I took a trip to Pasadena yesterday to check out LA Music Academy. (I may apply for Fall 2008.) I was lucky enough to catch a clinic from jazz guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. He alternated between playing tunes with instructor Jeff Richman and answering questions from students. He had a very tasteful, confident style, and the class got a first hand look at his approach to improvising.
He talked about holding his breath while playing. He forced himself into this habit to leave space to breathe between lines as a horn player would. At first, it was amusing to witness in person, but it definitely adds to the live performance. I do the same thing subconsciously when playing funky, syncopated lines. I should really make a permanent habit of it like Jonathan did. My swimmer lungs would come in handy.
It was obvious that he had an amazing sense of time and rhythm, and his hands were locked in as well. All his playing was unaccompanied (except a second guitar sometimes) and often quite complex, and he never seemed to lose the beat.
He explained a fascinating concept for counting odd time signatures. He started with a measure of 5/4 with emphasis on beats 1, the and of 2, 4, and 5. That's two dotted quarter notes and two quarter notes. Think Led Zeppelin's "Four Sticks." He superimposed that emphasis on a 7/4 time signature. It's not precisely the same rhythm, but very close. The emphasis is on beats 1, 3, 5, and the and of 6. That's two half notes and two dotted quarter notes. Now, if you make an entire 5/4 measure the same time duration as an entire 7/4 measure, the tempo of a quarter note will be different, but the emphases he uses will be nearly identical. He demonstrated by having the class clap the emphasis while he kept the beat, alternating between 5/4 and 7/4.
I was quite impressed, as I've done plenty of polyrhythm investigation on my own. It was part of my daily routine for a few weeks earlier this year, and this rekindled my interest. I had a hell of a time trying to switch between time signatures as he had demonstrated, keeping the beat in one hand while adding the emphasis in the other. Tapping on the steering wheel for two hours on the trip home set me straight though.