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Comping Expo Review in JJG

Well Robert Conti has done it again. Having produced dozens of quality DVDs on the art of single note soloing and chord melody jazz guitar, he has set his instructional sights on that nemesis of so many guitarists:  comping.  It is easy to understand how soloing makes up the lion’s share of instructional material. All guitarists want those moments to shine on stage, and there is nothing for the ego quite like peeling off a terrific solo when called on. Very fulfilling, but the mundane fact is that if you are pursuing a career in jazz guitar you are most likely spending about 95% of your time comping behind another soloist or vocalist. Comping deserves serious attention, and that is just what Robert Conti delivers.

The DVD / Book set has a lot going for it: all sorts of variations and substitutions in styles ranging from ballad to blues, from bossa nova to hard bop, and more. All of the material is delivered in the signature Conti style of excellent demonstration combined with patient encouragement. In fact, the lessons flow along so smoothly that you might miss the true genius of this set, which is Mr. Conti’s actual approach to teaching comping. Consider the logistics for a few moments and you will see what I mean. How do you demonstrate comping without

having a group to comp with? I have seen more than a few instructional materials that try to get points across with chord charts and rhythm slashes. Even with an accompanying CD or DVD these often are more confusing than helpful.

So what’s the Conti method? Playing is always first and foremost with Robert Conti’s approach. In my opinion, it  is Mr. Conti’s signature “Watch, Listen and Duplicate” approach that sets him apart from the pack.  We are fortunate to have such a fine player and teacher as Robert Conti to lay it all out for us.  His detailed aural and visual presentation ensures that the learner can easily grasp every facet of each lesson, and to have fun doing it.   In this set you will hear comping in a number of different situations: audio and video excerpts from  Robert Conti recordings, comping along with the supplied rhythm track, and bare bones with just stalwarts Rob Goldsmith on bass and assistant guitarist Steve Cantor.

In all cases you get the feel for how the comping fits in with the ensemble, moving it along but staying out of the way of the soloists and other band members. Next comes the in-depth demonstration, putting the chords and rhythms in context, exploring interesting substitutions and other such juicy topics as inner voice motion and use of the upper structure. (You will recognize the value in this part instantly if you have ever tried to pick up a comping part by ear from a recording – it makes learning a solo look like a piece of cake!) The rhythms are demonstrated rather than being written out, so that no reading of complex rhythmic notation is required. All of the chords played are charted in the book, but there are also a lot of “off the sheet” tips that are offered on the fly. A very nice addition is the lightbulb icon that comes on screen for these, making it easy to search back for them later.

Then it is time to practice, at first copying what has been demonstrated and then playing with it to make it your own. Backing tracks are included as both MIDI and MP3. You can adjust the tempo via MIDI to slowly work up speed, as well as using the MP3s to rehearse with your iPod or similar player.  One outstanding feature of this presentation is demonstration of mistakes not to make. These are real life issues that will save you a lot of embarrassment at jam sessions or on stage. (I remember an ordinarily soft-spoken bass player turning to me once to say: “If you touch that sixth string again I’ll break all your fingers!”) And since no one approach works in all situations, there is an emphasis on how to adapt to several different performance scenarios.

In addition to the regular material there is a “Before the Gig” section, where Robert Conti walks you through two great jamming favorites to give you a set of working ideas  that will speed  up your progress through the rest of the tunes. There is also a bonus section at the end with demos that include tracks from Robert Conti’s CDs as well as some video of him comping live. These are also notated in the book.

The bottom line: Unless people are already beating a path to your door begging you to comp for them, this DVD will improve your comping immeasurably. The rich chords and spicy rhythms make it a joy to learn these tunes, and you may find yourself playing styles or tempos that you have always felt were beyond you. With this very empowering set, Robert Conti has done a real service for jazz by providing the world with more excited and competent compers.

Reviewed by Dr. Dave Walker for Just Jazz Guitar Magazine

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