Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Coltrane and Developing Variation

Arnold Schoenberg tells us that “coherence is based on repetition… Coherence comes into being when parts that are partly the same, partly different, are connected so that those parts that are the same become prominent;” and, “Repetition is a structuring principle of coherence.” 

By this account, the solos by McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane on this version of “I Want to Talk About You,” recorded live at the Half Note in 1965, represent two substantive achievements in improvisational coherence.

In measure 4 of his second solo chorus (at 4:02), Tyner plays a two-beat phrase whose 6-note variant follows in measure 5. This 6-note motive is repeated with variation for a total of nine bars, spanning across the two A-sections of the form.

Then, from 4:30, the motive is fragmented into a varied repetition of its triplet component and finally liquidated in a flurry of runs, comprising an additional four measures.

These thirteen bars of motivic variation and ultimate liquidation help to provide even further-reaching coherence to Tyner’s solo insofar as the constituent 6-note motive is foreshadowed (at 3:40) and later reiterated (once at 5:35, once at 5:50, and twice at 6:35). Thus the solo manifests an astonishing degree of global hearing.

Perhaps spurred by Tyner’s display of motivic cohesion and long-range architecture, Coltrane launches his own seamless and organic development of a basic motive, beginning in measure 7 of his first solo chorus and extending through the next three sections of the form and into the second chorus.

The 4-note core (step down, third skip up, fourth down) introduced at 0:19---having been adumbrated by the ascending third intervals of the previous measures---is then extended by attaching a transposition of the motive at the fourth below (at 0:29):

Starting at 0:45 the motive is varied by diminution, then augmented and interrupted by longer, drama-intensifying rests; by 1:50 the motive has become heavily embellished. Finally, at 1:55 Coltrane begins a phrase that starts with a shape related to the original motive but is ultimately liquidated and superseded by an increasingly complex flow of musical ideas. At ballad tempo, such a chain of rigorous motivic connection over an entire chorus and more surely represents coherent improvisation at a global, rather than merely local, level.

Jazz improvisation is often described as a type of “theme and variations,” where the original written song is the theme and successive improvised solo choruses on the harmonic form of the song are the variations. In this case, however, we hear something perhaps more akin to Schoenberg’s concept of "developing variation." Here Coltrane’s development of a repeated motive creates a situation in which the melodic material seems to spiral out of its own accord, growing increasingly complex over an ever-larger span of time and yet somehow always traceable back to the original motive.

The deft application of this kind of "developing variation" concept, especially by Coltrane, results in a level of musical drama and sense of "endless melody" not frequently encountered in jazz improvisation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment