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Monday
Nov102014

Siskiyou - Benny Lackner Trio (2014): A review by Az Samad

Benny Lackner Trio:

Benny Lackner piano and keys
Matthieu Chazarenc - drums
Jerome Regard - bass

Siskiyou is a county in California. It’s also the title for the new album from Benny Lackner Trio. I recently saw the trio live during their Kuala Lumpur leg of their Asian tour (for the tour, Paul Kleber was on bass). Listening to the album, I felt transported into a world of sound with dreamy atmospheres in Palau (track 3) and intense drive coupled with a spacious approach to soloing in Heartracer (track 6). Discovering the Mehldau connection (Lackner was a student of Mehldau), it made sense why I felt a similar sensibility throughout the album. The two covers in the album, Cygnet Committee (David Bowie) and Sugar Man (Rodriguez) are tastefully played with a sparse groove in the Bowie tune and a counterpoint with attitude approach in the Rodriguez cover.

In Song For Lucia, a calm spoken word quality to the solo gives a beautiful flow to the solo that Lackner takes. A more electronic energy come in on the title track Siskiyou, with the drums and synth bass sound in the foreground against the piano that stays more in the background of the mix until halfway in the tune. It’s almost as if there is a battle between the acoustic and the electric, the expected and the eclectic. Towards the end, the bass and the drums remain and goes to fade. Closing the album, Name Dropper echoes a groove reminisce of The Bad Plus meets Charlie Hunter in a elegant ballroom in New York. The dissonance really kicks in around 2:27 when a distorted solo crashes into this piano trio setting opening the floodgates for textural cacophony.

My favorite piece in the entire album is Heartracer. On repeat, the song has been stuck in my mind since I saw them live. I might cover this piece or write something inspired by it. There’s such a haunting beauty to it. For fans of Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus and Esbjörn Svensson Trio, if you haven’t checked out Benny Lackner Trio, this is a good place to start.

Related Links:
Benny Lackner Trio on Facebook  
Benny Lacker's Official Website

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Thursday
Sep182014

10 Steps For Guitarists To Learn New Songs 

Occasionally, I get asked about how I practice for performances and recording sessions. A big factor is how much time I have to prepare for it. In most cases, I try to prepare as much as I can and as early as possible. Here are the 10 steps that I take to learn songs. 

1. If there are no lead sheets or charts of specific parts to learn, I find several versions of the same song to listen to. If there is a guitar part written out, I study the equipment requirements, guitar sound needed, technical requirements, range of the guitar part and note any difficult sections. After this, I try to find recordings of the song/orchestra piece if it is available. My main sources are usually YouTube and Spotify. 

2. I start off by listening to the most definite version of the song. I listen casually first, at this stage I just try to get the vibe, groove and feel of the song first.

3. After repeated listenings, I take out a piece of paper or open a blank Google document to write down the general song form. I look out for sections like the intro, verses, choruses, bridges, interludes, guitar solos and outro. I'll write or type this out so I can see the overall roadmap for the song.

[REAL LIFE EXAMPLE]
For a session recording for YouTube artist NanaSheme in her cover of John Legend's All of Me, I typed the entire songform in a spreadsheet file because it was easier to notate the bars using the program. The songform is heavily driven by the lyrics so I also wrote down key words to mark the different sections. You can watch the final result here: All of Me - John Legend (Cover By NanaSheme)

4. The next step is for me to count how many bars each of these sections are. I pay attention whether there are any odd meters, time signature changes and sometimes will notate if there are any rubato or sections that slow down or speed up.

5. I usually take a short break at this point or listen to the song casually again.

6. The next time involves figuring out the chord progression of the song. I work out section by section and listen closely to the bassline and chordal instruments. I also notate any essential rhythmic attacks that are important for the song.

7. After I have an overall idea of the chord progression, I then look out for any signature parts or background melodic lines that I might need to play. I often get gigs where I play in duo or small group settings. For these gigs, I often will try to cover the main background lines to create a fuller arrangement.

[REAL LIFE EXAMPLES]
When I played acoustic guitar in a trio to accompany Malaysian hip hop artist Altimet on his song, 'Bangkit' - I played an assortment of the keyboard lines and some of the horn parts. 

