Manouche

Eastern-Flavored Music

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The Beatles, Stephane Wrembel and Ali Akbar Khan

During the past few weeks I have listened to three albums constantly: Revolver by The Beatles, Barbes by Stephane Wrembel, and Journey by Ali Akbar Khan. There is a common thread running through all three discs and that is Indian/Eastern music. I’m a fan of different types of music from the Middle and Far East though I really can’t say my knowledge of the subject is very extensive. There are many different instruments and types of music involved and I favor the more traditional/instrumental. I have heard a lot of Asian pop music and some of it is pretty good, but I find that the instrumentation and the arrangements better and more sophisticated in traditional/classical music.

Like many people, I came to “know” (I use the term “know” very loosely and in it’s most superficial sense), Indian music through bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Beatle George Harrison studied sitar with the late Indian virtuoso Ravi Shankar and became one of Indian music’s most vocal proponents. Norwegian Wood, which was written by John Lennon, was the first Beatle song to use the sitar and was basically a western song that employed the sitar for musical effect (the same can be said for The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black). There is some great background at The Beatles Bible (A great site!) on the London scene at the time of recording Rubber Soul and Norwegian Wood. (As I have written on the blog before) Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds were also early pioneers of Eastern-inspired pop music. The original take of Heart Full of Soul actually had a sitar on it! The Davies brothers from The Kinks were also recording music with Eastern sensibilities (See My Friends) at the time. In the States, The Byrds 1965 hit Eight Miles High had a sitar-flavored Rickenbacker guitar sound playing John Coltrane-esque lines, which was pretty far out and groovy for pop music. As the 60s progressed “that Eastern sound” would become synonymous with being stoned and/or altered states of consciousness, much to the displeasure of Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar. Unfortunately, the sound and influence of the music became so popular that it would invade even the most trivial and superficial places by the end of the decade.

When the Beatles’ follow-up album to Rubber Soul, Revolver, was released, it contained the Harrison composition Love You To, which was the first attempt to go “further into the style”. This tune would be a template for later Harrison songs like Within You, Without You and The Inner Light: they are all attempts to play bona-fide Indian music, albeit in a western pop music format. Musically though, I think Love You To is one of George’s best songs ever. Great arrangement and performance and he stays within the confines of the pop style. Other songs from Revolver that are very Eastern, but don’t contain any Eastern instruments, are the fantastic John Lennon compositions Tomorrow Never Knows and She Said, She Said. The former, a drone chant from The Tibetan Book of the Dead on a cool, repetitive Ringo beat with loads of sounds and tape effects, broke a whole lot of rules for pop music and the guitar lines from the latter echo the Eastern-influenced mixolydian lines and quarter to half step bent-notes that one could also hear from Jeff Beck (Shapes of Things, Heart Full of Soul) and Jimi Hendrix (Love or Confusion, Purple Haze) during this time. As the 60s transitioned into the 70s, these Indo/Eastern influences became less of a thing in pop music, but started appearing in the jazz, fusion and progressive rock music of bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Shatki and many more.

In 2006, Stephane Wrembel, Manouche guitarist extraordinaire, who is also a huge fan of prog-rock and student of Indian music, released his disc, Barbes. Recorded when his group was a trio (with bandmates Jared Engle on bass and David Langlois on percussion) the disc is the perfect modern synthesis of three major styles of music: jazz, prog-rock and Indo/Eastern music. I have always dug this disc! Brilliant playing and my favorite of everything he has done. (To see his band live during this time was also a great experience as the clip above proves). Not only are the originals on Barbes fresh and inspiring, the band also covers Django Reinhardt‘s Fleche D’Or, Dizzy Gillespie‘s Night in Tunisia and John Coltrane‘s Afro Blue. The group takes some of these tunes at breakneck tempos and the performances are a dizzying array of chops and melodic invention. Also, the ambient “mood” tunes, including (Introductions, Detroductions) are music of sparse instrumentation and indeterminate origin; world music ragas perhaps?

A Raga is: in the classical music of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, a melodic framework for improvisation and composition. A raga is based on a scale with a given set of notes, a typical order in which they appear in melodies, and characteristic musical motifs.

