A New Order Groove (2009)

Inspired by the big band writing of Chuck Owen while attending the International Jazz Composers’s Symposium several years ago, I set out to compose a work that paid tribute to one of his compositions.  The Jazz Surge big band was so impressive that I picked up every CD his band had available at the conference. My choice of composition was “Mo Leids” which is a sequel to his earlier work “Lieds”. I guess my composition “A New Order Groove” could be subtitled “Much Mo’ Leids”.  Though I am not sure if Mr. Owen would agree.

This piece was written for Kansas City based trumpeter Clint Ashlock and his New Jazz Order Big Band. The opening of the piece begins very similar to “Mo’ Leids”.  The “New Order Groove” is a funky jazz-rock style and explores the intervallic aspects of the blues scale.  Half step, whole step and minor thirds are exploited to achieve flexible direction for my phrases.

Improvisation functions for texture, transitions and in the traditional featured solo and collective sections. Texturally, various soloists interact with melodic statements in the opening section in an unpredictable manner to keep the listeners focus constantly shifting.  My goal was to knock the listener off balance a bit and yet still engage them. After an extensive set up leading into the main theme, two traditional solo sections follow featuring the tenor sax and Clint on trumpet.

Click several times on the score to enlarge.

At letters T to X featured soloists introduced one at a time. A vamp drum solo is followed by a vamp bass and drum solo.  Letter V introduces the bari sax into the mix.  Within four bars slowly the band starts to respond to the soloists.  Over time each new voice improvising interacts with the others to additively increase the density of the texture.

At letter X a heavy demand is placed on the 1st tenor sax, bari sax, trumpet 3 and trombone 2 to create and hold a groove without the assistance of the rhythm section. From Y to BB, once through the alphabet it was time to double up on the rehearsal letters, the whole band eventually joins in with ever increasing lengthening and overlapping phrases slowly overtaking the soloists. Each soloist one at a time take their place back into the interactive layers of their section in the band.  The same approach happens earlier during the tenor sax solo when prodding interjections by the band eventually swallowed up the soloist.

Another example of textural development occurs during Clint’s solo. The solo starts with trumpet and rhythm section. Each section leading up to letter T slowly increases rhythmic activity and background figures continue to extend into longer sixteenth note phrases. By letter S the whole band is backing Clint with call and response phrases heard from soprano sax and Alto 2, fast moving lines in the tenor sax and trumpet 2, syncopated figures by the trombones with trumpet 3 and 4, and a bass line outlined by the bass, baritone sax and 4th trombone.

Moose the Mooch (2010)

Originally arranged for the Kansas City based contemporary ensemble Blackhouse Collective, the most recent version is for big band. My goal was the unexpected. Infusing a jazz standard with the unexpected was where the fun began for me as I set out to put my own stamp on the contrafact of “I Got Rhythm”.

The extended introduction consist of a drum solo with fragmented improvised manipulations of motivic cells drawn from the melody stated by the horns. These phrases are further fragmented at times when they are divided across different sections of the band creating a Klangfarbenmelodie (pointallistic effect). No harmony is stated though a few clusters surrounding the motives are added for spice.

Click on score for larger version

Once the melody is stated at letter K, a syncopated groove established with parallel fifths attempt to keep the listener off balance and harmonically vague. The pointallistic approach continues in the horns as the melody is stated providing shifting colors from various members diving in and out of the phrases. The bridge provides a momentary release as the bass references the chord changes in a chromatic and syncopated way.

The first solo following the statement of the theme starts off with traditional Rhythm changes. Unexpectedly for the next two chrouses minor major seventh chords are substituted for the original changes. The relationship of these new chords also change over time leading to unpredictable harmonic direction. Over the first two A sections and the bridge where a minor chord is heard, a minor major seventh is substituted. The first bar Bb7 to Gmi7 becomes GmM7. The second bar Cmi7 F7 becomes simply CmM7. This pattern continues until the last A section starting in bar 201. The minor major sevenths are added a half step above the expected minor chords. Bb7 to Gmi7 being treated as an altered G7 becomes a bar of AbmM7. In the next bar the Cmi7 to F7 becomes F#mM7 a half step above the dominant. As the third chorus begins further exploration of substitutions continue. The overall sound is of passing diminished whole-tone scales that push us away from the standard progression.

Coming out of the Melodic Minor harmonic background, the syncopated fifths in the low register return with a short eight bar interlude by the horns pushes into a one chorus soli section with more traditional harmonic progression. Compare the different chourses as the soli section enters with the following choruses for the tenor sax solo. The unexpected returns as the progression continues to explore reharmonized variations on the progression for further chromatic exploration.


