Saturday, January 23, 2010

Juego del Rapto

Part three. Boy, I'm moving right along with this blog. Seems like it was only last year that I was writing about part one. (Preceding sentence should be read with sarcastic tone in voice.) And now here I am all the way to part three, Ritual of Abduction. I might have said this already in an earlier blog, but these titles sound like they could be a jazz tune. Perhaps I should use some pagan setting for a work of my own, just for the cool titles.

So, this is another tune where I knew pretty quickly how I wanted to treat it. Actually, two, three and four were all easy in that respect. Anyway, one listen along with the score and I was certain nearly instantly. Afro-cuban! The 9/8 time signature was just begging for it. And it works quite well.

I start out with pretty much a straight up re-orchestration of the orchestral score. The chords being held by the horns are given to the alto II and the tenors. The chord in the C trumpets is played by the bones. The string parts are edited here. Violins one and two are played in four parts but I took only the top part of violin I and gave that to two flugels and guitar. It makes for a great solo line over the chords without being encumbered by the harmony of the string parts. That line is joined by a unison line played by flute, piccolo, oboe, D clarinet and D trumpet. This line is given to piano playing in octaves, two trumpets playing with straight mutes and soprano sax.

At bar six of the orchestra score there are tremolos played by three flutes and three clarinets. I have taken these notes and given them to two saxes, two flugels and two bones. But I don't have them play a tremolo. Instead they play an eighth note line back and forth between the two notes. Eighth rest, four notes, two eighth rests and then five notes. If you are counting, that's a total of twelve eighth notes or four beats. Now remember, we are in 9/8 which has three beats per measure. So this tremolo has become a strong source of rhythm that happens to be a four beat pattern in a three beat time signature. Meanwhile the two straight mute trumpets and the soprano trade back and forth with a tenor sax and trombone with a three eighth note (triplet-like) figure. Under this is a very disjointed figure that came from the contra bass and tympani parts. This is played by the bass, bari sax and bass bone. It looks so simple but is very hard to get in the right place. With the hemiola figure going on and other liberties already taken I just keep this phrase going a little longer to make everything line up at the end of a measure/phrase. Here the drums make their entrance with a written fill that sets-up the actual afro-cuban groove . This figure appears several times in the piece as a bit of recurring material.

I chose to write a bass and guitar figure for the groove and to give the piano an actual chord change to comp on. A nine over five (9:5) descending figure in the high voices is tampered with to fit more into a groove and is handed off between groups of saxes and trumpets. The trombones then play some chord figures that are additions to the piece. The bones will do this often in this arrangement. The saxes now cover a horn part that sounds like a hunting call. Here there are lots of C trumpet and string parts that get ignored. One string part is used however. Stravinsky now uses a four note repeating pattern in violin I for a great hemiola of his own. I have taken it and used the first group of four notes and the first note only of the next grouping and follow that with three eighth rests. The four notes are descending so the top note always gets played but the other three get played just every other time. This makes for a really interesting hemiola. Saxes 2-5 cover a flute and piccolo part nearly verbatim with the exception of the end of the line. Here I change the rhythm to be more "stylistically correct" and harmonize those notes. The space before this line is played again is enlarged to allow the groove to simmer a bit. The bones continue to play chord figures in jazz band fashion. After that the tricky mishmash of stuff from earlier in the piece returns. No drum groove is happening here. After four bars the drums return and we groove for four measures on B7sus.

Now the soprano gets a tricky version of an Eb clarinet line while the other saxes cover double reed parts while the groove continues. The string parts imply some new harmony here. I don't use there parts but I use their notes as the bones continue to play rhythmic chordal figures. This leads up to a very exciting and dense part . There is a lot of meter change which I smoothed out a bit. I have 12/8, 7/8, 12/8, 2/4, 12/8 and finally back to 9/8. Igor had two measures of 6/8, then 7/8, 3/4, 6/8 (in this circumstance those are both the same thing. The change is confusing), 2/4, 6/8, 3/4 (here we go again) and back to 9/8. I basically took the 3/4 and 6/8 measures and combined them to make 12/8. His harmony was fairly thick and interesting. But I went one better. I made it even thicker and voiced it all parallel. I also added some hits in bones and the rhythm section in some key places and now this section is killing. It's like Don Ellis with 20th century atonal harmony. The groove returns along with the "huntng call". A descending line in high woodwinds and C trumpets is covered by saxes and trumpets and is ended by a return of the written drum fill. This is answered by a rhythmic tutti figure by the whole band and the groove returns and settles down to introduce an improvised solo by the trumpet.

