Jul 15, 2013

"E.S.P." (Wayne Shorter)

In this post I'll take a look at "E.S.P.", one of Wayne Shorter's classic 1960s tunes. I'll assume that you have a lead sheet to refer to - you can find it in the old Real Book "5th edition," the Hal Leonard Real Book "6th Edition," or the Sher New Real Book vol. 1. There is a chord chart at the end of this post (chords mostly as in the New Real Book).

The melody begins with 3 notes (C, G, D) moving down and up by fourths. This non-triadic shape produces a sort of floating feeling, and does not, in itself, clearly define a tonic. In bars 7-11 new notes are added, setting up a D minor pentatonic tonality; bar 12 adds a Bb, suggesting D natural minor; bars 13-16 add the note B, suggesting D dorian. The second ending adds the note Eb, a suggestion of sub V. To my ear, both the first and second endings of the melody finish in D minor.

With chords added, we hear this piece as being in F major, but I think the F-major-ness is induced by the creative harmonic backing for a basically D-minor melody. Note that the melodic range is from low D to high D, except for one Eb high point near the end. The melody is harmonized in ways that set up other tonal centers, causing the D-minor-ish melody notes to come across often as extensions (color tones), often as members of non-D minor tonalities.

A note about terminology: Measures 1-2 and 5-6 are harmonized with E7alt, or E7(#5, #9), depending which lead sheet you are looking at. The Sher New Real Book and old RB both show E7alt; the booklet that comes with the Jamey Aebersold play-a-long and the Hal Leonard RB both show E7(#5,#9). The Hal Leonard book The New Best of Wayne Shorter shows E7#9 for the head (oddly, the chords printed over the solo section consistently show E7b5 for these bars; I suspect that this may be a mistake). To many musicians, E7#9 would imply a supporting #5 in the voicing.

As I understand it, both Aebersold and Sher had access to Shorter's original chart. I'd guess that the chart originally called for E7(#5,#9), and that Sher made a decision to express this chord as "alt." The term "alt" usually means (#5, #9), but implies that the chord might also be expressed in other ways that involve a b5, #5, b9, and/or #9. The term "alt" also implies that one would play an "altered" scale over it (AKA diminished whole tone, or superlocrian). I think that the "alt" approach might take us to a somewhat different place than the composer intended.

In this interview, Herbie Hancock recalls that Wayne's score for "Nefertiti" showed chord voicings, but no chord symbols. It's not clear from the interview whether this was Wayne's usual way of writing scores in the 1960s, or if it was only done that way for "Nefertiti." On the other hand, the frontispiece for the Shorter biography Footprints is a lead sheet in Wayne's writing for the tune "Footprints," with just melody, bass line, and chord symbols, no voicings. This "Footprints" chart shows two of the chords in the turnaround as "B+9+5" and "A+5+9+11" - no use of "alt." (No "7" in these symbols either, BTW. I don't know if this was intentional.)

With Shorter's harmony added under the melody, the generally "D minor" melody notes take on different resonances and different functions. In mm 1-2 and 5-6, played over E7(#5, #9), the C and G come across as #5 and #9. In mm 3-4 the G and D, played over Fmaj7, come across as 9 and 13. In bars 7-8 (played over Ebmaj7#11), the A and F become #11 and 9. In bar 10 (over Ebmaj7#11) the A becomes #11. In the first bar of the second ending, the melody note G (over Db7#11) sounds as a #11.

The chord progression directs the melody into different key centers:
mm 1-4:  The E7(#5, #9) is a substitute dominant (not a tritone sub, though) preparing the Fmaj7 in mm 3-4. You could look at it as a sort of inverted C7#5; it functions the same way, as a V seeking resolution; resolution is to Fmaj7. F major is the tune's overall key.
mm 4-8:  the E7(#5, #9) is repeated, but this time resolves into a new tonal center, Ebmaj7#11 (Eb lydian), in tritone-sub fashion. 
mm 9-12: The Ebmaj7#11 drops again (in tritone-sub fashion) to D7, then moves chromatically up until it reaches Fmaj7, then drops to Ebmaj7, to set up the Dm7 that follows. 
mm 13-16 (first ending):  The Ebmaj7 resolves back down to Dm7; this sounds like a D minor key center to me. G7 could be a dorian IV chord. However, it is also true that the entire first ending is a standard way to cadence in F major (VI, V of V, II, sub V). 
mm 31-34 (second ending):  Db7#11 is sub V of V in F, Gm7 is II. In Bar 31, Gb7 is sub V, with Dbm7 inserted in front of it, to set up a short II V in Cb. Nothing unusual here, really.

How to solo over this? Of course, that is entirely up to you.

Wayne's solo from Miles Davis' album E.S.P. (transcribed in "The New Best of Wayne Shorter") is fairly chord-oriented, using a number of 4-eighth-note "digital" patterns (e.g., 1235). Miles, in his solo, seems to be acknowledging the chords and structure, but playing more chromatically. I don't hear chord scales.

You might try D minor pentatonic (= F major pentatonic) over the whole tune. Use your ear, and it will work.

An intervallic/motivic approach could be appropriate, and a good excuse to use some "fourths" ideas.

If you relate to the "chord-scale" approach, most of the tune can be boiled down to one or another type of F scale:
mm 1-2: F melodic minor (E alt)
mm 3-4: F major
mm 5-6: F melodic minor (E alt)
mm 7-8: F mixolydian (Eb lydian)
m 9: F dorian b2 (D alt) (consistent with the D7#9 shown in some charts)
m 10: F mixolydian (Eb lydian)
m 11: F melodic minor (E alt)
m 12: F major to F mixolydian (Eb lydian)
first ending:
m 13: F lydian (D dorian)
m 14: F lydian (G mixolydian)
m 15: F major (G dorian)
m 16: F phrygian (Gb lydian)
second ending:
m. 29: F locrian #2 (Db lydian dominant) or F whole tone
m 30: F major (G dorian)
m 31: F# mixolydian (B major)
m 32: F major
This last approach seems excessively fussy to me, but it's one way to use a chord-scale approach.

Or, similarly, you might just think in F major, with notes added or altered here and there, as dictated by the chords.

Beyond all that, though, I feel that this tune has a rather "out" character, that will justify pretty much any direction that your solo might take. Here's an excerpt from a Wayne interview with Eric Nemeyer in January 2000, regarding the song "Dolores," another Shorter tune recorded by Miles' band in the '60s (I used this quote in a previous post):
Wayne: "...we were actually tampering with something called DNA in music in a song. So you just do the DNA and not the whole song. You do the characteristics. You say, "Okay, I will do the ear of the face, I will do the left side of the face. You do the right side of the face..."
EN: "You are looking at maintaining the flavor and character of the tune without necessarily being bound by the harmonic structure that was underlying the melody?"
Wayne: "Yeah. Because...in those days we were talking about getting rid of the bar lines."
EN: "Yeah. and was Herbie Hancock's accompanying - do you know if he was looking at it the same way? Or was it just meant for the whole thing to be loose and 'let's use our ears and see what goes'?"
Wayne: "Yeah, that's all..."

Some links:

A transcription of Wayne's solo on the Miles E.S.P. album (notated with some awkward accidentals). The transcription in The New Best of Wayne Shorter is mostly cleaner reading, but is transposed for Bb instruments.

The E.S.P. track from the Miles album, with Shorter's aforementioned solo.

Here's the chord chart:


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