Jul 23, 2013

Berkeley to Brazil by Bicycle

My old friend Bira Almeida (Mestre Acordeon) will be biking 14,000 miles, from Berkeley to Brazil, in a multi-faceted cultural/musical project that will ultimately benefit at-risk kids in Brazil.

Bira's trip will take about a year. I'll post updates and/or links about his ride from time to time.

Please check out the project website (click on the flag icon for language). If you would like to contribute, here is a link to a "crowdfunding" campaign that will be active for the next 4 days.

Below is an excerpt from the project website with some background information about Bira and the "B2B" project:

Mestre Acordeon (Ubirajara Almeida) born in Salvador, Bahia Brazil, is considered a living legend in the Afro-Brazilian martial art known as Capoeira. He is one of the oldest living graduated students from the school of legendary Mestre Bimba (1899-1974), who is actively teaching, training, studying and promoting Capoeira.

A visionary, musician, researcher, author and producer, Mestre Acordeon has played a significant role in the evolution of Capoeira in the last 50 years. Acordeon opened his first school in 1962, created the Grupo Folclórico da Bahia in 1964; taught Capoeira in São Paulo during 1968/69; and inspired an entire generation of capoeiristas, establishing himself as one of the most influential capoeiristas in Brazil.

In the late seventies, with 22 years of active experience, Mestre Acordeon brought Capoeira to the international stage, and is credited as being one of the pioneers to have introduced Capoeira to the United States. Recently he celebrated 35 years of teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area. His organization, the Capoeira Arts Foundation functions as an umbrella for the schools affiliated with the United Capoeira Association, and it is the base for all of the projects related to Mestre Acordeon.

Mestre Acordeon will commemorate his 70th birthday by riding his bicycle on a 14,000-mile journey from Berkeley to the source of his eternal inspiration: his hometown of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. This epic and historic journey, called Project B2B-Joga Capoeira (Berkeley to Bahia), will start September 1st and take about a year to complete. It will allow Acordeon to immerse himself in local cultures: customs, traditions, values, music and dance. He will study the social significance of Capoeira in these diverse communities. The project will encompass populations in 11 countries (including Brazil) and more than 32 cities. This story will be told by a Capoeira icon who has lived for his art for over half a century.

Material collected during the B2B trip will be documented into four distinct cultural products:

  • "Las Americas Cantan la Capoeira", a collaborative CD of world music, using Capoeira songs recorded during the course of the trip with participation of capoeiristas who are musically creative and open to using their own cultural influences in this work.

  • "Flat Tires and One Berimbau", a documentary film that will fuse historical footage, anecdotes of Mestre Acordeon's Capoeira practice, and stories of Brazilians and non-Brazilians, as they find solace in the art form regardless of their heritage.

  • "B2B Joga Capoeira" a television and/or web series with programs that touch upon Capoeira and its expansion in the Americas. People, culture, music, and language of each region traveled will be highlighted.

  • "Lyrics of the Capoeira Path". Acordeon will use the lyrics of his recorded songs to expound on the path he has taken in capoeira. He will share reflections acquired over 55 years of active participation in his art form.

About Capoeira
For those unfamiliar, Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form that involves movement, music, and elements of practical philosophy. A Capoeira player experiences the essence of the art in a physical game called "jogo de Capoeira" (game of Capoeira) or simply "jogo." During this ritualized combat, two capoeiristas (players of Capoeira) exchange movements of attack and defense in a constant flow while observing rituals and proper aesthetics. During the jogo, the capoeiristas explore their strengths and weaknesses, fears and fatigue in a sometimes frustrating, but nevertheless enjoyable, challenging, and constant process of personal expression, self-reflection, and growth.

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:

Jul 4, 2013

Changes for Ten Bells, Part 2

This is a followup to my previous post, Percival Price: Changes for Ten Bells.

After reading more about "change-ringing," I think I have a clearer idea what was on that list of bell patterns that Price wrote out in 1931. For reference, here's the document again:

First, here is a beautifully concise definition of "change ringing" from the North American Guild of Change Ringers:
Change Ringing is a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.
The Guild's website has a very nice presentation of the mathematical aspect of this art. As generally practiced, it has to do with ringing extensive permutations of a set of bells (the set is called a "ring of bells"). The resulting extended sequence in the "peal" (performance) is not random, but intricately patterned, according to an exact method. 

The rhythm of the bells will be unvarying. The interval sequences will not be at all chosen for musicality, but will occur however is dictated by the permutation method. Thus, the musical content is quite randomized.

This sounds like a composition method that might have appealed (pun not intended) to John Cage, doesn't it? Cage did, in fact, compose a randomized piece called Music of Changes (1951). The title is in reference to the I Ching ("Book of Changes"), but I have to wonder...

