Linear Harmony #5: Block and Layered Counterpoint

I’m revising a piece for my ensemble, perhaps for a recording in the near or far future. I’ve used “Take it Inside” in many posts because it’s a good example of linear harmony. It’s also free and I have the score.

During the process of taking this tune apart I’ve seen many missed opportunities,  and I’ll be revising accordingly. I’ve also noticed a couple of things that just don’t work at all. They will be 86’ed.

In “Take it Inside” the three soloists, tpt, alto and bone, form a sextet with the rhythm section, and are featured as a unit throughout. The other four horns, tpt, tenor, bone and bari work mostly as a unit within the larger ensemble. The score order reflects this, with those three instruments on the top of the score and the rest below.  Mixing up the instruments like this is a challenge, especially when it comes to “tutti” writing. A linear approach works well here.

The following four recorded excerpts are from a rehearsal a few weeks ago; it’s a pretty gnarly section to perform, yet based on a simple idea: two lines and rhythm section. One is a three-voice thickened line with an octave double on the bottom. The other is a unison and octave counterline. I asked my players to play each element separately, then together, then tutti with the rhythm section. Hearing these parts separated really helps me in the revision process, plus hearing your horn parts without the rhythm section is always a good idea, just to check notes and phrasing.

The “A” element is the three solo instruments plus the bari doubling the top line 8vb. I’m not sure that the doubling helps, and I had him lay out on this pass.

A1 A2 A3

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The “B” element is the rest of the horns, tpt, ten, bone –they’ve got a unison and octave counterline. Here’s a typical problem when the choirs are divided up like I’ve done in this tune – say i want a mid-range counterline, here in the tenor range, it’s pretty low for the trumpet, and 8va would be too high. Maybe I’ll put him in a mute?:

B1 B2 B3

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Each of A and B sound pretty cool, but it’s hard to tell where they go until you hear them together:

The solo instruments plus the bari have one part, the others play a unison line that sometimes compliments and sometimes clashes. The arrows show how the focus is passed back and forth as the lines unfold. The unison line eventually settles into a D minor-ish riff.

Take it Inside (letter M, measure 200)  The solo instruments plus the bari have one part, the others play a unison line that sometimes compliments and sometimes clashes. The arrows show how the focus is passed back and forth as the lines unfold. The unison line eventually settles into a D minor-ish riff.

As the "D minor" riff carries on, the upper voices still move against it, creating tension and setting up the trombone solo.

As the “D minor” riff carries on, the upper voices still move against it, creating tension and setting up the trombone solo.

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Here’s the passage with the full band:

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It’s a bit of a chore to analyze the harmony and I’m not in the mood. Suffice it to say that what is going on here is consonance moving to dissonance then back, in a “gestural” way, where the harmony is dictated by the tension of the melodic line. It’s easy to see what’s dissonant here: since the chords are mostly white notes and some Bb’s (lots of Dmi, C, BbM7 type sound), when you see accidentals that’s when it becomes dissonant. There’s a dialogue going on between the A and B elements; the arrows on the reduction show where the movement is going, passed back from one to the other.

I can see right away an opportunity I missed. I established the “white key” harmony in M 200-201 with cool Gil Evans-type voicings in the A group, but the B group goes “out” too soon…don’t you agree? I want to hear more of that consonant sound before the weird stuff happens.

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About Scott Healy

LA composer and performer.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Arranging/Orchestration, Harmony, Jazz Arranging, Jazz Composition and Analysis, Jazz Theory, Linear Harmony, Theory and Harmony and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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