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Learn From 5 Jazz Fusion Legends

Zakk Jones



Kurt Rosenwinkel on “Zhivago” (Video Start 22:39)

Defining our modern generation of jazz guitar, Kurt Rosenwinkel is constantly reinventing himself and playing his ass off. From early-mid 90’s collaborations with folks like Brad Mehldau and Mark Turner, to mind-bending solo records like his latest “Angels Around”, he really is one of a few on the cutting edge of what you can do with the instrument. Kurt definitely doesn’t fit into a specific “style”. He can equally play compelling reinterpretations of swingin’ jazz standards, harmonically rich solo guitar playing, then on the fly shift into blistering fusion/Holdsworth-esque lines. Let’s not forget that for many of his recordings he sings alongside all of his lines, creating a subtle and unique effect that defines his sound. 

His collaboration with the Orchestra de Jazz Matosinhos from Portugal, released in 2010, is just disturbingly fun, deep, and earth-shattering. “Zhivago” is Kurt’s well known tune from an earlier album, reimagined with a great orchestral arrangement and a badass solo in the midst. 

  • As I mention in the video, the harmonic palette is generally within Ebm, but the underlying motion goes through some interesting changes. The note Eb is the top note that easily is heard through the 4-chord cycle, solidifying the overall tonality. 
  • This segment is split into two major phrases. The first starting with a quintessential Coltrane/”New York” lick (i forget the recording but a lot of people quote this little line!) which is solidly in Ebm, it then quickly arpeggiates an E major chord then back to Ebm. As i mention in the video, he uses the overall tonality as his guide for improvisation at least in this section, rather than navigating all 4 chords.
  • Although the rhythms are mostly 16th notes, the line shifts directions in interesting ways, again giving us an over the barline sound
  • The E major arpeggio resolves back to Ebm just a tad early, again anticipating a chord change as opposed to nailing it right on the head which puts a non-chord tone (11 of ebm) on the downbeat of measure 2
  • The 2nd part of this kicks off at the end of the 2nd full measure, and utilizes a simple technique with a minor pentatonic scale. He uses the guitar to its advantage by doubling a single note with two different strings, which gives it a slightly different timbre much like a saxophonist uses with false fingering (saxophones have multiple ways to play the same note that gives it a different tone or even slightly different pitch)
  • Using this doubling technique, he takes a simple Ebm pentatonic scale and makes it sound more compelling and dynamic. The line is then propelled in different ways by doubling certain notes, as opposed to just running the scale up and down. 
  • All of the notes in the last 2 full measures are from the Ebm pentatonic scale. 
  • Notice how he starts and ends this 2nd phrase almost the exact same way (end of measure 2 vs. end of 4)
  • Kurt uses great phrasing and a reimagining of the basic pentatonic scale to assert modern lines over this tune. 

Recommended Kurt listening:

Ugly Beauty

Minor Blues

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