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

Steve Khan By

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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">
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