Manouche music or Gypsy Jazz has strong Indian roots because it is generally agreed that the group of people known as “Gypsies” originated on the Indian subcontinent and first migrated into Europe in the 12th century. There are various sub-categories of these Romani people: Manouche in France, and the Sinti of Central Europe. Sinti/Manouche guitar playing sounds very similar to not only Indian classical music, but some of the progressive rock and jazz of the 1970s. One huge connection is that IMPROVISATION is everything in Indian music, likewise for Manouche music or a lot of 70s rock/jazz as well. A Manouche player must have a very disciplined mind and an aural technique that includes whole tone scales, diminished and augmented arpeggios, altered scales and arpeggios and an emphasis on the “Django-favored” sixths and ninths of the harmony chords. Modern players like Stephane Wrembel have added depth to the sonic palette of the music by combining it with other influences and adding their own touches of musical imagination. There are rhythmic devices and picking patterns found in Indian music that one does not normally hear in a lot of western jazz or classical music and Stephane explores the picking and rhythmic subdivision topics in his book, Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar, which I review here. He advises picking quarter notes up through nontuplets (subdividing by 9 to the beat) with the metronome as warm-up exercises. He explains that, “musicians in India have their own efficient approach to time consisting of singing rhythms using certain syllables. A similar approach may be applied to right-hand technique which will allow for warm-up…” This is a very good way to improve your picking technique and I can say I did it religiously for about six months. In addition to giving my a bunch of listening pleasure, Getting Into… and Barbes are windows into another world and their influence definitely helped make me a better guitar player. Here are some further insights into the nature of Indian rhythm, courtesy of Ravi Shankar.

“…Indian music is also tyrannically precise, with extremely complex mathematical guidelines for how ragas are played. “There are thousands of ragas,” Shankar explains, “and they are all connected with different times of the day, like sunrise or night or sunset. It is all based on 72 of what we call mela or scales. And we have principally nine moods, ranging from peacefulness to praying, or the feeling of emptiness you get by sitting by the ocean.”

Ali Akbar Khan “was a Hindustani classical musician of the Maihar gharana, known for his virtuosity in playing the sarod.” Born in modern-day Bangladesh, he was trained on a variety of instruments under the guidance of very strict family members who had him practicing up to 18 hours a day. His sister, Annapurna Devi, was also an accomplished musician and was, for a time, the wife of fellow student, Ravi Shankar. Over the years Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar would perform many times together, including at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and were easily two of the most prominent Indian musicians in the western world. After moving to the USA in the late 50s Khan would found a couple of schools, one in California and one in Switzerland and would spend the next 40 years touring and performing until his health failed in the late 2000s.

I’ve been listening to Journey for the past 10 years and find it very enjoyable. As I related earlier, I’ve always liked the sound of Indian music, especially if it’s instrumental. Eastern philosophy doesn’t necessarily compartmentalize like Western thinking and Eastern music doesn’t separate Eastern Mystical concepts (that were the lyrics of western songs like The Inner Light or Within You, Without You) from the music. Some of the best musical numbers on Journey include Morning Meditation, Temple Music and Lullaby. I don’t meditate (perhaps I should?), but the sounds of this music conjure up great feelings of emotion and ambiance that I hear in any other great, sophisticated music. The happy, get up and go riff of the title cut, Journey, is brilliant and fun as is the dark and somewhat stormy Carnival of Mother Kali. The romantic, almost child-like melody of Come Back My Love sounds like mid-60s George Harrison song and the other ballad-type tracks have the pacing and deliberate delivery that one can hear on some of the tracks of Barbes. There is a whole lot of crossover between these three discs is what I’m trying to say! Khan’s Sarod has a stoic depth and darkness even in happy moods, and his soulful playing is augmented by Guitars(!), Tabla, Shakers, Tanpura, Keyboards, Duggi and Dholak. All of the music was composed by Ali Akbar Khan and was recorded in 1990, giving the disc a classic, but very modern sound.

