All posts by funnelljazz

pentatonic possibilities 1: major and minor pentatonics

Pentatonics are 5-note scales. Technically, any ordered sequence of 5 notes can be called a pentatonic. But the most common and widely used pentatonic is without doubt the one obtained by reordering a series of 5 notes stacked on top of each other in fifths (for example, the series “C G D A E” gives us “C D E G A” once reordered). This particular pentatonic comes in its “major” form (C D E G A), and its relative “minor” form (A C D E G).

So, what do I mean by “pentatonic possibilities?” Well, pentatonics tend to break up the diatonic quality of 7-note major and minor scales because of their intervallic content. So, to create fresh melodic shapes and give a more edgy feel to your lines while improvising over changes, you might ask yourself: what pentatonic scales can I use over these chords? Chords derive from modes, and modes from harmony types, so the question may be rephrased as: what pentatonic scales can be extracted from the various harmony types?

For the purpose of this particular post, I will limit myself to what I call the “common” or “global” pentatonic scale (the one discussed in the first paragraph). Let’s have a look at major harmony first. The pentatonics listed in the first and last column of the table shown below are extracted from the key of C major (C D E F G A B). Their “major” forms are listed in the left-hand side of the table along with their relative “minor” forms on the right-hand side, and the roman numerals represent the scale degrees for each pentatonic:

major harmony pentatonic possibilities
C D E G A I Maj. pent. <=> VI min. pent. A C D E G
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C
G A B D E V Maj. pent. <=> III min. pent. E G A B D

Natural minor harmony is equivalent to the Aeolian mode. Therefore, the pentatonic possibilities in natural minor are the same as in major harmony (the roman numerals indicating the scale degrees, however, would have to change due to the shift to relative minor).

Now, let’s have a look at melodic minor harmony. It turns out only one pentatonic scale can be extracted from this harmony type. It is shown in the table below in the key of C melodic minor (C D Eb F G A B):

melodic minor harmony pentatonic possibilities
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C

Finally, neither harmonic minor nor harmonic major harmony bear common pentatonic possibilities, due to a flatted 6th scale degree in both instances. However, some interesting “exotic” pentatonics can be derived from those harmony types…


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Charlie Rouse on “Monk’s Dream” / nonchord tones and melodic triads

My favourite passage from Charlie Rouse‘s solo on Thelonious Monk’s 1962 recording of Monk’s Dream – Take 8 is made up of the four closing phrases below (Charlie’s final statement right before the piano solo starts):

Monk's Dream, Charlie Rouse_C

Most of the soloing is built on chord tones here: the emphasis is placed on the notes that make up the lower part of the changes (root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th) as opposed to the tensions (9th, 11th, and 13th). It is interesting however to pay close attention to the use of nonchords tones, and to the various triads – interestingly all arpeggiated in a descending motion, and mostly in root position (RP) – that emerge to define a distinct melodic contour.

Nonchord tones:

  • Db in bar 1 (technically the “second” measure here: the very first measure shows the 3-beat pickup to the first phrase and we’ll number it “bar 0”) is a passing tone approaching the following C from above (upper chromatic approach);
  • A# in bar 3 approaches the note B (which, as the major 7th of the following C chord, is itself an example of harmonic anticipation) from below (lower chromatic approach);
  • the first E in bar 5 can be seen as a lower chromatic neighbor tone of the two Fs it’s surrounded by, although E is technically the flatted fifth of Bb7(b5), and could arguably be considered a chord tone as well;
  • D# in bar 5 is a lower chromatic approach to the following E;
  • the notes A (diatonic note to the E7sus/B chord) and G (chromatic note since it doesn’t belong to the E mixolydian scale from which E7sus/B derives) in bar 7 form an diatonic-chromatic enclosure, surrounding the following Ab; such nonchord tones are also commonly referred to as changing tones;
  • both Abs in bar 8 are upper chromatic neighbor tones;
  • the first F in bar 8 is a lower neighbor of the G, which when struck against the Ab7 chord becomes a bold sounding nonchord tone itself!;
  • Ab and F# in bar 9 form a chromatic enclosure of the following G.

Melodic triads:

  • Eb+ (RP) over C and F7 (bar 2);
  • Bb (2nd inversion) over Bb7(b5) (bar 3);
  • C- (RP) over F7 (bar 4);
  • E- (RP) over C (bar 6);
  • D- (RP) over F7 (bar 6);
  • C (RP) over F7 and E7sus/B (bars 6-7);
  • A- (RP) over E7sus/B (bar 7);
  • Bb- (RP) over Ab7 and G7 (bars 8-9);
  • Db (2nd inversion) over G7 (bar 8).

