Michael Brecker's Tenor Sax solo on:
"Rojo y Negro"(Don Grolnick)
Though I'm really repeating myself, let me begin in the same fashion in which I began an earlier analysis from this great recording. I began by writing:
In 1995, my dear friend, pianist/composer/arranger Don Grolnick recorded his final CD "MEDIANOCHE" which was eventually picked-up and released by Warner Bros. Sadly, it was not too long after that, we all lost Don to a battle with lymphoma. To this day, Don is missed tremendously by his family, friends, and by all those who loved his playing and compositions. Don and I were close friends and musical associates for nearly 30 yrs. and, in some small way, I feel like I had a hand in this recording. You see, it was many years before when I gave Don my 'extra' LP copy of Cal Tjader's recording, "SOUL BURST," which features some brilliant playing by Chick Corea. Don always loved this recording and when he decided to explore the world of Latin jazz, this recording, its feel, its attitude and even many of its tunes became the model for the band he assembled. A band which included longtime colleagues like Michael Brecker, Mike Mainieri, Don Alias and, from the Latin world, Dave Valentin, Andy González, Milton Cardona, and Steve Berrios.
After transcribing Michael's solo over Don's blues-based composition "Rainsville," I gravitated towards his solo over the slower tempo cha-cha entitled "Rojo y Negro"(For all you blanquitos out there, this means "Red and Black." Sounds like the title of a painting by Mark Rothko!). As it was on "Rainsville," here Michael's solo is a work of understated and relaxed beauty, while remaining full of humor, fire, and soul!!!
As is his custom, Don's writing and arranging is filled with inventive and interesting ideas. Here, the solo form, one chorus, is made-up of 14 bars. On this performance, Michael's solo is just two choruses in length. As the head is played twice, perhaps a "chorus" is really playing through the form two times? Anyway, let's take a look and examine some of the details.
I suppose that one of the great things about analyzing any improvisation is, with hindsight, one can find all kinds of things to say about something which was spontaneous, and therefore, perhaps, none of my observations are really relevant. However, here, it is only my hope to provide some insights which might help the players of the future who do visit this site. It should also be noted that, like all of the solo transcriptions shared here, this is written in concert key, but it is written in the register of the guitar, which means that it is written one octave above where it actually would sound on a piano. So, always keep that in mind!!!
Mike's solo follows Don Grolnick's acoustic piano solo, and begins with a most lyrical statement which carries through the first three bars of Chorus . He treats bar 2, the D7(alt.) chord, by using notes directly derived from the 'D' altered dominant scale(D, Eb, F, F#/Gb, Ab, Bb, C). Many players choose to think of this as the Eb melodic minor scale(Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, D). As you can see, they contain the exact same notes. As we arrive at bar 4, and the Abm9(maj7)/Bb chord, Mike begins a series of disjointed interval leaps which give this solo its character and spirit. I would think of this chordal sound as utilizing the Ab melodic minor scale(Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, G) As disjointed as the intervals might sound, all the notes Michael plays conform to this theoretical approach. The last two notes of bar 4(A to C#) are really an anticipation of the coming chord, G7(9b5). Mike goes from the disjointed to the melodic as he 'sits' on the two big quarter notes(A to E) which begin bar 5. The correct scale for this type of chord form would be the G Lydian b7 scale(G, A, B, C#/Db, D, E, F), or D melodic minor(D, E, F, G, A, B, C#).
In bar 6, the disjointed intervals reappear over the C7(alt.) chord, and, like the prior passage, they end with a sense of the melodic as he plays longer notes from E down to Bb. We then arrive at the next change, F#m7b5/B(also known as F#ø7/B) where, with a minor orientation like mine, you would think of the scale as being A Dorian(A, B, C, D, E, F#, G). Were it based upon the root(F#), then you could just as well call it, F# Locrian. It all works out to be the same. And, if you listen to, and then observe what Michael plays, those are the notes you will see in the triplet groupings. In bar 8, as we arrive at the B7(alt.) chord, Michael adds the element of 'soul,' and here, this is just an instinct developed over years and years of playing and listening to all forms of good music, including the blues and R&B!!! He is playing notes derived from the E minor pentatonic scale(E, G, A, B, D), which is so very closely related to the E blues scale. And of course, one can always play such things over the V7(alt.) chord as it passes to the im7 chord.
What's really nice, and gives a great sense of continuity to the solo, is that Mike continues with the E minor pentatonic through the next three changes played over 6 bars. The most interesting harmonic moment occurs during bar 10 where the chord is an Ab7(#5/#9) sound. Here one might expect to see notes which would be found in the Ab altered dominant scale(Ab, Bbb/A, Cb/B, C, D, Fb, Gb), also known as A melodic minor(A, B, C, D, E, F#, G#). If you look carefully, it should be obvious that you would never expect to see/hear a G-natural played, as it is the major 7th of this chord, and it is, without question, a dominant 7th-type chord. But, because of the very special nature of the blues, the G-natural just becomes a passing tone, which the ear accepts as it goes by. See what you think!