I also own this disc, Traditional Music of India, which is four really long ragas. Very cool, long jams that have none of the more modern arrangements or instrumentation found on Journey, but still a very enjoyable listen. This is the kind of traditional music that one must be a master to play and would probably be impossible for most western musicians or anyone else not raised in the school. It’s amazing that no matter the musical style, or background of the artist, the performance of classic music such as this is basically approached the same way and requires the same skills. The pace and flow of these very traditional ragas remind me of some of the guitar pieces on the Bream and Williams disc I review in the right column, or a Django Reinhardt solo improvisation or Jimmy Page playing White Summer. (Incidentally…sometimes it helps to approximate an “Indian” sound/tuning by using alternate tunings, which I explore here.) Music from the Asian continent has given western listeners and players a very expanded sense of what music (and life) is and I believe any musician can only gain from listening to and experiencing music such as this. There is a nice quote on the cover of Journey that I relate to and maybe other musicians will find it interesting as well:

Music is something I learned all my life and am still learning. Earlier in my boyhood days, I learned naturally—as children learn a language, without deeper understanding of what it can really offer. I kept on learning and playing with rapt attention — with a sense of dedication — but not the deep inner feeling which finally came at the ripe age of fifty! Now when I play, my heart is filled with blissful joy that I can hardly express! I feel a sense of ultimate fulfillment that nothing else in the world can offer me anymore. Indeed, music is a very spiritual experience for me — only through music, I feel I can reach closer to God…”

— Ali Akbar Khan

More Guitar Instruction Media

I thought this would be a good time to explore some of the Guitar Instruction Media I have collected over the years. I’ve already touched on this in various posts, here, here and here, and here. AND HERE. Probably after this post I won’t have anything left to show. I know from checking the links that people do seen to like what they see with regards to some of the products I’ve reviewed before. I hope that you are all happy with your purchases and they have helped you sound better, play better or achieve all of the musical goals that you have. Without further ado —

SRV_covHal Leonard Best of Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Licks This is the oldest item I’ll be reviewing today. It’s Hal Leonard’s Best of Stevie Ray Vaughan for guitar taught by the boisterously funny and entertaining Greg Koch. Greg has appeared in many guitar instruction places and is all over YouTube too. Greg can play his butt off and does a great job with the iconic Stevie Ray, showing not only how to play the eight classics on the disc, but also sound considerations and further ideas for original soloing. Songs include, Ain’t Gone ‘N’ Give Up on Love, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Crossfire, Empty Arms, The House Is Rockin’, Riviera Paradise, Scuttle Buttin’, and Stang’s Swang. A pretty good cross-section of Stevie’s material and songs that end with n + exclamation point!

SRV_discAs I said I’ve had this for a long time, probably 12-13 years now and originally I purchased it to learn how to play Stang’s Swang and Riviera Paradise, two of Stevie’s jazzier numbers. They were fun to learn how to play and served as a nice introduction for the real jazz styles and tunes that I would begin to learn a year later with some of these subsequent books. This disc is still available through online sources, some no doubt better than others. If you want to get the Stevie sound and Stevie licks and techniques under your fingers or learn to play some of his more advance stuff I think this disc is a great way to do that!

pearl_covPearl Django Play-Along Songbook Vol.1 This was the second songbook I bought once I started playing Gypsy Jazz and I can’t say enough about it! The book was put together by Greg Ruby from the band Pearl Django, a Gypsy Jazz outfit formed in the mid-90s by Neil Andersson, David Firman and the late, great Dudley Hill. The songs were out of Pearl Django’s repertoire that included covers of Django Reinhardt tunes, old swing/jazz standards and fresh originals. This was a great book to get early on because it has a CD of various members of the band in a play-a-long setting. Any of the seventeen songs start with a head played by guitar or violin and then there are any number of choruses to solo on with just a rhythmic backing. So cool! So helpful! I’ve spent a lot of time jamming out to Pearl Django and it’s a great product.

pearl4I also like the fact that the song list is way cool — especially the Django standards — Djangology, Minor Blues, Troublant Bolero, Nuages, Swing 42, and Manoir des mes Reves. I also learned and enjoyed guitarist Dudley Hill’s chord melody-based compositions New Metropolitan Swing and Radio City Rhythm. Some of the other covers like Limehouse Blues, I’ll See You in My Dreams and I Found a New Baby are jam session standards that any aspiring Manouche player will want to get under his or her fingers. I bought this book from Djangobooks and it’s still available. At $30 it’s not cheap but you do get a lot for the money: meticulous head/melody arrangements by seasoned pro guitarists with 2nd options for harmony in some cases; all manner of Manouche rhythm chord formation and structure, and as I said above, the play-a-long cd with all songs included. Not only that but it is SPIRAL BOUND!! This definitely adds to the cost, but makes it much easier to use. Highly recommended especially for those starting out.

