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..well I know some of the oldest songs that is - Furry Lewis, referring to John Henry and Casey Jones

Author Topic: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes  (Read 9402 times)

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Offline blueshome

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Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« on: April 21, 2004, 02:02:02 PM »
I,ve got It Won't be Long on the old OJL LP. If noone has a cd I'll try a transfer and post an mp3. I think a lot of his stuff is quite unusual in the way he uses(?) harmony. In his regular arrangements of songs like Slow Mama Slow he doesn't seem to use a V chord at all and uses a trademark hammer/pull to imply the IV on many occassions.

Online Johnm

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Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2004, 07:03:00 PM »
Hi Phil,
I agree with you--Sam Collins' sense of harmony was definitely unusual, and it shows up even more on his non-slide numbers, like "My Road Is Rough And Rocky" or "Midnight Special".? We talked about this at the old Weenie site, but it appears that what he did sometimes was assume that whatever note he was singing in the melody was the root of the chord in the accompaniment, so that if he's singing "Midnight Special" in C, and he's singing an E note, he backs it with an E chord.? It can result in some weird effects.? Leadbelly and other players did it too, and a recent example is Alvin Hart's version of "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes", which I guess he got from Leadbelly.
All best,
John
« Last Edit: April 04, 2005, 04:55:12 PM by Johnm »

Offline frankie

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Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2004, 09:09:09 AM »
it appears that what he did sometimes was assume that whatever note he was singing in the melody was the root of the chord in the accompaniment, so that if he's singing "Midnight Special" in C, and he's singing an E note, he backs it with an E chord.? It can result in some weird effects.

Slightly off-topic for this thread, but I just noticed this same harmonization in two different tunes by Andrew & Jim Baxter.  The first, K.C. Railroad Blues is in C - at the top of the instrumental verse, the fiddle really leans into an E note and the guitar simultaneously plays an E chord.  In Bamalong Blues (key of G) the same thing happens - the fiddle leans on an E note that the guitar backs with an E chord.

In both cases, it's only over the space of half a measure or so, but man - makes you feel like you're walking on the floor of the Joker's hideout in one of the old Batman serials!

Online Johnm

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Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2004, 09:28:48 PM »
Hi all,
This post relates only peripherally to Sam Collins--it really has more to do with Andrew and Jim Baxter, whom Frank cites a couple of posts back pertaining to the weird harmonization on "KC Railroad Blues" and "Bamalong Blues".? I was reminded of this by Mot Mot's description of Riley Puckett's playing as "distinctive".? A good friend of mine here in Seattle, Stu Herrick, who operates the Folkstore, commented on Jim Baxter's guitar back-up that he sounded like "Riley Puckett on Ecstasy".? Thinking about it, I realized that both Riley and Jim Baxter were Georgia guys, and they really do sound like they heard each other--maybe knew each other.? Interesting!
All best,
Johnm?
« Last Edit: April 05, 2005, 09:05:18 AM by Johnm »

Offline MotMot

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Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2004, 07:17:44 AM »
Stu Herrick, who operates the Folkstore, commented on Jim Baxter's guitar back-up that he sounded like "Riley Puckett on Ecstasy". Thinking about it, I realized that both Riley and Jim Baxter were Georgia guys, and they really do sound like they heard each other--maybe knew each other.

That's a great line, and a great insight!  It'll sure inform my listening and thinking (and, with luck, maybe my playing).  Thanks for passing it along.

We know that Andrew Baxter played with the Georgia Yellowhammers (on "G Rag").  I wonder if there are any specific or known links between the Yellowhammers and Riley and Gid Tanner and the Skilletlicker gang . . .

That's the kind of possible connection -- like John Hurt and the Miss. Possum Hunters both doing "First Shot Missed Him/Last Shot Got Him" -- that just tantalizes my musical imagination.

Best,
Tom
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2005, 12:03:26 PM »
Hi all,
I've been thinking a lot about this topic, and in particular Sam Collins's version of "Midnight Special Blues".? It has been alluded to a couple of times without any real sort of analysis of what Sam was doing in his harmonization of the song, so I thought I would give it a shot, since it is such a strong example of hearing chord changes differently.
If you think of how "Midnight Special" is normally done, it would go something like this, with lyrics, melody notes and bar structure/chord progression listed in descending order.? Eighth notes are joined by dashes and the feel is a boom-chang, cut-time two beats per measure.? The down-beat of the form is on the first syllable of "Special".

