Thursday, April 22, 2010

Conceptual albums, influences and more

I like to think that all the things that I create (music, poetry, programming...) are not individual creations, but just small pieces of a global creative process, and that, although the relation between them might not be obvious, there is always a link.

For these reasons, I have always liked to see albums not as a mere bunch of songs, but as a collection of somehow interrelated musical ideas. My favorite poet, Leon Felipe, conceived his complete works as a single entity, even borrowing whole parts from previous poems and putting them into new ones. It is not surprising that he took most of his inspiration from Walt Whitman (and translated his famous "Song of Myself" into Spanish), who collected all his poems under a single title: "Leaves of grass". Baudelaire was another great poet who liked to do this with his "Fleurs du mal". Whether music or poetry or any other art form, I have always loved this kind of approach.

However, this is becoming a rare thing in music, and conceptual albums are strange nowadays. It seems that the current context in the music business is giving preference to individual songs instead of albums, and an album is released just when its author has composed a certain number of songs, independently of what all these songs together tell as a whole. But sometimes one finds an exception to the rule, and I was rather pleased when a couple of weeks ago I came across a recently released conceptual album by guitar duo Rodrigo & Gabriella. Rather than a collection of disconnected songs, the album is thought as a tribute to musicians that have inspired them during their musical career, each song being dedicated to one of them. Most of those musicians are guitar players (Hendrix, Paco de Lucia, Santana...) but others (Piazzolla, for instance) are less predictable.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of Rodrigo & Gabriella's music, but sometimes music itself is not everything that a musician has to offer, and this is a good example of that. Gabriella's rhythm patterns, along with his particular technique, are the trademark of their music, and the popularity of the duo owes a lot to them, but for anyone who is familiar with the "rasgueado" techniques of flamenco this isn't reason enough to appreciate their music more than if she was just strumming simple chords with a plectrum. Also, I find Rodrigo's soloing rather dull, and most times his licks are a mere display of technique, lacking that finesse that turns a meaningless flow of notes into a soulful phrase. (unfortunately, this is becoming rather common in contemporary rock guitar, but we will always have Van Halen to remind us that lightning-fast solos can also be melodic and exciting ;-) ) When they play together, however, the result is sometimes much better and sounds more "compact", and in this latest album the chemistry between them seems to be (at least from my point of view) much more intense than in their other previous works.

So after listening to this album a couple of times, not only my appreciation for Rodrigo & Gabriella's music has increased, but also I have started thinking about starting a similar project, trying to put into songs the many influences that I have received along these years of guitar and sax playing. Composing songs in which I isolate the influence from a certain person (not necesarily a musician, since not only musicians can influence one's music...) seems to me like an interesting challenge. It is just an idea so far, but here is a little list of some of the people I would like to pay tribute to:

  • Eric Clapton: If you have read other posts in this blog, you might already know that Clapton is not an influence for me, but the root of all my playing. No matter if I play flamenco or jazz or blues, Clapton is behind every single note that I play. Before I started listening to his music, I never had the need to study music, but just to play it, and I wouldn't be able to admire the other musicians in this list if it wasn't for him. He was the door that led to all of them. So, needless to say, he is the number one in my list.
  • Jeff Healey: One of the most aggresive players ever, his playing was, however, full of tenderness and feeling, and each note was full of meaning. From him I learned how to structure my solos and add dynamics to them.
  • Oliver Nelson: He might not be the best alto sax player in the history of jazz, but his improvising skills are amazing. Unlike coltrane or Parker, every note he played was carefully thought and his economy of playing was unbeatable. Rather than improvising, Nelson composed music "on-the-fly", and that's what I really love about him.
  • Richie sambora: Being part of a band like Bon Jovi might not be the best place to demonstrate that you are a skilled blues/rock player with innovative ideas and an unmistakable style, but somehow Richie managed to do it. Don't let the leather pants and the hair fool you (the 80's were not a good time in terms of style, we all know that...), he is an awesome guitar player and very few have learned the Clapton lesson like him. Had Eric been born in New Jersey, he would probably sound like this.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A new project and two new songs

As I said, I have plenty of new ideas, and it seems that now it is a good moment to record them. I guess I will end up with 10 or so songs, and, since I haven't recorded anything since long ago, they are probably going to sound rather different to most of my previous compositions, so I have decided to put them in a different project, for the sake of homogeneity and musical coherence. Along with my last piece ("Acoustic Lullaby for Celine"), you will find all these new tunes under a new album ("The joy of inhabiting the right note") in my bandcamp website. Although these days the concept of "album" seems to make less sense than a few years ago (specially if you are not going to release a physical copy of it but just let people download it from the internet), it still makes sense from a conceptual point of view, as a set of songs somehow interrelated.

After an intense week playing and recording, I have added two new songs to this album, and here are some facts about them for those of you interested in more than the music itself.

The first song is a very visual composition entitled "Soundtrack for our trip". It's interesting how all the songs I compose about trips or places I have visited (although this one is about a trip I haven't done yet...), they all seem to me so visual and plastic and evoke images instead of just feelings or moods. ("Xiras" and "Izhevsk" are good examples of that).

A few additional comments, as usual:

  • I have tried to create some kind of hypnotic feeling using repeated short phrases in the background and a very simple harmony reinforced with a trivial "ostinato" bass line. You can see that same technique in a few of my songs such as the aforementioned "Izhevsk", "Teresa" or the sketch for Postal Service's "Such Great Heights".
  • I have used an electronic bow to play a sustained G note throughout the song (yes, you guessed it, G is the tonal center...). The track is barely audible, but it is the first time I've used my e-bow, so I guess it is something remarkable.
  • The first and last thirds of the song are "raw", that is, no effects and neither pre- nor post-processing of any kind. The middle third has some effects on three of the guitars, including the lead slide one. I recorded the entire song just with my Ovation acoustic guitar plugged directly to my computer, getting an interesting "dry" version. Afterwards, I started to play with the effects and came up with an also very interesting "wet" version. Since I liked both of them, I decided to mix them up, simply fading the raw one into the processed one, and then fading it out back to the raw version. I did the recording using Cakewalk and Native Instrument's Guitar Rig for the effects, and I mixed the two versions and added the final fade out with Audacity.
  • Yes, the percusion is also played with the guitar, plucking the strings very close to the bridge while muting them with the left hand. I know that I use this technique a bit too much...but I love how it sounds... ;-)

The second song ("I would wake you up with this song if you were here") is a bit different. It starts with a few bars of slow clean guitar arpeggios (once again using open strings and letting the notes ring out) and then jumps into a faster strummed happy-sounding part. Kaki King is a master at creating this kind of light uptempo rhythms, and you can also find very good examples of that in Metheny's first solo album "New Chautauqua". There are two guitars playing the rhythm part, and a third one just playing harmonics, ornating the mix. All of them are "raw", without any effect.

I was very happy with the rhythm part and thought about not adding a lead guitar, but eventually I decided to add it, mainly because it fits better into my style... but also because I just felt like it (improvising an soloing is fun, right?). To preserve the identity of the rhythm part, I tried to keep the solo part as melodic as possible, and phrases are extremely simple. A a few of them around the middle part of the song have some sort of african style. Also, I couldn't avoid throwing a few of my usual Clapton-esque licks. Overall, the combination of all these styles sounds pretty interesting to me.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Coming back. A new song

It's been nearly three years since I wrote my last post in this blog, and I guess that time has come to resume my work on it. Not having posted anything in such a long time doesn't mean that I haven't been playing and learning new things, and in fact I feel that during this time my playing and my understanding of music has evolved substantially. I have been playing a lot and listening to many new musicians and even some new genres (and, of course, revisiting the old ones), and this has had a profound effect in the music that I play and compose now.

However, I hadn't recorded anything since that last post from two years ago, not because I didn't want to or I wasn't inspired, but simply because I didn't have the need to do it. But a few weeks ago, by the end of last year, I was visiting my parents and felt the need to record a few ideas that I had in my mind, and came up with a new song that I think reflects pretty well my current musical situation. If you want to listen to it, you can visit my Bandcamp website (that's also something new. I created it a few weeks ago and plan to upload there all my music, instead of uploading mp3 files to my personal server, as I was doing before). The song is entitled "Acoustic Lullaby for Celine", and it is the first song (they are chronologically ordered) in my "Victor Olaya" album.

A few comments about this song:

-It is mainly a solo guitar tune (my first one...), but I added the second guitar to add some color and emphasize some harmonical changes.

