The term “Tension and Release” is used extensively in music analysis and the description of the creative process. Writing the “Wording and Wrong Notes” post, I began to think of presentation and further awareness of how, why, and where tension is created.
Awhile back I covered Tim Hagans’ solo on I Hear A Rhapsody and we discussed the notion of when to use tension and why as an improviser.
When playing over traditional formal and harmonic material (i.e. Standards) there are certain chords and progressions that lend themselves well to creating musical tension and natural spots of resolution within the form of the song. Tim discusses this in the context of a specific solo, covering chord types, phrasing, and presentation.
“One of the things I found interesting is how you resolve these long, outside phrases in a very inside way. If I’m looking at the second page of the transcription – the first A section of the second chorus (sings line) right at the end there, you land on the root again of that F major chord. Are you thinking consciously of creating all this tension, but very deliberately bring it back in these specific spots related to your phrasing and the form of the tune?”
“Exactly, and that’s how I think. Everything is going towards a resolution at some point. There are two things I can say: If you’re always playing out, it becomes boring because the listener and even me as a player, I crave resolution. If you’re always playing inside over the diatonic harmony, and you’re playing what’s expected, that becomes boring too.
It’s a combination of the proper amount of tension and release and on a tune like this, it’s built in where the preparation is on the subdominant chords and the dominant chords, where something needs to happen. You can see how many more notes are available – on a dominant chord, like I said – every note except the major seventh, and why not throw that in too? On a major I chord, the number of acceptable notes to our ears is somewhat limited – so it’s natural to resolve it back to that.
A little anecdote – and this is interesting because you’re also speaking to Brian Lynch – Brian and I, along with Clay Jenkins, we did an audition in 1982 for Horace Silver. I flew out to L.A. to do the audition. I actually stayed with Clay and we went out to do the audition together. I think Barry Ries had just left the band.
As soon as we started, I knew Brian (Lynch) was going to get the gig. I had actually heard him play before at a college jazz festival in the seventies. I knew he was going to get the gig because he’s the perfect trumpet player for that. So the next day, Horace called me and said “Hey I’m going to choose Brian.” And he said, “You know, you have a lot of basic work to do still. It seems like you don’t know what to play over basic ii V ‘s, you’re rambling, and you don’t resolve… You really need to go back and look at basic theory.”
Of course, I was depressed and upset. He was telling me that I didn’t know how to play over changes. I had already recorded records and had all this playing experience as a professional for almost ten years. I thought; well if Horace thinks I don’t know how to play over changes with his ears, I need to re-examine a few things. So I figured out that it wasn’t that I didn’t know how to play, it’s that I wasn’t presenting what I was trying to say in a clear manner – so it just sounded wrong.
I had the ability; based on what I was playing on the V chord, to make the 3rd on a major chord when I landed on it, sound wrong because of what I played before it. What I had to do was figure out the presentation. I was having chop problems at the time – I was going through an embouchure change – so I would play ideas and the ideas would end basically because the wheels fell off. So I decided that I would have to bail on figures if I was in the middle of something and I felt like my chops weren’t going to be able to carry through what I was hearing. I would stop and just get out of it, then start the next phrase. So I made a habit of making sure that I was in control of the ending of my ideas – I was developing a melodic language.
So I ran into Horace later. I did a gig with Bob Mintzer and he actually had an arrangement of “I Hear A Rhapsody”. Horace was in the audience and I went up afterwards to say hello. He had all sorts of compliments, and of course, he didn’t remember me at all. This was ten years later. So I reminded him of his comments after the audition, and he said, “I don’t know what I was thinking”. He couldn’t believe after hearing me play that he had said those things about me, but I told him no, and explained to him what I just told you.
So, it was a great lesson for me - probably a better lesson than actually getting the gig. Well, that’s hard to say, but it made me realize that someone with ears like his, and who’s played with everybody and heard everybody, if he had that comment about me – it made me realize how I sounded to him and that I had to control the endings.
So I play this weird stuff on the top of the third page (of the transcription), and I end it by just playing a triad. That’s a direct result of what he said. You make a speech and you just ramble, so you walk away and wonder did I get my point across or not? Sometimes you make a speech and you nail it and you were able to communicate exactly what you wanted to say. So I decided, even if people didn’t like what I said, I wanted to throw it out there so that they were or weren’t liking exactly what I wanted to say. This solo is a result of that way of thinking.”