the same notes.
     Among the many things Michael Brecker does consistently well is to make smooth transitions from one chord change to the next. There are, of course, a variety of methods with which to accomplish this. The most common is to simply anticipate the coming chord change in the preceding bar. In other words, you are simply already playing in the 'next' mode/scale ahead of the arrival of the chord change. You can see and hear this in bars 16, 20, 24, and 44. In bar 20, he simply plays the chord tone, Bb, strongly on beat 4 of this bar which comes ahead of the Cm7 chord. There is a beautiful transition to the Gm7 chord in bar 29 where he has played a common tone(Bb) which makes the movement for Abm7 to Gm7 that much smoother. Finally in bar 32, where he's moving from Gm7 down a 1/2-step to F#m7, he begins a rhythmic motif which develops through most of the coming 4-bar phrase, bars 33-36.
     One other little passage within the solo which deserves special mention is in bars 47-48 of letter [C] where Michael is transiting from Dbm7(Db-Dorian) to Cm7(C-Dorian). But, in bars 47-48 his line takes a real 'left-turn' and beginning on beat 3 of bar 47, it appears as if he's gone into an area which I would have to think is related to Am7(of D7) because you can see all the natural signs(or no accidentals in bar 48) and the small mannerism of playing 'D'-natural to Db to 'C'-natural then back up to 'E'-natural is a classic indicator of A-Dorian to me. It's a bit hard to see how it could be functioning as a V7(alt.), meaning G7(alt.), leading to Cm7 because there are no 'F'-naturals present or any other altered tones. However, it's a tremendous line configuration which sounds great to me! However, if one stretches the analytical process a bit and looks at the V7(alt.) for Dbm, that would be Ab7(alt.) and the scale often associated with it is the melodic minor scale one-half step above that root, which is 'A'-melodic minor. And, though we see no G#'s present, it's pretty close. What do you think? As I just pointed out, throughout the solo, Michael uses the logical device of anticipating the coming chord change. Here listen to how smoothly this most interesting of lines in this solo 'slides' into the next chord change, Cm7, as the 'D' moves so gracefully into the chord tone Eb. A perfect example of creating 'tension' with your line and then simply resolving it. I know, it sounds much easier than it is to do in a real playing situation.
     I should also mention the variety of phrasing employed by Michael Brecker during this solo which is so very important to the 'feel' of it all. In letter [A], you have the great precision of the short, staccato phrases with the notes placed with rhythmic perfection. But, in letter [B], Michael plays virtually all the phrases in a very "laid-back" manner by performing them purposefully behind the beat just ever so slightly. A perfect example of this is the phrase just four bars beford letter [C]. This same kind of 'lazy' phrasing is used during the last 8 bars of the solo as well. It's all so effective because it was played with supreme "rhythmic self-confidence," which you can develop as long as you can firstly play with some rhythmic precision too.
     A small note about the passage in bars 41-43 of letter [C]. Though I would like to believe that I am reasonably good at transcribing things, I've never owned any equipment whereby I could slow things down. So, I would be the first to admit that to hear this passage accurately, I would have needed some help. So, for this, I can thank a very fine guitarist, Ben Butler who extracted this passage for me with his own 'magical devices.' Ben is from Australia, and while we're all here I would just like to congratulate him and all Australians on a beautifully presented Olympics!
     Here's hoping that you have enjoyed listening to and viewing another tremendous solo from Michael Brecker. For all his abilities, and they are vast, for all the fire he can generate, the wonderful thing is that Michael never sounds as if he is "trying too hard." He stays within himself and all that he plays then feels so very natural. Perhaps, in the end, the art of improvisation is a balance between reaching for that which seems to be out of your grasp and, at the same time, staying within your own abilities, your own strong points. If you choose to invest the time, by carefully listening to the full composition that comes ahead of the actual solo, then everything I've written should make even greater sense. Again, it's a wonderfully crafted piece of music and the improvisations only make it better. As if the solo wasn't enough, there are some great things Michael plays in the fade too. As it's almost that time of year once again, here's wishing you all a very, very happy and safe Holiday Season!