Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tension & Release in "Chasin' the Trane"

I was listening to "Live at the Village Vanguard: The Master Takes" in my car just now. The third cut off this cd is "Chasin' the Trane." (Charlie Parker has a composition called "Chasin' the Bird.") It's a twelve-bar form, a blues progression essentially, done at about 240 bpm, so that the second chorus strats at :13, the third at :25, and so on. The song in its totality lasts 16 minutes, so there are about 64 choruses, let's say. I haven't counted. The entire recording is one extended solo by Coltrane, with bass and drums, no piano.

We've talked in class about how Coltrane's modal compositions create an almost static effect: there is no tension and release because the improvisations take place against a single scale. In contrast, "Chasin' the Trane" is tension release tension release tension release tension release [repeat 64 times in rapid succession.] The same musician, then, is given to exploring the extreme of tension / release and its virtual elimination.

(A third possibility is "Cotrane Changes" in songs like "Giant Steps," where instead of an extremely simple harmonic progression, there is an extraordinarily complex one that cycles through many keys.)

Where the extremes meet is in the fact that Coltrane plays with such intensity and speed that the listener can hear tension / release- tension/release in rapid succession almost as one long, virtually static wail rather than as a series of discrete choruses starting and stopping again. It's not as though 'Trane were pausing between choruses to regroup. The absence of piano also means that it is harder to follow the chords--especially when he is playing notes outside the harmonic structure of the song and overblowing, producing intense sound effects and making the beginnings and ends of the 12 bar phrases less identifiable. It ends up being all tension with very little release; at least that's how I experience it. It's fast, intense, driving music you could almost meditate to.

Really long solos have their own logic. In big band music often a soloist had 8 bars--not even a full chorus--to make a significant statement.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your knowledgeable insights into music, especially Coltrane. I basically am able to contribute little more than yes, no, maybe. Great to hear some of the reasons I may be feeling as I do. keep up the blog, please.