Francisco Torres’ trombone solo on “Tropi Blue” from the Poncho Sanchez album Raise Your Hand presents a clear example of building melodic lines in clave. The harmonic and melodic material draws upon core musical choices, leaving the emphasis upon the rhythm. Torres employs a variety of rhythmic strategies, constructing a solid musical statement that firmly outlines the clave.
The “Tropi Blue” structure follows a conventional path. A basic twelve bar blues in the key of concert C rides over 2-3 Son Clave during the song. After the main statement of the melody, all the wind players play a unison line through the first four bars of the form. Torres begins his solo in the seventh measure of the form, before moving into his first full chorus. Torres then improvises through a total of eight blues forms, making a formidable statement. The remaining wind players provide background lines behind Torres starting in the seventh chorus, helping to bring the solo to a climax. There is a good deal of material for study here.
The transcription below contains the first four full choruses of Torres’ solo on “Tropi Blue.” Play through the solo without stopping in order to get an overall feel for the melodic content. Listen to the recording and follow the solo with the transcription. Take care to examine the way Torres phrases – remember where he slurs, which notes are accented, and the dynamic shape of the music. Work your way through the solo, playing along with the recording. After you are comfortable with the transcription, take some time to study these techniques that Torres uses to play around the clave:
1. Shape the Rhythm of the Melodic Line to Emphasize Clave Attack Points
Torres derives the melodic line mostly through the use of eighth notes. When he does move to longer notes, he often aligns with clave. In measure 10, Torres plays a C on the + of 2, which he then holds four more beats. This attack emphasizes the 3 side of clave. Later in measure 33, Torres breaks a series of eighth notes with a quarter note, strengthening beat 3. Here, the attack corresponds to clave’s 2 side.
2. Ending Phrases on Clave Attack Points
Torres adds extra push to the clave by ending several phrases on clave attack points. He starts his first full chorus with a strong six-measure phrase, then ends in measure 14 on beat 1. This lines up with the 3 side of clave. Soon after that, he ends a four-measure phrase in measure 19 on beat 2, aligning with the 2 side of clave. Notice that Torres alters the side of the clave where his phrases end, adding some diversity to his ideas.
3. Interspersing Strong Rhythmic Ideas Between Melodic Phrases
The majority of Torres’ solo follows a melodic flow and shape. He relies upon eighth notes with some rhythmic diversity in order to create a smooth statement. Yet, he periodically disrupts the flow with more percussive ideas. In measures 49 – 52, Torres repeats a grouping of three eighth notes and an eighth rest over two notes. This “forces” an idea against the clave, creating tension. After four measures, Torres returns to his melodic curve, providing release.
Being a trombone solo, I notated this example in bass clef. If a treble clef, Bb, or Eb version of this (or a future) transcription would be useful, please contact me. It’s only a push of a button, so I’d be happy to post alternate keys.
The second half of the solo will be coming soon – in the meantime, fill us in on any insights you have about the solo!