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Saturday 20 February 2016

Yet another review of Roots and Leaves on All About Jazz

And a third review of my CD Roots and Leaves from Edward Blanco just appeared on All About Jazz. "A dynamic voice in the Jazz world today", "obvious mastery of the guitar", "the firm roots and foundation from which to develop the international recognition he so well deserves", I'll leave the rest for you to read !

Thursday 26 November 2015

New review for Roots and Leaves on All About Jazz

A new review of my CD Roots and Leaves from Chris Mosey just appeared on All About Jazz. "Dazzling guitar lines", "Pat Metheny tradition, but sunny and melodic", I'll leave the rest for you to read !

Saturday 14 November 2015

Nouvelle interview pour Jazz Box

Une nouvelle interview pour JazzBox, avec Jacques Thevenet est en ligne ici. Avec Jean-Philippe Doret, et en compagnie de la chanteuse Raphaëlle Atlan. Vous pouvez retrouver cette émission en intégralité sur le site de l’émission.

Thursday 5 February 2015

JazzActu interview

For the release of my new album Roots and Leaves, Bob Garcia invited me to a video interview (in French) for JazzActu, his online Jazz magazine. Thanks Bob !

The interview is here.

Friday 28 November 2014

The @-quartet, live at the M8 Live Club, Mainz, Germany

Here is a video with excerpts from our gig at the M8 Live Club, Mainz, Germany. Songs from both our albums "@-quartet" and the newest one "Roots and Leaves".

Saturday 1 November 2014

Roots and Leaves officially released!

After more than one year of hard work, the second album of the @-quartet, my band as a leader, guitarist and composer, is finally out!

The album offers 11 brand new original compositions brilliantly served by a dream team rhythm section: Laurent Epstein (piano), Yoni Zelnik (upright bass) and David Georgelet (drums).

The album is now for sale on my website and has also reached Amazon and iTunes already. There is currently a special offer for the purchase of both @-quartet albums.

I hope you will enjoy the music!

Monday 30 December 2013

The @-quartet's 2nd album is on the way. Please help crowdfund it !

Dear readers,

it's been a while since I gave any musical news, but that was only the calm before the storm... The year 2014 is going to be particularly lively, as the @-quartet is brought back to life, with:

  • 11 new and entirely original compositions,
  • a team renewed for one half (*),
  • a first concert scheduled for the end of March in Germany, and I hope the first of a long series,
  • and last but not least... a second album currently underway!

This 2nd album project is also for me the opportunity to experiment with a modern form of auto-production: crowdfunding. You can help bring this project to life by contributing in advance to its funding. In exchange, you receive various rewards (the CD in avant-premiere, 2 CDs "packs", alternate takes that won't be on the record etc.).

If you want to know everything about the project and contribute to make it a reality, let's meet again on the funding site, at the following address:

http://www.kisskissbankbank.com/en/projects/quartet-the-second-album

This new album will be entitled "Roots and (then he) Leaves", and it needs you to grow! Thank you so much, and happy new year celebrations!

Footnotes: (*) 3 exceptional musicians form the rythm section in the quartet: Laurent Epstein, piano, Yoni Zelnik, doublebass, and David Georgelet, drums.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Taming Harmony: an example

Printemptation ScoreThis article comes from a Guitar Live challenge on my composition « Printemptation » from the album @-quartet. It was an improvisation challenge that some people found difficult (to be honest, it was !). In this article, I'm transcribing some advice I gave on the occasion as well as my personal view on the way to approach delicate scores and on the fundamental ingredients that make an improvisation worth listening to. This is mostly about the semantic aspects of improvisation (Cf. the article The (natural) Language of Improvisation). You can click on the icon on the right to download the score of this tune. You can also download the tune itself from tyhe album's page.

General presentation

Printemptation is an interesting composition from the perspective of improvisation because, although based on very common harmonic figures in Jazz (as a matter of fact, in the whole occidental music), it comes with two major difficulties.

By reading the score, you will notice that this tune is almost exclusively built on top of II V I's, either major or minor. II V I is indeed the most frequent harmonic progression in Jazz, and is actually the unavoidable grounding for all occidental music (the well know principle of tension/resolution). To play with this figure is probably the first thing that you learn when you begin improvisation. So, if the Occident is so familiar with II V I's, where are the difficulties ?

The first one is that this tune moves a lot. If you sequentially "unfold" it, let alone the "reprise" (what's the word in English?), you can count no less than eleven different keys. The second one is that the rhythmic figure changes at two different places, introducing 3/4 bars.

Approaching the harmony

As far as the harmonic progression is concerned, and given that improvising on II V I's is not very challenging, it is more important here to master the key changes than the different keys themselves. By the way, this is one of my musical creeds: what makes the quality of an improvisation is not so much the phrases than how they are articulated together. A sequence of "correct" but unrelated phrases is uninteresting. On the other hand, a logical link that makes your phrases relate to each other turns your improvisation into a true musical story, with an opening, a "middle" and an ending. That's where musicality is found.

