Steve Khan: Reflections on the Making of "Borrowed Time"


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Beyond those all too realistic and fatalistic feelings, 'time' is an essential part of the musical experience too. One must 'feel time' in order to be able to play with other musicians. It is essential.
Steve[Editor's Note: With the critical acclaim for Steve Khan's first album as a leader in ten years, The Green Field (Tone Center, 2006), hopes were high that another decade wouldn't have to pass before the guitarist moved forward with another project.

With the release of Borrowed Time (Tone Center, 2007), Khan leverages on the successes of The Green Field with an album that's more ambitious in scope. Alongside the returning core trio featuring bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette, a host of guests—including five percussionists, flugelhorn, bass clarinet, keyboards and vocals—expand the sonic groundwork of The Green Field for an album that's in many ways career-defining.

As with The Green Field, Khan has been kind enough to provide his own personal reflections on the making of Borrowed Time. Fascinating anecdotes about the session, technical details and a wealth of information that explains how Khan has arrived where he is at today make this an entertaining and educational window into the process of record-making.]

Chapter Index
  1. Introduction
  2. I Mean You
  3. Mr. and Mrs. People
  4. Face Value
  5. El Faquir
  6. You're My Girl
  7. Blues for Ball
  8. Have You Met Miss Jones?
  9. Moon and Sand/Luna y Arena
  10. Hymn Song


Well, as you now know, this CD is titled Borrowed Time (Tiempo Prestado), and with each passing day the phrase has more and more meaning for me.

Here, in our culture.....we often use the expression: "Living on borrowed time....." It is used to signify that the end of life is near and, in the days that remain, that person is "stealing extra time (borrowed time) to live and to enjoy life in some fashion to its fullest. So yes, beyond a particular age, one comes to feel this way, at least a little bit.....and I do feel that, perhaps a bit too much, on any given day.

I also chose a particular Jean-Michel Folon image for the U.S. cover, because "our world" is now "living on borrowed time....." and if we don't do something to save it, and soon, we will leave those behind, our children, with nothing!!! So, there is this significance too. The Folon image, which appears on the Japanese and European covers, is titled "The Theater of Time" and bears a "clock." This is a far more obvious way to express the meaning of the precious nature of time.

But beyond those all too realistic and fatalistic feelings, "time" is an essential part of the musical experience too. One must "feel time in order to be able to play with other musicians. It is essential. Michael Brecker made a fantastic CD, which he called Time is of the Essence; in the same regard he was speaking of both things metaphorically.

As a player, one must have a certain amount of self-confidence, at times bordering on arrogance, about just how they "feel time (their own sense of time/pulse/rhythm). Yet, underneath it all, there is always an insecurity lurking.....ready to destroy that self-confidence at a moment's notice. I often feel that, and it tends to torture me, and causes me great inner pain. But, I go on in spite of it. And so, in my way, sometimes, as a musician, I "borrow the time" of others, and I lean on them to find my own. And yet, there are moments where I know that they must lean on me......and, it is that feeling that brings on the return of my own strength.

So, if there is a significance, a personal meaning to the title, then it is perhaps to be found on those three levels, those layers.

And now, here are my "Personal Reflections" for this recording: class="f-right">

"I Mean You (Thelonious Monk-Coleman Hawkins) (8:00)

Once again, I am drawn to return to the music of Thelonious Monk. The version of inspiration comes from his recording, Big Band and Quartet in Concert (Columbia, 1964), which was recorded on December 30th, 1963 at New York's Philharmonic Hall, with arrangements by Hall Overton. Here, I sought to again meld Latin elements with Jack DeJohnette's special talents. As our little quintet with John Patitucci, Jack, Ralph Irizarry and Roberto Quintero, we had actually rehearsed this arrangement for The Green Field sessions, but we just weren't ready to attempt to record it at that time. And so, I had to let it go.