A = Bb7 G7 Cmi7 F7 Dmi7 G7 Cmi7 F7 Fmi7 Bb7 Eb7 Eo7 F7 (1 bar) Cmi7 F7

A = Bb Bo7 Cmi7 C#07 Dmi7 C#o7 Cmi7 Bo7 Bb7 Bb7/D Eb7 Eo7 F7 (2 bars)

B = D7alt./Eb (2 bars) G7alt./Ab (2 bars) C7alt./Db (2 bars) F7alt./Gb F7(#11)

A = Bb7 G7 Cmi7 F7 Dmi7 G7 Cmi7 F7 Fmi7 Bb7

Tenor Solo:

A = Bb7 Db7 Gb7 F7 Ab7 G7 Gb7 F7 Bb7 E7 Eb7 A7 Bb7 G7 Gb7 B7

A = E7 G7 C7 F7 D7 Db7 C7 B7 Bb7 Bb7/D Eb7 Eo7 Ao7/Bb (1 bar) Bbo7 (1 bar)

B = AmM7 EbmM7 DmM7 AbmM7 GmM7 DbmM7 CmM7 F#mM7

The last A section of the first chorus took one player by surprise during a reading because the changes for the rhythm section are different than those for the tenor soloist. Here is the progression for each part.

Tenor Sax:

A = AbmM7 GbmM7 AbmM7 GbmM7 BmM7 EmM7 AbmM7 FmM7

Rhythm Section:

A = Bb7alt G7alt Cmi7 F7alt Dmi7 G7alt Cmi7 F7alt Fmi7 Bb7alt Eb7alt (1 bar) Bb7alt G7alt Cmi7 F7alt

Similar harmonic patterns from the beginning of the tenor solo return at the top of the second chorus. The last A of the second chorus lands on an F pedal. In the last four bars we get a foreshadow of what is to come as the texture in the horns thickens as they slowly enter coming in on the and of beat four in each bar playing any low note they wish. The effect is percussive and potentially very dissonant.

Improvised low note of choice for percussive effect

The third chorus of tenor solo finds the band once again in standard chord territory. In the bridge I have a dissonant chord rescored as each new rhythm enters. The chord is constantly reorchestrationed and plays against the tenor part in minor major seventh harmony, a bassist creating his own atonal bass line and the guitarist and pianist playing what is only marked as dissonant chord with the rhythms of the previous choruses and of beat four rhythm. The reorchestrated chord was an attempt to have a static chord change in color over time.

Another interlude of sorts develops for 25 bars staring at letter DD involving the whole band ensues with continued exploration of klangfarben melodic snaky lines passing from one horn to another as the drummer fills between the phrases. Floating fifths return leading into a shout chorus of sorts that is similar in texture to the preceeding interlude. Dissonace builds during the bridge leading into an inverted version of the contours of the melody broken up in a pointallistic style amongst the various members of the band. The pitches of the inverted melody are choosen by the band members themselves. The pull of tonal progressions leading to chromatic altered style harmony find its way to atonality.

At letter JJ the return of the main theme arrives. Unlike the early version, this one quickly breaks down as slowly more players are asked to only follow the contour and rhythms while choosing their own notes.

Atonality increases slowly to blur the melody

The bridge at KK brings the band to half time and slowly more and more players are asked to improvise a short solo, thickening up the texture as the last four bars accelerate into LL where the band returns to the original tempo. At this point the themes original contours, are stated and the band improvises note choices once again as more and more horns enter leading into the tag. The tag also has improvised note choices and accelerates to the end where a one bar drum fills leads into a Bb stinger.

Entire band improvises on the contour of the theme.

Shifts in color was achieved with not only passing the melody amongst the different sections, but also from changing mutes in the brass and with Alto 1 doubling on flute and tenor 1 on clarinet. It was the contour and the rhythmic nature of the theme “Moose the Mooch” that led me to choosing this piece for the Blackhouse Collective. I felt it was possible to still recognize the basic elements of the tune despite pitch choices by the musicians. Early on in the work, cluster voicings and the stretching of the harmonic territory were utilized for increasing moments of surprises for the listener and to prepare the way for the ending. Atonality slowly creeps its way into the fabric of the work allowing for a major climax in the closing bars of the piece. Due to its length and limited rehearsal, it did not make it on the Blackhouse Collective concert. The score examples here reflect the reorchestrated version for big band.  The chart now sits in the folders of Clint Ashlock’s New Jazz Order Big Band here in Kansas City.