-I composed it on my flamenco guitar, and I intended to record it with it. But my 5th string broke just as I was about to record the first take and I didn't have a spare one, so I decided to try it with my acoustic guitar. The result was surprisingly good, and now I prefer this version to the one that I recorded a few days later with the flamenco guitar. Playing it, however, is much nicer with a nylon-stringed instrument.

-It is also my first fingerpicked tune. I used a plectrum for playing the solo lines, but the rhythm guitar (which is the most important one in this song) is fingerpicked.

-I recorded it with no tempo cue (also for the first time!). The playing is completely free (in terms of rhythm), and I discovered that not having to follow a defined time gives you a larger array of possibilities for expressing your ideas through rhythm instead of through harmony or melody. In the flamenco jargon this would be a "toque libre" (like in Granainas), but I prefer to understand it as a non-free playing with a lot of "rubato" phrases and a couple of well-defined changes in the tempo.

-I have used a lot of open chords. The first string is almost never fretted, so there is an E note ringing throughout most of the song (E is the tonal center for most of the song, but it shifts temporarily in some passages). I have been experimenting with alternative tunings lately (open and modal tunings mostly) and also playing some songs that needed tunings others than the standard one (including one using the weird Aadd9 tuning!). I guess that this might be the reason behind my current preference for open voicings.

-As I said, I was not at home when I recorded it, so I did not have my usual computer and recording hardware and software. I used my laptop and my Ovation guitar directly plugged to it, and Audacity for audio processing (just compression and a little bit of reverb added). It is definitely not a good recording studio, but I am very happy with the resulting quality (and I firmly believe that audio quality is not as important as most people think. Musical quality is what we musicians should be worried about...)

I have a few more ideas that I want to record, and I will probably record them and upload them within a few weeks. Hopefully it will be less than three years until my next post...;-)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A night at Fabrik

I have spent the last week in Naples giving a lecture on DEM analysis as a part of a course on geostatistics, and what initially was meant to be just a week dedicated to science and researching, turned out to be a lovely experience about music, GIS, and much more. Along with me, the other lecturers were Edzer Pebesma, one of the international gurus on geostatistics, and Tom Hengl, who coordinated the event and gave himself very insightful lectures on this topic. Apart from being such renowned authorities on the field, Tom has a particular talent for organizing not only courses, but also other more informal events such as parties and concerts, and Edzer is a keen tenor sax player with a nice taste for melodic phrases and great musical ideas on his mind. Put all that together, and you have not only a party with live music at the end of the course, but also Edzer and me joining the blues/jazz band at the local club, named Fabrik, and playing a few tunes along with them. Starting with a very inspired rendition of "Blue Bossa" by Edzer and a strange cover version of "Mediterranean Sundance" with funky drums (which, surprisingly, people loved), this little concert was, without any doubt, the landmark of the week.

As soon as I arrived home and grabbed my guitar again (how I hate playing guitars other than mine...), I started improvising and came up with a catchy pattern that I recorded, as I usually do when I practice at home. Using this pattern, I have composed a simple modal tune, which I would like to share with you all, and specially with al the people that I met during this last week in Naples. It is entitled "A night at Fabrik", and you can download it here.

Maybe next time Edzer and I meet, we could try to play it...of course, at an event arranged by Tom ;-)

The song has been recorded using just with my Strato, plugged directly to the computer, with no effects at all, much like all the songs I have been recording lately, but this time with an electric guitar instead of an acoustic one. The main guitar was recorded all at once, with no overdubs, and I chose the second take (out of only three). There are a few mistakes and wrong notes, but the sound is quite fresh, so it reflects perfectly the spontaneous atmosphere of the Fabrik concert

Monday, January 22, 2007

A new song

I have spent the last months recording cover versions of some of my favorite tunes and, although this is a rather creative activity, somehow I felt the need to compose my own songs and record them. So, after more than one year since I composed and recorded my last song, here you have a new one. It's a short thing, without jazzy licks, and mainly focused on the melody rather than on licks or improvisation. I guess that after this hiatus I needed to feel myself again like a composer and not only like a guitar player.

The song is recorded in the same way as the last ones, that is, only with my acoustic guitar and no effects at all.

Click on the link to download it, listen to it, and, if you feel like it, leave your comments.

Tal vez sea mejor así

I Hope that you like it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A video

There ain't no best way of starting the year than jamming with an old friend...and recording it! Some years ago Alvaro and me used to play together almost every single day (despite the fact that he lived some 20 km away from me and neither him nor me had a car then), but since we started university, our routine changed a bit and nowadays we see each other quite frequently but seldom play together. As he pointed out the other day, during all those years of playing we never rehearsed a whole song, just fragments of them or, most of the time, just improvised (one played rhythm guitar and the other one improvised over it). But when I watch this video of we two playing together for the first time in a long while, I'm happy we did that, for I can see that all the time we spent in the past improvising together has definitely payed off, and we still have the same great degree of understanding and complicity than before. And we'll probably never loose it.

The sound of the sax is awful (my fault), and the one of the guitar is not much better (not his fault... he was using a crappy 10-years-old 10-watts amp), but some licks are interesting and sound fresh. Consider it not as a musical video, but a clip about friendship, music and good times. Dedicated to all the people I've ever played with in my life. ;-)

The backing track is from a CD with Oliver Nelson's backing tracks.

Keep on rocking.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Songs of my life (1): мне нравится

I've decided to start this new year with a new mini-project in this blog, and try to post here some comments about those songs that, for some reason, have played an important role in my life. Surprisingly, most of these songs are not jazz tunes and are rather different to what I like to play, but playing is just one way of enjoying music, and, as you probably already know, I have a broad musical taste. Depending on the situation, I listen to other genres that differ a lot from what I play, or that I might not even like to play but love to listen or to see others playing them.

To start this section, I've chosen which is probably the most important song of my life, at least from an emotional point of view: мне нравится (mne nravitsya = I like). This song is included in the soundtrack of an old russian film titled ирония судьбы (ironya sud'by = the irony of fate) and, like all the other songs from the soundtrack, has lyrics written by famous Russian poets, in this case the great Marina Tsvetaeva. And why is this song so important for me? Well, I first listened to this song during my first stay in Russia, in Izhevsk, during one of the most important times of my life, and instantly fell in love with it. It was the favourite song of my flatmate, and she listened to it every single day, so during that time I listened to that song thousand of times. That was more than two years ago, and since I came back from that trip, I hadn't listened to it again...until two months ago. When my good friend Tanya came to Madrid, she brought me some Russian stuff, among them a CD with songs from old soviet films. And this song was in it. Immediately I started to listen to it everyday and it brought me such nice memories that I still listen to it quite often and feel as if I was back there in Izhevsk. I decided that, since this song was so important for me, I should also watch the film. And what a surprise I had when I did it! The film is great and after watching it one really understands the true meaning of each song in its context, making it even more interesting. And all the story of the film takes place during new year's eve, so thre is no better time of the year to talk about this than now.

I have been searching a bit to find some links to add here, and to my great surprise I have discovered that they are preparing a sequel to the movie, which is being shot at the moment and will be released next year. I hope that its music will be as good as the original one.

I've tried to put a link to the song but the server I've found does not allow outer links, so If you want it, just go to this URL and then click on the "mp3" label. It is not difficult to find it, is the only thing not in russian ;-)

http://www.zaycev.net/pages/346/34670.shtml


Here you have a link to the website of the composer of the soundtrack, Mikael Tariverdiev. (russian and english)

Here are the lyrics of the song in russian (the original poem by Tsvetaeva, unabridged)

The song is sung by Alla Pugacheva, one of the best know celebrities in Russia. If you have been there, for sure you know who she is, because she is everywhere...

And I guess that's all...now, just listen to the song and tell me your opinion. I hope that you like it as much as I do.

Next chapter: Crossroad blues.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Outdoors playing

I'm spending a couple of weeks with my parents here in Madrid for Christmas and, of course, I' ve brought some of my instruments with me. The weather is surprisingly good for this time of the year, and that gives me the chance to play outside in the garden, something that I cannot do in Plasencia since I live in a flat. Not long ago, I used to drive to a close hill at least once a week to play the sax without being worried about bothering my neighbours, but lately I've just been playing at home, mainly because I feel a bit lazy, but also because I'm not playing sax as often as I should, and I spend most of my time playing the guitar, mostly flamenco stuff.

