Archives for posts with tag: Ravel

offrampThis is relatively early Metheny (from his third album, Offramp), but it’s one of his best and has stood the test of time.  It’s a slow-burner lasting more than eight minutes – perhaps that’s the reason for the title as the listener must be patient while the underlying changes work through.  Acting like a continuo part, the rhythm guitar, bass and percussion provide the harmonic basis for improvisation, but also (along with some wispy counter-melodies on top) sets the mood and the pace of the piece from the outset. It’s more than a riff, it’s an ostinato that plays out over a very long timescale. Compared to a typical 12 bar blues, the complete cycle of changes spans 48 bars before it repeats, divided (after the eight bars of introduction) into two sections of sixteen bars followed by two sections of eight bars.  The entire 48 bar sequence is used three times, the first as backing for a harmonica-sounding keyboard solo, and the second and third for Metheny’s extended guitar-synth solo. Because of this timespan it’s hard to keep track of exactly where you are until you get to know the piece.

The overall architecture is a gradual build up to a climax, and then a slight easing off at the end (at least in the recorded version – played live the build is often maintained right until the slow coda). Aside from the obvious rise in volume and the growing intensity of Metheny’s solo, this is achieved by various means. The ostinato part changes gradually, for instance with additional rhythm on high keyboards for the second repeat, and the bass part gradually broadens out until it’s revealed as a full bossa-nova like line (a little reminiscent of Horace Silver’s Song For My Father).  Then there are two modulations as the sequences complete, racking the key up a semitone each time.

There are comparisons to be made here with minimalist music, perhaps, but also with Ravel’s Bolero, in which the melody lines similarly unwind over very long phrases on top of an ostinato grouped over two 18-bar sections which alternate. Interestingly, “Are You Going With Me?” also works surprisingly well as an orchestral piece – at least when lovingly transcribed and played (in 2003) by the Netherlands-based Metropole Orchestra with Pat Metheny himself as the soloist.


gypsyIt is fascinating to trace the connections the light music bandleaders and composers who flourished just after the war and into the 1960s had with the pop music world that eventually superseded them. Ralph Elman’s name is not well known today, as he made no LP recordings with his 14 piece orchestra Ralph Elman and his Bohemian Players – they were mostly a broadcast band. (There is, however, a complete transcription of a live Music While You Work broadcast made in 1963 available here).

Born in 1907 in London, he had links with the world of classical music as well, being the nephew of the Russian violinist Mischa Elman (1891-1967) and was a virtuoso violinist himself. He called his players “bohemians” presumably because of his love of gypsy music, and his most famous composition is a violin showpiece called “The Gypsy Fiddler”. As well as leading his own band Elman was also the leader of the Ron Goodwin Orchestra. He also played violin for Burt Bacharach and for Barry Gray (composer of the soundtracks for Thunderbirds, Joe 90 and Captain Scarlet).

It’s the Ron Goodwin connection that links Elman with the Beatles. George Martin began producing Goodwin’s instrumental LPs in 1953, and when Goodwin resumed recording for EMI in 1966 for the well-known Studio 2 stereo series, Martin was again the producer. 1967’s Gypsy Fire LP included Elman’s “Gypsy Fiddler” with the composer as soloist. It seems to have prompted Martin to use Elman as a session player on two Beatles tracks: “Within You Without You” (recorded in March/April 1967 for Sgt. Pepper) and “I Am the Walrus” (recorded in September 1967 for Magical Mystery Tour).

However, Elman’s biggest influence on the pop music world wasn’t through the Beatles. It was his setting up of the Tin Pan Alley Studios (TPA Studios for short) at Denmark Street in 1954 that had the most lasting impact. One of the first independent recording studios in the UK, TPA was where many of the early rock and rollers, including the Rolling Stones, made their early demos – though most then crossed Denmark Street to the Regent Sound Studio to record their actual hits. TPA was re-opened in 2013 as the Denmark Street Studios by producer Guy Katsav.

Ralph Elman retired in the early 1970s and went to live in Spain, where he died in January 1983 at the age of 76, apparently while listening to a recording of Ravel’s gypsy-influenced violin piece Tzigane, as played by Jascha Heifitz – a piece (and a performance) that clearly influenced “Gypsy Fiddler”.

oceanCertain types of music borrow heavily from the past. Chill-out music, for instance, often revolves around a distinctive sample, and some of those samples are used again and again on different tracks. It’s instructive sometimes to go back to the original. Ocean Beach (Cinematic Cybophonia Remix) is a chill-out classic from 2001, featuring highly distinctive tuned percussion and a beautiful “Hollywood-style” string section playing a theme dripping with glissando. It all sounds incredibly post-modern and is full of intriguing detail. This is the work of a Swiss DJ and producer called Eros Minichiello, who remixed an earlier (and much grittier) soul/acid jazz groove version by the Black Mighty Orchestra. This one is much cruder. It sets up the basic groove – complete with a flute reminiscent of the Theme from Shaft – and just pastes the same string sample on top of the groove, dispensing altogether with the tuned percussion. The Cybophonia Remix takes flute, drums and guitar from that version, but clearly goes back to the original source for the tuned percussion and strings.

So where do they come from? The source track turns out to be “Lujon”, a somewhat legendary instrumental from Henry Mancini’s 1961 album Mr Lucky Goes Latin. The entire first minute is used for the remix sample. Let’s take a closer look at the two most distinctive elements separately. First the tuned percussion, which in fact is responsible for the name of the piece. The lujon is the name of an instrument first commissioned by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet and built by a musician called Bill Loughborough (who was a friend of Harry Partch). The name “lujon” was a play on the name John Lewis. It had six metal tongs suspended inside a resonating box. The lujon was played for Mancini by Shelly Manne, and subsequently also used by film composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Some may also remember it from the soundtrack of the 1960s TV series Daktari, where it was also played by Shelly Manne.

The melodic bass line played on the lujon acts as counterpoint to the second distinctive element, the string section. I can’t do better than to quote from Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music by John Caps (2012). He describes “Lujon” as “an atmospheric nocturne with [a] hammock-swing melody and a sighing major-key release…the seductive melody wafts in from the strings with…a tropical ambiance”. Caps quotes Mancini himself on the details of the scoring: “…strictly a Ravel take-off…it’s just eight parts, starting four parts in the violins and then the four parts doubled an octave lower in the violas and the cellos. It’s a very sensuous sound that Ravel made famous. But he was my influence there.”

I have to say I was shocked to discover the extent of the borrowing in Ocean Beach (Remix). The reason is that the two core elements sampled sound so modern, even in the context of the 1961 original. But in the end my surprise doesn’t lessen my admiration for the remix, which adds new elements to great effect – such as the flute from Shaft, the rhythm guitar and drums from Black Mighty Orchestra (especially in the middle section), and above all, in the new sense of space and scale it brings to that beautiful string theme, which is really too big for the two minutes 37 seconds of the original piece. The final string section cadence (that “sighing major-key release” mentioned above) is particularly wonderful at the end, where it is repeated six or seven times during the fade-out. I think Mancini, a common target for sampling, would have approved – though he might have wanted a credit on the record label.