Rob Brown on Vinnie Colaiuta.

I don’t even recall exactly how I first came across this clip of YouTuber Rob Brown discussing what might be called a “Vinnie moment”, but it deserves a bookmark here–both for the obvious agoggery, and also for Brown’s delivery, which is truly giggle-worthy.

For those who aren’t familiar with the name, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta is generally regarded as so far advanced as to be nearly an alien intelligence on the kit.  Even Zappa’s other drummers talk about him in a way that’s not unlike hearing guitarists talk about Allan Holdsworth.  To wit:  there’s good, there’s great, there’s amazing, and then there’s Vinnie.

So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that this Rob Brown might periodically look for whatever Vinnie is doing lately, to analyze and bring to his audience.  Apparently he struck a rather thick vein of gold:

So, I’m watching him do his thing, and then, all of a sudden, in the middle of this song…there’s a two-bar break, for a drum fill…

…he pulls this fill…right out of thin air.

and we cut to Vinnie, who plays something that at first glance might just seem like a smooth roll which nonetheless ends with a nice resolving flam.

Cut back to Rob, who hilariously shakes his head and goes all verklemptthis is what cements the need for a bookmark for the video as a whole.

I saw this drum fill, and I absolutely lost it.

The dude, with the calmness of somebody just sipping a coffee and reading the paper on the beach, just decides to announce that he’s Batman.

He then breaks down the fill for the aspiring drummer, and it quickly becomes apparent that this was no random drum roll.  Not hardly!  Inside two bars of 4/4, Colaiuta fits three groups of five sixteenth-note triplets, orchestrated as a first group of five that repeats itself, and then a concluding group that exits with a whole beat left over for separation.

Sounds like Vinnie.  While it’s not that nobody else could play this kind of fill, what makes him so special is that he really does just come up with things like this on the spot, all the time–fully orchestrated, thought out, appropriate to the music, and delivered with a precision and calmness that belies all The Awesome that’s really going on while you’re not looking.

Anyway, bookmarked.  Both the Rob Brown breakdown:

…and also the source material, which is indeed interesting on its own!

 

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Herbie Hancock, on attitude.

One of my Crafty contacts shared this video, hosted on Facebook, of Herbie Hancock, talking about attitude.

The clip is a treasure.  Hancock relates a story from his Miles Davis days, in which he hears himself play a chord “…that was so wrong, I thought I had just destroyed everything, and reduced that great night to rubble.”

In short, Miles, without blinking, saved the “wrong” chord with his own playing, and it took Hancock years to figure out how that had happened.  What at first seemed like pure “magic”, he eventually sorted out this way:

Here’s what happened.

I judged what I had played.

Miles didn’t.  Miles just accepted it as something new that happened.

There’s more, but that’s the crux.  Here’s the same clip on YouTube:

Marvelous.  So marvelous I’m not sure it in any way diminishes the “magic” to realize how Miles did it.  (Actually, I’d argue that you can hear that, in Hancock’s humility, as he tells the story.)  And what a great reminder that any musician’s greatest tool is and always will be his ear.

Bookmarked!

Dhafer Youssef again: get a load of this guy!

For all its irritations and annoyances in this crazy, nascently-weaponized world of social media, YouTube remains an absolutely astonishing resource.  From Pandora I recently first heard Tunisian oud-ist (if that’s not a word, I think I should make it one) Dhafer Youssef, and was captivated by his sense of mood on his Ascetic Journey.  Today, simply on a lark, I thought I’d chase a link or two of his, on YouTube, and see where it led.

(cue sound of jaw dropping)

Holy smackers, Batman, get a load of this guy!  Let it never be said that cross-genre innovation and muttery is dead or even mildly unhealthy.  Wow!

First, check out Dhafer Youssef the vocalist, fully as impressive there as he is with the oud heroics, in “Delightfully Odd“:

Aside from that marvelous voice, the ensemble strikes me a whole lot like the small groups of Israeli bass wizard Avishai Cohen and fellow Tunisian Anouar Brahem–which is to say, for me at least, gloriously alive, engaging, and unapologetically athwart easy categorization.  A great group, captivating music, exquisite sound…and Youssef himself is infectiously engaging.