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She’s Out of My Life arrangement on Jazz Magazine staff playlist

The arrangement of Tom Bahler’s hit song “She’s Out of My Life” that Jim Funnell contributed on saxophonist Philippe Lopes de Sa‘s debut album Woandering has been featured in a monthly playlist curated by the editorial board at Jazz Magazine, France’s foremost publication entirely dedicated to jazz.

playlist Philippe Lopes de Sa / Jim Funnell
Jazz Magazine
2017-07

Philippe Lopes de Sa / Jim Funnell
She’s Out of My Life

“Not only are the eleven original compositions by this saxophone and piano duo remarkable, but this arrangement of Michael Jackson’s hyper-emotional ballad (“Off the Wall”, 1979) will not possibly leave you indifferent.”

Where? “Woandering” (philippe-lopes-de-sa.com / cdbaby.com)

getting into the altered sound

Let’s take a look at a few things that can be done when an altered dominant chord presents itself in a tune (e.g. Eb7alt). The first thing to know is that the altered chord derives from the altered mode, otherwise known as mode VII of melodic minor. But to break out of the diatonic sound of the scale and gain a little freedom with it, here are a few tricks…

There are 5 different triads that can be used as numerators (the denominator being the basic chord sound, i.e. combinations of chord tones 1, 3, and b7) to get a solid sounding upper structure triad voicing for an altered chord:

  • bIImi
  • bIIImi
  • bV
  • bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-1

You can then combine both minor triadic upper structures and both major triadic upper structures to form two hexatonic scales, which can be used as interesting melodic devices:

  • bIImi / bIIImi
  • bV / bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-2

Now, if you take a closer look at both these hexatonics, you’ll notice that they have five notes in common. These notes make up a pentatonic scale (bV major pentatonic, a.k.a. bIII minor pentatonic), which can also be used as an even more angular melodic device.

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-3

Click “Download File” below to hear the midi examples notated above. The full PDF document is also available here. Enjoy!


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musical meditation technique: strengthening the mind’s ear


By knowing words you do not know the language. What you know is the outside language; the inner language is known by knowing the language of ideas.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Healing Papers

Meditative practice (i.e. playing music within yourself) has considerable benefits when learning a piece of music. Incidentally, it can also come in handy whenever your instrument isn’t within immediate reach (for example, if you feel like practicing whilst traveling, or if for health reasons you must avoid overusing your hands or wrists and refrain from playing for a while…). Following the advice of French pianist Jean-Claude Henriot (my mentor back in the days when I was a student at the Conservatoire in Évry), I recall making use of this technique in order to prepare for classical piano end-of-year exams and recitals.

All you have to do is choose a piece of music which, to the best of your knowledge, you are close to having committed to memory¹. Then play it in your mind as precisely as possible. “Hear” it in great detail, “feel” the touch of the piano². For beginner/intermediate pianists, Bach’s Inventions work really well because they consist of only two contrapuntal parts — not too arduous (particularly at slower tempi), but just challenging enough to try and hear simultaneously… Of course, you can choose virtually any piece of music. When a passage seems unclear, go back and “replay” it in your mind again, (much) slower if necessary. Repeat it as many times as needed, just as you would when practicing on your instrument, until you’re able to hear each note, each rhythm, each item of phrasing or expression, with utmost precision.

This kind of practice certainly requires sharp concentration, and thus works best in a calm environment. I used to go on long walks in the fields near my parents’ house to do this. Natural settings such as mountains, forests, or bodies of water are perfect for such meditative activities… As many of us live in cities though, any location where you’ll be able to enjoy some piece and quiet and remain undisturbed for a while will do just fine.

It may take some time to grow accustomed to turning your attention within yourself and practicing inwardly. But don’t give up; patience is key here! If practiced thoroughly, the benefits of musical meditation will certainly be felt upon returning to your instrument as soon as the following day (it’s often a good idea to allow the mental exercise to fully sink in overnight). Overall, your knowledge of your chosen piece of music will deepen considerably. As you rely less on muscle memory and more on hearing inwardly, your true memory, which stems from the heart, will take charge. No longer will you struggle to remember what notes to play. On the contrary: a sense of freedom will pervade your playing and enable you to wholly concentrate on delivering a vibrant message, with full expressiveness and musicality.


So the language of ideas cannot be heard by the ears alone, the hearing of the heart must be open for it.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Healing Papers

Notes

¹ By doing this exercise, you’ll likely find out that you were in fact relying on muscle memory too much — if not exclusively — before, particularly when playing the very sections that need the most polishing and internalising.

