Ear Shot - The Music of Mel Graves

Ear Shot

The Music of Mel Graves

The EAR SHOT project includes many of the jazz compositions that I wrote in 2001 and 2002. My jazz writing utilizes areas that I have been working on for the last 30 years like: odd time signatures (7/4 and 11/4), varieties of rhythmic feels (especially exploring different types of 3/4), angular yet lyrical melodies and counterpoint. In terms of orchestration I wanted to expand upon the instrumentation of flute, guitar, bass and drums that we used in 2001on Randy Vincent’s recording project “Mirror Image”.
The natural choice for me was the tenor saxophone that I used on my previous recording of jazz originals “Emotion In Motion”. I have known Harvey Wainapel for several years and have always wanted to work on a project with him. He added a lot of fire and soul to the CD. I wrote some simple backgrounds for two of the Latin tunes on the project and fellow Sonoma State University faculty members Pete Estabrook and Al Bent were first choices there. Also they each contribute a very effective solo to the CD. I consider drummer George Marsh my rhythm section soul mate. We go back together to the late 60’s with Denny Zeitlin, Jerry Hahn and Mose Allison and have played in a wide variety of music over the years. I can not think of another drummer who could do what he does for my music. I have also played for about two decades with guitarist Randy Vincent. In addition to his inventive soloing he also provides just the right balance between space and definition that allows my compositions to breathe. Flutist Bob Afifi is my first choice for both my jazz and contemporary classical writing. When I started teaching at Sonoma State University in 1982 Bob was my first truly outstanding student. We have worked together in a wide variety of settings over the years. Bob can be heard on my contemporary classical CD “Day Of Love”, also on the Mutable Music label. Bob’s beautiful tone and creative solos added a lot to EAR SHOT.


     Ear Shot is a medium up tempo piece with a lot of offbeat rhythmic accents. This composition was designed just to get the juices flowing in the band and is often our opener at concerts. After two exciting solos by Harvey and Randy we trade 8’s with George.

     I am dedicating Picturing You to a very special friend and early mentor from my college days in Ohio, Jack Barger who passed away unexpectedly in May, 2002. He was a great drummer and good friend. I am sure I will keep picturing him through the years. The tune has a Latin feel and is in 3/4 time. After a bass solo, Pete and Bob are featured.

     For Smith is written for another close musical friend, Smith Dobson who died in a tragic car accident in 2001. He was one of my favorite pianists of all time and I wish I would have his always glowing, upbeat and warm personality. Smith can be heard on the CD recording of my two hour third stream composition from 2000 “Spirit Changes”. The tune starts rubato and moves to a lyrical jazz waltz then ends with another rubato section. Harvey’s mournful sound captures the mood perfectly.

     Revisiting Higgins was inspired by a tune that I use in my improvisation class, “Our Man Higgins” written by Lee Morgan. The original tune was an extended whole tone oriented 24 bar blues that had two bar drum breaks built into it and was of course written for the late Billy Higgins. My piece features George on built in 8 bar drum breaks, uses more altered scales than whole tone, has a longer form and includes a second section in 7/4. The third section of the head uses the same melody and chords as the first section of the piece but eliminates the drum breaks. The take starts with a 48 bar drum solo.

     Missing You is a ballad that passes the melody around from bass to guitar to tenor saxophone. It was written for my mother who passed away in 1995. Again Harvey’s soulful tone really fits the spirit of the piece.

     3 and 7 was inspired by a workshop that we had at Sonoma State University in 2001 with Hermeto Pascoal and Jovino Santos Neto. They played a composition that was in 2/4 and 5/4 at the same time. I thought that would be a fun area to explore so I wrote a piece where the flute is in 3/4, the guitar and bass are in 7/4 and the drums cover parts of both feels.

     Heads and Tails explores musical areas that go between counterpoint and fugal material. It features solos by Randy, Bob and myself.

     Time To Push Restart is a Latin tune that uses a lot of slash chord harmony, a two part counterpoint part for flute and bass at the bridge and three horn background punches. Bob, Randy and Al are featured on solos for this one.

     For Bertram was written for my bass teacher from my graduate school days at U.C. San Diego, Bertram Turetzky. He was and still is a mentor and good friend. It features a bowed melody on the bass at the end of the tune that is again two part writing with the flute. I end the piece with one of Bert’s classic creations, a glissandi exploration with harmonics.

     Conversation Piece is a fugue that goes between tenor saxophone, guitar and bass. It features the only free improvisation that is on this CD.

     Over The Top is again another contrapuntal piece that alternates 4/4 and 5/4 bars in the first section then goes to an 11/4 bridge section with a lot of syncopated rhythmic punches. When this section comes around in the solos we are still in 11/4 but the rhythmic figures are twisting and turning in different ways.