Friday, June 13, 2014

Transcription - Eric Harland, "Triumph"

Hold on to your butts!

This video of Eric Harland from the Jazz Heaven DVD, The Yin and Yang of Jazz Drumming has been floating around YouTube for a couple years now just waiting to be transcribed.  As of late I've noticed it pop up on discussions boards a few times and figured now was as good a time as any to get a pen to paper, or fingers to keys, as it were.

Marcato markings signify rim shots.  It's a habit from my drum corps days.
E-mail me if you'd like a PDF.

Upon first listening to this I just thought, "Ummmm….OK".  How does he improvise something like this?  How does a groove like that just flow out of him?  But once I began transcribing, I felt a little better.  Taken in small chunks it was actually fairly easy to write out.  And by the time I got about 12 bars in I saw it.  There is actually some method to the madness here.

I remember a good friend of mine pondering jazz soloists, and wondering how they just "made stuff up as they went".  As most of you know, it's not really like that.  It sounds cliché, but a solo really is a conversation.  Musicians have a vocabulary; a big bag of ideas and phrases from which to pull their material.  They take multiple ideas and string them together in a cohesive fashion, just like a sentence.  Harland does the same thing here.  Admittedly, I didn't notice it right away.  It was going by so fast, and voiced in so many places around the kit that it didn't even sink in.  But if you look at bars 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 30, and 31, you'll notice a lot of similarities.  There's a pattern there.  And to a lesser extent, some of the same ideas and stickings can even be seen in some of the fills.

Now, please don't get me wrong.  I am in no way, shape, or form trying to take ANYTHING away from Harland.  I'm not saying for a second that what he is playing is easy.  He's got chops for days which he executes with the utmost finesse.  The ideas he's playing, pattern or no pattern, are incredibly well developed and musical, and his ears are absolutely massive.  What I am saying is that dreaming of playing something like this is by no means a lost cause.  There is some great material in here from which to draw plenty of inspiration.

I'm not 100% sure of the form of this piece.  It may be through-composed.  So I went up to where the head seemed to end and the tune moved to where we might have heard a soloist were this played with a whole band.  Besides, lately I've been more interested in smaller chunks of material.  Rather than taking a book and trying to systematically working my way exercise by exercise through 50 pages of similar material, I'd rather have more digestible bites.  Give me one page that I can work on right now, today.  Something that I can get handle on in a few hours, and get really solid in another day or two.  Then on to the next thing.  Much like the idea of a random practice schedule.

I once gave a master class with my trio and someone in the audience asked our piano player about his practice routine.  He said that he basically didn't practice exercises anymore.  Instead, when he heard something that he liked, but couldn't play, he learned it.  Simple as that.  Imagine how quickly you'll build your vocabulary that way rather than spending days and weeks running the same exercises.

So get started with this first page and get everything you can out of it.  Maybe one of these days I'll revisit this piece and transcribe more of it.  Then again, maybe I won't.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Transcription - Jorge Rossy, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was"

Jorge Rossy was, in many ways, my introduction to modern jazz drumming.  I had come to the jazz game somewhat late and had only heard a smattering of records by the time I had left high school.  When I was about 17 a teacher of mine gave me some Coltrane and Miles records, some Weckl, and I had a killer Eliane Elias record with Jack DeJohnette on it.  It wasn't until I began playing in a trio with pianist Tay Cher Siang a few years into college that I really started to discover all of the great music that was happening in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Siang brought a Brad Mehldau record into rehearsal one day.  I don't even remember what tune or record it was that I heard first, but I do remember hearing Rossy, and thinking, "this is BAD ASS".  I had never heard anything like it before.

One of my favorite things about Jorge's playing is that he rarely seems to use extreme ranges of dynamics, yet is somehow able to constantly build intensity throughout a piece.  He's never inaudibly quiet, and never really bashes.  He exudes a sustained intensity that just seems to simmer, never getting cold, and never boiling over.  It's a level of taste and control that I strive for.

Between 1997 and 2001The Brad Mehldau Trio released a collection of 5 albums entitled The Art of the Trio, that certainly will be (if they're not considered so already) classics.  All three musicians inspired an entire generation of players on their respective instruments.  Go to any club or jam session today and you will certainly hear the influence of these records.

One of my favorite cuts from the the Art of the Trio discs is the first tune from the first album, Mehldau's arrangement of the Rodgers and Hart song, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was".

Although Larry Grenadier's bass line and Rossy's comping sound quite syncopated and jagged, it is important to note that what really carries the time throughout is the ride cymbal.  With very few exceptions, Jorge is playing the ride on every single quarter note, driving the tune forward just as you would on a hard bop tune.

There's a lot of really subtle stuff going on in here, which is very cool, but may defeat the purpose of learning it if you dive right in and worry about every last little note from the get go.  The best way to approach this is to play the ride cymbal part for awhile first before learning the accompaniment part.  Listen to the track multiple times, play the ride cymbal along with it, and find the pocket first.  Then add the other parts.

The album version of the tune isn't on YouTube, so you'll have to Spotify it.  Or better yet….