As Chorus  begins, the activity, the density of the notes begins to increase. However, the chorus does begin with the completion of the phrase which began as the prior chorus ended. Over the Cm7 chord, Mike simply outlines that chord with its chord tones. Again in bar 2, we have a D7(alt.) chord, which we discussed earlier, but here, Mike begins a particular diminished scale sequence, a pattern which descends from D-B-F#-F-natural and then the pattern simply travels down in minor 3rds as might be expected. As bar 3 arrives, and we hit the more consonant sound of Bb7(9sus), which I would view as an F Dorian(F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb) sound; the notes he plays conform to this from the pick-up to the bar until beat 3, where he briefly 'slip-slides' a half-step outside the change by playing E-natural-C#-A-F#, only to return on beat 4 while making the transition to the coming change.
When the Abm9(maj7)/Bb arrives again, we see notes more closely associated with Ab Dorian, moreso than Ab melodic minor, because there is no G-natural to be found. Yet, what he plays sounds great. And, as he did in bar 5 of Chorus , he seems drawn to E's and A's over the G7(9b5) chord and makes them sound and feel very romantic. As I've said many times, in my books, as well as clinics and seminars, private lessons, one must develop a personal relationship to the notes they play over any particular sonority. It would seem obvious to me that the notes, E(6th/13th) and A(9th), have that kind of significance to him over the 7(9b5) sonority.
As the C7(alt.) chord sound arrives in bar 6, so returns the little sequence derived from the notes in the diminished scale. This time, as we've gone down a whole-step, we begin on a D#/Eb, and again, the sequence travels down in minor 3rds, just as before! Here however, in my view, the phrase extends into beat 1 of the next bar. It is only on beat 2 where Mike begins to observe the F#ø7/B chord, and we see notes again from A Dorian(A, B, C, D, E, F#, G).
As the B7(alt.) chord is about to arrive in bar 8, Mike anticipates its arrival with the last little 16th-note triplet burst in bar 7 which shoots him into a flurry of notes. It seems as though, and sounds like, those last notes in bar 7 are going to begin yet another diminished sequence, but that sense is most brief, because if one analyzes the notes in bar 8, they appear to be more related to an F blues scale(F, Ab, Bb, B-natural, C, Eb). This, from a theoretical standpoint, seems logical too, because F would be the b5 substitute for B7. And, out of this rather harmonically 'sideways' descending flurry, Mike lands on a most consonant sounding B-A-B which gives a very 'bluesy' feeling to even an altered chord!
When the lush sounds of the Em7(9sus) chord arrive, and here they often sound like a D/E type of chord(though the G-natural is always present in the voicing), Mike plays an ascending flurry which outlines the simplest of E minor arpeggios. However, it certainly doesn't sound like that. And the fact that he tops it off by using a G# as the neighboring tone to the G-natural only accentuates the complexities of the line. Again, he descends slowly back down using elements of the E minor pentatonic(E, G, A, B, D), over last 5 bars of the solo.
To close the solo, Mike uses a device he has experimented with for years, that being great register displacement, going from the extreme high register to his lowest register. I love the 'honking' sound of those low A's. This is not something so readily captured on a guitar! You see this in bars 10-13. But again, all the notes fall within the E minor pentatonic which gives not only a lushness to the major 7th chord, but a bluesy sense too. What could be better? As I have stated in my book, "PENTATONIC KHANCEPTS," the minor pentatonic built upon the 3rd degree of the major scale is one of my favorite options over a major chord! Here you can hear what it sounds like when applied by one of the great masters of the tenor saxophone. After all this activity to wind down, the final little phrase over Cm7 is lovely, and again, it simply outlines chord tones, ending on the 9th(D) as the solo neatly dovetails into Andy González' bass solo!
Though I began transcribing this little solo just after
Don's recording was released, I gave-up on it because of the rapid-fire flurries
in bars 8 & 9 of Chorus . It was just too hard to truly hear all the
pitches. So, the transcription languished in one of the many piles of music paper
which grace my home. In my zeal to share many things with all the visitors to
KHAN'S KORNER, I decided to give it another try, but I knew that I might have
to enlist the technical help of my good friend and neighbor, bassist Zev Katz.
If you'll recall, it was Zev who helped me out, via his technology, in deciphering
a couple of difficult passages in the Clare Fischer solo which we shared
here earlier this year. This time, however, Zev told me about a new device, just
out on the market, called the Tascam CD-GT1 which enables you to listen
to a CD and, if you so choose, to slow it down, still at pitch, by varying increments
down as far as 50%, or half-speed. Well, I cannot tell a lie here, I had to go
all the way down!!! And it was still hard!!! [Product note: If
you plan to purchase this device, I strongly suggest that you purchase the AC
Adapter/TAPSPS5 too, because battery life is very short!] I can only
say, after all the hard work, I am so pleased to be able to present this wonderful
solo from a most wonderful recording here at Korner 1. Enjoy it with our respect
to the artists, and our love for this music.
So, as is our custom here at KHAN'S KORNER, Blaine and I would like to wish everyone, the world over, a very, very Merry Christmas, and the best of everything, good health, and above all, PEACE in 2004, but please, let's make it a lasting one!!!