‘Meantone Blues’ is a concert program by Dutch microtonal guitarist Melle Weijters. It brings together two very different musical worlds: the historical tuning practice from the 15th – 18th century and the 20th century Afro-American music style.
With a meantone guitar, a retuned combo organ and his voice, Melle Weijters takes the listener back to the mesmerising days of sweet melodies and lush harmonies. But he also shows the other side of this tuning system and why it vanished in oblivion. It is a strange twist of fate that this dark character suits the blues so well!
Click play to get a taste of this unique approach to tuning the blues!
Review: The organ secularised with sophistication
On Sunday evening, July 5th 2015, something special happened in the Great Church of Oosthuizen: with their program MeantoneBlues, Guus Janssen and Melle Weijters led the religious organ back to its mundane origins. Or, put differently: ‘Your roots are in the mean streets, that ‘ll never change’, says Donald Fagen in ‘I took you out of the ghetto’ (Sunken Condos, 2012).
A year before, on September 28 2014, they successfully performed a similar program called ‘MicroBlues’ at the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, in which they explored the possibilities of the 31-tone system. The attentiveness of Herman van Leuven, member of the local commission, connected it to Oosthuizen. The vocal intonation and meantone tuning turned the organ in Oosthuizen into a virtual vocalist in compositions by Miles Davis, Ellington and Hendrix.
Even more sophisticatedly, the players realised the endearing rawness of the vocal blues style on their instruments. As a guitarist, Weijters specialises in the so-called microtonality: playing with very small intervals. Jansen took advantage of similar magnitudes which have been slumbering for ages in the meantone tuning of the instrument of Oosthuizen.
The sixteenth-century Estampie, now as an organ solo, appeared to be from the Fleming Jan de Macque, who, as Giovanni de Macque, was a hit in Gesualdo’s circles in Naples. In Downhome Blues, Weijters demonstrated a harp guitar from 1917, a kind of theorbo with free resonating strings.
Both musicians showed an overwhelming virtuosity, in such a way that by the end of the concert a magical atmosphere was created from Weijters’s Texels Kebab seamlessly blending into Hendrix’s Red House flowing into a sheer endless coda over Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman.
An excellently dosed sound feast in a proportionally decorated Great Church with an attentive and enthusiastic public, deserving a continuation!
Review: Hallucinating effects in meantone tuning (NRC)
The core of the blues is the blue note, the third which is major nor minor, but which floats somewhere in between. This moaning blue note doesn’t exist on the piano and doesn’t fit the equal tempered octave. Actually, all blues is microtonal.
The project MicroBlues of jazz guitarist Melle Weijters extends beyond this. He plays his own compositions and adaptations of standards in meantone tuning (with a pure seventh) on a 31-tone guitar . This gives a hallucinating effect.
The concert of Weijters with composer/keyboardist Guus Janssen was the first of a series of sunday morning concerts around the Fokker-organ which dates from 1950. Since its renovation in 2009, it is housed in de Small Hall of the Muziekgebouw. The piece Stuitervariaties (Bouncingvariations), a theatrical piece for ping ponging Wii-controllers based on chords from organ designer Fokker, proved that the organ can now be controlled digitally.
The concert had a messy start, with a lack of synchronisation between both players and sometimes seemed to be too much in its experimental phase.
Numerous beautiful moments however point to an exciting future. Like Mean Monk, Weijters’s fantasy about jazz giant Thelonious Monk who would crawl behind an old church organ in meantone tuning, with a hilarious pedal solo by Janssen. In Downhome Blues, Weijters played a beautiful century old acoustic guitar from the Mississippidelta, with 10 retuned sympathetic strings.