ONLINE COMPOSITION MASTERCLASS

Composition and arranging techniques from Grand Union Orchestra composer/director Tony Haynes

16: Collateral Damage

Liberation and Remembrance – the Grand Union Orchestra’s contribution to the 2012 London Jazz Festival – explores the related themes of liberty and creative freedom, particularly through jazz,  the music of the liberated and the most liberated of musics. It acknowledges the reality of war and the hardship experienced by migrants, refugees, slaves and oppressed peoples; at the same time it commemorates some of the glorious music they have produced and champions the virtues of improvisation.

Collateral Damage, from the CD If Paradise, provides a perfect fit for these themes.

There is a back history and a context for Collateral Damage, which I shall explore in the next Post – it will be a bit like those thrillers where the intricacies of the plot are gradually revealed! – but it works very well as stand-alone piece. It also employs several techniques I have already described in greater detail: Post 8, Tihais and Big Band Riffs is especially worth referring to.

The whole piece is about 6½ minutes long, and features two contrasting pairs of soloists – Phil Todd and Tony Kofi (alto saxophones) with Claude Deppa and Kevin Robinson (trumpets) – a duet of duets. Their material is also distinctive in terms of:

  • key centres – broadly B flat minor for the saxes alternating with E minor for the trumpets;
  • harmonic complexity – the saxes have a regular chromatic chord sequence, the trumpets simple open harmony and 11th chords with infrequent changes;
  • melodic content – the saxes have a sombre ballad theme with a strongly shaped bass line, the trumpets only basic 5- or 6-note scale forms to guide them;
  • tempo – the saxes begin in very slow ballad time, then mid-tempo swing, while the trumpets play in a fast 4 throughout;
  • accompaniment – sparse and harmonic for the saxes, busy and contrapuntal for the trumpets.

The riffs and other backings are played by the rest of the GUO – trumpet, soprano and two tenor saxes and 3 trombones. Where all the material is derived from and why will be explained in the next Post…

The structure is very easy to follow, since it is built in conventional sections, using 4-bar units.

SECTION I: 16 bars in slow 4. The first alto unrolls an angular lyrical theme over harmonies and a distinctive bass-line which form the unchanging basis of the sax sections throughout the number. Several of the melodic figures are also used later.

The ensemble chordal accompaniment to the last 4 bars (the melody is stated again at the very end of the number) plays an important structural role in different variations:

SECTION II: 64 bars in fast 4 (ie quadruple the previous tempo, or 1 new bar equalling the previous crotchet). The first trumpet solo has only this musical information to play on:

There is basically one tonal centre (a kind of E minor) which lasts 32 bars, contrasted with a second one (a kind of C minor), created by flattening two notes of the basic pentatonic scale for 16 bars, then returning to the original (albeit with a different root) for the final 16 bars.

The scales and tonal centres are outlined and emphasised by the ensemble brass and saxes in a series of riffs that are mostly tihais – 3-times repeated figures or whole phrases (often ‘triple tihais’) which deliberately seem to contradict the 4/4 pulse. (See Post 8 for fuller explanation.) You can also see and hear the tonal alteration at work in them:

In a further twist, towards the end of this (and all subsequent trumpet solo sections), the riffs are subjected to ‘rhythmic diminution’ – ie the note-lengths are halved:

Everything you see and hear in these passages – the canonic imitation, the rhythmic diminution, the addition of descending bass-lines, the tonal alteration – is a feature of all the riff passages accompanying the trumpets.

SECTION III: 16 bars in mid-tempo swing (ie half the previous time). The second alto improvises over exactly the same sequence as the first alto in section I (but of course taking half as long in real time). The transition (last 4 bars) is again marked by the four-bar chordal passage of Ex 2, but this time with a rhythmic punch (the same rhythms as in Ex 8).

SECTION IV: 48 bars in fast 4 (double the previous tempo). The second trumpet enters here, with more or less the same material as the first trumpet, but with greater support, as the notes of the scale figures are sustained to produce a chord. Once again, as the solo develops, the riffs become progressively shorter and rise in range:

Exactly the same devices are used, but the tonal alteration is taken further, with the last 16 bars more chromatically altered to lead back to B flat minor.

SECTION V: 64 bars in fast 4 (ie no further tempo changes). The first alto solos over the whole 32-bar sequence: this is now four times faster than the original ballad opening, although the chords change only half as fast:

The 32-bar sequence is repeated, the second alto taking the first 16 bars, then alto 1 8 bars, and finally 4 bars each over this version of the chordal transition passage referred to earlier (note another variation on the across-the-beat 3s syncopated rhythm):

SECTION VI: 44 bars. Now it’s the turn of the trumpets to duet, also in shortening bursts – 8 bars each, 4 bars each (twice), 2 bars each (twice) and finally 4 bars together. The material and treatment again derives from the earlier section – diminishing, rising in pitch, changing tonality as before – with one new idea (again a 3-beat phrase across the 4) thrown into the mix:

SECTION VII: 60 bars. The final section quite simply intercuts the ballad sequence harmonies (supported by sustained ensemble harmonies) with the tonal centres and their corresponding riffs, with the four soloists similarly intercut as follows:

  • 8 bars alto 1
  • 8 bars trumpet 1 (E minor)
  • 8 bars alto 2
  • 8 bars trumpet 2 (C minor)
  • 4 bars alto 1
  • 4 bars trumpet 1 (A minor)
  • 4 bars alto 2
  • 4 bars trumpet 2 (A minor/F# root)

The backing riffs get busier, with quotations from the saxophone ballad thrown in, but what comes to dominate this final section are powerful triplet rhythms (reminiscent of African 12/8 patterns – see Posts 3 & 10) underlined by the Indian percussionists, eg:

The ever-shortening solo sections and alternation of chord sequences and tonal centres builds up a wild climax; then over the last 12 bars the altos reprise the end of the opening ballad melody, with the trumpets soloing freely against them.

A video of the last section from Collateral Damage (with Chris Biscoe and Byron Wallen instead of Phil Todd and Kevin Robinson) can be seen here

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2012 by in Composition, Music and tagged , , , , .
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