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Steve Khan: The Making of "Parting Shot"

Steve Khan By

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The term, "parting shot" can certainly be interpreted in any number of ways. Perhaps for most of us, it would be best defined like this: "a threat, insult, condemnation, sarcastic retort, or, gesture delivered while departing." I choose to view it as the latter, thinking of a light punch to the shoulder as the final gesture! This interpretation led me to invent my own Spanish title: "Golpe de partida." I think that someone else would have chosen, "La última palabra"—the last word—as the title in Spanish. But, for me, that just did not have the right "ring" to it.

For all I know, this recording could well be my own parting shot. I can't really envision a way that I would be able to again produce such a recording, just as I had to do for The Green Field (2005) and Borrowed Time (2007). After the latter recording, The Suitcase (2008) came along as a bit of a miracle, it only served as a distraction from having to think about my musical future. For the first time in as long as I can remember, when Borrowed Time concluded I really did not have a clear vision of what was to be next. In the past, even while completing a recording project, I had always seen what was coming. To now have that vision be completely vacant seemed so strange to me. And time kept passing, and passing, and passing, and nothing changed. I had no new music, and really wasn't thinking about other music to interpret. In short, I was lost, and suddenly, it was 2010.

And then, on a day like so many others, an email arrived via the Contact Steve page from my website. It was from an old love of mine, one from the distant past, and thus began a series of inspired communications, exchanges about our lives, philosophy, and somehow, her enthusiasm and positive energy served to motivate me to see a direction, and to attack going after it. I realized that the one area of the jazz idiom where I am all by myself, as a guitarist, is the sub-genre of Latin Jazz. None of my esteemed colleagues are involved in this area. And so, I began to assemble music, and compose new music with this in mind. It wasn't long before I was sitting here with 9 pieces of music ready to go.

As you will read, two older tunes came back to me, and they were soon included. Ironically, there actually was a title tune, "Parting Shot" but I was never able to record it, because we got way behind schedule on the first day of recording, and I knew that I was going to have to let one tune go. I had hoped to record five tunes the first day, and six on the second. But, we only got four done on the first day due to some technical issues at the studio. So, that night, at home, with Dennis Chambers here with me, we talked, and I told him that I was just going to let "Parting Shot" go. And that was that!

Some of you have already commented to me: "Steve, why no cover art by Jean-Michel Folon this time?" Obviously, my love for Folon's work is unchanged, but I have always wanted to have a cover image by Michel Granger, whom I discovered at around the same time, during the mid-'70s. His work, like Folon's has always had a great social conscience, a global perspective, and I thought that Granger's allusions to the fragile condition of our planet might represent a "parting shot" from the earth to all of us as its inhabitants. So, I chose one image for the USA/European releases, and another image for the Japanese release.

In my liner notes, I wrote about the fact that, it seems that most average music listeners are not capable of listening to too much cowbell. Why that is, I'm just not certain. But, for me, I'm really thrilled to now be able to present this collection of songs to you all with my fantastic band mates: Anthony Jackson, Dennis Chambers, Manolo Badrena, and Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende.

And so, here are my Personal Reflections for this recording:


[1] Chronology (Ornette Coleman)(4:17)

Reflecting back to my college years at U.C.L.A., between '65-'69, the period of greatest discovery for me, I was buying LPs at an alarming rate ($2 per LP), and trying to digest and assimilate everything that I had heard. After having stumbled upon the music of Ornette Coleman and, soon after, falling in love with his tune, "Blues Connotation," I tried to buy every other LP that I could find. One of those new LPs for me was, The Shape of Jazz to Come(Atlantic), which had been recorded on May 22nd, 1959. Obviously, "Chronology" was recorded well before "Blues Connotation."

But, the bigger question became just how could I interpret this great piece of music in a true Latin style? So, I immediately consulted with the authentic Latin grooves that the great Marc Quiñones performed on his Audio Sampling CD for LP Latin Percussion, recorded in 1995. I found that his Songo groove was perfect for this tune. And so, when I was fortunate enough to have the brilliant Rob Mounsey make the demos for me, we used Marc's Songo. However, the greater challenge for me was, how could I maintain a healthy respect for all the Latin traditions, and the clave, and still embrace the looseness, the spacey-ness, the zaniness achieved on all the various Eyewitness recordings? I hoped that this could be done.