Playing outdoors is probably not the best of the situations to get a good sound, and definitely is not the right thing to do if you want to record something, but I find it quite exciting to listen to my instruments in a different context. The kind of sound that you get from them might not be better, but is at least different, and the experience somehow creates a more "organical" relation between the music and the player, since the sound is more natural when playing open-air. Those, of course, are my own perceptions, but this fact has made me think about how complex it is to find the right sound, and, on the other hand, how easy it is to alter that sound and get a different point of view about what you play. We musicians are always worried about the instrument we play, the strings we use or the reeds we have on our horns, but something as simple as the place where we play can radically change the tone and the colour of what we play, and we usually neglect that very important fact.

Finding a new place to play can be like trying a new instrument, learning a new rhythm or jamming with a new musician. I've always had the dream of playing inside a church, the acoustics must be so awesome...Needless to say, I will probably never fulfill it...but at least I can blow out some Oliver Nelson tunes on my sax while I walk around the swimming pool in the garden in a sunny december morning, listening to the birds as I play...and believe me that it is a very nice experience ;-)

By the way, if you are interested on people that play outdoors, you should check this site with recording by street musicians.

www.streetnote.org

Happy new year, everybody!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Summertime

It's been a long time since I posted my last tune, but don't be afraid, that does not mean that I have given up...it is only that I was taking a little break.

The song I am posting today is one of those Gerswhin's well-known jazz classics which have been played by almost every jazz musician since long ago but, nevertheless, still sound fresh and are interesting to play: Summertime.

It's only two minutes long but full of nice licks and, most of all, fun. I hope you like it.

I'd like to dedicate this to my good friend Guillermo Chaminade, who encouraged me to keep on recording all these cover versions. When someone likes what you play, why stopping doing it?

If you want to compare, here are some other very different (amateur) versions that I found in YouTube. Compare them with mine and tell me which one you like the most. And if you want to listen to a really good one, try Ella's. Simply unsurpassable.







Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lucía

I had to wait a bit more than what I expected, but my new flamenco guitar is finally here (yeah!!) and all I can say is that it is absolutly amazing. I guess that the best way to describe a guitar is just to play it and let others listen to you, but I want to post some quick thoughts about it here and share with you my first impressions. Soon I will try to record something, most likely a video.

  • Although it came stringed with medium tension strings and I'm used to high tension ones, I find it too easy to play it. This is good because it is easy to keep a continuous flow of notes, but somehow I find it a bit strange at first. Anyway, I guess I will get used to it quickly. Playing legato phrases is simply delicious.
  • The resonance of the body is amazing when playing the lower strings and, specially, when doing "golpes". That makes the guitar a truly rithmic instrument and I feel I tend to play more strumming passages ("rasgueados") and thumb phrases than I usually play, and less "picado" runs.
  • It is by far the most feminine guitar I have ever played.
  • Playing soleares or siguirillas (or any other "palo jondo") is great, there is a lot of definition on the tone and it is easy to keep a good pulse, but it has been with "palos chicos" when I have had the best sensations. The sound is superb, very rithmic and thick. This guitar is at its best when playing tangos... definitely.

Stay tuned for a video soon...:-)

Monday, September 25, 2006

First video.

The pianist was babysitting, the singer was at a wedding...and we had a video camera. I was not very inspired, but you have to consider that it was all completely improvised, so please don't be too harsh on me...



What is clear from the video is that we had fun, isn't it? ;-)

Enjoy it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Фламенко...и оле!

I wrote in a previous post that Russia was one of those few things that I love even more than jazz, and that finding russian websites about jazz was really interesting for me. There is also another combination that I find rather interesting: flamenco and Russia. Fortunately for me, there are good russian sites about flamenco, and it is amazing not only to see how they play (sometimes they lack a bit of 'duende', but most of the times they really feel the music and its meaning), but also see how their understanding of flamenco compares to their understanding of jazz or even to their understanding of their own folk music.

The best one, and probably one of the best flamenco websites available in any language, is www.flamenco.ru. It is only in russian, but has a lot of interesting stuff, even if you do not really care about Russia and you are only interested in flamenco music. Some interesting falsetas with audio and tablatures in the Уроки / ритмы и фальсеты фламенко section

If you want to check a flamenco guitar player, have a look at Grisha Goryachev's website. It includes videos and audio files, and it is in english. He plays a nice blend of classical and flamenco guitar. It's worth a visit.

Enjoy!


Monday, September 18, 2006

On YouTube and the attitude of players

YouTube has become the biggest internet sensation of the last months, and everyone is talking about it, uploading their videos, searching for new ones, and spending their time discovering clips that run the full gamut from video blogs to TV ads, from film fragments to home made cartoons, and almost anything than can be put into a video file. For musicians, YouTube is also a valuable tool, since you can find online lessons, videos of your favorite artists, or even upload a video of yourself and then receive comments (and probably a fair amount of criticism) that will help you improve your playing and know what others think about you.

I'm thinking about taking my camera and shooting a few videos of me playing(in case I do it, I will link to them from this blog, of course), but right now the most interesting use I find in YouTube is the opportunity of watching some of the players I love (and that I had only listened to, but never watched) performing their tunes. Although music is perceived through the sense of hearing, and a good musician should be able to communicate what he wants to express only with the sound he gets from his instrument, watching someone performing gives you more information about the music he is playing, and that can make the listening experience much more enjoyable (and frequently also much more instructive...). Sometimes it can be beautiful to see someone playing even if you cannot hear the music, for there is a lot of plasticity involved in playing (I love to watch Bird moving his fingers or Dolphy's embochure...) and sometimes the player expresses a lot with his body as well. It is like the difference between going to the opera and just listening to the CD at home. The music is the same, but there is much more than music in an opera play. The same happens with a guitar player or a sax one. For instance, just take a look at some of the Tommy Emmanuel videos on YouTube, they are among the most amazing performances I have seen in my life...really astounding!

Music is a blend of many different factors: harmony, melody, tone, color, texture, technique, feeling, attitude...and countless others. While some of them are fully contained in the music and a video does not change anything about the way they are perceived by the listener (watching a guitar player does not affect how you perceive a chord progression), others are enriched by watching the interpreter, and your understanding of them might be noticeably affected.

Lately, I have been really interesed in the attitude of players towards their music and their instruments, since this is probably one of the things that has evolved the most through this last years. It is interesting to think about this before you grab your instrument and start playing, because it can change your whole aproach to your musical activity.

As an example, I leave you here three short videos of three of my favorite 'tocaores' (flamenco guitar players): Diego del Gastor, Sabicas and Vicente Amigo.








Can you see the difference in their attitude? Doesn't it seem that Diego is more 'in touch' with the instrument and the music and that this music flows more naturally? Doesn't it seem that Sabicas has more 'chemistry' with his guitar? All those expressions in Vicente's face look to me like the ones of a heavy metal guitar player playing a solo and acting a bit to impress his public...Don't get me wrong, I love contemporary players and he is an amazing musician (and I also love heavy metal players who act on stage!), but looking back one can easily see that the attitude of the musicians has changed as much as their technique or their musical knowledge, and that it hasn't been necessarily a change for good.

If you do not agree with me, comments are welcome, as usual :-)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Principal Components Analysis

There is nothing more interesting than merging two different fields of knowledge and discovering that what you know about something can also be applied to another completely different area. Sometimes you might not get tangible results, but changing you point of view can open your mind and help you gain a better understanding on the subject you are dealing with. Two disciplines apparently so different as music and image analysis (both of which I'm keen on) can be linked in several ways. Wonder how? Keep on reading...

Quoting Wikipedia, “principal components analysis (PCA) is a technique for simplifying a dataset. It is a linear transformation that transforms the data to a new coordinate system such that the greatest variance by any projection of the data comes to lie on the first coordinate (called the first principal component), the second greatest variance on the second coordinate, and so on. PCA can be used for dimensionality reduction in a dataset while retaining those characteristics of the dataset that contribute most to its variance, by keeping lower-order principal components and ignoring higher-order ones. Such low-order components often contain the 'most important' aspects of the data. But this is not necessarily the case, depending on the application."

Although PCA is a technique than can be applied to any type of data, one of its most prominent uses is in the field of image analysis, reducing the number of bands of an image and thus simplyfing it.

And now, let’s see what all this has to do with music:

I've taken a little break from my recording routine (which, by the way, will not be resumed until the beginning of september, since I'm leaving twomorrow for China and won't be back in two months...), and I have spent sometime trying to find new songs I can cover. When doing it, I have listened to a few tunes with very simple arrangements, but most of them had more complex ones involving several instruments with different sounds and textures, each of them playing a different role in the song.

