Keith Jarrett – “Solar”

Hi all,

Here is an excerpt from a Keith Jarrett solo on the classic Battle Jazz epic “Solar.”  This song has been a jam session staple for many years.  It seems to have lost popularity a bit, but I feel like I played it a thousand times a week at Berklee and even before when I was in High School in Texas.  “Solar” has a relatively simple set of chord changes and an exciting pacing.  The chords move through Major and Minor key progressions and the harmonic rhythm speeds up at the end giving you a nice jolt of momentum so you can hit the C minor at the top with some fresh inspiration.  

A great thing about simple songs like this is that they give players just enough room to breathe and not too much.  You have a nice space in the first 4 bars to cook up your plan for the rest of the progression.  C minor is a pretty easy key on most instruments and you likely wont be clamming around looking for notes… depending on how much you’ve had to drink…  The next II V, which leads to F Major, is also in a relatively easy key.  Pacing wise, it’s the beginning of the song you have to option to leave some space and set up a statement towards the end when the chords start dancing around a little more.  It a fun one and Keith Jarrett might have played it at least a few thousand times.  Needless to say, he’s got a seriously large wellspring of ideas to use on this song.

I’ve transcribed two-and-change choruses of Keith’s solo from the album “Tribute.”

I’ve started from about 4:10 track time.  I actually started before my favorite section.  I wanted to take a look at what he was doing to lead up to the chorus.  So actually if we skip the first 7 bars for now I’d like to got right to the phrase at bar 8.

What interested me about this at first was the rhythm and the connectedness of it.  He starts what is somewhat of an ostinato starting on Eb.  He embellishes the rhythm a bit but when you examine the note choices and rhythm choices together you find that beats 1, 2, 3, and 4 always have the same notes.  What happens around them changes, but for these 3 bars we have Eb on beat 1, Gb on beat 2, F on beat 3, and C on beat 4.  This outlines a C Blues scale (C Eb F F# G Bb C).  I’ve used Gb in the transcription because it looks better one the page.  He uses this blues scale motif to get through all the way to F Major.  In the first 3 bars he changes the last note of each motif in a guide tone pattern (from G, to A, and back to G).  This creates an inner melody which helps to frame the listeners perception of the main event.  When C7 arises Keith changes the pattern to include E Natural on beat 3.  This solidifies the move to F Major.  Keith continues to play the C Blues sound and delays the resolution until the second bar of F Major.  He Hits the E natural again and moves down chromatically to land on C in bar 13.

At this point the phrase departs from the Blues motive for a few bars only to come back in the key of Db at bar 17.

Now back to those beginning bars that led up to all this.  In the first bar keith introduces a few shapes.  The intervals move in a step upwards, quickly down, a leap up, and then a scale down.  In bar 2 he outlines the chord and runs up a diminished idea.  Then in 3 he moves down a scale then up to a G Major Triad on the Bb7.  The way he plays this G Major Triad I think is what sets him up for this next melody.  The G was the highest note in the previous line and that G Major Triad really has a nice open singing quality.  I think he decides then that G is a good place to anchor a melody.  The G changes to Gb in bar 5, shifts around to different locations in 6 and 7, then becomes the beat 2 in every bar for the next 5 bars.  It’s also interesting to note that G is the highest note in his solo until a whole chorus later when he ascends the E Lydian scale in bar 23 and reaches a new range of the piano.  That E Lydian scales sounds really nice too.  I think theoretically it works in a few different ways.  It could be a side stepping idea.  Playing the Lydian scale a half step below the one you’re going to arrive at (E Lydian arriving at F Lydian).  It could also be looked at as an F# Mixolydian scale, which would make it the Tritone Sub of C7.  Usually when a Tritione Sub is used the scale choice would be Whole Tone or Lydian Dominant.  Very advanced players however sometimes use alternate modes, which in this case would be using F# Mixolydian with it’s natural 4 instead of the #4.  I’m of course not sure how Keith might explain this.

Once Keith lands on the B Natural, climbs up to F, and runs back down the scale (changing B to Bb), he lands on F in a new octave of the piano.  Not surprisingly, he stays in that range for the next phrase.  This last phrase is very hip rhythmically.  It has a feeling of speeding up and slowing down.  The rhythmic stresses fall around 1 and 3 very strongly which exposes the drums and creates a great deal of rhythmic interplay.

There are a handful of other neat ideas getting thrown around in this solo, but these are the ones that stand out for me.  If you don’t have Tribute grab a copy and check out the solo.  It’s a pretty long one and there are many many cool things going on.  This is just a excerpt from a small window of this performance.  The version of “All The Things You Are” from Tribute is also incredible.

Happy Listening

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