Next, I ran across “Winds and Shadows”, which…oh hell, just watch it:

Magnificent.  What a marvelous blend of traditions!

And as I hear more, I’m becoming even more impressed by his touch and dynamics, to achieve simply massive amounts of space within these pieces and groups.  Check out this trio, with the same Norwegian guitarist from the Winds and Shadows clip, along with trumpet and flugelhorn, in this medley:

Man…now I’m a huge fan of Miles’ interpretation of Aranjuez on the Gil Evans collaboration Sketches of Spain–“huge” as in, I hold up Miles’ absolutely heart-stopping “the softer you play it, the stronger it gets” solo in that piece as one of the finest musical moments I have ever heard, anywhere–and with that context for where the bar is set, I really like this arrangement and delivery.

So, I needed the bookmarks, if just for me!   🙂

 

Dhafer Youssef, ‘Ascetic Journey’.

Apparently it’s oud on the Pandora channel this morning, and I’m not complaining!  This lovely piece has come up a few times now and continues to get my attention.  I love the mood, the space, the insistence, and of course the eleven.

Looks like there’s at least one live clip out there as well.

Interesting, I think how this live clip demonstrates how tough it must be to pull off such a piece live.  The sound capture is not flattering, for starters–presumably it sounded much better in the room. As well, it strikes me that the ensemble takes a few minutes to find its legs, trying to deliver all that space…together.  (It seems to me that by the end, they’re there.)  But there it is, still identifiable and insistent, and it makes me want to hear more.

Does this question make my pocket protector look big?

So today, on my way to work, while stopped and waiting for the pilot car (the five Alaska seasons being fall, winter, breakup, spring, and road construction), a question popped into my head:  in the famous Paul Desmond piece “Take Five“, would it be more appropriate to view the descending turnaround as belonging to the song’s root (minor) tonic, or to its relative major as a temporary replacement tonic?  This is just an attempt to better understand how to think about the written sequence of chords.  I think I talked it out of myself at the time, but I’d love the opinion of those more formally versed in theory than I am.

(Yes, I think geeky things at weird times.  It just seems to be the way I’m made.)

Okay, so I’ve studied the piece a bit before, even going so far as to score it up as an arrangement for Guitar Circle Colorado, transposed up a half step into the more convenient E minor.  (What follows is based on that Em arrangement.)

The vamp is written as Em – Bm7, which is a natural minor thing, written with one sharp on the staff.  The turnaround is written as:

Cmaj7 – Am6 – Bm7 – Em7 – Am7 – D7 – Gmaj7
Cmaj7 – Am6 – Bm7 – Em7 – Am7 – D7 – F#m7 – B7

It occurred to me that one way to think of this turnaround sequence would be within the context of the Em as the tonic chord, in which case I’d think of the chords like this:

VI maj7 – IV m6 – V m7 – I m7 – IV m7 – VII 7 – III maj7
VI maj7 – IV m6 – V m7 – I m7 – IV m7 – VII 7 – II m7 – V 7

Hm.  That somehow doesn’t seem right–more like a shoehorn than a natural fit.  But what if I looked at the turnaround as belonging to the key of G–which would be, after all, the relative major of E minor?  Then I’d think of the chords like this:

IV maj7 – VII m6 – III m7 – VI m7 – II m7 – V 7 – I maj7
IV maj7 – VII m6 – III m7 – VI m7 – II m7 – V 7 – VII m7b5 – III 7

Well, that seems to clean up a lot, doesn’t it?  4-7-3-6-2-5-1 would seem to be rather precisely descending in fifths, and the idea of the last four chords being a two-five on G followed by a two-five on Em…finally sold me on the idea.

Okay, so that’s what occurred.  And the question to those more formally schooled in functional theory than I:  am I thinking properly here, or am I missing something obvious?

Allan Holdsworth, ‘Devil Take the Hindmost’.

