New EP for Christmas

I just released an EP with modern solo guitar arrangements of two traditional carols. (For those so inclined, “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” is arranged in two-voice bimodal counterpoint and “Les anges dans nos campagnes” (“Angels We Have Heard on High”) is a chord-melody arrangement drawing on jazz harmony; both have improvised solo sections. “Les anges” was recorded last year and put out on Soundcloud but it is properly mastered here.

Version of “It Never Entered My Mind” (and “Minor Swing”!)

Spontaneously jammed out this solo version of this classic jazz ballad to celebrate my birthday on Saturday in appropriately middle-aged fashion. It’s slow and a bit rubato; had fun with the harmony and voice-leading.

In other jazzy endeavours, I took advantage of a broken thumbnail a little while ago to work on my flatpicking on a steel string and finally got this bit of Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” solo up to tempo for the first time:

Music Theory Musings – “Don’t Fear the Reaper”

Although I’ve known (and loved) the song most of my life, I just noticed the other day how clever the key change to the solo is in the Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” – it goes from A minor to the chromatic mediant key of C minor using common pitches. The song is in an Aeolian A minor, with a pedal point on G natural (a minor 7th above the tonic – similar to the pedal on E in F# minor in “Wonderwall” a couple of decades later) throughout most of the song, ending on a fermata Am7 chord just before the solo enters with a G in the right speaker.

When the lead guitar enters, unaccompanied, playing arpeggios, the C from the Am7 chord is reinterpreted as the 5th of an Fm chord in the first arpeggio (F Ab C) . Guitarist Buck Dharma then moves to a G7/F arpeggio (F-G-B) keeping his bass note (in the guitar line – there’s no electric bass yet) consistent – these become iv and V[4/2] in the new key. We then get a solo in a functional C minor when the full band re-enters, where leading notes are raised (i.e. using the harmonic minor scale). It ends with a sustained G natural (^5 in C minor) – the pedal point in the main A minor riff – as we return to the song. 

It’s pretty tricky rhythmically as well – it all lines up in 4/4, or at least adds up to multiples of 4, if you count the arpeggios as eighth notes starting on 1, which means the cymbals enter on 1 after four bars and the full band enters on 2 after another four bars + one beat. The trick is that the arpeggio pattern is a three-note pattern accented in 4/4 so the barlines and chord changes always land in different spots in the pattern and it actually runs for a total of 33 eighth notes (eight bars + one beat). The drums are a bit unpredictable during the ensemble playing under the lead guitar but the bassist mostly keeps us anchored with the quarter-note pulse. (One can compare the intro of “Dust in the Wind”, where the melody line on the second string is a six-beat, three-note pattern C-B-D but the C-Am chord changes under this melody only occur every eight beats so the melody-harmony relationship is constantly changing.)