Wayne Shorter’s “Fall”: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Read Ben Gray’s critical analysis of jazz covers of Wayne Shorter’s “Fall” composition, including notable versions by Miles Davis, Gilad Hekselman and Jesse Fischer!

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Miles Davis’ “Fall”, Nefertiti (1968)

“Fall” was done first by the Miles Davis Quintet, with Miles on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. You just write a sentence like that and it’s exciting.

Anyway, “Fall” is one of three Wayne Shorter compositions on the 1968 album Nefertiti. This version starts with Miles’ trumpet laying down the melody over some triplets from the piano and a steady pulse from the ride cymbal.

Some stop-start chords around 0:50 and then they move into a trumpet spotlight, with occasional unison lines from the sax and trumpet. Beautiful feeling here with great support from the bass and drums adding occasional accents on the snare… big sound from the trumpet around 1:30 and things pick up subtly.

At 2:20 there is a piano solo that breathes and then picks up steam around 2:45 as Williams adds some hi-hat accents and the horns come in behind the piano solo and continue to add to the tune as the solo continues. Beautiful piano line at about 3:25 after the horns…

Just before 4:00, a sax solo starts as the piano and trumpet continue to lay down the harmony underneath. Great breakdown around 4:45 as the sax solo continues.

Some space for Ron Carter’s bass starting at around 5:40 over the brushed snare and with great support from the horns and piano. Williams’ drums build underneath this and then a long, sustained trumpet tone brings this version to a close with the bass getting in the last word.

Beautiful tune, beautiful playing from everyone, and a really interesting arrangement, with all of the solos supported not just by the rhythm section but also by statements from the horns to keep the song’s melody front and center throughout.

Jesse Fischer’s “Fall”, Flipped II (2018)

Jesse Fischer’s excellent Flipped II takes on “Fall” with a synth-heavy approach and Fischer’s production skills on display. For this tune, Fischer is joined by frequent collaborator Sly5thAve on flute, sax, and clarinet, and by Clint Yerkes on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Given Fischer’s production on this version, this one in particular calls for a nice pair of headphones. This version starts with some spacy, pulsing synths and then the guitar and flute come in with the chords and melody as the percussion slowly builds and the pulsing synth volume increases.

At 0:45 the beat comes in and they sit on those start-stop chords from about 0:50 in the Miles Davis version above. Cool delay on the flute just after 1:00 and then at 1:10 the drums change as the woodwinds continue with the melody from the original and the guitar adds some subtle chords.

Ascending tones from maybe a drum machine over these pulsing cymbals and then about 1:50 it’s back to the stop-start chords and heavy groove. Woodwinds take a great melody as they go back to the pulsing cymbals around 2:20 and then we’re into a synth solo at 2:40 and that brings it back around to the stop-start chords at 3:00 or so and another flute with delay around 3:15… real ill breakdown at 3:25, just perfect.

Back to the groove and take it out. A very different feel on this version that nonetheless is true to the melody and harmonic structure (to these ears anyway) of the Wayne Shorter tune, feeling very genuinely taken with the written tune and the electronic music underpinnings here. Great textures from Sly5thAve’s different layers of woodwinds.

Gilad Hekselman’s “Stumble”, Ask for Chaos (2018)

Guitarist Gilad Hekselman also took on “Fall,” in a roundabout way, on his new album Ask for Chaos. Hekselman on guitar is joined for this tune by his ZuperOctave trio, with Aaron Parks on keys and Kush Abadey on drums.

While this isn’t truly a cover of “Fall,” “Stumble” is based on the chord changes of “Fall” with an original melody by Hekselman. This starts with some intertwined lines from what sounds like a Rhodes piano and Hekselman’s guitar before some slow drums come in.

Bass from… someone – it sounds like maybe a synth but one of the interesting things about this bassless trio is that Hekselman and Parks trade off bass duties.

Anyway, some stop-start chords at about 1:00 similar to the ones in both versions of “Fall” above and then some descending guitar lines that will play an important part later, before moving into a slow and spacy keyboard solo with resonant chords and what must be Hekselman playing bass (via guitar pedals).

A very patient build for this solo, then some more active guitar comping around 2:30… Around 3:25 the guitar and keys play the melody in unison with some lush chords underneath from Parks.

At 4:20 the drums break down and Hekselman starts some arpeggio lines (foreshadowed just after 1:00) that slowly build and start to loop on themselves. This continues to patiently build over the solid but unobtrusive drums with chords from the Rhodes and by 5:30 the guitar loops are building into something else… heavier synth bass underneath this around 6:00 and the cymbals are now pretty steadily crashing underneath this.

At 6:40 there is a solid groove established underneath the spacy guitar loops. Just after 7:00 the drums drop out and then by 7:15 there is a crazy effect on the loops and we’re out.

Great playing from this trio; the “Fall” underpinnings on this don’t jump out too much to these ears but knowing that “Stumble” was based off of “Fall” some of the harmonic structure of “Fall” does flow through this.

Conclusion

Fifty years after its original appearance, “Fall” still very clearly has plenty of life left in it, and of course the versions here are by no means the only versions of this tune out there. The version from Jesse Fischer and Gilad Hekselman’s “Stumble” are both interesting in that neither of these could exist without the original from Wayne Shorter and the Miles Davis Quintet, but they also both very much bring their own flavor to the tune and exist on their own merits.

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