Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Just Noodle About in C

I've decided that my fave discovery from the Jazz Festival was the great young trumpet player/composer/dj/producer Matt Halsall (check out the fab track 'Sending My Love'). I've blogged about the gig below. He's playing with his Magic Bop group this Saturday at Matt and Phreds so I'm really looking forward to that one. We've exchanged a few comments and messages on MySpace and he seems like a really nice fella as well. His band includes the fab Cinematic Orchestra players, Luke Flowers and Stuart McCallum. He doesn't really attempt to define his music style on MySpace but the Festival website descibes him as "a spiritual, free and meditative player who picks up from where the ‘60s modal explorations of Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane and Sun Ra left off".

Having been so into the gig I went off to have another listen to Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra. I'm familiar with some of Sanders contributions to Coltrane's groups but I've never checked his own stuff out. Got hold of a copy of what some websites consider his master work "The Creator Has A Master Plan" from the 'Karma' album. Classic modal stuff that does more or less stick to one or two chords for a good 30 mins. It's intense stuff and there's some curious almost yodeling style singing that's a little dodgy for my tastes but it is really quite engaging. Very reminiscent of Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' when the groove sets in after the introduction.

Matt at the Hifi Club in Leeds:

To possibly state the obvious, there's many styles of jazz and it was definitely the modal stuff that got me into jazz. Miles' 'Kind of Blue' with the classic 'So What' of course - obvious maybe but undoubtedly quite brilliant. Coltrane's 'Crescent' CD was huge for me and I've spent many hours improvising along to 'Spiritual' from the 1961 'Live at the Village Vanguard' record. Matt's material is definitely coming from this direction I think.

Mentioning 'modal jazz' got me thinking if I could easily describe what it is without cheating and checking a book. Although I think 'normal' jazz and western music generally are functional and cadential they are still essentially modal in that they generally use one of the church modes, the Ionian mode to derive their basic chords and cadenances. What's referred to as modal jazz also uses the same church modes, usually the Dorian and Phrygian modes. These modes are non cadential and chord sequences based on them tend to be drifty, vague and can have dreamy almost spiritual qualities. The underlying chord sequences in modal jazz will often be very simple, sometimes literally one chord or often just two or three. An example is the Em to F#m sequence on Coltrane's classic take on 'My Favorite Things'. This gives the improviser great freedom but also has it's challenges in retaining the listeners (and your own) interest. A naive view (mine originally and I think many others) is that if you're improvising in D Dorian you can noodle about for ages using the C major (ionian) scale which happens to be the same notes. This sort of works, but the approach has many limitations. We all have to start somewhere.

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