When you mix piano, guitar, voice, bass guitar and, let's say, horns, into a song, each instrument does not only plays its particular phrases, but also adds its characteristic colour to the mix, and for this reason their roles are different and their lines are not interchangeable. Trying to arrange a song for a set of guitars, all of them having exactly the same sound and tone (this is exactly what I have been doing when recording songs for my raw guitar project), is not as simple as playing all the parts of a tune, each of them with a separate guitar. That will simply not work. One has to analyze the song and "guess" the signature of each instrument, which is made upon what it plays and the characteristics of the instrument itself, and then try to recreate this with the guitar. In other words, if we have n instruments in a tune, we have to play that tune with just one single instrument, trying to capture it essence and preserve wichever elements define it (it might be a matter of rhythm, texture, feeling, sound...or many of this "variables" at the same time). And this is exactly what the analysis of principal components is all about!

While in the field of image analysis principal components are analyzed using mathematical expressions in a purely scientifical way, in music it is more art than science what is needed to perform such an analysis. And that art is something that a musician, as the artist he is (or pretends to be...), should not overlook.

During this months of adapting and arranging songs, I have discovered that I'm getting better at doing this each time, and somehow I'm slowly developing this ability to extract the most importants elements of a tune and "translate" a song from its original format to one that includes just guitars. A good musician should be able to take a simple line and arrange it for a trio, a quartet or a whole orchestra, but also to do just the opposite and simplify (at least in terms of number of different instruments used) any tune. This is not only good for covering songs, but your whole playing is affected, and when it comes to improvise over a complex tune it is easier to dissect the tune into the elements that comprise the backgorund and therefore have a better knowledge of what’s going on (which, rather logically, leads to a better improvisation...)

I do not have the key to show other people how to do this (assuming that more or less I know a bit about it, which might not even be true...), but I can say that it is really fun to do it, so I will for sure keep on doing it and recording new songs. But that, I'm sorry to say, will be after the summer, for now China awaits for me.

See y'all in a couple of months!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Evil ways

Long long time ago, so long ago that I did not play guitar or sax yet, my dad used to ttravel to Sweden rather often for working reasons. In one of his trips he met a street musician form Chile named Victor Hugo (yes, like the french writer...), who played guitar and harmonica, and bought him a tape (by the way, he played an Ovation guitar like mine, as it can be seen in the cover of that tape...). The tape contained cover versions of many popular songs like House of the Rising Sun or Summertime, and they were all superb, but among all them my favorite one was a version of Santana's Evil Ways. Taking his wonderful interpretation of this song instead of Santana's original one as my main inspiration, here is my own rendition of this great tune, recorded as usually just with raw guitar.

The first part of the solo has nothing really remarkable, but the second one includes some elements that are not very common in my playing, like the country-like licks in the beginning or the pedal notes that can be found after it. I have used some funky light chords to create a little melody in the final part of the solo, and some double stops. I think it all makes the solo pretty colorful and interesting. Hope you like it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Smoke on the Water

Alternating between jazz and non-jazz tunes, here is the last song I've recorded, this time Deep Purple's ever--popular rock classic Smoke on the Water.

When I started thinking about making a cover of this song, the first question that came to my mind was wheter I should use the original riff or not. Being probably the most instantly recognisable riff in the history of rock guitar (along with, among others, AC/DC's "Highway to Hell", Free's "All Right Now" or Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger"), trying to play this song without its main riff is not only difficult but also a bit nonsense. On the other hand, the riff is so characteristic that if you include it without altering it somehow, it is hard to make a really original cover and avoid creating a mere verbatim copy of the original one, at least in its rhythm part (which in this case is the most important one). What I finally decided to do was to take the main riff, add a bit of swing to it and not only use it for the rhythm brigdes, but all throughout the song. You know what they say: if you cannot beat your enemy...

The riff gives a lot of freedom to improvise over it (in this case G minor and G blues scales are used), and using the typical head-solo-head structure we have a jazzy rendition of this classical hard rock anthem (which more than Smoke on the Water itself, it can be considered just an improvisation over its trademark riff, but well, it is a cover version after all...).

Although I admire Ritchie Blackmore as a guitar player, the solo is not played in his style, but rather this time in my own style (i.e. something like Clapton meets Healey meets Metheny meets Montgomery meets Nelson...).

You can download the song here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Nostalgia in Times Square

It's been more than ten days since the last post, but here is a new tune for you all, this time a true jazz one (though it has a blues structure): Mingus' "Nostalgia In times Square".

Mingus has always been one of my favorite musicians, not only because of his compositions and his playing, but also for his philosophy and his peculiar understanding of music as something more than just a mere form or artistical expression. I recommend reading his autobiography, entitled "Beneath the underdog", to get a good grasp on how it is like to live the life of a jazz legend, and understand music as such. The book itself is not only full of insightful comments and curious anecdotes, but it is also hilarious, even for those not really interesed in jazz. The kafkian personality of Mingus is at its best in the pages of this book...'nuff said.

Going back to the song, I have focused on the bass line (Mingus was a bass player, after all) as the most important part of the tune. For the solo, I've tried to mimic the abrupt style of Eric Dolphy (who played on the original tune), with fast and sudden phrases including outside notes (not too much freaking out anyway, do not worry...) and chromatic licks. The solo (and the whole song also) is rather short, just the opposite of the original one. I do not have the amazing creativity of Dolphy, and did not want to start sounding repetitive, so I've prefered to shorten it instead of filling endless minutes with guitar gibberish.

To download the mp3 file, click here

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

коробейники

After a few days without being able to play guitar or sax (I organized an international meeting here in Plasencia and after that went to Portugal for a couple of days to give a speech about GIS in Lisbon and another one in Faro), yesterday I had enough time to finish recording and mixing my cover version of коробейники (korobejniki). Up to seven guitars are playing simultaneously on the central part of the song. What started as a simple song with two guitars has turned out to be one the most elaborated tunes of my "raw" guitar project...and probably the funniest of them all.

To download it, click here.

It sounds rather russian, and I have tried not to include too many solos, focusing mainly on the melody, which is among the catchiest I've ever heard. It is not only catchy when you listen to it...but also when you play it! Believe me...I cannot stop playing it again and again!

If you wonder how the percussive sound of the first bar is played, it is easy to play it picking very close to the brigde and muting the strings with the left hand near the picking one.

As usually, comments are welcome.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

OCRemix.org

I hate it when people think that some genres are better than others, and I specially hate it when those people are jazz players who consider that, let's say, pop or country music are inferior to jazz.

I accept that jazz or classical music are more demanding genres, and playing a simple Beethoven's piece or improvising over an easy jazz standard is way more difficult than strumming the three chords needed to play Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door", but that has no relation at all with the quality of those songs, and by no means with the quality of the genre they belong to. Playing a typical pop song and making your friends happy with it is really easy. But that does not mean that pop itself is easy. Absolutely not. Ever heard of The Beatles? They played pop and are respected by most players worlwide, from polka players to jazz players to flamenco player. And don't tell me that it is easy to do what they did, because definititely it is not.

With instruments it happens more or less the same. I cannot stand people who think that playing piano or harp(a stringed harp, i mean) is harder than playing a recorder or a harp (a non-stringed one), and for that reason they consider that a piano player is a better musician than a recorder player. The technique might be harder in the case of the piano (and even that is arguable...), but technique is just a small part of what is needed to make music. So you play piano or guitar and you think that that makes you a better musician than someone who just plays recorder? Well, get someone who can improvise with the recorder like Charlie parker did with his sax. Can you do that? Probably not...

The thing is that, whatever the instrument you play, whatever the genre you play, it is equally difficult to master them, for one simple reason: mastering them is just impossible. I repeat: impossible. No matter how good you are, there's always a new sound you can get, a better solo you can play, or a better tune you can compose. Music has no limits, and that is the best thing about it. When you reach a limit, that is your limit, not its limit.

I like to find people that share this same way of thinking, people that believes that good music can be found everywhere, that one should listen to every single player or composer in every single genre. That's why yesterday, when I discovered www.ocremix.org, I was really glad to find that there are people out there seeking that musical magic stuff in tunes that, at first sight, might not seem good enough to have it. OCRemix is, in the words of its creators, "a website dedicated to reviving the video and computer game music of yesterday, and reinterpreting that of today, with new technology & capabilities. This site's mission is to prove that this music is not disposable or merely just background, but is as intricate, innovative, and lasting as any other form." Enough said.