You will also notice that the tune's theme is representative of this idea by itself: the pattern expressed in the first 3 bars is almost constantly repeated, only under different shapes (different harmonic contexts), that contribute to unify all the encountered keys, by giving them a common logic...

Approaching the rhythm

As far as the rhythmic subtleties are concerned: in occidental music, we are more accustomed to key changes than rhythmic ones. One should then pay attention not to be destabilized by the incursion of the 3/4 bars. Besides, the improvisation must be sufficiently in "harmony" with the rhythm changes so that those bars do not sound like a fifth wheel. When you listen to the tune, these measures don't sound weird (at least I hope not!). They sound natural, and that must be the case while improvising. In other words, they should be well integrated in their 4/4 environment.

However, those are indeed 3/4 bars, and should stand as such. A gross mistake would be for instance to consider bars 13, 14 and 15 (3/3, 3/3 and 2/4) as two 4/4 bars ! Although it amounts to the correct number of beats, this is definitely not the spirit of the tune...

Harmony and the notion of transition

After this general presentation, I think it is interesting to give more details about my personal vision of how to approach harmony, and above all, the notion of transition which is to me at the heart of the improvised discourse.

Taming the tune's harmony

First of all, don't be too frightened by the complexity of the chords (at least in a first step). In a Jazz score, the embellishments are often here to provide hints about the spirit of the theme, and because the theme is itself embellished at the melodic level.

Jazz musicians like to embellish, and even modify the chords at will, but then, you have to pay attention to "clashes" with the melody, when it is written (hence in particular with song themes). For instance, say I have a CM7 to play, but I'm bored, so I decide to add a 5b (I often do that, in fact). However, that's too bad for me but the guy playing the theme has to play a natural 5th, or worse, a 5# at the same time. There, we have a clash. In order to avoid that, it is important to note these embellishments in the score because they appear in the melody, and hence writing them down will prevent your accompanist from taking too much liberty. In the Printemptation score for instance, you may notice that I felt the need to write down some minor 7 chords as minor 7/9. No need for a high school grade to know that the 9th adds up nicely to a minor 7 chord, but I still wrote it down because the theme plays with it a lot. Another example: on bar number 7, the Db-7 is noted 11. Why ? Because the theme plays this 11th note. So that is an important embellishment.

Now, when you go from theme accompaniment to improvisation, that is another story. Everyone embellishes, substitutes at will... that's the whole point of Jazz. Of course, there is a risk of harmonic clash, but that risk is part of the game, and when there is a real complicity between the musicians, harmonic (or even rhythmic) ideas might come collectively. In other words, for the improvisation part, don't bother sticking to the "official" embellishments too much; that is not the point. Besides, as already mentioned by one of the participants, the chords played by Guillaume Naud behind my solo do not exactly match the score... but who cares ? What's important is the overall idea. Again, it's like a conversation actually: most of the time, you can remember the general sense of a conversation, but you wouldn't remember the exact words people said. So in a first step, make your life simpler: consider a sequence of II V I's and play with them. Your work shall then begin with spotting them in the score.

When a chord is embellished (but thought as part of a particular mode), there are two kinds of embellishments: internal and external ones. External ones are very important because they change the nature of the original chord. Hence you must respect them. The others are inherently obvious. You can use them anytime.

Example: if you see a C6/9 coming in the II V I in C, there's nothing new under the sun, really. Why ? Because in this II V I, you'd play Ionian C (C D E F G A B) as on a CM7, and the 6th and the 9th are already part of this mode. So a C6/9 in this context is just a CM7 that's showing off. All the notes are usable (read: do not change the spirit of the chord). There's one exception though (otherwise, there would be no fun): the F clashes a bit. It belongs to what's called "avoid notes": a note that you'd rather not play, or only transitionally. In the same way, a D-7/9/11 as the second degree of a II V I is nothing else but a basic minor 7 because both the 9th and the 11th belong to the mode already.

However, if the chord is now a CM7b5, the harmony suddenly gets more subtle because the b5 does not belong to the mode, so the "idea" behind the chord changes radically.

Taming a transition

Here is one last piece of advice. This is a trick I use a lot when I work on key changes (recall that I consider that very important). Between two keys, there are what I call "fixed points" and "semi-fixed points". Fixed points are notes that are common to both keys. Semi-fixed points are notes that move by only one half-tone. In order to master a key change, you must first play with the fixed points, and then the semi-fixed ones. These are true logical links in your discourse. So when I have a hard time with a particular key change, I sequence the transition, write down the modes, figure out the (semi-)fixed points, and play on them for hours until they become natural, completely digested.

