• Titus Max

Michael Brecker Live solo Analysis : "Song for my father"

Updated: Jan 11

Michael Brecker solos are an invaluable source of material and great ideas for any musician, not just saxophone players. In his own words :

“ Pretty much my playing is generally mimicking other things I’ve heard. I’m not tremendously original. I listen to things and then I learn them or I hear them enough and they get into my psyche and then I distort the hell out of them.”

While it's hard to agree when Brecker says he is not tremendously original, he is also well known for transcribing material from guitarists as he was really intrigued by the way guitar players bent notes ".. that sound in between the major and minor third "

Anyway this Brecker solo starting at 2:16 of this July 16 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival performance is great to analyse some of his chord/scale choices and his angle on this classic standard :

I am making things easier by linking an online official transcription ( in Bb but easily movable to concert pitch ) ;

This solo really contains lots of ideas ! from bluesy licks to altered movements to lydian dominant to major on minor .. chromatics and more.

What i usually do is put my lens on the phrases that stand out while on the contrary going faster over the classic pentatonic or diatonic licks. Even though some of those pentatonic licks are brilliant, i spend more time analysing the parts that require a bit more effort and can be more ambiguous.

Brecker is well known for his outside playing and using major on minor and here i'm interested in trying to justify harmonically some of his choices in order to having them magically pop up somewhere in my language !

BAR 1 in the trascription is at 2:16 in the video and starts with the quarter notes ( crotchets ) line in F7 used as a pickup at the end of the turnover. The line then goes on as a classic min ii-V-I phrase resolving to Fmin.

Let's go on choosing some of the phrases that need more explanation, even though everything in this solo is super interesting !

BARS 9-10 : Hear this fast run over Fm7 ! Isn't that amazing ? It sounds like one of those mechanical blurbs that saxophone players make but can also be analysed and put in context. While having a Dorian flavour you can hear the #4 so we could call it a Dorian #4 phrase over Fm7.

You can hear this sound in Erik Satie's Gnossienne, and happens to be in the same key.

In his Gnossiennes 1, 2 and 3 Satie experiments with scales containing an augmented 4th. An augmented 4th is a interval spanning 6 semitones and in Jazz is commonly referred to as a tritone (= 3 whole tones). The interval is symmetric and stays the same (6 semitones) when inverted, although its name changes from augmented 4th (C up to F#) to a diminished 5th (F# up to a C). On the keyboard all tritones are combinations of one white key with one black key, except the tritone F - B (or B - F) which consist of two white keys.

Unlike the tritone (b5) in the blues scale, which, flanked by both a perfect 4th and perfect 5th (F - Gb - G), produces a sensuous "blue note" sound, the augmented 4th, which actually replaces the normal perfect 4th, has a very bright clean, surprising contemporary sound. In Jazz it became very popular around the Bebop era (50+ years after Satie's experimentations), and famously used by the (also rather eccentric) Jazz pianist and composer Thelonius Monk. Excerpt from :

BARS 21 22 23 : This phrase can be seen as classic C altered run resolving to an AbMaj7 arpeggio which is a classic superimposition over Fmin7 ( min ii-V-I )

BAR 30 : One way to explain this could be to see it as Ab Aeolian run that connects to a D ascending arpeggio.

BAR 31 : Descending triads Em to D to C. A very cool way to play outside using a fast descending triad.

BAR 32 : Working around Fm arpeggio. Moving in and out of a static chord mixing Calt and Fmin

BAR 34 : Descending triads E to D to C on Fm.

BAR 37 : Lydian dominant run on Db7

BAR 38 : A cool chromatic movement over C dominant then altered resolving to Fm.

BAR 39 : Wicked arpeggio phrase that aims to stress the Maj7 on top of a min7 chord , resolving also on the min7 on bar 40.

BARS 41 42 43 : Eb7 ostinato lick that gets repeated and then goes up one semitone to resolve back. Classic example of the " going away from home and resolve back " flavour.

BARS 45 46 : Ascending line ( very probably doing a pattern here ) that then reverses into descending major arpeggios ( E to D to C to Eb ) and then resolves into Fmin7.

Aside from learning to play the whole solo on your instrument that could be a really good practice in terms of muscle memory and stamina it's also really important to rationalise and internalise each one of the choices explained here above, link them to your harmony knowledge thus being able to use any piece of language in other standards and progressions in different keys.

This is very different than mechanically repeating licks as you could even think about modifying every phrase to your taste while keeping his function intact ( for example just modifying the rhythm structure of an altered lick to suit more the feel you're playing on, or reversing a pentatonic lick ).

So enjoy this analysis and do yourself a favour by listening of more Brecker stuff !

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