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Steve Khan: Reflections on the Making of "The Green Field"

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When one has had to endure a nine-year absence from recording as a leader, it would seem obvious that the next recording would be of special significance.
[Editors Note: In this, the first of a new series dedicated to giving artists an unedited forum to speak completely with their own voice, veteran guitarist Steve Khan reflects on the making of his new album, The Green Field (Tone Center, 2006)—his first as a leader in nine years.

Khan emerged in the 1970s as part of the New York scene that included Randy and Michael Brecker, Don Grolnick and many others. He released three fine fusion albums for Columbia, featuring his trademark Fender Telecaster tone—Tightrope (1977), The Blue Man (1978) and Arrows (1980)—in addition to participating on countless recording sessions for artists including Billy Joel, Steely Dan and Phoebe Snow.

1980 saw the release of Evidence (Novus)—a remarkable solo tour de force that featured extensive overdubbing and, along with shorter covers of material by Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Lee Morgan, Randy Brecker and Horace Silver, an imaginative 18-minute medley of Thelonious Monk tunes.

But it was in 1981, with the formation of Eyewitness—also featuring bassist Anthony Jackson, drummer Steve Jordan and percussionist Manolo Badrena—that saw a stylistic shift in Khan's musical approach, the germination of a new direction that he continues to hone to this day, and is heard to its greatest effect on The Green Field.

What follows are Khan's reflections on the making of The Green Field, including a track-by-track analysis that addresses both concept and execution.]

Steve's Personal Reflections

When one has had to endure a nine-year absence from recording as a leader, it would seem obvious that the next recording would be of special significance. When you add into the equation that this would be the 5th time in my career that I have paid, out of my own pocket, for the privilege to record, it becomes even more difficult to estimate just how much The Green Field has meant to me.

People often ask me, "Why was there so much time between Got My Mental (Evidence, 1996) [soon to be reissued in Europe on ESC Records] and a new recording?" Well, the answer to this becomes painfully obvious. No one on the recording executive side of the table felt that I was worth recording. One can attempt to dance around the truth, but you would always return to the same, sad conclusion. For some, this would be too much. But, for some reason, it only seemed to strengthen my resolve in finding a way, no matter how long it might take, to get something recorded and released.

After a lunch/meeting during 2004 with Hiroshi Itsuno, who had just launched his own label, 55 Records, in Japan, I felt confident that, no matter what, the recording would have a home, and would, at the very least, be available somewhere on the planet. I also knew that I was going to record again with John Patitucci (acoustic bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and Manolo Badrena (percussion)—all players with whom there exists a great musical empathy. Just as it turned out with Got My Mental, I could not escape the presence of the Latin element in some of the music. And so, I knew that Ralph Irizarry (timbales) and Roberto Quintero (congas) would be added to the trio for those tunes. As the sound and approach to the music-making of the basic guitar trio does not change, the core, the thread would be consistent no matter what. And so, on May 23rd-24th, it all finally came together at Avatar Studio 'A' with Malcolm Pollack behind the console.

It is important to always hold one notion in your thoughts, and that is this: Recording is a privilege, and not a right! When a recording company is paying the budget, it is most easy to forget this. To some, it is license to abuse the privilege. But, when you pay for it yourself, the understanding of just how great a privilege it really is becomes magnified a thousand-fold.

"El Viñón" (Steve Khan) (9:21)

Believe it or not, I have actually had the fundamental 'germ' for this piece since 1984, after Casa Loco was recorded. I have no idea as to just why I was never able to finish composing this piece until now. However, when I returned to New York from a European Tour in March of '05, I knew that I would be dedicating every waking moment to the completion of my original tunes, and to the arranging of the others. And so, I was confident that this piece would finally come into its finished form. I chose to frame everything within the context of a minor blues, and, in a sense, I even put to use "solo changes" which are reminiscent of harmonic devices Wes Montgomery had employed in the past.

Obviously, it is dedicated, and with all due reverence, to the great Elvin Jones! It was designed to feature all the significant players, and, at the end, to give Jack DeJohnette a chance to express himself in this regard. As it is with everything I write and/or choose to play, the most important thing to me is that it must have mood and attitude!!! Those two elements arrive immediately with the basic vamp of the piece!!!

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