And so now “jazz” guitar legend Allan Holdsworth has passed.  I got my first exposure to his work via Bill Bruford’s first two solo records, and then the UK collaboration with Bruford, John Wetton, and Eddie Jobson.  Man, what a distinctive style:  I’m not sure there is anyone more distinctive, anywhere–and that even includes Robert Fripp, which for me at least is saying something!

Holdsworth is the guy, after all, that Frank Zappa called “the most interesting guy on guitar on the planet”.

After being blown away (as in:  “Holy shit, who is this?” about ten seconds after hearing him start to play) by Bruford and UK, I of course had to hear what else there was.  The first thing I found was Velvet Darkness, which I thought was fabulous, not realizing that he had always hated it (for very understandable reasons), and at some point I wound up with a couple other, later records, including Atavachron.  What I remember concluding, at the time, was that he was going exclusively in the direction of the SynthAxe, which just didn’t resonate with me musically.  And so he kinda fell off my radar for a while, until I discovered his 1975 and 1976 records with the Tony Williams Lifetime.  (What’s funny is that it was probably that work which drew Bruford to Holdsworth in the first place.)

Anyway, as I go back and listen to his stuff again, now with a little better understanding of what it means to be a player, Holdsworth’s wizardry jumps out at me even more.  The late William Grigg (himself no slouch as a guitarist) used to joke that Holdsworth was so harmonically advanced that it constituted prima facie evidence that he was in fact not human, but rather some form of alien being, sent here to show us what was possible.  (There are times, watching and listening to him play, when I’d not want to be the one to try and argue otherwise!)

The story goes that Holdsworth never wanted to be a guitar player, but rather a sax player (I’ve heard it claimed that when John Coltrane died, Holdsworth cried for three days), and so he developed a guitar style that was specifically intended to phrase and sound like a horn.  Well, I can certainly hear “sheets of sound” in his phrasing, and the blunted-attack, incredibly smooth legato sound he got seems like a marvelously imaginative way of having a horn player’s mind in a guitar player’s body.  Between the sound and the playing style, nobody else sounds even distantly like him.

He was also reputed to be incredibly critical of his own playing, even to the point of apologizing to an audience for it.

Man, that’s hard to believe.

 

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(Direct link to video.)

Ralph Towner, ‘Solitary Woman’.

The studio recording of this tune still gives me the chills every time I hear it.  Ralph Towner is usually described with words like “enigmatic” and “quirky”, and from the first time I heard him with the group Oregon I could hear that.  (I was drawn to Oregon for other reasons at the time;  Paul McCandless had just floored me with his musical persona while touring with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and I was mostly listening for reeds.)  It was the trio record with drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Eddie Gomez, If Summer Had Its Ghosts, where I first really heard Towner’s voice as the understated powerhouse it is.

Many years later, it was Pandora that introduced me to the haunting 12-string brood that is “Solitary Woman”.  From first listen I was hooked, and the more I hear it now, the more I like the piece.

Of course, I then wanted to see if I could find a clip of Towner playing it live.  And I have to say, I was surprised.  I have seen two, both relatively recent, and both of them left me asking, “What happened?”

It’s not that I’m expecting him to play it the same way he does on the record–in fact I rather like it when artists re-interpret their own work, and in the “jazz” idiom, it’s nearly expected anyway.  But something just doesn’t seem right.  At the risk of trivializing it, there are big, obvious clams–as in “lost his way” sort of clams.  (And not intentional ones, either;  those have a very different sound.)  The sort of mistakes you’d expect someone like me to make.  It doesn’t fit what (little, admittedly) I know of Towner.

But the biggest thing, for me, is that in the live recordings he seems so…rushed.  One of the giant hallmarks of the studio piece is its simmering patience, especially in the rising-dyad theme that so beautifully frames that giant leading tone.  Both the dynamics and the timing are deliciously infuriating, and I would say it all seems to rise out of a position of resigned, moody patience.  I’d go so far as to say it nearly defines the piece on its own, and I would naturally expect to see Towner go through all sorts of variations and improvisation within that framework.  That’s not in evidence for either of the two recent live clips I’ve seen, and I must conclude that something else may be at work here.

The piece itself, though…man, what a lovely, haunting brood.  Bookmarked!