"Chronology," from a melodic perspective, gives one the feeling that it might be a version of some kind of "rhythm changes" tune. But, of course, it's not really approached that way by the original quartet at all. I decided to transcribe the first [B] section that Ornette improvised on the original recording. As I had already transcribed the bass, as Charlie Haden had played it, the improvised melody did not seem to "make any sense" with the harmonic indications of the bass notes. Yes, it sounded great when they did it, but I had no confidence that it would achieve the same affect if Anthony Jackson and I played it that way. In the key of F major, one might expect that a "rhythm changes" bridge would cycle through the following chords: A7-D7-G7-C7. I suppose one could say that Ornette's first lines might indicate a sense of Eb7, which is the b5 substitute of A7, but, after that, things became very fuzzy. So, I just tried to make sense of it all in a way that was musical for me. And that's what you now hear the two times that [B] appears.

For the recording, we only had two rehearsals. The first just included Anthony Jackson; Dennis Chambers; and Manolo Badrena and myself. As Dennis felt that this was best for him, I was fine with that. The second rehearsal, which took place the day before the two recording sessions, Marc Quiñones(timbal) and Bobby Allende(conga) joined us—and it was then that the music began to work its way into its final recorded form.

As we played through all the pieces, I wasn't at all certain that my ideas for just how this Eyewitness meets Latin music concept could work would, and, in fact, become a reality. In the end, those ideas changed greatly—as I simply took the suggestions from everyone, but especially from Marc and Bobby. The key element to executing the pieces in performance while recording would be just how I could cue us all into the next section while soloing. The layout of Studio "A" at Avatar Studios, here in New York City, is certainly workable, if everyone is willing to sacrifice a little for the sake of the group sound, and, perhaps, above all, to create good sightlines between Anthony; Dennis and me. This is crucial. Of course, right away, as soon as Anthony walked in, he refused to play the way James Farber, our engineer, had configured his iso-booth, which was the best possible solution, given that Anthony likes to "feel" his amp next to him. But, Manolo would be in the iso-booth behind him, and so, when Anthony chose to reconfigure the booth, with his amp now facing directly at Manolo's booth, it meant that the bass would be leaking all over Manolo's tracks. And, worst of all, it meant that Dennis and I could not have clear eye contact with Anthony. This made me feel horrible—and, I felt that my concept of just how we could pull-off the "looseness factor" was rapidly "floating out of the window."

I tried a stopgap solution by making a platform for myself, constructed by stacking the gobos on the floor in my iso-booth and thus elevating my position so that I could see Anthony a bit better. But, this was not adequate! And so, on the first day, in order to try to accomplish getting five tunes recorded, I decided to go after the tunes that would be, in my view, the easiest to perform under these conditions. We did however record "Chronology" second on the first day. After that, I had to make that big decision about how to best finish Day #1.

In some aspects, the end result was better than I had anticipated given the conditions. And so, this piece opens the recording, because it does reflect the tone, the mood, and the attitude that we were trying to present. When we were recording, my sense was that the performance was long, perhaps in the 7-8 minute area. But, when we were listening to the playback in the control room, and I asked our assistant engineer, Rick Kwan, how long the track was, he responded by telling me that it was barely 4-1/2 minutes, and I couldn't believe it. Anthony felt the same way as me. It's remarkable how your perception of the passage of time can be skewed when you're under tremendous pressures. And now, realizing that the tune is but 4:17? Well, this is probably the shortest track I have ever presented on a CD of mine!

I should note that the nature of the bass part, and its relation to Dennis' kick drum in the intro, is a most respectful nod to Issac Delgado's Salsa classic, "Deja que Roberto te toque," a tune which I just love to death!


[2] Los Gaiteros (Steve Khan)(6:02)

"Los Gaiteros" was originally composed for what would have been my third CD with the Caribbean Jazz Project, which also featured Dave Samuels and Dave Valentin. We were scheduled to record in early 2002, but personal and musical problems with Dave Samuels caused me to quit the group before I could record this tune. I always liked this one, because the piece is written in 3/4, but the bass tumbao makes it sound as though it is in 4/4. Anthony's bass, linked to Dennis' foot makes this seem completely "normal" when it is obviously not! After much thought, now I believe that I should have written the tune out in 6/4.
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