Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Lifting, Dog, and Thoughts

There is a quality of music which I highly prize, but is exceedingly rare. I don't know that I can adequately explain this quality without falling into the "dancing about architecture" music-writing trap, so I think the best I will be able to do is give a few general qualities then cite some examples.

I refer to this nebulous music-thing as "lift". Songs with lift all seem to be more-or-less positive or optimistic. This is not the same as being in a major key, upbeat, even-metered, or anything else. Nor does it refer to lyrics or use of vocals. Rather the positivity is a direct result of the music and the choices of the songwriter / composer / improviser. Coupled with the positive nature of the music, a song with lift also has a subtle key change at a critical moment in the song - the moment of lift. This key change is usually a modulation which keeps a constant tone center (like holding an "E" note while the chord changes from Amaj7 to Cmaj7, for example).

Sure there are plenty of songs that are positive and have key changes simultaneously, but that is not nearly enough. "Mack the Knife", for example, has no lift - at least not to me. So here are some examples:

"Oceanus" by Ralph Towner, from the album Solstice. Boy Howdy do I love Ralph Towner! If you are not familiar with him, just go find anything by him, its all good. But if you know this song in particular, the moment of lift comes near the very end. The entire compositional structure is based around the subtle use of dissonance, but at the very end of the song, after some killer improvisation by both Towner and saxophonist Jan Garbarek, all the dissonance melts away into one perfect sustained chord. Man I love that!

"Help Me" by Joni Mitchell, from the album Court and Spark. This is my all time favorite Joni Mitchell song, and the more I dig into the subtleties of music, the more I love this song. The brilliant thing about this song is that it is made up almost entirely of maj7 chords - but the key keeps shifting. Get it? With nothing more than chord choices (no vocals, no rhythms, just chords) she has conveyed a sense of optimism through uncertainty.

"Village of the Sun" by Frank Zappa, from the album Roxy and Elsewhere. Anyone who knows me knows how much I respect the work of Frank Zappa. Currently, my favorite period of his is the early 70's stuff (Apostrophe through One Size Fits All). "Village of the Sun" grooves harder than just about any other FZ work (with the possible exception of "Peaches en Regalia"), plus it contains such interesting dynamics, accents, and other musical choices. Its just amazing how happy a song about turkey farming makes me!

"Splane" by Mike Keneally, from the album Dog. Sure Keneally started out in FZ's doomed 1988 band, but his solo stuff is quite suprising. Many FZ alums have seen their best music come and go with Zappa's passing, but Mike Keneally continues to surprise me with his highly original voice.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, Dog is the reason for this post. I wanted to put into context just how great I think this album is, and the only way I could sufficiently do that was to put the greatness into context. I think the songs on Dog rank right up there with songs by Ralph Towner, Joni Mitchell, and FZ! So - go and get Dog right away! There are only 4 people and 11 tracks, but man is there a vast expanse of musical territory covered.

And finally I guess I will say this. Since nobody is reading this blasted blog, I might as well post just about anything to it I want. Expect any little thing that pops into my head- music wise - to make its way onto these pages.



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