Friday, April 22, 2005

Little Sunflower

What kind of tune is Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower"? It's often treated as an example of modal Jazz, which it is, but that doesn't say much about the tune itself. Or does it? It's a tune that modulates between Dorian and Major (Ionian) modes. NB: Ionian may be regarded as an inflected form of the Major mode in Jazz, the raw form being a blues Major tonality (very roughly myxolydian) or something akin to George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, in the same way the Aeolian may be understood as an inflected form of the blues minor tonality, the more natural approximation being Dorian. Huh? Well, of course it does have to do with quartal movements, the key being how one relates to the third. In every Jazz tonic there is an implied blue third that colors the sixth and the seventh (which may also be blue in relation to the third). The blue third sixth seventh concord need not be sounded out in order to have a presence. It is a feature of the jazz musician's acoustic horizon. Thus the major sixth of the Dorian functions as a stronger affirmation of the music's essential blues tonality, and may be preferred at the expense of a well-tempered minor tonality which emphasizes the flat sixth. The flat sixth stands in relation to the blue third as a diminished fourth--a jarring discord in any functioning harmonic system I should think.

The Major 7th chord, Δ or Δ7, has a long history in Jazz and particularly bebop. Nonetheless, I'm not sure that its tonality has ever been fully settled. It seems to invite chromatic and quartal experimentation (and post Coltrane, triadic and whole tone experiments as well, e.g. in the form of augmented major seventh chords, whereas for example in the Shorter harmonic tradition these relations tended to be explored from the dominant rather than the tonic, or from a more traditional blues tonality, e.g. by the use of alt chords (assuming a dominant seventh, #9, b13, b16 (commonly reduced to b9) and b19 (commonly reduced to b5 or sometimes #11), which almost calls for laying a traditional blues scale over the b2, lending the tonic a dominant or subtonic function in terms of voice-leading, and being consistent with the strong movement towards the fourth in traditional blues melodic practice). Hubbard's tune, "Little Sunflower," appears within this tradition as a meditation on two alternate modalities of the Δ-blues tonal nexus.

The experimental nature of "Little Sunflower" is apparent in its form (AABBCC), which makes it not quite a standard ballad, not quite a Samba, not quite a blues. In fact many cats routinely blow the form--some have even done so behind Hubbard--iiyayow!! The reason the form is difficult is not simply the unorthodoxy of 48 bars, or the three part breakdown, though for some less-skilled musicians that may be a problem. Part of the problem I suspect is that the bridge doesn't really resolve, or, I would argue, it does so silently. How does one go from DΔ to d-7? Is there an A7 or its equivalent implied in the trailing a note of B or the half rest that begins C? Sure, it's the EbΔ that begins B. Did you think that was accidental? You can let it guide you, or you can let it trip you up.

In any case, the tune is highly digable. Listen to it, play it, vocalize it, think about it: it's all good.

And a happy Earth Day to you.

posted by Fido the Yak at 1:01 PM.


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