The website is full of interesting stuff, brilliant arrangements, and enough material to spend hours browsing it.

Of course, you can join the project and submit your own vresions, and, of course, I'm going to do it! The slavophile in me could not but choose the main melody of that extremely addictive russian game that you all know: Tetris. In fact, for those of you that do not know it, this song is much more than computer game music. Most people ignore it, bu it is a traditional russian folk song called "коробейники", with lyrics written by the great russian poet N.A. Nekrasov. The first book that I bought in Russia was a second-hand antology of his works (by that time I could not understand most of the words, but it was so ludicrously cheap that I had to buy it. Later on I discovered that all books in russia were that cheap...), so for me it also has some kind of sentimental meaning.

I have already started to arrange and record it, but do not have it ready yet. In the meantime, I give you two links: one to another remix of the song (in this case a techno-inspired one), and another one to a short video with a couple of russian guys dancing "коробейники" the old-russian style.

http://www.ocremix.org/songs/Tetris_Slavic_Roots_OC_ReMix.mp3
http://www.barynya.com/video/korobeiniki.mpg

Aahhhh, how I love this russian stuff :-) Definitely, it is the best music for this moment...it makes me feel great. I do not know exactly why...but I feel happy today. The sun is shining, the weekend is almost here, I am listening to russian music... In musical terms, my life today is being played on a major key :-)

See ya all!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tone

The good thing about playing several different instruments is that you can grasp a better understanding of what music is and what it means. By playing several instruments you get different points of view, and discover things that you would have overlooked if you played just one of them.

After all this time playing saxophone I have learned just one thing that I can use to improve my guitar playing...but what a key thing: the importance of having a good tone. As any sax player knows, having a good tone is crucial if you want to get somewhere with your instrument. The quest for a good tone is for sax players something like the quest for a musical Holy Grail or some sort of philosopher's stone that can turn what you play from a mere string of notes into a meaningful musical expression.

For guitar players, getting a good tone usually means trying different effects (some reverb here, a bit of chorus there...), using strings of a different gauge, or simply turning the tone knob on their axe. That changes the "physical" qualities of the sound your instrument produces, but a good tone is much more than that. A good tone is not only something that makes your phrases sound good, but also makes you feel good inside when you listen to them.

My sax teacher used to put me in front of a wall with my sax and say: "Take a note and blow it until you feel how it goes out of the sax, bounces against the wall and then hits you. If you do not feel that, even if it sounds great, you do not have a good tone". I guess that not a lot of guitar players ever try something like that, but whatever the instrument you play, just try it. It is worth to spend sometime developing a good tone on your instrument. You will discover a new world of sound coming out of your guitar, piano, flute, banjo, or whatever. Believe me.

As with any other aspect of your playing, listening to other players is a must, but one should not limit himself just to those who play the same instrument. As a guitar player, my role model has always been Clapton, but I have many others, depending on which area I want to develop. For example, when it comes to improvisation, is not Clapton, but Parker, whom I follow, but I also like to listen to bass players, since their way of improvising is utterly different.

And when it comes to improve my tone, the choice for me it is obvious. Guess it? Maybe Santana with that amazing sustain? Nope. Coltrane with his powerful sound? Wrong. What about Albert Ayler and his sensual and organic way of playing sax? No (but this one is also a very good inspiration, I have to admit it) The answer is...Barbra Streisand. Surprised? Just listen to her and then imagine that you could do that with your guitar. Not even in your best dreams...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cheek to Cheek

I'm back with a new song from my raw guitar project, this time an old-time jazz classic by the great Irving Berlin: Cheek to Cheek. Probably you have heard Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgzerald singing this (if not...what are you waiting for ??!!). You can download it here.

By the way, I have decided to turn this "raw guitar project" into an "acoustic raw guitar project", since I am using just acoustic guitars to record all the songs. However, it is acoustic but it is not "unplugged", because the guitar is plugged directly into the computer (that's what I mean when I say "raw"...), and the sound I get is, in fact, based on this. Moreover, the comercial slogan of Ovation guitars (remember that I play one of them) is "Plug it in". So, more precisely, it is an "electro-acoustic raw guitar project" :-)

About the song, it has been really funny to record it. I had played this song along with a singer friend of mine not long ago, also with the same up-tempo feeling and that gypsy-jazz rhythm, so I just took that idea (maybe a bit faster this time...) and added the lead guitar track. I'm not a true gypsy-jazz player (still have a lot to learn, specially about chord voicings, though I don't feel like doing it soon...), but I find improvising over that boom-chick boom-chick rhythm a hell of a fun thing. To tell the truth, the rhythm guitar is not playing the classical "la pompe" rhythm, since I'm not using a plectrum (oh yes, I play fingerstyle sometimes!!) and it doesn't sound so percussive, but from the point of view of the solo player it is more or less the same.

Some of the licks included in this tune are among the best ones I have ever recorded. I think I was specially inspired when I played them. Most of them are fast and include cromatic runs (something that I love to play in this kind of music), but at the same time sound very melodic, which makes me feel really proud of them. I would dare to say that this is the best (or close to) that I can get as a solo player. Honestly. I wish I could always sound like this. If I had to pick one song to become the "hit single" from all the ones that I plan to record, this would be it, no doubt.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Of course, comments of any kind are welcome. Tell me your opinion about it, ok? Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More autoanalysis. Tibio.

From all the songs I've composed so far, "Tibio" is among my favorites. Both the music and the emotions it evokes make it a song I like to listen to as much as I like to play it.

Harmonically the song has a very simple rhythm, divided in two parts, both of them in the key of E major. The most interesting thing, however, is the lead guitar, which plays a large variety of licks and I consider contains most of the elements of my style. There are some highly chromatic parts (specially near the end), and I use plenty of passing notes.

I have transcribed both lead and rhythm guitars (only tablature), in case someone is interesed.

The song is divided in two parts, both of them on the key of E Major

The rhythm guitar pays the following during the first part:

|----0-------0-------2-------2---|----2----2----------0---0---|
|----5-------5-------2-------2---|----4----4----------0---0---|
|----4-------4-------2-------2---|----4----4----------1---1---|
|--------------------------------|----------------2---2---2---|
|--------------------------------|-------------4------4---4---|
|0-------------------------------|----------------------------|


And during the second one:

|----------------(x3)----------------------|

|-4-- 4-------4-------7------|--5----------|--2------------------|
|-4h5--5-------5-------5-----|--5----------|--2------------------|
|-4----4-------4-------6-----|--6----------|--2------------------|
|-5----4-------4-------4-----|--7----------|--4------------------|
|----------------------------|--7----------|--4------------------|
|----------------------------|--5----------|--2------------------|


The lead guitar plays the following line:

|-------------------------------------------------------|
|11/-12------12------10------9h 10 9--------------------|
|--------------------------------------------11---------|
|-------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|9---10--11--------------9-------------------------------9-------|
|----------------11--------------11------9---10--11--------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------9-------------------------------------------|
|11/-12------12--------------12------9---------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|-------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------|
|----11------9h 11--------------------|
|-------------------------------------|
|--------11---------------------------|
|-------------------------------------|

|------------------------------------------------------|
|11/12---12------10------9h10p9------------------------|
|------------------------------------11----------------|
|------------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|9---10--11--------------9-------------------------------9-------|
|----------------11--------------11------9---10--11--------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------9-----------12/-14----------|
|11/-12------12----------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------|

|12--9---12--9---9---------------------------------------------------|
|--------------12--12--9-12-9---9-------------------------------9----|
|-----------------------------11--11b13--9-11-9--------9--11b13------|
|----------------------------------------------11 9h11---------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|

|12--9-----------------------------------------------------------|
|--------12--9---------------------------12------9---------------|
|--------------11--9-----------9---11----------------------------|
|----------------------9---11------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------|
|9---9/--11--------------9h-11-------------|
|----------------11------------------------|
|------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------|

|12--9------------------------------------------------------|
|--------12--9----------------------------------12----------|
|----------------11--9---------------11b-13-----------------|
|----------------------------11-------------- --------------|
|-----------------------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|13rb11------9-------11--11------9-------11------9---------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------9-----------9-----------9---------------9-------9-------|
|11b13------11b13---------11b13----------11b13------11b13----11--|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|11------11------------9h11p9/8---------8----------------------|
|------------------------------------9----9-----9/11-11 -11/-9-|
|--------------------------------------------11----------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------------------------------|
|----9-9-9-----8-8-8-----7-7-7-----6-6-6-----------------|
|--11--------9---------9---------7-----------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------|

|-------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------6--8--9s-11--11-11---9-----------------|
|--7--6---7---9-----------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------|

(Second rhythm pattern starts from here.)

|9s11--11------11h-12------11----------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------9---------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------9h------11------11p-----9-------------------------------|
|11--------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|11/-12------12------12------10------9---------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|9h--11------9-------9h------11------9-------------------9-------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------8---9---------------------------------------|
|------------8---9-----------8---9-----------8---9---------------|
|----8---9---------------------------8---9-----------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------9---12--9-------9---------------|
|----------------9---10--11--12--------------12------------------|
|8---9---10--11--------------------------------------12--9-------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------------------|
|------12------------------------------------|
|11b13----13rb11---9----9/--11---------------|
|--------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------|


Technically, it is pretty easy to play it (in the guitar, I mean. I haven't tried it with other instruments), but it is important to pay attention to all the trills, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and such, because without them the melody sounds rather dull. Mark Knopfler was a big inspiration for this, since he is a master of turning an average solo into a great one just enriching it with his particular technique (specially his awesome vibrato).

I have borrowed ideas from many other guitar players, like, for example, the typical Django Reinhardt's lick two bars before the end. By the way, if you have read my previous posts, you will recognize a very simple "parallel" pattern in it.

However, the main influence when I composed this song was Andy Timmons. Although not in the licks or in the way they are played, the concept of this song (a slow ballad with an acoustic guitar on the rhythm part and a electric one with warm tone on the lead) comes from his song "There Are No Words". I first listened to it after buying his "Ear X-tacy" album (by the way, I bought it directly from him after a concert he gave in Madrid for not more than 40 people), and I instantly fell in love with it. The combination of acoustic and electric guitars, the licks, the feeling...everything is amazing in that song. I just tried to make something similar, using the same idea. Check it out if you can, and also check other Andy's tunes...he rocks!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Kaki King

I am not a big fan of "unusual" guitar techniques. I hardly do any tapping at all (tapping this days cannot be considered unusual or strange, but it is not the "normal" way of playing guitar) and, although I have practiced it and have some fair degree of control, I don't find it natural. It simply does not suit my particular style.

Of course, that does not mean that I do not like it. In fact, Van Halen - one of the pioneers of the two-handed tapping technique - is among my favorite players, and his licks are simply awesome, no matter which technique he uses to play them.

On the other hand, guitar players like Stanley Jordan or Michaelangelo Battio, who owe a certain (usually large) amount of their popularity to their unorthodox way of playing and their technical wizardry, usually focus more on the instrument itself than on the music they are playing and, while it is interesting to see them performing live, when you just listen to what they play and do not watch it, you realize that they are not so great as you thought they were.

However, some players (like Van Halen himself or my beloved Jeff Healey) explore the possibilities of their instrument and end up developing their personal and unique technique, which they later use to create their very own style of music, playing things that would not come out so naturally using a more "conventional" approach. Those are the players that I really like.

My latest discovering in the vast realm of contemporary guitar players is Kaki King, who definitely deserves being included in this last group. I discovered her yesterday while looking for some information about Ovation guitars (like me, she plays one of them), and her music is not only rather innovative, but also deep and intelligent.

Kaki has taken the peculiar style of Preston Reed and given it a new (and really interesting) meaning. Far fom being just a mere display of technical extravaganzas (I am sorry to say it, but, IMHO, Reed's music is just that), she creates interesting atmospheres and uses her particular technique for its real purpose: expressing her musical ideas.

You can have a look at the following video to know what I am talking about.



By the way, I guess she must use tons of nail hardener to prevent her fingernails from breaking. I find it almost painful to see how she hits those steel strings with such energy. I have tried to play flamenco on a acoustic guitar a couple of times (yes, I know it is rather stupid...), and both of them I wrecked my nails within the first minute of playing. Ouch!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Building tension using 'parallel' lines

This post is targeted at guitar players, mainly because the "bidimensional" design of the guitar makes it easy to visualize those parallel lines, but you can apply it also to "unidimensional" instruments like sax.

'Parallel lines', as I have called this technique, is just as simple as playing a lick, (most of the times a short one) and then repeating it in the next string (or strings) exactly as we played it before. This is one of the tricks I use the most when I want to introduce some outside notes in a phrase. The way to do it is very simple, and you will find that all those notes fit perfectly into the song context, because they have the same 'resolution' as the original line, which is supossed to contain inside notes, and your ear gets used to the intervallic structure of the lick.

A very easy example of this, is the following pattern, which you have probably heard before or even played yourself:

|3-2-0-----------------------------------|
|------3-2-0-----------------------------|
|------------3-2-0-----------------------|
|------------------3-2-0-----------------|
|------------------------3-2-0-----------|
|------------------------------3-2-0-----|

Say we are playing in E dorian mode. The licks on strings 1,2 5, and 6 contain no outside notes, the one on the third string includes a blue note, and the one on fourth string includes a b2.

That's not too much tension yet, but it brings an easy jazzy sound if played fast. (try to play it legato with pull-offs)

Have a look at the next lick in A minor.

|10/11-10-8----8h9p8-------|
|-----------10------10-8---|
|--------------------------|
|--------------------------|
|--------------------------|
|--------------------------|

It includes a blue note, and a C#, which is a 3 from the A major scale, instead of the b3 (C) from the minor scale (aeolian mode) This C# is used as a passing note. I learnt it from Clapton who uses it constantly (just have a look at the solo in Crossroad blues, with Cream). I love how it sounds.

Now let's change this two-strings lick into a four-strings one. We get the next pattern, which is quite colorful.

|10/11-10-8---8h9p8---------------------------------------------------|
|----------10------10-8-10/11-10-8---8h9p8----------------------------|
|----------------------------------9-------9-7-9/10-9-7---7h8p7-------|
|-------------------------------------------------------9-------9-7---|
|---------------------------------------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------------------------------------|

The next lick, in D dorian, is sometimes used by Brian Setzer. It's is not exactly
parallel, but i guess the concept is the same (i haven't asked Brian himself, but...)
Try to play it fast and with plenty of swing.

|10p9p8--------------------------|
|------9p8p7---------------------|
|------------8p7p6---------------|
|------------------7p6p5---------|
|------------------------7p6p5-5-|
|--------------------------------|

Brian May plays something similar in "Let Your Heart Move Your Hand", and I guess that many other guitarist use similar ideas.

Now it´s time for you to make your own licks and make them grow by using this little trick.!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Haiku playing

The late Jose Hierro, one of the most prominent spanish poets of the last century, once said that rhythm is the only thing that separates poetry from mere journalism. Being a voracious reader of poetry myself and a keen jazz player (you might not know the former, but if you are reading this blog you surely knew the latter), rhythm is also the linking point between these two forms of art that I enjoy so much, and I've decided to materialize this link in a simple but interesting exercise that will surely help you improve you improvisation skills (or at least give you some fun while you practice your chops).

Ever heard of haikus? Haikus are a japanese short form of poetry, with a pattern composed of seventeen syllabes, divided in three lines (i.e. verses) of 5,7 and 5 syllabes, respectively. How to apply this to music and, more specifically, to jazz improvisation? Well, let's consider bars instead of verses and notes instead of syllabes...and let's use this fixed pattern to improvise. I believe that improvising under certain limitations is a great way of practising, since those limitations force you to enhance your expressivity in order to mantain the interest of your phrases.

If you want to take the haiku concept a step further, you can use the 5-7-5 pattern also to choose your scales. I've been practising this over some blues progressions using a pentatonic scale with a raised 6th substituting the 7th - 5 notes - and a dorian scale - 7 notes -, getting very melodic results. The limitation of notes in each bar forces you to search melodic patterns to fill it, and those scales are rather suitable for that kind of playing. Listen to Robben Ford if you want to find a good example on how to use that pentatonic with a #6, or check out Santana for some nice dorian bluesy licks.

Have fun!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Penguin Guide To Jazz

Yesterday, my friends gave me for my birthday the much-acclaimed Cook & Morton penguin guide to jazz, with more than 1700 pages and insightful comments on thousands of artist and recordings. The amount of information it contains is massive, more or less like the amount of joy that it can give a jazz lover like me, and it is probably among the best presents I have received lately (thanks again, guys!)

I had already browsed through similar books (including previous editions of this same one), but never owned one myself. Somehow I thought it was not worth the price. But, as usual, I was wrong. Completely wrong.