modal_covJazz Guitar Techniques: Modal Voicings I’ve had this DVD for awhile too and I don’t think I spent more than an hour with it. It was a gift from somebody through Amazon and it didn’t contain whatever booklet was supposed to come along with it. Or maybe there isn’t supposed to be a booklet. I honestly have never been able to figure out what I’m supposed to do when it comes to learning the voicings contained within. This is a Berklee Workshop disc so you would think it would be good, but it just wasn’t. I have subsequently learned a lot of modal ideas and even some modal chords from other sources, so if you want this disc I’ll let it go for $5.99$3.99 $.99! (haha)

Wrewmbel_covMel Bay’s Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar Speaking of Berklee and (guys who went there) this book is very unlike the last offering because it is GREAT GREAT GREAT! Stephane Wrembel put this book together after studying with real Manouche musicians for years and then graduating from Berklee. Not only is it an awesome beginners book for those wishing to dip their proverbial toe into the wonderful world of Gypsy Jazz music, it is also a mind-expanding resource that players can return to over and over again. Stephane covers everything from picking exercises (that include a bit of Indian Music influences) to arpeggios, scales, some music theory and example etudes as well as some stylistic techniques that are endemic to Manouche music. It is a JAM-PACKED resource and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. Originally I bought it in a store (you know one of those things…OUTSIDE) but this book is also available at Djangobooks for a very reasonable price. Learn from one of the modern masters!

wes_covMel Bay Presents Wes Montgomery Jazz Guitar Artistry Speaking of Mel Bay and modern masters, here is a songbook of transcriptions from one of the absolute pillars of jazz guitar. Wes Montgomery completely reinvented what playing jazz meant and this book tackles fourteen of his greatest pieces including, Jeanine, Work Song, Missile Blues, Full House, and Mi Cosa. There seems to be some problem getting this book now, or there was a version with inaccurate transcriptions (allegedly). I don’t know what’s going on. It’s available at Amazon for a reasonable price. But there is another listing here where it costs $30 or $55, which is wrong. There is no CD with this book, but the version I have has very accurate transcriptions. I just played along with Wes from his album cuts of the song I was learning. But I guess buyer beware on this one! The good version takes you headfirst into the music of a guitar legend!

fox_covMel Bay Guitar Arpeggio Studies on Jazz Standards Here’s another book courtesy of Mel Bay and authored by jazz guitarist Mimi Fox.  Mimi is a jazz player I’ve heard over the years and I’ve always like what she’s done. This book, which comes with an accompanying CD, was a gift ten plus years ago. I spent some quality time with this book it (along with the Wrembel book above) and that got me going in a big way on arpeggios and how to use them. Well-known jazz standards are used to illustrate how one may pull out various arpeggios from the harmony to begin the arduous, but fun task of understanding how to play an effective solo. The second half of the book focuses on advanced arpeggio concepts and how players can build their own. I think the book is less than 75 pages, but it is an effective study course for what it sets out to do. It gets very positive reviews on Amazon, but I think there is something weird happening with Amazon’s current pricing schematic because there are “new” books listed for almost $100 and I didn’t pay anywhere near that…so don’t buy it there. Buy it HERE where it is the very reasonable price of $19.99.

Django_covDjango Reinhardt: Know the Man, Play the Music Finally there is this book, which was also a gift from my late friend and leader of Cab City Combo, Paul Rubin, who I’ve written about here, here, here and here. This is an interesting book and one I’ve obviously had for a long time given the shape of the cover. I believe that Paul ordered this for me as soon as I told him about my Manouche aspirations. It was definitely a book I used in the early days and I will always treasure it for sentimental reasons.

Django4The first part of the book (Know the Man) is Django’s biography and is a fairly well-done primer for those who don’t know Django’s story. It’s illustrated with cool pics and considering at the time I received the book I knew 10% of what I know now, it is another one of those books that delivers exactly what it promises. The 2nd half of the book (Play the Music) that focuses on technique and six of Django’s most famous performances including Honeysuckle Rose, Nuages, Bouncin’ Around, and Djangology. An accompanying CD will help you work out the songs. By the time I started playing Gypsy Jazz with other people I had Django’s intro, solo and outro bits to Honeysuckle Rose completely worked out thanks to this book, so I think it rocks! The book gets good reviews on Djangobooks forum, is spiral-bound, and can be purchased here and here. It’s on Amazon too at almost double the price if you’re into giving more money to Jeff Bezos