suspect cd review

Frank Griffith

Serial Writing


Frank Griffith is the chief arranger for the Pete Cater Big Band. If he isnít, then he should be, for he has composed and arranged most of the titles on Peteís remarkable new CD Playing with Fire.

Frank hails from New York and studied composing with Bob Mintzer and Bill Finegan.

This is a stunning piece of scoring. Itís impossible to give it full credit on paper: this one has to be heard to be believed. The main theme and introduction are worth studying. Best print out the examples for this.

Example 1 shows the main theme, played by unison saxes. This is not pure serial writing, but, there again, pure serial writing does not leave one much scope in jazz scoring. Sooner or later it has to be abandoned, but itís great for composing new themes.

All the tones of the twelveĖtone scale are used right up to the E natural marked with an arrow in bar 9. Some of them are used more than once. Note the avoidance of any direct tritones, with the exception of one between bars 6 and 7, where the B and F pull the Db13 into the Cm9 chord. There are concealed tritones in bars 9 and 10, but they are separated by other tones and do not influence the flow of progression towards the final Cm9 in any way. Apart from that, at this tempo I doubt whether anything could disturb the flow. Itís a point worth watching, though, in serial composition.

Bars 1 to 3 contain all tones of the Cm9 scale; bars 4 and 6 all the added tones of their respective chords.

Example 2 is the intro of the piece and Iím now going to analyse it. I donít want to get too clever about this because I once experienced something that taught me to be very careful indeed in such matters. I heard a musicologist go into great detail about why Igor Stravinsky had written a certain note in one of his masterpieces, enthusing over the great daring, keen aural perception and superb harmonic innovation surrounding the inclusion of the note. In a subsequent programme an eminent conductor asked Stravinsky to take a look at this same note, because it had worried him for quite some time. Igor put on his glasses, frowned and said, ĎItís a wrong note.í Maybe it was the controversial D he included in the final A major chord of Mass. That sure is a weird one.

Iíve put brackets over the relevant bits taken from the main theme of The Suspect. Some of them have been manipulated slightly but most of them should be easy enough to recognise. Some of the similarities are rhythmic only. One passage uses the notes in a slightly different order in the R of I (Retrograde of Inversion), another serial writing trick. This is where you write the melody backwards, then invert the intervals to get a new melody line. The tones are then numbered and shuffled about. Iíll let you work that one out for yourselves. There is a repeated pedal point bass line to the intro that, however, plays no part in this analysis.

Snatches of the theme and rhythmic phrases, variations and inversions taken from the intro are to be found throughout the score, in the best tradition of classical composition. They tend to reassure the listener when they pop up: he knows heís heard that song before somewhere.

If you donít yet have the recording try writing Example 2 with your scoring software, set the sounds to clarinet, alto, tenor and the tempo to 224. Youíll be amazed at how close you can get to the original.

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