As soon as I started reading it carefully, I instantly recognised the need of having such a book to understand jazz and not be overwhelmed by the baffling complexity of its history. Since yesterday night, I have done nothing but reading it, checking the information about my favourite artists and looking for new ones. And when I realize that I have read not more than 30 pages at all, and that there are still almost two thousand more waiting...what a wonderful sensation! :-)

Of course, the book is not perfect, and I disagree with some comments and ratings, specially those about guitar players. For example, according to the authors, none of George Benson's albums deserves more than 3 stars(!!!). And Kevin Eubanks does not have his own entry, but rather a one-line mention in his brother's one!!

Also, some ratings are rather biased, overrating (IMHO) avant-garde and free jazz players. For example, Albert Ayler, who is no doubt a key figure in jazz history, also recorded some (very)low-quality albums (to say it mildly), but even his weakest works like "Music is the healing force of the universe", get high ratings. And John Zorn and Charles Gayle get the highest rating (a crown), something that is surprising if we consider that Ella Fitzgerald does not get it for any of her outstanding recordings.

Anyway, one has to assume that such a book always includes its authors' own taste to a large extent... so all those "mistakes" can be overlooked.

So just one little advise: whether you want to get into jazz or you are already in, if you do not have it, get this book as soon as possible. You will not regret it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Que C'est Triste Venice

After "Walk Tall", here is a new cover (this time is not a jazz one), "Que C'est Triste Venice", by the great french singer Charles Aznavour. This song has been recorded in spanish (Venecia Sin Ti), english (How Sad Venise Can Be), Italian(Com'e Triste Venezia), and maybe even in other less common languages, but the original lyrics and the way they sound make the french version the best one so far.

This song means so much to me and bring me such nice memories that it was wonderful to record it. Sometimes songs contain much more than just music, and playing them is then an amazing experience. This was, no doubt, one of those times.

About the music itself and how I have recorded it, there is a remarkable difference in the harmony of my recording and Aznavour's one: the original song modulates in each repetition, changing the tonal center from G to G# and finally to A, but I have played it all the time in G Major, with no modulation at all. The main reason for this is that I repeat the main structure a few more times to include the solo and I felt that it was not a good idea neither to modulate so many times nor to do it only outside the solo part. Those modulations have a rather dramatic effect on the song, which is of course lost, but I think that the dry sound of the guitar retains the nostalgic and tragic atmosphere of the original version, somehow compensating for it. I though about adding more guitars, but quickly understood that there was no better way of recording this than just with two of them. Sometimes less is more.

You can download the song here. Listen and enjoy, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. And, of course, if you haven't listened to the original one, just go and get it. I'm sure you'll love it. Even better, go and get some other Aznavour's songs. "Plus bleu que tes yeux" (originally composed by Aznavour for Edith Piaf but later recorded by himself) and "J'en deduis que je t'aime" are two of my favorite ones.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Walk Tall

After "Song For My Father", I'm back with another jazz tune, this time by Cannonball Adderley: "Walk Tall" (click here to download it). This is not one of Cannonball's bebop tunes, but rather one of his soul-funky compositions, which makes it a bit more tricky to play it on the guitar. It is not technically difficult to play it (in fact, the song is extremely simple), but it is hard to capture the groovy atmosphere of the original recording. Cannonball's "happy" sax sound is not easy to recreate, no matter which instrument you are playing...you have to feel the music to do it.

There are three different parts that can be distinguished: one acoustic guitar is playing the rhythm part, simply strumming the chords. Another one plays the lead part, while two more guitars add the chipmunk-like notes, which are obtained playing off-the-neck slide guitar. As you can see, it is far easier to get to the altissimo register in the guitar than in the sax :-P

The solo is played using C blues and C Dorian scales over the G7-C7 main part, and G Major over the rest of the chord progression.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Song For My Father

Horace Silver is one of the few piano players that I like and probably the only one that I can listen to without getting bored after just a couple of tunes. It is not that piano players are bad, but rather that I do not like the instrument itself. Horace, however, is one of those players that became part of jazz history not for "how" he played his instrument, but for "what" he played. His contribution to jazz understanding and his fresh approach to the genre were the key elements that turned him into a jazz master, and those elements are still alive in today's music.

I have chosen my favorite Horace Silver's tune, "Song For My Father", to start my "raw" guitar project (well, to tell the truth, "Peace" is my favorite one, but it has already been covered on guitar by Mike Stern...). You can download it here.

Much of the original atmosphere is lost in my recording (it is practically impossible to retain Horace's groove on the guitar and without drums), but I'm happy with the result.

The solo part contains some (slightly) phrygian-spiced licks (too much flamenco playing lately?), which came out naturally and seem to fit perfectly over the bass line.

Hope you like it!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Autoanalysis (2). No Puedo Morir Ahora. The major harmonic scale.

Here goes another quick analysis of one of my tunes, in this case "No Puedo Morir Ahora" (I Cannot Die Now). I wrote and recorded this song (which you can download here) just a few days after I bought my Ovation acoustic guitar. I was completely obsessed with its sound, so round and rich, and I tried to create something specially for it, a song that was not suitable for an electric guitar. I guess that's why I sought inspiration mostly in sax or trumpet players, and not in guitar players. Whenever I play this song, I have "Naima" in my mind, and that helps me get the tone and the feeling that I like the most for this particular tune.

The musical stuff:

The main part of the song is built over the following chord progression:

D#7b5 / D dim / FMaj7 / FMaj7 / D#7b5 / D Dim / Cmaj7 / Cmaj7 / G7sus4 / G7sus4 / G / G / FMaj7 / FMaj7

C major and D diminished scales are used.

Chord progression during the bridge is:

Fm (x4) / Am (x4) (repeated twice)

Lead part is built using C major harmonic scale against the Fm chord, and A minor scale against the Am chord.

Although I like the sound of major harmonic scale, I seldom use it. However, in this case I felt that it was the perfect choice to remark the feeling of the song.

In case you do not know about this scale, I´ll try to make it part of your vocabulary by giving you a couple of easy tips on how to use it.

The major harmonic scale is, basically, a major scale (Ionian mode) with a flattened sixth.

In C, that is : C D E F G Ab B

From this scale you can form the following chords:
  • - C major
  • - D minor b5 7 (half diminished)
  • - E minor
  • - F minor
  • - G major
  • - Ab 5# (augmented chord)
  • - B minor
The most important, or, at least, the most frequently used of them it´s the iv (In C Major
harmonic, that would be Fm)

When using it for the first time, consider this:
  • iv chord is very often approached from the IV chord (Fm from F), so it makes a smooth transition from one scale to another.
  • iv chord tends to resolve over the tonic chord.
  • Two very easy ways of introducing this scale into your songs using the iv chord are:
    1. iv IV I at he beginning of a song or fragment (Used, for example, in "All Of Me")
    2. IV iv I at the end of the song or fragment (commonly used by The Beatles, which means that it can be used perfectly in a non-jazz context)
iv chord can be replaced with a Naepolitan sixth chord (bii6) but that´s not common in jazz.

The technical Stuff:

Not much to say about this. Both guitars were recorded with the same settings, using a cheap but trusty zoom 505 pedal (I could not afford any more sophisticated effects by that time...).

The non-musical stuff:

Although it might seem that this is a sad song, that's completely wrong. In fact, it is just the other way round...this is a very happy song. The title says it all: "I Cannot Die Now". As opposed to most people, who think about death just when something bad happens, I only think about it when things are all right. This song is my way of saying "my life is so intense at this moment that it would be really unfair if I died now".

Some of my most intense feelings come out in the happiest moments. I consider myself atheist (safe for some ocassional - and weak - beliefs), but if I think about God that only happens when I am happy. People usually believe in God to ask him something, but I prefer to thank him instead (asumming the he is somehow responsible for the good things that happen to me...). Lennon said that God is a concept by which we can measure our pain. For me, it is more a concept by which I can measure my own joy and happiness.

Well, let's stop here, this is getting too philosophical, and this is supposed to be a blog about jazz... ;-)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Music and language

[Warning: some weird material ahead!]

