Friday, April 29, 2005

Pat Martino, Eric Johnson... and Radiohead?

Hello all you happy people. Right off the bat I want to extend a huge "thank you" to Pat Martino for the class. It is always helpful to be able to see familiar information through fresh eyes, which is exactly what the class did for me. If he is teaching his class anywhere near you, I highly recommend checking it out.

His approach to the guitar was something novel - something I never would have thought of but makes perfect sense. As any guitarist will tell you, one of the most daunting tasks you can undertake is the commitment to memory of all the vast numbers of chord inversions, especially when you include the 4- 5- and 6- note chords, their suspensions, alterations, and accompanying modes. It is a lot to learn, and knowing the theory behind it all helps a bit, in that if you know a chord's spelling, or a mode's intervals, you can always fabricate the appropriate inversion at position X - it just takes some time.

The approach taught in the class was to look at a couple of interesting peculiarities involving the augmented (1 - 3 - #5) and diminished 7 (1 b3 b5 bb7) chords. If you break up an octave in to 3 maj 3rd intervals, you have an augmented triad. If you break up an octave into 4 min 3rd intervals, you have a diminished 7. Therefore, each inversion of an augmented inversion can serve as 3 different augmented chords and each diminished 7th inversion can serve as 4 different diminished 7th chords. For example, G - B - D# can be a Gaug, Baug, or D# aug.

Now the interesting thing is this - raise one note in an augmented triad and that becomes the root of a minor triad. Lower one note in an augmented triad and that becomes the 5th of a major triad. Lower one note in an diminished 7th chord and it becomes the root of a dominant 7th chord. So, by learning this one trick in one position, you have a whole bunch of inversions at your disposal. Apply the same logic to melodic lines and you can play anything anywhere easily - with a minimum of translation time. There's much more information at Pat Martino's web site.

(image used without permission, but not hotlinked to )

What Pat Martino and Eric Johnson have in common is that they were both very close to making my list of influences. In the end I decided not to include them not because I don't have respect for their work, but because the things I learned from their work, I learned first from somewhere else, and I don't know that "respect for their approach" is the same as "influence".

In any event, I find myself listening the Eric Johnson's first album Tones quite a lot these days, for no real reason I can define. The songs all sound very dated (except perhaps "Zap"). The guitar work is good, but not exceptional; and after I saw Eric Johnson live for his "Ah Via Musicom" tour in the early nineties, I became largely disillusioned with him, as he seemed much more show-offish than I would have expected. The only thing I can think of is that I discovered "Tones" when I was still in high school and perhaps it reminds me of a particularly happy and intense time in my life. Music as nostalgia - I'm guilty too. Anyway, I've heard lots of good things about his work recently, starting with the live album he released a year or so ago, so when he swings through Atlanta this summer, I may go check it out.

One final thing. Everywhere I look these days I see some writer or critic or musician or other touting the greatness of Radiohead. Seriously. Even at the John Scofield show, the first act, the Brad Mehldau Trio (fantastic piano jazz trio) played a Radiohead song. So, when a colleague of my told me he wanted to learn to play guitar so that he could play Pink Floyd and Radiohead, I finally asked him, are they really that great?

Well, he lent me a couple of their albums, Amnisiac and Hail to the thief. I listened to them both twice but I still have to say I don't get it. I don't think the music is bad by any stretch, there are definitely some clever things going on with meter (what I like to call "rhythmic algebra" - solve for 1), tambre and instrument choices - easily facilitated through triggering, loops, and MIDI these days. It almost seemed to me that Radiohead is trying to incorporate Brian Eno style ambient music with mid-70s progressive - only using the studio as their primary instrument.

To my ears, the cumulative effect was that the music struck me as cold, impersonal and distant. There was no emotive stature to their work, in my opinion, outside of maybe serving as the soundtrack to a neo-goth horror / sci-fi / adventure flick - something with Keanu Reeves in it. I guess that has its place, but I don't understand the source of the abundant praise for their music. Why is it that most critics put Radiohead somewhere between The Beatles and god? Did I hear the wrong albums? Seriously, I want to know.


Blogger Holley said...


But if this ever gets to you...not sure if your accounts work...via Pandora, I was compelled to purchase "The Bends". Bulletproof killed me. There is a lot on that album that is emotive with simplicity and justifies the praise that compares them to The Beatles. It's there. However, the vocal performance and lyrics are integral to the experience. Would you care for Joni Mitchell or Van Morrison if not for those elements?

10:07 PM  

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