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LESSONS INDEX

Uncle Roy
Steve Khan original as played on his recording
CASA LOCO - 1983

 
by Steve Khan

Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

Of the four Eyewitness recordings, there's no question, in my view, that "CASA LOCO" is truly the fan favorite. Recorded during 1983, it took our approach to music-making to another level as it: [1] introduced the vocal talents of percussionist Manolo Badrena and; [2] introduced the full usage of Anthony Jackson's 6-string Contrabass guitar. Together these elements added new textures and flavor to our already extended song forms. Many would point to the 12:32 title track, "Casa Loco" with Steve Jordan's brilliant drum solo; or "Some Sharks" which features the relentless bass work(with one of his 'signature' sounds, that of the "pick & flanger") of Anthony Jackson. Others might point to the more quirky pieces: "The Suitcase," "The Breakaway," or our deconstruction of the Pyramids' surfing classic, "Penetration." For me, when all is said and done, no piece on this recording, perhaps in all the recorded work of this group, stands out like "Uncle Roy." Other than the 'sweetening' of my overdubbed 'Strat'(with a volume pedal) to enhance the chordal textures with harmonic clusters, everything was performed live, one take, and one take only. If you only listen and consider the brilliance of Anthony Jackson's bass playing and Manolo Badrena's other worldly percussion, that's enough to demonstrate how very special this performance was.

As we were preparing for the recording, we still rehearsed once or twice per week at Steve Jordan's downtown loft near the Chelsea area of Manhattan, that is to say, New York City. Some days I don't know exactly what we accomplished, but we certainly laughed a lot and there exists some classic quotes on our rehearsal CSTEs from those days. When I brought in "Uncle Roy" to work on, as always, I had some very clear ideas about what I was looking for, but, in working with three other very head-strong personalities, my instructions, or 'suggestions,' were to be, in the end, completely ignored. I can tell you with complete assurance that I told Steve Jordan: "Listen Steve, this is kind of an Elvin Jones thing, O.K.?" He listened, and then gave me a look which seemed to say, "Fo'get it, you ain't gonna hear that.....but here, check this out!" And, of course, what he did play has become one of the most imitated drum approaches in recent memory. Firstly, he turned off his snares and approached the groove element by beating the living crap out of his ride cymbal. In the end, that actually gave me the kind of texture I was looking for because a ride cymbal with 'sizzles' in it is such a huge part of the Elvin Jones sound. So, I suppose, at least in part, I got some of what I was hoping for, but truly, I got much more than I could have ever hoped for.

My instructions to Anthony weren't really quite as clear because, for all the [I] and [A] sections, all I described for him was that this was simply an Eb minor pedal. Harmonically speaking, each of the triads, which precedes an Ebm7(sus) voicing of one form or another, could easily be seen as an extended form of a Bb7(alt.) chord. To be more specific, the G-triad would form part of a Bb7(13b9) chord; the E-triad would form part of a Bb7(b9b5); and the C-triad would form a Bb7(13/9b5). What you also see and hear is the usage of upper neighbor relationships(bar 1), and common tone relationships(bar 3) as well. In bar 4, you can see that the relationship of the top voice goes down a minor-third which should be seen as a very bluesy interval. This is pretty much true for bar 7 as well where the top voice ascends by a whole step, another interval which could be viewed as having a bluesy feeling to it.

A
s always, here, you are presented with a lead sheet, and what you now see is far more than what I initially wrote for Anthony in those sections. You are now looking at a composite. And it's a composite of the the recorded performance, but also additions we made after live performances. I have attempted to transcribe bits and pieces of what Anthony played, but where sections were repeated, obviously I couldn't put in everything. No matter what, this just shows you, in part, his brilliance as a player, as a music-maker. Truly, in this regard, a bassist without peer. I remember consulting with Anthony during the process of assembling all our written music for the book, "GUITAR WORKSHOP SERIES: STEVE KHAN"(Warner Bros.), which was really rather poorly titled, and should have been called: "THE EYEWITNESS SONGBOOK," because that's what it was. Anyway, when I was writing out "Uncle Roy," I asked Anthony, "What should I write down to represent the bass part?" And so he begrudgingly gave me a few little suggestions, but basically told me after the first couple of bars, "Oh, just say, continue à la Jamerson." In Anthony's mind, his approach to a piece like this, perhaps to almost anything, is a tribute to one of his great heroes, Motown bassist supreme, James Jamerson. In addition to Anthony's incredible rhythmic touch on the instrument, you would have to include his usage of space, and his gorgeous and full long notes. Playing with Anthony is a constant conversation, a dialogue, and one must always remain alert. I think we have a wonderful musical partnership because my approach allows him the space and the harmonic flexibility to be himself at all times. Virtually every voicing I play, because they are purposefully vague/shadowy, could be harmonized in any number of different ways and Anthony always makes the most of this freedom.
As we travel through the song form, we again play [A] but this time we take a 2nd Ending and play [A3]. On the recorded version, the line you now see at bar 3 of the [A3] was only played by the guitar, but, as we prepred this tune for live performances, Anthony wanted to double the line with me. And so, you now have it written in as we later performed it. This, in turn, brings us through [B2] and the addition of [B3] which serves as a transition to a new section which, for the purposes of this tune, is our 'bridge,' our release. What makes this performance so successful is the group's usage of exaggerated dynamics with each section having its own ceiling and basement. In our case, some of this was accomplished by sound musical 'instincts' and in other cases, it was done by group discussion.