This time, however, I made certain that the complex rhythmical details would make sense to all the players, and with Rob Mounsey's help I made a demo to be given, in advance, to everyone. You can now hear the results of everyone's hard work. The piece moves in and out of the expected swing 4/4 and an Afro-Cuban mix in 6/8, which, only during the first melody statement, features Jack's brushes playing the "abakwa counter-rhythm. I first heard this done on an old Jazz Crusaders recording titled, Chili Con Soul (Pacific Jazz, 1965), when Clare Fischer did something similar for his arrangement of "The Breeze and I. It was something I have never forgotten.

The fade section features yet another spectacular drum solo from Jack. It's so great to hear him bashing away in this kind of a rhythmic setting. One must keep in mind that, when attempting to blend Jack DeJohnette with authentic Latin musicians, the idea is not to turn Jack into a "Latin player. The concept is simply to find the way in which he can be himself, and the essence of the Latin rhythms will be unchanged. For this performance I tried to tell Jack: "Just play the same way you would play if you were playing 'Footprints' or even 'Someday My Prince Will Come,' and everything should turn out fine. I would like to believe that this piece of advice helped in some small way. class="f-right">

"Mr. and Mrs. People (Ornette Coleman) (7:44)

Through his LPs, I thought that I was familiar with most of Ornette Coleman's recorded work but, as we have discovered in the CD age, fans have reaped the benefits of the extra disc space by being given "alternate takes, and "previously unreleased material. "Mr. and Mrs. People is just such a tune, and only appears, as far as I know, on the box set, Beauty is a Rare Thing (Atlantic, 1992). The tune was recorded on July 19th, 1960, and at the same time as his classic composition, "Blues Connotation. "Mr. and Mrs. People is such a great melody that I can't understand how it wasn't "good enough to have been included. But, these are often decisions which are made by the record company, and not necessarily by the artist. Who can say why this happened?

As usual, I spent a great deal of time familiarizing myself with the piece, and as I grew closer to it, I started to find ways to "make it my own. So, along with the chemistry that John, Jack, Manolo and I have developed in interpreting Ornette's music in this setting, I felt ready to present it to them, and just play it. There was only one rehearsal for this particular recording session, and because of scheduling conflicts, John Patitucci couldn't even be there. Though he had been sent an envelope of all the music, and a CD-R, which included Ornette's original recording, we never all played it together until the run-throughs prior to the take. So, as a group, we sacrifice the familiarity, and have to rely on the spontaneity. The results? Well, they are what they are! class="f-right">

"Face Value (Steve Khan) (10:09)

Believe it or not, this piece was originally composed for what would have been my third CD with the Caribbean Jazz Project in 2002. But, after series of anticipated, but no less awful disagreements with Dave Samuels, I quit the group. And so, this tune had been lying around since then. Because of the importance of the keyboard part, I just didn't see how I could ever really record it for a CD under my own name. But, as the new recording project was taking shape, I began to see that this might be the best opportunity I might ever have to record it.

When my old "boss Randy Brecker and I reconnected during 2006, I sent him the demo for this tune, and he really seemed to like it. But, he stated that he didn't have a record deal, and that he had no idea as to if or when he might have the opportunity to record again. So, Randy was in my mind, and very much so, when I was trying to envision just how I would want to record this tune. In light of all that has transpired in the past couple of years, it was very special to have Randy there. And this tune was actually recorded on Randy's birthday.....which we celebrated in the studio with a cake.

I haven't used my ESP Strat as a melodic voice in years. Actually, not since Public Access (GRP, 1989) in 1988. But in truth, this style of playing that instrument, and using the tremolo arm, really goes back to the Eyewitness (Antilles, 1981) recording, and the tune "Dr. Slump. Here, the combination of the Latin "bolero and "cha-cha-cha rhythms provide the perfect backdrop for this kind of expressive playing. As Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende humorously pointed out, the groove becomes a "bolero-cha. Rubén Rodriguez and his Baby Bass anchor the track with just the right character.

