Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Manipulation Techniques

If you have been following my current blogging series (about writing a big band arrangement for Tyler Hornby), you may be wondering where I have been for the past week.  Truth be told, I have been hunkering down and trying to get this piece finished.  I have my own recording project at the beginning of next month, so I'd like to get this project wrapped up ASAP, get my piano chops in shape, and fine tune my own music.

I found the following YouTube video recording of Tyler playing "Dig In Buddy", the piece I am arranging.  It features Toronto-based pianist/brainiac David Braid along with Tyler's very capable band from Alberta.

Braid sure is an inventive player!  Not many pianists are daring enough to start a solo with the left hand only.  His ideas are clever and well-organized.  I really enjoyed this performance, and was impressed by the whole band.  It is nice to see jazz played on this high level in western Canada.

If I were to express one criticism, it would be that the performance lacked a certain "fire" or unabashed spiritedness.  It was perhaps too polite and restrained.  During the trombone solo it started to go somewhere, but it still felt like the band had yet to break a sweat.  I had hoped that guitarist, Jim Head would kick it into high gear, but unfortunately, he didn't partake in the festivities.

One of the key roles of an arranger is to steer soloists.  Obviously David Braid would have played very differently if he was "competing" with horn interjections, or if layers of instruments were added part way through his solo, thereby forcing him to build his intensity.  For this reason, Bob Brookmeyer referred to backgrounds as "solo enhancements".  I love that label.

Speaking of Brookmeyer, I often think about some of the statements he made on his web site and in interviews before his passing. He said a lot about the role of soloists within a big band and their relationship to the composition.  I took to heart his thought that the arranger shouldn't turn over control to the soloist until he has literally no other option.  Even then, I like keeping my finger in the mix, playing the role of a manipulator, by "stirring things up" when I feel the whim, or need to shape a passage in certain way.

It will be after the four minute mark in my arrangement that a soloist (other than drums) is allowed to cut loose.  The drum solo after the initial melody statement is carefully scripted, interacting with robust, energetic ensemble hits.  Sketches for this passage appeared in my last post.  The solo then continues into an elongated, rhythmically quirky restatement of the melody, where drums play exuberant fills in all the "holes".  Here is a taste:

Now I'm completing a saxophone soli that builds over two choruses. The improvising horn soloists will need to demonstrate patience for just a little while longer.

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