In The Great Malay Songbook, a project with vocalist Cheryl Tan, I played the background vocal parts to Bila Larut Malam in my guitar accompaniment. For our version of Zainal Abidin's Hijau, I follow the original bass line and keyboard part closely to get the feel closer to the original recorded version.

8. After I have a notated version of the piece, I then start practicing the song. I work on the piece as a whole first and then slowly zoom in to practice each section at a time. As I understand the piece more, I may correct my written chart and guitar parts. Common corrections for me include adding specific left and right hand fingerings, fixing the chord quality, writing down exact voicings and taking note of dynamics. 

9. I also will look at the lyrics of the song if available and consider that so that I can play the parts better in relation to the meaning of the piece.

[REAL LIFE EXAMPLE]
When I performed with Andy Flop Poppy for our Akustika I set at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, I pay attention to the lyrics so I can see how the song fits with our other material in the set from a thematic standpoint. 

10. Lastly, I record my performance of the piece so that I can find any weak spots, mistakes and things to work on. At this point, I repeat the practice and recordings as many times as possible before the actual rehearsals with other musicians, the recording session or actual performance. At the rehearsals, I will also take note if I need to change any aspect of my guitar part. 

Basically, the whole process is cyclic. It requires a feedback loop to learn and then refine. It's a long process for me but it's what it takes for me to get ready for a well-prepared performance. 

Hope this helps you in your own learning & performance preparation. 

All the best!
Az

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Sunday
Aug102014

What Bryan Baker taught me about transcribing jazz guitar

[The Background]

I attended Berklee College of Music from 2005-2007. During that time, my friends told me about a guitar player who was playing with a very unique approach. About 3 of my friends were taking private lessons with him. This person was Bryan Baker. The story was he attended Los Angeles Music Academy prior to Berklee and studied with Frank Gambale. At Berklee, he was a star guitar player and along with Nir Felder, Ricardo Vogt, Julian Lage and Jake Hertzog were the most influential guitar students I remember from my time there. 

Around this time, he released his first album Aphotic and later on another version of Aphotic (live versions of the same tracks). For an extended period of time, Bryan was constantly on my iPod in rotation and on a playlist on my iTunes. I learned a lot from the lessons with him. Here's one of them.

[The Lesson]

One of the best lessons I learned from Bryan Baker was the difference between normal transcribing and transcribing the essence.

Normal transcribing is transcribing the exact notes, rhythms, phrases, licks, tone, inflections etc and to play it back exactly as close as possible to what the original artist played.

Transcribing the essence is to actually play your own lines but in the style of the artist you're transcribing. This includes playing with the same tone, gear, touch, groove, feel, inflections but not the exact notes. What you're looking for is the general note choice patterns and the rational behind the melodies NOT the exact melodies. 

Being able to transcribe the essence will open up possibilities for you to create your own lines that are inspired by the artist you're transcribing.

This can go hand in hand with normal transcribing, i.e. transcribe the exact phrases but then derive the concepts behind it and play your own lines afterwards. The lines afterwards represent your work of transcribing the essence.

In my lesson with Bryan, he played a John Scofield inspired phrase with the bridge pickup of his Strat and wide intervals like what Sco would. This was his example for transcribing the essence. 

This concept is a huge part of how I learn and how I digest large chunks of musical information. Hope this helps you too.

Az Samad - July 29 2014 (Edited August 11 2014)

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Saturday
May102014

Free Jazz Guitar Lesson Videos

Hi there jazzers!

I've been recording new video lessons featuring in-depth explanations of hip jazz guitar licks. Watch the first three videos here. Enjoy! 


[Download Free PDF: Hip Jazz Guitar Tip #1]


[Download Free PDF: Hip Jazz Guitar Tip #2]

[Download Free PDF: Hip Jazz Guitar Tip #3]

If you like these videos, please sign-up for my mailing list to be informed of future videos & more! You'll also receive a free EP! Thank you! =)

Thursday
May012014

G minor Study #1 (Jazz Guitar Study)

Here's a study based on a phrase I transcribed from Malaysian saxophonist Julian Chan. This is one of the ways I get maximum mileage from a transcribed phrase. I will take the original idea and transposed it to fit the chord starting from different notes.
If you're interested to study more in-depth, click here for the Jazz Guitar Masterclass.