The solo is in typical big band fashion. As the solo progresses more backgrounds are introduced. Harmony comes from the chords already used and implied by earlier parts of the tune. I chose to come out of the solo with a restatement of the parallel harmony part mentioned in the above paragraph. It doesn't get repeated in the orchestra version but I thought it worked well to use it a second time in this arrangement. I follow it exactly with "hunting call" and the same descending line that led to the solo send-off. Here there is an eighth note part in flutes, clarinets and C trumpets in the orchestra score. There is a lot of varying time signatures as well. I keep this line completely intact giving it to saxes 1-4, guitar and piano but keep the time in 9/8 along with the hits that are in the orchestra score. It comes out perfect. Now I grab a violin II part that is in 6/8 and change the first three quarters to eighths that enables me to keep a 9/8 time signature and score it for saxes 2-5 as well as trading it between trumpets I and III. There are some hits on measures of 2/8 that occur at the neds of these lines. I chose to change that just a little. I added an extra beat to some measures and play the hit on beat four of the 12/8 measures that have now been created. It makes for just a hair more space between the hits and the resumption of the lines. Here Stravinsky had the same one measure line going over 6/8 then 3/4 then 6/8 again. Why? They end up identical. Anyway, this leads up to four big hits in 4/4 in the orchestra. I voice this for the entire band but keep it in 9/8 and play it as a syncopated figure. Here the drums play the written fill one last time at fortississimo to end the piece.

And so, that is how I totally screwed up part three. The Afro-cuban beat is a great rhythm. Very exciting and very danceable. That's good for a ballet, which this happens to be. But also good for the listeners as well. Perhaps they'll dance in the aisles when this premieres. Or perhaps not. But here's a little something you can do. The next time you are in a latin night club with a live band, go up to the band leader and see if they can play "Juego del Rapto".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Repent, the end is near.

I'm getting close. Oh, so close. I can see it. I can smell it. I can almost taste it. It's really a good feeling. A week ago I finished part 12. That's 12 out of 14. Only two to go.

So why am I not just a little bit more excited? Perhaps it's because there is still so much more work after the music is written. There are 17 musicians that have to be assembled. Rehearsals have to be scheduled around all their schedules. Music has to be worked out. There are master classes I'll be preparing for at some local universities. Publicity to be done. A podcast to do. All kinds of things to take care of. Plus there is just quite a bit of time still until the actual performance.

But I think the real reason why I'm not quite so excited is that there is a bit of anxiety as to how this whole thing will come off. I've spent a lot of hours working on this. A lot. Will it really be any good? We all know that Stravinsky's work is considered a masterpiece. Am I doing this work justice? Stravinsky wrote something new and different. Will my arrangement sound like anything new? Or will it just sound like a bunch of big band charts? By the way, I'm so trying to avoid writing "charts". Not only on this project but in general with my writing for jazz orchestra. Charts are what writers have done for most of the history of big bands. They take a tune, someone else's or one of there own. Then they write an arrangement. They assign melodies and create counter lines. Perhaps introduce new harmony. Compress or elongate phrases. Insert solo sections. Write backgrounds, interludes, intros and endings. And after all is said and done the guys in the band will say "nice chart". But it is still an arrangement, not a composition for jazz orchestra. A tune that is arranged for big band almost always sounds like a tune that's arranged for big band. They virtually never have the feeling or the sense of a journey that can be created by putting paper to pen for the whole band before writing a "tune".

It is this desire or goal in my "original" writing that makes me anxious about this whole project. I would hate for it to sound like charts. No charts! If people hear this and it reminds them of Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, or, God forbid, Bob Mintzer, I will have failed immensely. So much of what those bands did though the second half of the twentieth century was to emphasize the showy part of big bands. High, fast, loud, slick. In general I hate that part of big band music. Sure there is physical excitement. And there is certainly a place for that. But I'm far more concerned about the subtleties. The musicality. And most importantly, the emotional content. Deep emotional content. Beauty, grace, joy, anger, wonder. The things of life. Physical excitement generates a more immediate and vocal response from the audience. They will appear to have enjoyed it more than a crowd hearing a more challenging and emotional program. But when the crowd has had a deeper emotional experience it will be a more lasting experience. Emotional content will have them listening intently over and over again, finding new things in the music. Physical excitement brings them back when they are looking for a cheap thrill but rarely rewards this listener with anything more.

So, I'm closing in on finishing the actual writing. After that it's out there for the world to judge. Will I have written music or will it be just a bunch of charts. The end is near. My time to repent is running out. But I think I will follow this road to it's final destination. We shall see if leads me to glory or perdition.

Post Script: Some rehearsal recordings have been posted at Go have a listen and tell me what you think.