Id (1991)

The title “Id” is borrowed from Freud’s Personality theory. It is a name for the instinctual part of behavior. Instinct describes the quick process of composing this piece for big band. It was written while attending Indiana University and is dedicated to Domonic Spera. Mr. Spera’s big band gave the premier and a second performance at the Indiana Music Educators Convention in 1991. A year later I found Mr. Spera had incorporated the piece for discussion and listening as a part of his advanced jazz composition class. I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. The dissonance of the main theme draws on the influence of Debussy’s use of exact parallel voicings as well as Duke Ellington’s cross section voicings. With each voice played by a different instrument among the different sections of the band, the dissonance of the minor second and the major seventh between voices I feel is further enhanced. I was looking for a striking sound to this angular theme.

Harmonic Structure of the horns voicing

Id Score page 3 The composition attempted to bring free and organized sections together for a raucous high energy groove. It is an up tempo 3/4 piece with rock and free jazz elements. Solo sections vary from a completely free section for the sax soloist, to ostinato figures with cross rhythms amongst the different sections of the band as background figures for the trumpet and trombone solos. The rhythmic figures were influenced by a study in African Rhythms back in the 80’s with the Ohio Chamber Orchestra and Cleveland Ballet tympanist George Kitely at Baldwin Wallace University (formerly known as Baldwin-Wallce College). Id page 10 Bob Brookmeyer gave some worthy advice upon hearing the piece years later while I was attending University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory. His advice was to never let the success of your piece be entirely dependent on the soloists. My recording had some wonderful soloing by some exceptionally talented young musicians but that did not stop him from offering his wisdom. His other piece of advice was drawn from his early years studying music history at the UMKC Conservatory. He recommended that I study the long expansive melodic lines of Gregorian chant. He also believed that a solo section should not occur until it is the only thing that can happen. Upon hearing “Shockwaves” for jazz octet, a work of mine from the mid 90’s, he felt I had reached a better balance than I had in “Id”. You can read about the form of Shockwaves in the Inspiration for Development and Form poster presented at the International Jazz Composers’ Symposium.

Bossa for Betty Carter (1997)

Bossa for Betty Carter for jazz ensemble was written with the intent of exploring various timbres in the ensemble much the way Betty would alter the tone of her voice while shaping phrases during an improvisation.

The harmonic qualities were inspired from a masterclass at the Berklee School of Music during the first Harmony Conference they held many years ago.  During a masterclass with Richie Bierach a questions was asked regarding his harmonic thinking.  He had just sent us the listeners to what sounded like uncharted harmonic waters with variation upon variation on the opening bars to “Round Midnight”.  His suggestion was to create your own harmonic vocabulary based on density.  With each harmonic entity, or chord, you create, he suggested that you give it a density number from one to ten.  After creating a collection of these, build a piece that pushes the from one level to another increasing or decreasing tension as you see fit. Set theory should open up possibilities when studying 20th century atonal music for the creation of some of your own harmonic entities or sets.

Try dropping your hands at random on the keys of the piano with no particular intervallic structure preplanned in your mind, or your hands, and see what you discover. Do you like what you hear? Is it hard to describe?  If you intend on keeping this strucutre or chord, give it a density level of dissonance from 1-10 and continue building your new harmonic vocabulary.

Sometimes there are several ways to view your new synthetic harmonies. They may look like an extracted set from traditional harmonies or be apart of a particular mode. Maybe it is perhaps a bitonal harmony or some kind of harmony over a unrelated bass note .  It may appear your structure is sort of like a major chord but just not include the third or an altered dominant without the third or seventh present. This leads to the next question of how you intend to represent your chords to the rhythm section or the soloist.  Many times if I have a particular mode in mind, or implied by the harmony, I will write out the mode for the soloist and rhythm section.  There maybe more than one choice of modes or jazz scales available to the soloist. I then decide for the soloist what sound I have in mind be including the mode or new synthetic scale in place of traditional chord changes.  If I wish to give more freedom, listing the scale with no suggested mode should be enough for the soloist.

Each of these new structures can be explored further by inversion to generate new ways of generating voice leading from one structure to another in your progression. A pseudo modulation or series of substitute harmonies appear by incorporating such inversions. In these cases the general modal sound referenced does not change but the implied direction of the bass made it sound as if the progression has traveled somewhere new. Extending or compressing the lengths of any one or set of  these new substitute harmonies will allow the form to develop in an unpredictable way.

Bossa for Betty Carter p. 16

Bossa for Betty Carter p. 17

A more subtle way of thinking about modes, synthetic scales, density or dissonance levels is to think in terms of brightness and darkness of each new sonorites you develop.  I highly recommend Modal Jazz Composition and Harmony Vol 1 and 2 by Ron Miller published by Advance Music. Volume 1 has The Collated Order Of All Constructed Modes listed on p 122.  There are 35 altogether.  With this chart you can plan out modal movement with harmonies that move from one level of brightness or darkness to another.