The [B] section, from both the harmonic and linear perspective, is another affectionate tribute to the harmonies of Clare Fischer. Though there is nothing so unique about the chord progressions employed, the voicing style is really easily identifiable as being connected to Clare. Where my struggles with composing are concerned, I think that this is one of the best sections that I've ever written. I think that this is because the melody could exist, on its own, apart from the harmony beneath it. Each voicing is played to perfection by the great Rob Mounsey. Once again he demonstrates his own sense of romance with beautiful harmony, and glorious keyboard sounds.

As I was preparing for the recording, I had initially thought that I would play my nylon-string acoustic on this one, but, as the session approached, I changed my mind, and decided that my Martin MC-28 steel string acoustic would be the right instrument. I like the steel-string, in the middle of this kind of lush context, because it has a certain "twang and funkiness to it that provide a perfect contrast. It was Randy Brecker's choice to use his flügelhorn on this track, and he sounds so very wonderful during the entire performance. class="f-right">

"El Faquir (Steve Khan) (13:37)

Throughout the process of my education, I have always thought of the meaning for a "fakir as: a person who was capable of magical feats, sometimes a healer of sorts. But, a "fakir can also be an exceptionally holy man. Our Western stereotype seems to always be the man who can walk over hot coals. In this case, because of the Latin elements mixed in with the Indian and jazz feelings, I used the Spanish spelling for the same type of man.

This tune was actually written as part of a suite for my composition class final, while attending U.C.L.A. in 1969. During my years there, 1965-1969, the music department did not even recognize the guitar (not even classical guitar) as an instrument, and so, to receive "performance credits, I had to take classes in ethnomusicology, which turned out to be a great gift. This led me to study the music of India; Bali; China; Japan; and México. Inspired by my classes in Indian music (though I now hardly remember anything about it), and our cultural fascination with that music via The Beatles, I sought to meld Indian instruments with jazz-oriented instruments, plus the requisite odd-meter time signatures. Initially my "Suite had a piece in 7/4, and this portion of it was in 11/4.

When I arrived in New York in 1970, one of my earliest bands, "Future Shock which, of all things, featured both Randy and Michael Brecker, and Don Grolnick, used to play this tune. Somewhere, in an old box of reel-to-reel tapes, I have a demo that we did. I haven't heard it in ages. Some years later, I recorded a version of the tune with saxophonist Steve Marcus, alongside Don, Will Lee, and Steve Gadd. At that time, the tune became much more akin to the "fusion music of those years. After that, I just let the tune go.

However, with the passing years, the bass ostinato stayed with me, and I sought to do a reworking of the entire piece, putting to use the best of what had transpired in live performances from the past. But, the "new arrangement was to be for the Caribbean Jazz Project, and would now add the Latin element to the mix, instead of the Indian elements. While in Caracas, Venezuela for the Holiday Season of 2001, I made a demo of the piece with the help of Rafael Greco. But, as fate would have it, my disagreements with Dave Samuels reached a breaking point, and I had to quit the band before what was to be the next recording.

As my new solo project was taking shape, I knew that I wanted to record this piece, but I would attempt to blend in all the varied cultural elements: jazz; Indian; and Latin music. It would require the presence of tabla master Badal Roy to bring home the Indian voice. Ralph Irizarry on timbal would add the Latin voice. Manolo Badrena would bring his other worldly sounds. Bob Mintzer was asked to play bass clarinet on the piece, a color inspired by the Miles Davis piece "Great Expectations from the Big Fun (Columbia, 1974) recording. And, of course, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette would bring their voices and the jazz elements to the performance. The idea is that, over the basic 11/4 ostinato, there are a variety of rhythmical elements taking place. Hopefully, they all work together as one.

Oh, I can't forget to mention that to create the full effect, we needed the sounds of the tamboura too. And so, Badal brought along his wife, Geeta to the session, and she brought her own sense of calm spirituality to the music. It made for a wonderful experience for everyone, and our group photo surrounding Badal and Geeta documents this. class="f-right">

"You're My Girl (Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne) (7:00)

One might think that, growing-up in our home, I would have known or heard all of my father's songs, and constantly. But, this was not always the case. And the truth is that, I really never knew this song, perhaps because it was written just before I was born? It appeared in the Broadway musical High Button Shoes, which opened in 1947 (the year of my birth), and ran through 1949. The latter date is the year of my sister Laurie's birth.