Letter [C] is of special interest because I don't think it could be performed without the Contrabass guitar and it's upper register. The section is really just an interlude, a rather long crescendo leading us back to [I2]. I believe that almost all the double-stops I wrote for Anthony were performed on his 'G' and 'C'-strings. Mainly it all contributes to making a unique sounding clustered texture as we both performed it using our volume pedals and dialing up each voicing. If you were to experiment with this section on a keyboard, it would sound fine, and it was actually composed that way. Just remember that the guitar voicings would come down an octave and the bass double-stops would be played where you see them. When we do arrive at [I2] Anthony and Steve Jordan are in full flight, and the group is bashing which leads us to the [Tag], a 'rocket' or send-off into the guitar solo at [D]. The [Tag] line is really just a long guitar/bass unison which paraphrases part of the [A] melody and lands on the false cadence of Emaj7(#4) which is held out until the solo begins.

F
or me, this particular solo section embodies everything that's wonderful about my experiences as part of this group for it should not really be viewed so much as "guitar solo" but more as a group improvisation, a group conversation which is perhaps led by the guitar but not much more than that. How can I best describe what it was like to be playing within a musical texture such as this? Perhaps it could be said that it's like walking into a very, very old house, which has no electricity, after midnight and being told that somewhere on the first or second floor are some candles. Then you fumble around in the dark hoping to find them, but, sometimes bumping into things which appear seemingly out of nowhere. Maybe the better visual image is that of walking into an unexplored cave for the first time?

Firstly, how can I describe in words what Anthony brings to all this? Perhaps words like: sinister; ominous, prowling; lurking; skulking; hiding; stalking; searching; probing, pure evil. For those of you who have the full performance on the recording, you can hear how his usage of long tones, as the solo begins, gives me the room and the freedom to create something melodic, something connected to what has come before during the composed sections. Without Anthony providing that kind of support, it would not have been as effective. And what about the textures of Manolo? Words like: eerie; spooky; frightening; startling, strange, funny, and science fiction come to mind. How about Manolo's comical description of his own playing: "I'm the Puerto Rican 'Spike' Jones!" Almost anything you hear as keyboard-like is actually Manolo and his battery of traditional and/or very odd percussion instruments. Whistles and gongs, the screaming and the yelling, all performed before a microphone, which then feeds those 'natural sounds' into some kind of a digital delay, where it is then warped into another dimension with the spontaneous and random turning of a dial. Remarkable, truly remarkable! Together, Anthony and Manolo created a texture which I will never forget and I remain proud that "Uncle Roy" captured some of that.

I know that the word 'genius' gets thrown around far too often but I am absolutely convinced that these two brilliant players possess just that, 'true genius.' And I am humbled and honored to have shared this group with them. I remember actually taking the time to sit and listen to Manolo's performance in 'solo' just to make certain that we weren't missing something when mixing, and I was struck by just how remarkable it was to hear his 'mind at work.' And then, the final ingredient, you add the relentless hammering groove of Steve Jordan and all the beautiful sounds of each drum and each cymbal; and suddenly, the mix of personalities and styles is perfect. Again, you have to appreciate how Steve waited and allowed this section to find its own form and shape. By just using his ride cymbal, and playing accented crashes, reacting to what was going on he contributed propulsion without overwhelming the mood. Then, as if by magic, when Anthony shifts to playing moving half-notes Steve begins to pound out the 'big beat!'

In concept, a solo such as this really only has a beginning and an end which get discussed. The beginning, a point of departure: where, we all know that we have come from that Emaj7(#4) chord, and should resolve that to Ebm7(sus), where the solo begins. We also know that somehow, no matter what route we take, we will arrive back at that same Ebm7(sus) chord before moving on into [I3]. The only things I keep in mind while 'leading' the conversation is to try and utilize parts of the melodic and harmonic materials previously presented in the tune. In doing this, it keeps everything connected, centered and focused. This holds true no matter how far away we might stray on any given night. When we finally re-emerge at [I3], we're in the home stretch of the piece. Here at bar 6, you have one of Anthony's great moments. One which presents his mastery of the instrument, and the rhythmic placement of notes, a flash of brilliance. The line he plays which begins on an 'A'-natural, which is a blue note in this key, but the 'scale' itself really seems to outline Eb-Phrygian because of the 'E'-naturals and Cbs which do not appear in Eb-Dorian, but do appear in parts of the [A] melody sections. When the long line of 16th-notes finally lands on a Bb at the downbeat of the next bar, it has found that note after surrounding it by both of its chromatic upper and lower neighbors. It was all intuitive, improvised, but brilliantly done and executed.
Once we have arrived at [A4], we simply follow the piece out using a D.S. sign to take us back to the 2nd ending (on Pg. 2), through [B2] and [C] on our way to the [Tag] and the true ending at the top of Pg. 4. So, if we were to lay out this tune, for the purpose of memorization in an "Alphabet Soup" format, what might it look like:

[I] - 4x
[A]
[A2] - 1st End
[B]
[I] - 2x
[A]
[A3] - 2nd End
[B2]
[B3] - Transition
[C]
[I2] - 2x
[Tag]
[D] - Solo(Open)
[I3] - 2x - on Cue
[A4] - D.S. to
[A3] - 2nd End
[B2]
[B3] - Transition
[C]
[I2] - 2x
[Tag] - End

I actually know many musicians who prefer to memorize a piece, once they have committed the actual notes to memory, solely by its form. Sometimes keeping the form written on a piece of paper down at their feet, or by their monitor. If it works, great!!!
More than usual, it's a true, true pleasure to be able to present this Eyewitness 'classic' at KHAN'S KORNER and to share a few of my personal feelings about being a part of it all. I still be very lucky that we did this. By the way, the title comes from one of Buck Henry's most popular characters("Uncle Roy," the overly "neighborly" baby-sitter) on the 'old' "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE." So, here's wishing everyone a wonderful summer. PEACE.....EVERYWHERE......PLEASE!!

Uncle Roy
page 1 - page 2 - page 3 - page 4 - page 5

Audio File (MP3 4.1 MB)





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