Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Seamus Blake • “Go” transcription

From the Fresh Sound recording Sun Sol (Seamus Blake/Marc Miralta Trio), recorded August 1999, in New York City. PDF
Seamus Blake

While we Americans focus our concerns on the southern border, clamoring to build fences against folks we fear might threaten our way of life, we’re missing a more pressing Menace To The North: a horde of killer Canadian-raised tenor players, ready to wreak havoc with the self-esteem and general well-being of Red White & Blue saxophonists here in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A.♫ MP3 ♫
Seamus Blake’s solo on

If you’re an American tenor saxophonist and you haven’t heard Canadians Mike Murley or Phil Dwyer yet, your feelings haven’t been sufficiently hurt and your ego is more intact than it should be; meanwhile, if Seamus Blake is a name you’re not familiar with, you just plain ain’t doing your homework and should step out of the nunnery from time to time.

Since Washington refuses to impose strict protectionist policies and heavy tariffs to keep guys like Blake from usurping our lucrative jazz gigs, American tenor players will be forced to resort to grit, determination, and long tones to keep the Northern Menace at bay.

Unfortunately, it won’t be enough.

Blake, winner of the Thelonious Monk sax competition in 2002, has too much going for him: a gorgeous sound, great time feel, nimble chops, and improbable range: he’s as comfortable playing lines in the extreme off-the-fingering-chart upper reaches of the tenor as he is in the wholesome, more-than-sufficient and ordained by God & Rubank normal range of the horn.

Go, from the album Sun Sol recorded in 1999, is a complex, skittering little number that resolves into an altered blues for the blowing. In four succinct choruses, Blake shows off that tone, that relaxed and flexible behind-the-beat time feel, and his crazy range, a full octave above the notes you were told about in school.

Regarding the transcription: there was a fair bit of “listening between the lines” to determine the changes in this chordless trio performance — sometimes, as is often the case in a gloriously flexible form like the blues, there is occasional ambiguity and divergence in the harmonic paths taken by Blake and bassist Avishai Cohen along the way, especially in the turnarounds at the end of each chorus. The changes I’ve put down are what I think is a reasonable interpretation and summing up of the goings-on here...

But there is one unusual thing here worth noting: while Blake unambiguously plays the first chorus as a major blues, the remaining choruses very much “feel” (and sound, and read) like he’s blowing a minor blues. I don’t know if he’s just exploiting the ambiguity of his chordless backing, or if it was a prearranged thing, but after the first chorus this really is basically … a minor blues, dammit! Beguiled by that first chorus I notated this with G7s as a major blues throughout, but I’m increasingly queasy about that…

Whatever: dig Blake’s wonderful performance here, then write your congressman and demand a wall or moat or something be constructed along the International Boundary to keep this sort of thing from happening again.

My favorite recordings are tenor trio outings like Sun Sol — and this particular recording features the loveliest version of Pure Imagination I’ve ever heard! The Amazon link takes you to an MP3 release of Sun Sol — you can also purchase individual tracks from the record there.

And, of course, your purchase from Amazon supports the artists and helps to support this blog!