It was, in fact, my sister who inspired me to investigate this song. At her daughter Rachel's Bat Mitzvah now, many years ago, Laurie courageously sang this song to her daughter without accompaniment. It was a very special and beautiful moment, one which has stayed with me for years. And so, this served as the inspiration to finally record the tune. There is, of course, a very lovely version by Frank Sinatra.

To complete this tribute to my sister and my father, I decided, after much thought, to reharmonize a small piece of the "hit song from the same Broadway show, "Papa Won't You Dance with Me (which is really a very corny, traditional 2-beat, up-tempo song), but play it rubato and romantically as an intro. And so, that is how it now appears. It was the last tune John, Jack, Manolo and I performed after a long, long day on January 9th, 2007. As it always has been, it's an absolute thrill to play with Jack when he's using his brushes. His artistry at this is almost without peer. class="f-right">

"Blues for Ball (McCoy Tyner) (7:04)

I have been playing this tune for years now in a trio context. It was always a favorite of mine since I first heard McCoy Tyner's double-LPSuper Trios (Milestone, 1977) with one trio that included Eddie Gomez (acoustic bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) from April, 1977. Initially, I played the tune in the same key in which McCoy played it, that is, C minor. I recorded a great version of it on a "demo I did with Jay Anderson (acoustic bass) and Joel Rosenblatt (drums).

When I finally tried to record the tune for Headline (Blue Moon, 1992) I was in the company of Anthony Jackson (contrabass guitar); Dennis Chambers (drums); and Manolo Badrena (percussion). That version was really spectacular but sadly it was badly recorded and unusable. But, a good portion of that is my fault. Playing this tune on the guitar in C minor makes it very difficult for the top notes of the melody to speak properly because of the dense harmony.

When I decided to attempt to record this tune again, I moved the key up to E minor in hopes that the melody would be able to be heard clearly. And so, alongside John Patitucci, Jack DeJohnette, and Manolo Badrena, I gave it another try. I'm very pleased with this version, but sadly, because of time constraints, it just couldn't fit on the 78-minute CD, The Green Field.. When I decided to mix this tune in May of 2006, it somehow inspired me to find a way to record again, and complete some of the work that this trio plus percussion has pursued since Got My Mental (Evidence, 1996). I really hope that everyone enjoys this performance. class="f-right">

"Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rodgers-Hart) (8:09) Originally, I just decided to do this arrangement for fun. I had always loved McCoy Tyner's version of this great old standard on his recording titled, Reaching Fourth (Impulse!, 1963), which featured some incredible brushwork from Roy Haynes. But, more than this, I wanted to see if I could apply all that I had learned from my harmonic studies of Clare Fischer's work. And so, this version is a tribute to both of these great keyboard artists. Over the years, the full arrangement has undergone a multitude of changes and adjustments, right up to the last moments before recording it. After quite a bit of work writing everything out, each voicing, in Clare's harmonic style, and using a McCoy Tyner fragment as a thematic device, I felt ready to make a sequenced computerized "demo. And so, I was lucky enough to enlist the help of my dear friend Rafael Greco, who resides in Caracas, Venezuela, to help me to create a Latin rhythmic underpinning for the arrangement. We had an amazing amount of fun putting it together. At that time, I would not have had much of a clue as to just what each percussion instrument would do: congas; timbales; bongos; güiro, etc. In the end, the form was set up for one solo which would be three choruses in length, each one building in strength. Rafael helped me to create the rhythmic breaks at the beginning of choruses one and two.

As I have done on past recordings when playing with Rob Mounsey, I always like to separate myself from his gorgeous keyboard sounds by playing acoustic guitar. So, on this tune, I knew that my Yamaha APX-10N nylon-string would become my voice. On an interesting side note, just two weeks prior to the recording, I finally went into my instrument closet to begin practicing on the nylon-string. Yet, when I opened the case I discovered that the bridge had completely snapped-off, become unglued, and the instrument was unplayable! I immediately ran downtown to Norio Imai's repair shop and learned that he would be able to repair the guitar in time for the recording. Wow, I felt so very lucky!