Since I started playing flamenco guitar, I spend most of my practice time working on my right hand technique, and little, or no time at all, doing left-hand exercises or studying theory. Both my theoretical knowledge and my left-hand technique (developed through all these years of jazz playing )are more than enough for playing flamenco, but those tricky "rasgueados", "picados" and "golpes" are something I still need to practice a lot (I still find it unnatural and rather awkward to play solos - called "falsetas" in flamenco" - without a plectrum!). However, flamenco is more than just the music itself and, of course, much more than just the mere technique. Flamenco, like jazz, is a way of life, a culture, and one needs to inmerse himself in it so as to appreciate the art that lies underneath each note or chord. For this reason, I am also interested in learning the basic flamenco concepts, and I'm trying to learn them as most flamenco players do, that is, without any "classical" (or let's call it "formal") knowledge at all. So I forget that I know about musical notation, throw away all those harmonic concepts that I use when I play jazz, and start completely from scratch. And doing it I am not only introducing myself a little bit more into the amazing realm of flamenco, but also gaining a new point of view over music itself, which gives me some new ideas to think about. Let me share them with you:

There is something in linguistics known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it. The question is: does this apply to music? For example, flamenco players do not have a "formal" musical knowledge (i.e. for most of them, expressions like "tritone substitution" sound greek), but of course they have some kind of knowledge, a rather deep one in fact. And that implies using some specifical jargon to transmit it. Since this jargon is not the same as the "standard" one, one might think that this can have some sort of influence on the music itself, loosely aplying the underlying ideas of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Here is an example. There are two basic scales in flamenco: the "por alto" scale, and the "por medio" scale, which correspond with E phygian dominant and A phrygian dominant scales, respectively. "Por alto" can be translated as "at the top", because the usual fingering for the E major chord involves the lower strings (the lower string is tuned at E, in fact), which are at the top of the neck, and "por medio" means "in the middle", because the A major chords involves fingerings in the "middle" strings. What difference does it make to conceive and name this scales as depending on the position of their roots on the neck of the guitar, and not as depending on the position of that root on the chromatic scale? Moreover, what difference does it make to consider them as "natural" and usual scales and name them as such with "familiar" names, or using such exotic names as E phrygian dominant (which is, indeed, the fifth mode of A harmonic minor, which is itself a A minor scale with a raised seventh (wow!) )? Using the "standard" names, it is clear that both scales are "the same", but with different roots, while the flamenco naming does not give any clue about this relation. Does this have any influence in how the relation between those scales is percieved? Many similar questions might arise when comparing both jargons, since they hardly have anything in common, not only when talking about scales, but also when describing rhythms or techniques, or even some more "ethereal" elements of music, such as feelings or tones.

Since the guitar is the main instrument in flamenco, most of the jargon is constructed upon it, as we have seen with the "por alto" and "por medio" scales, which can also have some influence on the way musicians understand what they play.

I guess most of this thoughts and questions are useless, but it is never a bad idea to think about what one plays and the meaning of it. The more you think when you are not playing, the less you have to think when playing and the more you can feel. And that's what music is all about: feeling. Isn't it?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Jazzereje

Las Ketchup, those three girls that acquired worldwide notoriety thanks to a cheesy pop song with meaningless lyrics inspired by Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's delight", have been designated to represent Spain in the infamous (and lately highly unpopular) Eurovision contest. As for me, those are good news. I hate the contest and have never watched it, but this year I might give it a chance. To be honest, I do not care whether they win or not, but they are more interesting than all the previous participants I can remember. Though I cannot really explain the difference between this band and the countless others that appear and vanish shortly after having released not more than one or two chart-breaking singles, I must say that I like these girls. Do not ask me why, but I like them. It is not that their musical quality is better (in fact, I think it is worse that the average for such a band, since no one expected the initial success and the original songs are cheaply produced), but simply that I somehow fancy their style and the music they sing. Regardless of their lack of musical aptitude, they are at least funny and fresh. And when you do not have enough musical talent, there's no point on pretending that you are a gifted vocalist or player, and it is better to try to add something else to your music which might make it more interesting. It is a matter of honesty, I guess.

Having said that, here you can download a little tune I recorded some time ago, when Las Ketchup were topping the charts with their one and only big smash hit up to date: "Asereje". Mine is entitled "Jazzereje", which should give you an idea of what kind of song it is :-). I recorded it in no more than half an hour, so do not expect a great work. The sound quality is far from good, but, like the original one, it is a funny song to listen to. I never thought about uploading this, but I guess this is a good time to do it. Hope you like it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Autoanalysis. Xiras. Non-melodic tension

I have decided that, if I want to write useful posts about jazz or music in general, there's no better point to start doing it than my own tunes. I might not know a lot about music, but I definitely know how I create my songs and what I feel when I do it, so from today I will try to write a few posts about my own songs, explaining them in detail and using them to analyze the particular characteristics of my own style.

Also, I have always liked to listen or read explanations about the songs I like, not only about their musical intrincacies, but also about how they were born, what they mean, or whatever the author might say about them (I guess that's why I like Cannonball Adderley so much). So, assuming that you all share this interest for everything that surrounds a song, I will try to explain them a bit, hoping that it helps you understand an appreciate them, and also to learn something new.

For this first "analysis", I have chosen Xiras, a song that I composed around 3 years ago, and that you can download here.

The story behind it:

I made a quick trip to Algeciras (for some reason known as Xiras among some of my friends) in a night train. The song evokes this trip, and what happened once we arrived, and is one of the most "visual" ones I have ever written.

The musical stuff:

Among all my songs, Xiras is the one that best demonstrates the kind of musical tension that I like the most for a solo: "non-melodic" tension. What is non-melodic tension? Well, let's see first what is melodic tension. Melodic tension is caused by the notes you play in the melody and their relation to the chords and the harmonic structure of the song. For example, playing C against a C Major chord does not cause tension, but a F# note against that same chord causes melodic tension.

Jazz is a music than contains a lot of melodic tension, which is, no doubt, essential to it, but that does not mean that other types of tension cannot be included. Most jazz tunes (and most jazz players) rely on their knowledge of music theory to create (and release) tension while playing, but it is interesting to add some other kinds of tension as well, other kinds that are not so "theoretical", but instead based on your particular perception of the song and the phrases you are improvising. This includes, for example, rhytmic tension and other similar concepts, such as using dynamics as I said in a previous post. Remember that ear training is not only about learning how to recognize intervals, but much more, it is about learning how to listen to music and understand it.

There are no exact rules about how to create this so-called non-melodic tension, or at least they are not so "mathematically" exact. For example, as I said, playing F# against a plain C Major chord creates melodic tension, but it is not so simple to give a rule-of-thumb about non-melodic one. Usually, higher notes add more tension than lower ones, an fast phrases more than slow ones, but that is not always true. And that is not the only way to create it!. For example, off-tempo phrases might add tension as well.

So, you might be wondering, how to learn more about non-melodic tension and include it in my solos? Well, you just have to feel it. For a first example, try listening to this song of mine. Listening to it you will surely spot the part in which there is a more "intense" tension. However, this is just a very simple example, and you will find better ones in other players. This time, I am not going to recommend you to listen to jazz players, but instead I will propose players from other very different genres, since I think they constitute better examples.
  • - The first one you should check is The Edge (U2), who is, without any kind of doubt, the master of non-melodic tension. Check even his rhythm parts...Of course, his unmistakable sound owes a lot to his trademark use of delay settings (you can read a brilliant article about it here), but leaving all those delays and effects aside, he is still a very accomplished player.
  • The second one should be Joe Perry (Aerosmith). His solos in the "Get a Grip" album are really interesting.
  • The guitarist playing lead guitar in Natalie Merchant's "Tigerlily" album. I do not know his name, since there are several ones listed in the credits, but he's got a great taste and definitely knows how to build great solos.
  • Paul rodgers. His early work with Free is a also brilliant example of how to create tension.
  • Neil Young. (when not playing acoustic). I do not really like him as a solo guitar player (I love him as a composer and singer-songwriter), but his style is interesting.
  • Neal Schon. Specially when not playing with Journey.
  • Steve Lukather.
  • ...and many more rock players.
To practice a bit, record a simple chord progression in C major and improvise some licks using only three or four notes from the C major scale. Since your harmonic and melodic posibilities are limited, you will have to look for some different ideas (not only tension, but other melodic "resources") to make your soloing interesting. Or just play along some U2 songs trying not to play more than what The Edge plays...

Technical notes:

There are three guitars in this recording. Two electric ones with exactly the same setting (my Strato, using the bridge pickup, with a light distortion and an Eric Johnson-like sound), one of them playing the rythm part and another one playing the lead one. A clean sound is used in the outro. Both of them are processed with my usual Rocktron Chameleon, and were recorded directly through line input, using Chamaleon's built-in amp simulator. The third guitar is an acoustic one, recorded with no effects at all, also through line input. Some reverb was added afterwards.