Out Through the In Door: Analyzing the Dissonance in Ingrid Jensen’s Solo from “Transit”

The title is ultimately a Led Zeppelin reference (not too surprising, seeing as how one of my previous blog entries was an analysis of the alluded album), but it is relevant here for a couple reasons. First, Infernal Machines – the debut CD from New York-based big band Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – is heavily influenced by rock acts such as Led Zeppelin. Second, it is emblematic of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen’s approach towards using dissonance. She plays out, but she does so in a densely logical way.   Like many songs from Infernal Machines, “Transit” is a predominantly spacious composition that is driven by an ostinato vamp. This ostinato can essentially be reduced to a two-measure syncopated octave figure in the bass, which establishes both the piece’s rhythmic vitality and its D minor tonic (E minor for the Bb trumpet – since the transcription is in the trumpet’s key, I will refer to tonic as E minor from this point forward). This figure evolves beyond its simple gesture, and while the harmony does not always adhere to the E pedal, it is still unchangingly modal throughout. The harmony that develops tends to be the result of counterpoint in the more »

There Will Always Be Another Scale: Bitonality in Woody Shaw’s Improvisation

“If it sounds good, it is good.” – Duke Ellington Amongst the numerous goals of a jazz improviser, perhaps the most vital is to challenge people’s preconceived expectations of what sounds good.  Any trained musician can play a blues scale over a blues progression, but it takes a true innovator to create something fresh over the same basic chord progressions that have been used for decades.  Because so many of the same songs have been used throughout generations of jazz musicians, innovation in jazz improvisation has, by necessity, undergone significant evolution. The main evidence for this evolution occurs in the process by which players choose notes over a given chord progression.  A chord is nothing more than a collection of pitches designed to achieve a particular sound.  Most chords used in jazz will utilize 4 of the 12 possible pitches, though some chords have more.  In a jazz combo, the rhythm section will use these chords to lay a harmonic foundation off which an improvised solo may be built, but the soloist will also use them to determine what notes he/she will emphasize.  Improvised solos are not limited to chord tones, and most improvisers will borrow liberally from the scale more »