Cecil Alexander is an influential and creative young jazz guitarist that has been on the radar of many guitarists recently. He was the 1st place winner of the 2017 Wilson Center Jazz Guitar Competition and the 2018 Lee Ritenour Six String Theory Competition. Most recently, Cecil was one of 3 finalists in the 2019 Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Guitar Competition.
In his two latest musical exercise PDFs, Cecil continues to share his unique melodic approach via densely power-packed licks. These PDFs include the musical examples in both standard notation & TAB as well as MP3 files. The MP3 files feature Cecil playing the example at performance tempo with bass & drum backing tracks (for context) and then slower versions (without the backing track) for study.
In the first PDF, Pentatonic Licks (Static Harmony) – Cecil explores shifting pentatonics over a static Dminor7 chord. These outside pentatonic licks combine various pentatonic choices that voicelead smoothly into each other in an unpredictable way. The choices are elegant and logical but the resulting lines are interesting and colorful.
A common problem with jazz improvisers (including myself) is that we often get trapped playing pentatonics in patterns that move and resolve in predictable ways. For guitarists coming from a rock or blues background, the temptation to burst out standard pentatonic licks is great and can be limiting.
Studying Cecil’s licks gave me a lot of food for thought on how to approach my own improvised lines. Soon, I began getting new ideas that built upon Cecil’s original licks. For serious musicians who want to get the most out of these licks, I imagine this to be the path. Learn these licks, study these licks and come up with your own licks. In a way, Cecil has given us the keys to the door & it’s up to us to maximise these musical ideas in our own playing.
In the second PDF, Pentatonic Licks (II-V-I) – Cecil continues the same process but now on the ever popular II-V-I progression. In this context, we get to see not only the pentatonic choices he uses for each chord but also how he uses chromatics to make it less obvious that he’s using pentatonics.
One of my favorite takeaways from studying these licks were the modular melodic shapes that I noticed appeared in different licks. It’s fun to see how Cecil uses some shapes in different situations. As I studied the licks, I also discovered picking challenges that gave me more things to work on.
In the end, these 10 licks are not just 4 pages of PDFs & 10 audio examples but are really a genuine look into Cecil’s personal style. I personally will be spending quite some time digging into these licks to get new ideas. If you’re into Cecil’s guitar style, I recommend getting these for your own study.
Pros: Great sounding lines that are both musically interesting & technically challenging.
Cons: No analysis given on the licks in the examples.
TLDR: If you like Cecil Alexander’s intense & lyrical guitar style, these licks are potentially powerful tools for your woodshedding sessions. Recommended for intermediate/advanced guitarists interested to level up more creative ways to use pentatonics.
You can get these musical exercises (PDF files) from: https://www.cecilalexander.com/shop
NOTE: Cecil is currently offering a PDF Bundle on his website shop here until Monday, March 30th at 3pm EST. If you’re interested to learn his approach, this is a great opportunity to grab these two sets as well as the previous ones that I reviewed here.
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