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Composition: Phobos (jazz combo)

In a recent post discussing the problems with traditional head/solo/head arrangements, I said I would share an original piece that challenges this tradition. Here it is, a revision of something I wrote a while ago for a jazz combo:

“Phobos” (PDF)

My intention was to break the formal symmetry one usually perceives in jazz tunes. In my attempt, I employed the following methods:

1. Meter follows melodic impulse. Usually melody conforms to meter, but I wanted this melody to feel more organic and less metric. In progressive music, it sometimes appears that variations in meter are forced into arrangements for the mere sake of sounding sophisticated. I only tend to place meter changes where they are necessary to support the melodic or harmonic rhythms I hear in my imagination.

2. Traditional devices are used in unconventional ways. This piece contains breaks, send-offs and tutti, and has soloists taking turns — all familiar ideas in jazz. But breaks double as send-offs, phrases are irregular in length and at times segmented, and solos do not begin at clear divisions between formal sections.

3. Solos are Highly Structured. Instead of being asked to repeat the same set of changes ad infinitum, performers begin solos at specific moments that are displaced from sectional divisions; and each soloist finds himself playing over a different chord progression. The chord changes are based on root movement in the exposition (read: head), but develop it further rather than echo it.

4. The chord changes don’t cycle predictably. Conventional changes lead the ear to each sectional transition through the use of cadences. This piece avoids cadences that would sound out of place if shifted to the left or right of a double-bar.

5. The recapitulation is not an exact copy of the exposition. Rather than treat the beginning, non-improvised section as a head which simply repeats after the solos, I felt a greater effect could be achieved by allowing the final statement of the opening melody to continue the expected dynamic trajectory set up in the preceding solos.

I feel that even a small piece for a jazz ensemble can (and often should) be treated in a symphonic manner, by continuing development of a theme straight through to the end, and not simply treating the theme as a pair of bookends containing self-indulgent improvisations.

I plan to rehearse this with my new ensemble, yet to be named. I will keep you posted on results. In the meantime, if anyone out there tries performing “Phobos,” I would love to hear your interpretation.

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