Anyway, back to Percival Price. The sheet he wrote out is titled "Musically Interesting Changes for Ten Bells." This is a reference to the fact that most "changes" in change-ringing are perhaps not so musically interesting. Price lists eight patterns, each of which has a distinct "musical" interval sequence, with performance instructions in the margins.

These patterns come under the heading of "Named Changes" (aka "Called Changes," or "Call changes"), and are generally well-known in the world of bell-ringing. See this Wikipedia explanation. Call changes tend to have amusing and very British names - see this list.

I don't think that Price's document implies the traditional playing of permutations, at all.

Rather, this seems to be a sort of composition by Price, built out of "Named Changes" selected for their musicality, and put into a meaningful order. He includes specific instructions for the performers (obviously, the performers would be a "ring" of ten bells): In the margin, "Play each change twice." Below the changes, "Conclude with Queens and Rounds." At the bottom of the sheet, "N.B. Let strokes average 200 to 100 per minute, according to size of bells."

As the piece would begin with Rounds and Queens, it would finish symmetrically with Queens and Rounds. Altogether there would be 10 "changes," each played twice, or 20 sequences of 10 notes each. There would be a 1-stroke rest between each sequence, I believe, making 220 strokes total including the rests. At 200 to 100 per minute, that's a playing time of just over 1 minute at minimum, to just over 2 minutes maximum. That seems like some pretty furious bell-ringing!

Jul 1, 2013

Percival Price: Changes for Ten Bells, Part 1

I found this document at a sheet music sale, when a local community music school was clearing out unwanted material. Perhaps it had been donated by a retired local musician, or perhaps by a family clearing up an estate. It's titled "Musically Interesting Changes for Ten Bells," and signed "Percival Price, Peace Tower Ottawa, 2/July/31" (that's 82 years ago, tomorrow!).

Percival Price is legendary in the world of carillon players (carillonneurs). This document turned out to be a snapshot of a small but interesting corner of music history. 

In case you don't know what a carillon is, here is Wikipedia:
...a musical instrument that is typically housed in the bell tower (belfry) of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are serially played to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A traditional manual carillon is played by striking a keyboard — the stick-like keys of which are sometimes called batons — with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet.
Since these "changes" are for just 10 bells, it's not carillon music, but rather "change-ringing," to be performed by 10 ringers, one for each bell (see the last video, below). Some pretty extensive information on change-ringing can be found in this Wikipedia article.

The Ottawa Peace Tower carillon was inaugurated on July 1, 1927 by Price, who had consulted on its design. Price was in charge of the Peace Tower carillon from 1927-1939. Here's Wikipedia on the Peace Tower carillon:
Accompanying the Peace Tower clock is a 53-bell carillon, conceived by an act of parliament as a commemoration of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I, and was inaugurated on 1 July 1927, to mark the 60th anniversary of Confederation. The bells weigh from 4.5 kg to the 10,160 kg (10 lbs to 23,399 lbs) bourdon, all cast and tuned by Gillett & Johnston in Croydon, England, and which are used by the Dominion Carillonneur for both regular recitals and to toll to mark major occasions such as state funerals and Remembrance Day. Each bell is stationary and is struck by its internal clapper, itself mechanically linked to the carillon keyboard, to create a note, a particular one on the music scale for each bell. In this way, the carillon plays similarly to a piano, allowing the carillonneur to change the sounds by varying the way he or she strikes the keys.

The date in the upper right corner is June 30, 1931; the date below Price's signature in July 2. 

How do you suppose this piece of paper came to be in Mountain View, California, 82 years later?

How about this scenario: In 1931 a young musician with an interest in the carillon, and perhaps who was a bell-ringer in a church with 10 bells, makes a pilgrimage to Ottawa for some lessons with Price. They have a nice visit over a few days; Price writes out the sheet on June 30. The student sticks around for the festivities on July 1 (Canada Day - "Canada's birthday"). Undoubtedly, Price would have played a carillon concert. The next day, before the student leaves, he/she asks Price to autograph the sheet. Many years pass; the musician ends up in the Bay Area. He/she passes away, and the family donates his/her sheet music to the community music school. It gets culled out for the sale, because the person doing the sorting doesn't think it's worth keeping. I look at it, find it somewhat interesting, and buy it, along with a pile of other music. It sits in a stack of music for some years, until I finally take a closer look.

Happy Canada Day!

For a followup to this post, click here: Changes for Ten Bells, Part 2

Here's Price inaugurating the Peace Tower carillon in 1927:

Another composition by Price:

This 10-bell sequence seems to be "Rounds," the first of the changes on Price's sheet: