YouTube Picks (#10) – Another Way to Play Guitar

The Blues as a musical influence has been around for well over 100 years.It is the basic ingredient of Ragtime, Early Jazz, Country Blues, Bluegrass, Swing, Bebop, Modern Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Soul and Classic Rock and just about any contemporary music genre you may care to mention. The internet is flush with blues based performers and performances and “how to ” videos. In the academic world of universities and Colleges, out side the specifically Classical realm, the programs are are dominated by Jazz and pop based curriculums with strong blues components. This has been going on for so long and it is so ingrained in our musical psyche that we often forget there are other musical genres and ways of playing music. Guitarists are not immune to this way of thinking. Every guitar player wants to be a “rock star”. Yet, in the vein of the old saying, “There are more than one way to skin a cat” one could also say “there are more than one way to play guitar”. Here is another way.

While the western pop/rock world was going on its particular musical way during the post WWII era there were things happening in “darkest Africa”. Particularly in the Congo. “The guitar rich pop music of the Congo in Central Africa has had more impact around the continent than any other Afro-pop genre. Beginning in the late 1940s, bands in Brazzaville and Kinshasa – cities that face each other across the Congo River – began fusing Cuban music with local sounds ” (Banning Eyre). It is kind of ironic in a way. African music had a profound influence on the music of Cuba in the development of Son montuno (Son) , Salsa etc. Cuba has returned the favor by heavily influencing musicians of the Congo in the development of Soukous, kwassa-kwassa and Rumba Rock. The Three-Two Clave Rhythm from Cuba is central to the understanding of the pop music of the Congo.  Once established as a style the music of the Congo has had no problem in crossing ethnic and national boundaries with its powerful dance rhythms and before too long in 1970s and 1980s  Soukous  became the disco music of Africa.

To get the ball rolling here is Don Keller doing a cover of a popular Kanda Bongo Man / Diblo Dibala tune (Sai) that clearly demonstrates the driving repetitive rhythm of the Soukous  guitar style. Don is playing the lead over a pre-recorded rhythm section.

The thing that I immediately notice is the “up feeling” of the music. Blues at its heart is victims music and as a result there is a certain “downer” sentiment and feel in the music. Soukous is not “cry in your beer”  music. It is telling you to get up there and dance.

So how does it work? Here is a short demo video that shows just how two guitars in lock step can play poly rhythmic patterns and end up sounding like three or more guitars at once. The music is simple three chord stuff that sounds amazingly complex with an unbelievable grove. The demonstration video  is in the key of A major and the chord progressions are simple I – IV – I – V ( A major – D major – A major – E major).

So when you add bass guitar, drums, percussion, horn section and vocals you get something like this recording of Amilo, Amilo by the African super star Rocherleau Tabu Ley.

From time to time between the vocal verses there are freewheeling guitar sections called Sebene that features the cascading interplay between the guitars. As I said the mood is infectious and the groove is unmatched in any other genre of music.

For those interested in the style there is a mountain of material on YouTube. I can also recommend Banning Eyre’s publication Africa – Your Passport to a New World of Music. It is published by Alfred Music in their Guitar Atlas Series. In it Banning explores a number of African guitar styles including Palm Wine Pickers, Highlife and JuJu, Soukous, music of the Griots, Malian Blues, South African Zulu and Mbaqanga, Zimbabwe Rhumba and Mbira and the Music of Madagascar. This slim volume also includes lots of musical examples both in print and on the enclosed CD.

For those with a more academic frame of mind there is the hard cover volume Rhumba on the River – A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos   by Gary Stewart. Equatorial Africa was a center for the slave trade in earlier times and towards the end of the nineteenth century a scene of massive genocidal mayhem. The Congas have a tortured history and if one is interested in the historical background of the region I can also recommend Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost and of course Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

I would like to thank Shayne Rodrigues for the conversation we had last Monday at the Stemwinder Bar and Grill. Although the conversation was mostly about a Blues Cruise that he embarked on recently the conversation also meandered into the realms of Paul Simon’s Graceland and of African music in general.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Studio 64 Spring Concert Series – Don Alder

Studio 64 Spring Concert Series – Don Alder Saturday February 11, 2017, 8pm.

Don Alder is an acoustic guitar player who performs in a style I describe as “”two fisted percussive”. The great Canadian acoustic guitarist Don Ross would probably describe it  as “Heavy Wood”. It is  a funky, take no prisoners style of music that owes much to rock and roll sensibilities albeit with more highly developed guitar technique and musicality. The style has developed over the past thirty years and has virtually stood conventional guitar technique on it head. Rather than restricting the left hand to fretting the notes and the right hand to strumming or picking there is a new role for the right hand for fretting and tapping the fret board for the desired notes and adding percussive effects by tapping the body of the guitar. The first time I came across this approach was in the playing of Stanley Jordan in the mid -1980s.   Stanley was a jazz guitarist who played electric guitar  by using both hands to tap the frets to get the required musical notes. It was a style more akin to a keyboard instrument than a guitar. He tuned his guitar in fourths (E A D G C F) and developed an harmonic approach based on that tuning. Although there were some percussive elements in his playing the whole thing was more pianistic than percussive.

The percussive elements in acoustic guitar playing have been around for a long time. In Flamenco guitar playing guitar  body slaps and taps have been an integral  part of that style of music for many, many years. Percussive guitar playing is nothing new for flamenco guitarists.  Modern acoustic guitarists such as Don Ross, Tommy Emmanuel and Don Alder have developed a percussive language that takes it to a whole new level. It is best explained by Tommy Emmanuel in a TED TALK (click on the link at the bottom of this blog). Essentially the acoustic guitarist now tries to  emulates a drum kit by tapping on various parts of the guitar body to create the sound of the snare and bass drums. To this he will add bass runs on the strings to emulate a regular bass and, of course he adds the melody on top to create a full band effect. To expand melodic possibilities modern acoustic guitarists have taken to tapping the fret board  (a la Stanley Jordan) to sound specific notes and create melodic runs that would be difficult or nigh on impossible to obtain using conventional techniques. They have expanded the role of artificial harmonics in their musical landscape to create ringing bell like cascades of notes.  (The production of artificial harmonics is a technique of touching the guitar string in a specific way, generally with the right hand,  to produce notes that are an octave or more above the usual fretted note – the overall effect is a series of bell like sounds that adds interest to the music).

Don Alder is originally from Williams Lake and is a master of this style of acoustic guitar playing. As near as I can tell Don, like Tommy Emmanuel, is a self taught musician who has arrived at his style of playing though diligent exploration, experimentation and practice.  Tommy Emmanuel tends to favor the reinterpretation of popular well known songs and tunes. Don, on the other hand plays mostly original compositions that have evolved out of his personal experiences, memories and musical explorations. On Saturday night at Stage 64 he took us on a tour of these memories and experiences with such evocative tunes as The Wall (based on his experiences with Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour), Dancing With the Spin Doctors (reflections on the recent elections in the USA), Not a Planet  ( Pluto’s decline in status), Wok the Dog (where upon Don learned that the Wok is not a Chinese invention or even a Chinese word), Going Rogue, Haunting Me, Armed and Dangerous (an excursion into the rhythmic realms of 6/8 time), Sophrosyme (a tribute to his grand mother), and Arrows will Fly. These  last two compositions  he played on the Brunner  Baritone Guitar. This is a lovely mellow instrument and on Arrows will Fly there were some lovely pizzicato effects . Another very lyrical piece was Marshall’s Lanai  (memories of a friend).

Don’s instrument of choice is a Yamaha AC-3R. The instrument he plays is a stock model straight off the shelf with an additional magnetic pickup in the sound hole. He also plays a Brunner travel guitar. This Swiss made instrument is fairly unique in that it has a detachable neck that allows the instrument to be folded down to fit in a small suitcase suitable for overhead storage in air lines. He has it set up in a baritone tuning.  Like his fellow Canadian guitarist Don Ross, Don seems to favor glue-on acrylic nails but unlike the other Don he does not use a thumb pick.

As always this Studio 64 concert was a stunning success. More so because of the Yamaha FG800 guitar  given away as a door prize. The lucky winner was Sonya Parker (I am sorry to tell you John your wife has nor intention of passing the guitar on to you).

         

The Studio 64 organizing committee would like to thank Nancy of the Burrito Grill for feeding Don, thanks also go to Keith and Kate Nicholas for providing Don’s accommodation  and Ray of Ray’s Music for providing the sound and organizing the guitar give-away door prize.

Here is that Ted Talk Bonus link

And if you have never heard Stanley Jordan then here is a treat for you –

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

YouTube Picks (#9) – BALKAN BENEFITS

I believe it was Jelly Roll Morton who first coined the phrase “the Spanish Tinge” to describe the Cuban and Caribbean influences in early New Orleans jazz. It didn’t stop there. All through the last century  “The Spanish Tinge” has been in Jazz in spades. Duke Ellington made full use of it in a number of classic compositions including Juan Tizol’s masterpiece Caravan. Dizzy Gillespie, along with the Cuban Conga player Chano Pozo used the “Spanish Tinge” to virtually invent a whole genre of jazz called Afro-Cuban Jazz. His tunes Tin Tin Deo, Manteca and A Night in Tunisia are staple tunes in the Jazz repertoire. Cuban and Porto Rican musicians invented Salsa and Latin Jazz and  that has gone onto to infiltrate and influence the rock music of Carlos Santana. Even Mexican Mariachi now and again pops up as an ingredient in pop and rock music. “The Spanish Tinge” has even filtered back to the black continent to become a major influence in West African music.