As the recording approached, I wanted to accommodate Randy Brecker on flugelhorn, and so the solo format would now repeat. However, there was still one missing piece to this harmonic homage to the Fischer style within the Latin genre—I knew that there had to be a montuno somewhere. To write such a thing, and in 3:2 rumba clave was something for which I am wholly unqualified. And, as great as he might be, it is not something with which Rob Mounsey is conversant.

As I am lucky enough to have some great friendships amongst Latino keyboard artists, I called upon another Venezolano, Luis Perdomo and asked him to help me by writing out two different montunos for each [B] section of the second and third choruses of both solos. The trick was that the montunos had to remain "in the style of all the voicings. It wasn't long before Luis had sent me two really wonderful versions, which I wrote into the arrangement and, of course, Rob Mounsey played them with care, feeling and energy. Perhaps they will go by unnoticed, but for me they make a huge difference and give those choruses a lift. Mil gracias Luis!!!

As part of the original arrangement I had written a 32-bar open section which became labeled as [D] and, at first, I thought that this could be a spot for either a timbales solo or perhaps a conga solo. But, after spending so much time listening to the original demo, I came to feel that it might be best if I wrote what is called, in some circles, a horn "soli" but, in Latin music circles, it is known as a "moña. In either case, it would be played by Randy and me, and would provide some great accents for Marc Quiñones to negotiate on timbales. This he does brilliantly. In writing the moña, I took a melodic fragment from the tune, and use it to glue everything together. In addition to that, in some small way, my usage of upper neighboring tones is an affectionate tribute to Randy Brecker and his linear style of composition. This alone made it extra fun to play it, and especially to play it with him.

Clockwise from top left: John Patitucci, Steve Khan, Jack DeJohnette

To have been there to witness the rhythmic components of the track come together in the masterful hands of Marc and Bobby Allende was wonderful for me. For anyone who has followed the contemporary New York Salsa scene over the past two decades, they would know that these two great percussionists have played on more Salsa hits than anyone can imagine. They have a very particular New York/Puerto Rican "swing to their playing, and for me, it's just thrilling to have that unique perspective represented on this recording. It's really gratifying that we finally got to do something like this. Though Marc had to issue me several "citations for violating the clave on earlier incarnations of the arrangement, I did my best to make adjustments to fix the "trouble bars. Trying to write convincingly in 3:2 rumba clave is really difficult for me. class="f-right">

"Moon and Sand/Luna y Arena (Wilder-Engvick-Palitz) (6:00) The first time I ever heard Alec Wilder's beautiful and mysterious composition was on Kenny Burrell's great recording from the '60s titled, Guitar Forms (Verve, 1964), which featured a haunting arrangement by Gil Evans. Many years later, I also came to adore Keith Jarrett's version on Standards Vol. 2 (ECM, 1985) which features the incredible brushwork of Jack DeJohnette. In truth, I never knew that there were lyrics to the tune until I heard Chet Baker's version on the Let's Get Lost (BMG, 1989) soundtrack. It was just so sad to hear him sound like that, but the lyrics, and the story were so beautiful. In my research, I later discovered a version from the 1940s by Xavier Cugat, leading me to believe that this song might have been a kind of World War II love song.

The arrangement that you now hear was actually written as a Christmas gift for an ex-fiancée, in hopes that it would inspire her to resume her singing career, which she had always spoken about. But sadly, it just never happened, and this wonderful track existed for several years without a vocal. My dear friend Rafael Greco wrote the Spanish lyrics because none existed. The Cugat version was sung in English.