Let the Mid-night? Spe-cial,? shine her light on? me,?? ? let the Midnight
? E--E?? ?E?? ? ?D?? ? ? C? ?A? ? ? ??C----D?? C ?? A? ?G? ? ?? G--A? ?C? ? C
|?? ? ?C?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?|? F? ? ? ? ?|? F ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? |? C?? |? ? ? C? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?|

Spe-cial? shine her? everloving? light on me
 E? ? ??D? ? ?C---D?? ?E-D-C-A? ? ? C---D ?C
| G-three beats? ? ? ? |? ? ? ? ? ?G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? |C

Sam Collins's version is played out of C position, standard tuning, at very close to concert pitch.? If you compare what he sang and played, you wind up with the following harmony and phrasing:

Let the?Midnight Spe--cial?? Shine?her light?on me?? ? ? ?Let the Midnight
? E--E?? ? E? ? D? ? ?C? ? ??F? ? ?E----C? ?? E?? ? C?? A-G? ? ? ?G--A? ??C? ? C?
| C-2 and1/2 beats? ? ? ?|?F?? ?|? ? ? ?? F? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? |? ?G? ?? | G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? |

Spe-cial?shine her?everlovin'?light on me
? E? ? D? ?? C----D? E-E-E-E? ??D?? ?D? C
| G-three beats? ? ??|? ? ??G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? |? C

On one verse and one chorus, Sam sing and harmonizes the first vocal phrase as:

 E-E? E?? ? D?? ? ?C? ? ? A
| C-2 and 1/2 beats? |? A

At first glance, the Sam Collins version may not apppear all that different from the song as it is usually done.? Sam does have interesting changes, though.
?*? Rather than harmonizing the first singing of the word "Special" with one chord, He harmonizes the C melody note under the syllable "Spe" with a C chord, and harmonizes the F or A melody note under "cial" with whatever chord shares the same root as the melody note that is being sung.? This does an odd thing to the harmony, especially when he plays an A chord, but it does an even odder thing to the time and flow of the phrase.
?* The next phrase, "shine her light on me" ends on a G note. In different verses and choruses Sam harmonizes it with a G or C chord.? In the two instances where the previous phrase was harmonized with an A chord, he ends this phrase with a G chord.? The effect of the A chord resolving to the G chord in this context is kind of a shocker.
?* Sam generally plays the melody of the concluding phrase, "Special, shine her everlovin' light on me, in the bass, on the fourth string right under his singing.
?* What Sam does on his solos is even wilder, and tougher to follow, especially rhythmically.

I suppose you could listen to this and respond that Sam Collins simply didn't understand harmony--I have seen record notes where such suggestions have been made.? I think the truth is a bit more complex, that harmony can be as much a function of how a player hears as it is a matter of compositional intent, or the "one right way" to play a song.? If you understand and learn to hear these more individualized approaches to harmonization, you can insert them in contexts where you think they fit or come up with your own approaches to selecting chord changes.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: April 05, 2005, 09:25:43 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2006, 02:07:04 PM »
Hi all,
I've been listening to Scott Dunbar a lot since picking up the "From Lake Mary" CD, and included on that recording is his unusual take on "Easy Rider".  Melodically, Scott Dunbar's version is pretty close to Sam McGee's, but Dunbar takes it in a different direction harmonically, and also in terms of phrasing.
Sam McGee did "Easy Rider" as an 8-bar chorus blues, with the following progression:

   |    A    |    A    |    D    |    D    |
   
   |    G    |    G    |    C    |    C    |

The progression works out as a ragtimey VI-II-V-I one, and Sam uses the last bar of the form to walk down from his I chord, C, so that he lands an the VI chord, A, for the downbeat of the next pass through the form.  The verses change over the first four bars of the form, and the refrain, "I'm an easy rider, don't deny my name", is sung over the fifth and sixth bars, landing in the seventh.
Scott Dunbar sings the melody pretty much the same as Sam did, and uses some of the same verses, but harmonizes and phrases it so:

   |    D    |    D    |    D    |    D    |

   |    G    |    G    |    C+2 beats |    D/A+2 beats|
Scott Dunbar uses the two added-on beats in the seventh measure to walk down from his C note in the bass, C-B, to the A note that begins the final measure of the form.  He sings with the descending bassline, too, going "dee-dee-dee" right along with it.  He uses the final bar to groove and sort of catch his breath before the next verse.
The way the melody coincides with Dunbar's harmonization is interesting, for it differs from the way Sam Collins and other musicians we have looked at chose chords to accompany their melodies.  It works like so:
   A---------------------------------------------   F#--------------------------------D--------- 
   Goin' uptown, want me to bring you back?  Just anything you think your baby like, an
   |           D                     |        D            |            D                        |     D         |