² This also works for non-pianists of course, as the goal is to develop the inner musical sense, in order to complement (or, should I say more accurately, provide a foundation for) the more familiar feeling of making music in the physical world. Just mentally recall the sensation you experience when playing your particular instrument.

cantabile style playing: practicing both legato and staccato

I’ve recently been working on most of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two-Part Inventions as a kind of warm-up for the fingers and the ears (I learn them by heart and usually go through several first thing in the morning or at the beginning of each of my piano practice sessions). As I was playing No. 3 (D major) today, I realized I mostly was using legato phrasing and decided to venture into a staccato rendition of the piece. With the change of expression (staccato versus the former legato phrasing), I found myself much less self-assured: my memory failed me and I had to refer to the music on a couple of occasions. This, to me, was an indicator that I wasn’t hearing the melodic lines as clearly as I thought I was able to. Indeed, I don’t think my memory would have been caught off guard in that manner if a had been hearing them strong. So in addition to being a useful technical exercise, practicing cantabile style playing using both legato and staccato phrasing seems to be yet another great way to strengthen one’s inner hearing, and thus a very musical exercise. Highly recommended!


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review of Spirit of the Snail on Le jars jase jazz

Review (in French) of Jim Funnell’s Word Out’s second studio album Spirit of the Snail on jazz critic Guillaume Lagrée’s blog Le jars jase jazz (also available on paperblog.fr).


Jim Funnell’s Word Out
“Spirit of the Snail”

Produced by Jim Funnell
Released on Tuesday, 22 September 2015
CD release concert at the Sunside in Paris at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 22 September 2015.

Jim Funnell: piano and compositions
Oliver Degabriele: acoustic bass
Thibault Perriard: drums
Isabelle Oliver: harp

“Dear cosmopolitan and xenophile readers,

As you know, the EU motto is “United in diversity.” As far as politics are concerned, it remains to be proved. On the subject of music however, British pianist Jim Funnell, Maltese bassist Oliver Degabriele, and French drummer Thibault Perriard illustrate it perfectly every time they play together. I have already praised their music in concert and in the studio. On this album, the triad is augmented with the presence of harpist Isabelle Olivier. She is nor a feminine alibi for a masculine trio, neither a classical one for a jazz trio. Her harp sounds like the kora of a Mandinka master.”

“[ Jim Funnell’s ] music is the singular result of a thorough reflection on rhythms, sounds, and colors.”

“Whether you want to stimulate your ears, your brain, or get your limbs in motion, enter the Spirit of the Snail with Jim Funnell and his band!”

– Guillaume Lagrée

why it’s a good idea to practice soloing with the left hand while comping with the right hand…

To improve rhythmic independence? Of course. But also:

  • it might lead you to use different voicings than the ones you usually use for comping. Sometimes a voicing might be too low and sound muddy when played with the left hand in the lower part of the keyboard, but the same voicing played higher up will sound OK due to the absence of low interval limit restrictions;
  • the left hand is generally weaker and slower than the right hand. Such technical restriction forces you to rely more on musicality, inner hearing and singing when improvising with the left hand. When you then go back to improvising with the right hand, it feels a lot easier! Musicality is now right at your fingertips, with the greater technical ability of your strong hand available to serve it.

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L’Improviste concert review: Le jars jase jazz

Guillaume Lagrée’s review of Word Out’s concert at L’Improviste in Paris (April 2013) on his blog Le jars jase jazz.

🇫🇷 “Il n’y a pas réellement de solo dans le jeu de ce trio. L’échange est permanent.”

🇬🇧/🇺🇸 “There’s no real soloing in this trio’s approach to making music. The interplay is permanent.”

Guillaume Lagrée, Le jars jase jazz

🇫🇷 “Il y a des pianistes qu’on n’entend pas assez, dont on ne parle pas assez et qui ont plein de belles histoires à raconter comme Jim Funnell. … Il faut aller le voir, l’entendre, l’écouter dès que possible.”

🇬🇧/🇺🇸 “There are pianists who aren’t heard enough, who aren’t talked about enough, and who have plenty of great stories to tell. Jim Funnell is one of them. … You have to go and see him, hear him, listen to him as soon as possible.”

Guillaume Lagrée, Le jars jase jazz

review of Word Out on Le jars jase jazz

Review (in French) of Word Out’s eponymous debut album on jazz critic Guillaume Lagrée’s blog Le jars jase jazz.


Word Out
Self-produced, 2009

Jim Funnell: piano and compositions
Oliver Degabriele: acoustic bass
Thibault Perriard: drums

“Dear attentive and focused readers,

You may have noticed that I already praised Word Out in concert, when the trio gave a sneak preview of their freshly recorded upcoming album, Spirit of the Snail; I certainly will tell you all about its release in due time.

Meanwhile, since it’s never too late to do well, let me trumpet the delights and merits of their eponymous debut album Word Out, released in 2009.”

“Word Out does not claim to revolutionize the piano trio format. These young musicians are not conceited. They are simply fresh, alive, curious, open-minded, joyful, and listening to their music does heaps of good.”

“If I had to choose an excerpt from this album, it would be their version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (track no. 7). [ … ] Here, they take a classic, preserving its raw pop energy and conserving its British majesty while instilling a sense of swing typical of jazz music. A complete success from the first to last note.”

– Guillaume Lagrée