“The Spanish Tinge” crops up every where except possibly in Celtic music. Because there are no cultural connections between the Caribbean and Ireland it is no surprise that “The Spanish Tinge” is largely absent from Irish music.  However, a case could be made for a Spanish influence in Galician Celtic music. Galicia is a province of Spain so that is probably a special case. All of this does not mean to say that Celtic musicians  are immune to outside influences. It is just that they have looked in different directions.  They look to the music of the Balkans (Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Serbia, etc) for that little bit of extra musical spice to lift their traditional music into another space. It may seem to be an odd connection, but keep in mind that Romany and Gypsies (The Travelling People) have always had a significant presence in Ireland and as a group they have cultural connections that go all the way back to Eastern Europe. So it is not surprising  that Irish musicians have developed an interest in the music of the Balkans. The modern renaissance in Irish Celtic music of the early 1960s was well under way when a number of Irish musicians started wandering around Eastern Europe picking up tunes and instruments from  that part of the world, bringing them back to Ireland, modifying and blending them into the Irish Celtic fabric. There are strong instrumental and dance components both in Balkan and Celtic music so the fit was pretty natural. Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny and others  explored the potential of the Greek Bouzouki in Irish music and in a short period of time they developed a flat back version called the Irish Bouzouki. This instrument has become a “traditional” Irish and has a significant presence in many bands – Planxty, De Dannan, Altan and The Bothy Band, to just mention a few. Along with  the bouzouki came tunes in odd meters (7/8, 9/8, 11/8, 14/8, etc), with odd changes of keys mid-tune and distinctly Balkan flavored melodies. These started showing up in the repertoire and recordings of bands like Planxty. Over the next forty years the Balkan influence has not abated and as Uilleann Pipers, fiddlers, guitarists, bouzouki  and flute players became embroiled in the mix and improved their fluency  it is sometimes hard to separate mainstream Celtic from Balkan influenced tunes. So here are some YouTube picks that demonstrate Balkan Benefits in Celtic music.

The first out the gate is Paul Brady and Andy Irvine’s elaboration on the familiar Irish theme of domestic “Bliss”. It is the traditional ballad Wearing the Britches“. It is followed by a Balkan tune written by Paul Brady called “Out the Door and Over the Wall”. This was recorded in 1976 and that must have been in the early days of the  Bouzouki’s foray into Irish music. Both Andy’s and Paul’s Bouzoukis feature the elaborate inlaid tops that are traditionally Greek . I suspect the instruments are in a  Balkan or Greek tuning rather than  GDAD that has become the standard Irish tuning. I have seen several manuscript versions of this tune but the most accessible one appears to start out in D major in a variety of meters that switch between 11/8, 7/8, 9/8, 8/8 etc. Mid tune there is a key change to E minor.

Next is a recording of Suleiman’s Kopanitsa from 2012. Note that Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine are now playing  the more familiar standard Irish version of the bouzouki that is probably tuned GDAD. Note how Paddy Glackin’s pipes blend seamlessly into the musical mix. The  Uilleann pipes actually sound more  Eastern European than western. This tune appears to have a mixed heritage as it is described as a  tune with both Bulgarian and Lebanese elements. The transcriptions I have seen are in D major with a G major section. It is in a straight forward uncomplicated (if that is at all possible) 11/8 meter

Below is Michael McGoldrick’s playing his Balkan inspired Waterman’s. This is a fairly straight forward 7/8 Irish  tune in G. The rhythm is a straight  7/8 counted 1 2   1 2  123 . Just listen to the bodhran and the guitar just nailing the rhythm. Once you get the feel there is no need to count. As for the flute playing look out Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull). You aren’t the only flute player who really rocks……….

and now as a special treat in a more traditional Irish mode here is more from Michael McGoldrick. I believe the tunes are Jenny’s Picking Cockles and The Earl’s Chair.

@@@@@@@@@@@@

For those who are more technically inclined here are some manuscripts for a few of the tunes. They are not actual transcriptions of the above performances  rather they are tools to learn the bare bones of the tunes.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@

@@@@@@@@@@@@@

@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Click on the following link – THE SESSION IS A USEFUL DATABASE OF IRISH TUNES .A significant number of Swedish, Norwegian, Balkan and other odd traditional tunes can also be found on this site. When looking for the manuscript of a traditional tune this is a good place to start

@@@@@@@@@@@@@