In the end, improvising is simply like speaking a natural language (Cf. the article The (natural) Language of Improvisation) in which you need logical links in what you express. For instance, if I say: "I went to the store yesterday, and Resident Evil is really a crappy movie" you will have a hard time understanding what I meant or why I said such a thing, although both parts of the sentence are correct (and true BTW). However, if I say: "I went to the store yesterday; there was this big Resident Evil poster on the wall. Oh boy, what a crappy movie !" Then, everything becomes clear: you have explained how you got from point A (the store) to point B (a comment on a film). That's because the poster is a fixed point: it belongs to both contexts (keys).

That's it. And remember: Resident Evil is a crappy movie.

Thursday 22 November 2007

@-quartet CD review in All About Jazz

From the review:

Verna is a force of nature. He has the technique and talent to take it to another level.

That's the best part of it. The rest is... well, not all reviews are bound to be good, right? On the other hand, eventhough I find it a bit severe, I must admit that I mostly agree with what it says... At least, somebody speaks of the album on this important site.

Friday 19 October 2007

@-quartet CD review in eJazz News

A new review for the CD has just appeared on eJazzNews. Here it is, from George W. Carroll:

Talk about leaving an impression.....Didier Verna is a jazz guitarist dealing in melodic & harmonic invention. His Metheny-esque improvisational delivery is compromising, intellectual, non rigorous with a superb technique, connected with an extraordinary command of his music. In fact Verna's music is brilliantly interpreted & compelling in it's content. His music portrays images & sounds of his influences which have been by default...... Quiite positive!

@-quartet CD review on Contemporary Jazz

A new review for the CD @-quartet has just appeared on Contemporary Jazz. Here's the review by John Luciano:

@-Quartet (At Quartet) is a very promising debut recording from a part-time musician and self-professed UZEB fan. By day, Didier Verna is a computer researcher but he’s left the computers and synths at the office and has delivered a very accessible acoustic album. @-Quartet is a great example of what contemporary jazz should be. It’s certainly not smooth jazz. Although it’s acoustic, I have a hard time defining it as straight ahead and that’s the beauty of jazz, isn’t it? These nine compositions are fresh, melodically challenging and engaging. Upon first listen a number of guitarists on the scene came to mind, but Didier definitely has his own voice. Rather than fall into the comparison trap, I’d ask you to take a chance on this very talented musician and make your own comparisons. Two tracks that really stood out for me are "Les Maleties," which took me back to early Spyro Gyra, circa Morning Dance-Catching The Sun, for the guitar piano interplay, and "Paris-Nice" which has a nice aggressive feel to it.

Saturday 15 September 2007

@-quartet CD review in the Indie Music magazine

The @-quartet is featured as a "Spotlight CD Review" in current issue of the Indie Music magazine.

Here is the review by Darryl Gregory:

Didier Verna is in quartet mode with his new CD @-quartet. Verna steps out in front with his beautifully melodic guitar playing and leads his gang of four through nine tracks of seemingly effortless arrangements of original jazz. The difficulty lies in how to categorize his take on jazz. In the opening track, there is definitely a bossa feel, and yet we also have that feeling of West Coast smoothness in some tracks, and then there is the jumpy-intricate improvs of be-bop. Since I’m a big fan of eclecticism in art, I choose not to categorize, but for the sake of a review all I can say is get the CD and enjoy.

In true quartet fashion, the players each bring their unique voice to the group and something greater than the parts arises. Guillaume Naud’s piano playing is in the right places and complimentary to Verna’s melodic direction. Their interaction is evident throughout, but especially on track four, “Song for L." Gilles Naturel’s bass walks and sings, and his time is right in the pocket. A good jazz drummer always amazes me. David Georgelet definitely has that amazement factor down, not because he is fancy or intricate, but because he plays like a vocalist - he knows how to make the kit sing and follow not only the rhythmic structure, but the melody line as well.

Only a part time musician (Verna’s other gig is as a computer researcher) this CD definitely has a full time sound. You’d think that these guys have been on the road for years -- their sound is that tight and complimentary. Definitely a great addition to any jazz collection.

Monday 11 June 2007

Monday Morning

Sometimes, it's hard. You don't sell many CDs, you hardly get one 5 lines review out of dozens of requests. And then, a Monday Morning, you go check your cdbaby page, and you find this from the last customer ...

great CD of original straight ahead contemporary jazz

This is a very good CD (I gave it the highest rating). The songs are original and good, and the musicianship outstanding. It is not overplayed, it is not underplayed, everything fits together well. Verna has two of the songs available as mp3 files on his site, check them out (the rest of the CD, except for one or two songs, is similar in sound). The sound is modern but not too abstract, very listenable and flowing, it is more straight-ahead than fusion. The solos are terrific, Verna is an outstanding jazz guitarist. His tone/sound is more like Metheny than Scofield, but his lines are his own. I'm looking forward to his next CD.

... and then, you go happy again. I just wrote a new song called Monday Morning :-)