So, in 2002, after a painful break-up, I just did not want to allow all this work to go to waste, so I sought to find a way to have a vocal to, at the very least, feel that the work had arrived at a conclusion. The first person I contacted about singing on this track was Gabriela Anders, who is from Argentina. Gaby and I had done a wonderful project together some years before. I was hoping that she would like the track so much that she might include it on one of her CDs. But, for some reason, at that point in time, she just had no interest in singing on it. That was very disappointing for me. But, I had to respect her wishes.

As 2006 was passing by, and this new recording project was taking shape, and, knowing that both "Face Value and "Have You Met Miss Jones? were going to be part of the recording, and furthermore, that Marc Quiñones, Rubén Rodriguez, and Bobby Allende would be part of it, I knew, and with certainty, that the sound and feel of this track would be a good match with those other tunes. And so, as difficult as it might have been, I decided to try to contact Gaby again to see if her feelings might have changed, and if she'd be willing to sing on it. As fate and/or luck would have it, this time, she seemed to be so genuinely excited about singing it.

I had always known that she was the right singer for this track, because, in my opinion, it requires a very breathy voice, almost Brazilian in style, and this is a quality that Gaby has naturally. It is not something that I have coax out of her. In short, I am thrilled that we could do this together.

The little flügelhorn "coro at the end was played beautifully by Randy Brecker. Again, as it is with the vocal, I asked Randy to play it in a Brazilian, and very breathy style, with a touch of Burt Bacharach too!!! And that's what you now hear. In truth, that portion of this arrangement actually owes a debt of gratitude to Wes Montgomery because it was inspired by a small portion of a phrase from Claus Ogerman's string arrangement for the Wes classic, "Bumpin' on Sunset. It is a nice thing to now take a moment and to account for all the diverse influences and inspirations that reside within a single piece of music.

More than anything, "Luna y Arena is included here because it serves as a beautiful ballad, nothing more. In a way, it is rare that three ballads are included on any recording, and that two of them are boleros done in the Latin style. The goal remains the same: try to produce a work of great and lasting beauty! That's all! class="f-right">

"Hymn Song (McCoy Tyner) (7:24)

Here's another of McCoy Tyner's originals from the same Super Trios recording on which he performs with a trio that included Eddie Gomez (acoustic bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) from April, 1977. I have always loved the romance and majesty of the harmonies he employs here. And, for my interpretation, I knew that it would rhythmically fall into the zone of the cha-cha-cha. So, with that in mind, I decided to make this the "percussion feature for the Borrowed Time CD. Again, it features spirited solos from Roberto Quintero (conga); Ralph Irizarry (timbal); and finally, Jack DeJohnette (drums). All this is done before a breakdown, and then the tempos double with an edge, as we launch into a "plena for a time.

Steve The night before the session, I was home trying to practice, and plan ahead for any eventuality that might occur. I thought to myself, "What if, for some reason, Roberto doesn't think to bring with him a 'güira' for the plena section? It won't sound and feel authentic! You might be wondering, "What's a 'güira'? Well, it's a metallic cylinder with lots of ridges and it is usually played with something that resembles a metal "comb of sorts. It provides a very different kind of scraping sound. Once we had performed the track, it was time for Roberto's overdubs, and when we arrived at the plena section, I looked at him, and asked him if he had brought along his güira and, of course, he had forgotten to bring it. I never panicked, because I knew that I could say, "Don't worry! in Spanish.... I've got mine here! Ralph Irizarry began to laugh hysterically that, of all things, I could have remembered to have brought mine. Yet, when you listen to this section, try to imagine it without this sound!!! The feeling would be very, very different.

The entire double-time fade provides me with an opportunity to explore one of the great, yet simple, chord progressions used for such montunos. It goes as: ||: Imaj | V7 | V7 | Imaj :|| Once you have any progression which includes a V7-Imaj, the improviser becomes free to insert or insinuate any of the possibilities for linear resolution. It goes without saying that I enjoy this kind of open space very much.

Related Article

Steve Khan Reflects on Recording The Green Field (2006)

Photo Credit

Top Photo: Paul Aresu

Center Photo: Richard Laird

Bottom Photo: Mark Wohlrab

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