Archive for October, 2010

Bud Powell: “Cleopatra’s Dream”

Monday, October 11th, 2010

I’ve always liked the sound of jazz but have never been as interested in it as rock or classical. Recently my interest has flared up a bit, and I’ve been trying to make up for lost time by listening to more of it with active ears. The standard approved way to work on your analytical technique seems to be to make transcriptions of classical recorded solos, so I picked up the first random jazz CD that was at hand, Bud Powell’s The Scene Changes, and sat down to transcribe the first number, Cleopatra’s Dream. Unfortunately 1) it’s a very fast tune (quarter note = 240), 2) it’s in A flat minor (that’s seven flats), and 3) Bud Powell, like I suppose any good pianist, uses both hands. So maybe it was not the best song to transcribe first. Nonetheless I ended up with something that is at least moderately accurate, especially in the right hand, and it can be found here (PDF file).

I did learn a bit from this exercise about how Powell improvises, and it was good practice for my ears, so it was certainly a success on those fronts. If anyone has suggestions or corrections, especially actual jazz musicians who can tell me, for example, “this line you sketched out in the left hand is not what anyone would ever actually play, he must be doing this instead”, I’d love to hear them.

(By the way, I noted on Twitter that I hear this as being in Ab minor (7 flats), and not G# minor (5 sharps), which you’d think would be more “simple”, and I think I realized why. The leading tone is an important part of the scale, and the major dominant chord that contains it is an important chord; and it’s much easier to think about a V chord that’s an Eb major (Eb, G, Bb) than a D# major (D#, F##, A#). So I think I chose the right key after all.)

Steven Erikson: Deadhouse Gates

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

The second volume of the ten-book epic fantasy series The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which was begun with Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates is regarded by many fans (though not me) as the best of the bunch. It’s true for sure that you can see Erikson hit his stride here in a way that is new.

For one thing, the plot feels a lot better controlled. There are still a half-dozen independent threads going on, and in fact they don’t even all end up tying together in the way that they did in the first book, but perhaps it is that independence that lets Erikson take each one to a conclusion instead of trying to combine them all in the last chapter. This book also contains the famous Chain of Dogs sequence, which is pretty wrenching and gives the whole book an emotional weight that was less present before.

Once again, all the stuff going on can seem pretty random, most memorably when a ship of manages to go through a series of weird dimensions in quick succession, each crazier than the last. It is easy to regard this as Erikson just randomly chucking in every weird idea he can think of, but as I mentioned before, if something is introduced out of nowhere that seems to bear no relation to the plot, it is likely to be a call-forward to something in a future book. This can be a little frustrating but it certainly does contribute to the epic feel.

I would say that at this point the dimensions of the larger plot start to become clear, but that’s a lieā€”the most important plot thread in many ways doesn’t even really get hinted at until book 3. But you do start to get a sense of the scope of the thing. That scope will widen even more in the next book…