The Art of Synth Soloing: Jason Rebello - KeyboardMag

The Art of Synth Soloing: Jason Rebello

Hammer-ing It out with Jeff Beck
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Jason Rebello is a British jazz pianist who has played some of the choicest gigs in popular music over the last few decades. Chosen by Sting in 1998 to take over the keys after the passing of Kenny Kirkland (no pressure there!), Jason held the chair for six years. From there he joined up with Jeff Beck, touring and recording with the guitarist for six more years.

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During that time, he was called upon to expand his sound palette and take lead-synth solos. So, it comes as no surprise that Rebello lists Jan Hammer as his favorite inspiration, closely followed by George Duke. This month we look at his stellar solo on the Beck classic “Led Boots,” as heard on Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s, released in 2008.

Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s

Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s

“Led Boots” first appeared on the 1976 album Wired, Jeff Beck’s follow-up to his breakthrough Blow By Blow recording. His keyboardist at the time, Max Middleton, wrote the tune and played clavinet on the recording, while Hammer comes in towards the end with a powerful solo, full of syncoscillator sweeps and his signature pitch bending. For more on that solo, see Roger Powell’s vintage column at keyboardmag.com/lessons/weekend-chops-builder-synthesizer-technique-a-jan-hammer-solo.

CHANNELING HIS INNER HAMMER

Rebello certainly did his homework in paying tribute to Jan Hammer’s performance on the tune. He solos using Arturia’s Minimoog V emulation (the first version) driven by a Korg Kontrol 49 keyboard, with a sync lead-sound full of character and bite. The solo is played over a riff in 7/8, as seen in Example 1.

Ex. 1. This is the main riff the band plays while Rebello solos on the tune “Led Boots.”

Ex. 1. This is the main riff the band plays while Rebello solos on the tune “Led Boots.”

Jason makes use of the mixolydian pentatonic scale, which both Hammer and Beck used often; so much so, in fact, that it is also known as the Jan Hammer scale! Shown in Example 2, the scale contains the root, major third, fourth, fifth and flatted seventh notes, and works well over dominant seventh chords. You can also think of the scale as a minor pentatonic scale with a raised third. Another aspect of getting the Hammer sound is setting the pitch bend to a minor third, not just a whole step. You will see these larger bends throughout the solo.

Ex. 2. The 5-note mixolydian pentatonic scale, referred to by some as the Jan Hammer scale. Both he and Jeff Beck used it prominently on their collaborative tunes from the Wired album, back in 1976.

Ex. 2. The 5-note mixolydian pentatonic scale, referred to by some as the Jan Hammer scale. Both he and Jeff Beck used it prominently on their collaborative tunes from the Wired album, back in 1976.

Example 3 shows the solo, minus some recapitulation of the main riff that occurs at the very end. Think of the solo as over a C dominant seventh chord, even though the second bar of the riff does allude to the other chords I notated in Example 2. Rebello uses the C mixolydian scale to open up, and then plays a Bb rhythmically for a bit, and even sounds as if he is playing over a Bb chord. He then moves back into the C Jan Hammer scale in bar 5 and continues to build the energy.

Ex. 3. Jason Rebello’s solo from “Led Boots,” as heard on Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s. Here, he expertly pays homage to the sound and style of Jan Hammer’s playing on this time-honored fusion tune.

Ex. 3. Jason Rebello’s solo from “Led Boots,” as heard on Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s. Here, he expertly pays homage to the sound and style of Jan Hammer’s playing on this time-honored fusion tune.

Bars 6 and 7 have a bit of chromaticism, and by bars 10-13, he is playing with note groupings in a style similar to what Hammer would use. Note how he is centering a lot of the lines on the F, which creates a tension against the implied chord that he finally releases in bars 14 and 15. (Check out the minor third bends from A to C, as well.) Bars 16 and 17 imply the C minor pentatonic sound (and the blues scale) for some variety, and the solo continues with increased virtuosity from there.

Listen to it, enjoy it, and get it under your fingers. You’ll find my transcription of the full solo online HERE.

Thankfully, the show was also videotaped and can be purchased on DVD/Blu-ray: I highly recommend it.

Special thanks to Jason Rebello for answering my questions about his solos while I was preparing this column.