Sunday 25 November 2018

Triadic systems

Here's something that I thought I'd post about triads for improvisation, after speaking several years ago - via the net - to David Valdez about triadic improvisation. I should point out that this is not my own idea (originally), this is something I learnt from John Ruocco way back in 1989. In fact there's a little bit of a back story behind how I came across this system. I remember I was introduced to John after seeing him play in the Travers jazz club, which no longer exists, by a good friend. My friend, Bernard Dossin, suggested I speak to John and ask for a few lessons. He kindly agreed an told me to come by the next morning. John used to stay at the club after gigs, so I met him the next day up in the kitchen of the club. He must have seen I was just a beginner, but after showing me a few basic patterns which we played through, he gave me a piece of paper with his triad ideas written out on. Naturally it meant nothing to me, but I copied it down anyway. I spent the next year or so showing it to various local jazz musicians who didn't see what it was, or how it could be used. After some time I did gradually start to see what it was, but had by that time lost interest in the whole thing.

It was only in the following years when saxophonist Walt Weisskopf published his book on triadic, or intervalic improvisation, that this became a really widely practised system. When I say 'widely practised' I mean that everyone had the book, or had a teacher that had studied with Jerry Bergonzi or Walt Weisskopf and C°. Anyone into John Coltrane will immediately know that he'd been using this system (as can be heard on many albums) and which he developed to become more and more densely sounding in his later years. John's (Ruocco) way of looking at it is almost mathematical, he leaves no stone unturned. If you think he didn't use some of the crazy sound combinations you'd be wrong. I have some bootleg recordings with him playing some of the more out combination stuff, which sound great!

Ruocco Triads by on Scribd

So, how does it work? Well, if you're a seasoned jazzer you'll need no explanation, but for anyone just starting I'll save you a lot of head scratching and explain the basics, you'll need to download the chart and look through it (naturally). I'm not going to go into detail about where to use all of them, but more what the principle is. Firstly, John has looked through all the possibilities of combing two triads, in any shape major, minor, diminished or augmented. If, when you put two triads together, there's one note the same, then he eliminates it. As an example C major and Db minor both have an 'E' in them, so they're out! After that John just looked at every one to see what colour it makes against another triad and then linked them to the chord sounds he liked, or could justify harmonically.

Triad Pair Examples by on Scribd

Above is an example of just one of the ideas. You'll notice I've taken a Dominant 7th chord (G in this case) and used the beginning few examples of Johns first column. The classic use of triads every musician knows is 1 over flat 7 - in this example that mean G over F. This equals chord tones: 1, 3, 5 over b7, 9, 11. Its followed by G (1) over  E augmented (6+) which = 1, 3, 5 over 13, b9, 11. Notice how he makes the 6 triad augmented, otherwise you'd have a repeated note, or two times a 'B' (G, B, D and E, G#, B). I then follow the Maj' column down using each example - stopping at the flat 5 just so the page isn't too long. After that it's pretty simple, if one follows through the example. 

On John's sheet he tries 1/major 7, but I've left this one out (although it does work), just so one can see the context. 

My example uses a dominant 7th chord, but in reality you could use any chord. As an example, on a F major chord, why not try A minor over B diminished = 3, 5, Maj 7 over #11, 13/6, Tonic. As you'll notice, the problem is there's just so many possibilities. But, if you look through them and try them out you'll soon see/hear which ones you like, or what type of dissonances you can handle over a chord progression. It's also important to remember to look at them in different ways, to be played in intervals, with approach tones, odd combinations of 3 notes against 4 notes (ex: G, B, D, + F, A, C, F), making them rhythmically interesting.  

I hope you have fun, and, if there's any questions, post them in the comments section below.   

Here's a few links to the excellent David Valdez's posts on the subject. You'll get plenty of good ideas here and here also.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Music for Adults: Part 1

It's been a long time since I've posted anything here. I could blame a new job in part, but more simply I guess it was just laziness. Anyhow in the meanwhile I've been mulling over an idea, for the past year, which concerns music for adults, or to put it another way: "What can an adult listen to, whilst developing and discovering new music?" It does seem an easy question to answer, but many friends of mine still listen to, and talk about, groups and artists that they've been listening to since they were teenagers. Its not uncommon to see how old favourites, due maybe to nostalgia, remain at the top of many peoples lists. If one reads the commentaries on Amazon you'll soon notice how people don't appreciate an artist who changes direction!

Naturally, not all people stay with their teen and university years listening habits. Many develop further by becoming (as an example) jazz fanatics, classical buffs or maybe folk and world music fans. But, for the majority it has been hard to understand the success of the X-Factor generation of music celebrities, be they good musicians or not. It's interesting to note that much of today's - popular - music business is based around the individual. If one looks back at the seventies and eighties lists of top 20 stars there seems to be 'in general' more bands, rather than individual stars. We do have Maroon 5 and Pentatonix, but they are the exception rather than the rule. For those interested take a brief look at the website Weekly Top 40 (*) and click on any year between 1970 to 1989, then compare with (ex) 2012. You immediately notice the difference in the number of individual stars as opposed to groups in the 70s and 80s. But even so, today's idols such as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Justin Bieber or Kanye West, to name but a few, are a long way musically from the past glories of David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Annie Lennox or Aretha Franklin. 

Smash Hits (circa 1983)

Anyhow, I'm not here to judge such artists, and they don't appear on any of my top albums of the year. The reason in general is that they (in my humble opinion) lack a certain inventiveness and individuality. That doesn't mean that all today's stars are blank pieces of paper, CeeLo Green (aka Gnarls Barkley) or the excellent Hozier both have not only great voices, but also mature and strong material. However, many, as far as I can see, are more busy making mainstream music which follows fashion rather than looking for creative directions which push at the boundaries. However, having said that I guess the series 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die wouldn't agree!

The idea of my 'Music for Adults' is to introduce, in a short presentation form, some albums of artists working today who produce music that although not necessarily mainstream (in some cases), gives the listener something to savour musically and intellectually. It is also a list of suggestions for those who are still interested to find alternative but satisfying musical directions other than that of their past teenage years heroes or heroines. So, without further ado I'd like to start with a recent album (which interestingly my brother introduced me to - that's what are older brothers are for):

Darlingside: Birds Say (2015)

I chose this as the first record to present, probably the most recent record (and group) I've heard that conjures up the past by its sound and subject matter. Darlingside is a quartet who sound somewhere between the Beach Boys meet Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. That isn't a put down, in fact I'd say in this case it's a recommendation. Darlingside have produced a record with very catchy folk-rock melodies and tight harmony vocals that - as I said - hark back to another period yet remain thoroughly modern.

The bands sound is made up of a very simple line up (instrumentally), which is probably what makes the music sound so pure. With the various members just using acoustic instrumentation, except for a bass guitar, the group keeps everything down to a bare minimum - I particularly like the idea of someone stomping on the bass drum like a one-man-band. The album is full of great catchy melodies, check out "White Horses", "Birds Say" and "Harrison Ford" to get an idea of the sound and melodic direction of Darlingside.       

The band: Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo, vocals), Auyon Mukharji (mandolin, violin, vocals), Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello, vocals), David Senft (bass, kick drum, vocals)

The band website can be found here: 

* = An excellent site with plenty of interesting figures such as album charts, top artists of a period, etc.
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