   G-----------A-------G   E    C                C    B     A
   Easy rider, don't deny my name         dee-dee--dee
   |     G       |         G        |           C+two beats|           D/A+two beats|

In Sam Collins' non-slide tunes, he would often harmonize a melody choosing a chord with whatever note was in the melody as it's root.  This could yield some odd results, like harmonizing an E note in the melody of "Midnight Special", played in C, with an E chord.  In Scott Dunbar's case, though, at the beginning of the form he has an A note in the melody that most players of the song would harmonize with an A chord, but chooses instead to harmonize it with the chord for which A is the fifth rather than the root, D.  It's not exactly a jarring change, but hearing it makes me feel that in ragtimey progressions in particular, a harmonization that diverges from the standard circle-of-fifths progression has a good chance of being more memorable and distinctive than the expected solution.  Scott Dunbar played something the way he heard it and wound up with his own personal take on a well-known song and progression.  Hear it and you won't forget it!
All best,
Johnm

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2006, 11:21:43 PM »
Hi all,
It often seems like the really interesting and unusual harmonic treatments come from the rougher, more "country" of the Country Blues players, but I heard one recently from one of the real sophisticates of the Blues, Papa Charlie Jackson.  It occurs in his song, "Gay Cattin'", which can be found on "Papa Charlie Jackson, vol. 2", Document DOCD-5088.  The plot of the song deals with Papa Charlie going on a spending spree and winding up flat broke, at which point he decides to go home, since he has no money with which to shoot craps.  In any event, the song is an 8-bar blues played in D, standard tuning, a little low, with the following progression played behind the verses:

   |    D    |    C    |    E7/B    |    Gm/Bflat    |

   | D/A    | E7/A7 |      D      |        D          |

When Papa Charlie solos, after playing the verse progression, he follows it with a variant, altering the first four bars:

   |    D    |    F#   |    G       |       Bflat/F     |

   |    D    | E7/A7  |     D      |          D         |

The first four bars of the verse accompaniment is a commonplace bass line in the Blues.  If you describe the line's movement in terms of the scale degrees it lands on, you would do it so:

   D(I)--C(flatVII)--B(VI)--Bflat(flatVI)

Josh White was particularly fond of this bass line, and used it quite often in his religious numbers in Vastapol, as well as "Good Gal".  Josh's harmonization of the line, though, was always:

   D--D/C--G/B--Gm/Bflat

If you express the chords Josh played without taking the bass line into consideration, you would say he just played:

   I--I7--IVmajor--IVminor

This progression is commonly found not only in Blues but throughout Pop music of the past 150 years.

Papa Charlie preserves the bass line in "Gay Cattin'", but gives it a much more quirky set of chord changes.  As soon he moves from the D chord to the C chord, he is entering modal territory, the mixolydian mode in particular.  The E7 chord with the B in the bass really comes out of left field, though, and departs abruptly from the modal context Papa Charlie set up with the first two chords.  Only with the G minor with Bflat in the bass does Papa Charlie return to the progression as it is most often played.  Papa Charlie's chord choices are not driven or suggested by the melody.  It is impossible to say now whether Papa Charlie was aiming for Josh White's harmonization and missed it, or whether he was using a commonly-encountered bass line and purposefully putting his own spin on it.  Whatever the case, the combination of the harmonization Papa Charlie used and the well-known bassline has the effect of being simultaneously alien-sounding and oddly familiar.  It's like the bass line is wearing a disguise.  Weird.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 23, 2006, 11:42:57 PM by Johnm »

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2006, 06:13:57 PM »
Hi all,
I've been listening recently to Leadbelly's Library of Congress recording of "C.C.Rider", and it is a stellar example of a slide player taking the harmony along for the ride with the melody.  Leadbelly plays the song in Spanish tuning, and from the sound of it, may be playing slide in the lap position.  Has anyone seen film footage of him playing slide?  The pitch of the key that he plays it in is, surprisingly, Aflat.  I would have figured it to be much lower than that.

In any event, the melody is so, relative to the lyrics (transposed to the key of G for more familiarity):

   B  A  G   D     B    A     G     D      F     E  D C    G    E     D     C    G      D
   C. C. Ri-der, See what you done done, C. C. Ri-der, See what you done done,
   E   A G   C     E     A      G   E      D      B     G     A     G
   C. C. Ri-der, See what you done done, Hey, hey, hey, hey

Leadbelly gets all the melody notes for the first statement of the title line on his first string.  Spanish tuning voices the fifth of the chord on the first string, so against the B note he is playing an E chord at the ninth fret, against the A melody note, a D chord at the seventh fret, against the tonic G note, a C chord at the fifth fret, and against the F note that concludes the first phrase, a Bflat chord at the third fret.  The very active harmony that the slide brings to this phrase is in stark contrast to the G chord resolving to a G7 that most non-slide players would choose to accompany it. 
Leadbelly finds most of the melody notes for the second title phrase at the fifth fret, effectively harmonizing the phrase with a IV chord resolving back to I, as would non-slide players.  At the conclusion of the vocal phrase, though, he does play a little chromatic descending line, G-F#-F natural, effectively moving the I chord to a I7, G7.  The third title phrase pretty much reiterates the instrumental accompaniment of the second title phrase, though the sung melody is different.  For the "Hey, hey, hey, hey", though, Leadbelly goes back to giving the harmony a ride, with the melody notes B, G, A, and G being accompanied, respectively, by the chords, E, C, D, and C.  Leadbelly must have had a sense of how peculiar it sounded to end the melody on a tonic note, G, harmonized with a IV chord, C, because rather than lingering on the barred C chord to conclude the form, he gives it up almost instantly and returns to an open G chord where he vamps until it is time for the next verse.

This is an exceptionally beautiful version of this song, and Leadbelly's time is so powerful.  He accelerates steadily throughout, not in fits and starts, but in a linear fashion.  His treatment of the song really makes it sound special.  It can be found on "Leadbelly--Gwine Dig A Hole To Put The Devil In", Rounder CD 1045.

All best,
Johnm
 

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2008, 05:46:45 PM »
Hi all,
I was listening yesterday to the new Document CD, "Reverend Gary Davis-Manchester Free Trade Hall, 1964", DOCD-32-20-14, a really sensational inc-concert performance, and near the end of the program the Rev. plays his hymn, "Children of Zion", which he says was the first tune he learned from his grandmother. 
"Children of Zion" is a spooky, moody sort of song, with a chord change near the end that is really odd.  The song is played in A minor, in standard tuning, which is the relative minor of C major and shares the same key signature, with no sharps or flats in its scale.  At the conclusion of each verse, Rev. Davis sings a final "A-men", with the melody going from C down to A on those two syllables.  Rev. Davis backs the syllable "A", under the C melody note, with an A flat major chord, voiced with its third, C, in the bass doubling the melody note, a la:  X-3-1-1-1-X, then resolving to a conventional A minor chord to back the A melody note on the syllable, "men". 
The sound of that A flat chord in that phrase ending is profoundly unsettling, almost medieval sounding.  Why does it sound so odd?  Part of the reason is that an A flat major chord is not diatonic in the key of A minor, i.e., it employs notes not in the A minor scale, specifically A flat and E flat.  In a harmonic sense, you could almost express the relationship of an A flat major chord to the key of A minor as "You can't get there from here."
A far more commonplace choice for the syllable "A" in "Amen" would have been E7#5, which would have gotten the C melody note there while employing a by-the-book V-I resolution in the A harmonic minor scale:  A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A.  An E7#5 could be fingered so, easily enough:  0-X-0-1-1-X, or even 0-3-0-1-1-X.  If you compare the second voicing of the E7#5 with Rev. Davis's voicing of the A flat/C on the interior four strings, you can see it differs by one half-step on one string:  In E7#5, the fourth string is an open D note, in A flat/C, the fourth string is a first fret E flat note.  One note changed one half-step, but what a difference in sound!
A little skullwork showed that it is not as far from A minor to an A flat major chord as I had thought.  A minor shares its key signature with C major, and neither scale has an A flat major chord.  If we change C major to C minor, though, it shares its scale with its (C's) relative major, E flat major, and all of a sudden, you do have a diatonic A flat major chord (the IV chord in E flat major, or the flat VI chord in C minor).  This switching of the parent major scale of A minor, C major, to C minor, I think partially accounts for the odd sort of inside out quality of that A flat major chord in "Children of Zion".  I don't know that I have every heard this particular change anywhere else in the genre, but if I had to guess where to look elsewhere for it, I would think Walter Davis or Robert Pete Williams.  It is an eerie sound.
All best,
Johnm   

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2008, 11:17:58 PM »
Hi all,
In listening to the recently released JSP set, "Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, Vol. 1", I was struck by the song, "There Ain't Nobody Got It like She Got It", for there seemed to be simultaneously something familiar and something alien about the song.  The song is played in D flat, evidently a favorite singing key for Leroy, and the form works so:  each pass through the form begins with an 8-bar break that is followed by a 16-bar chorus, the third four-bar phrase of which has different lyrics with each pass through the form.  The first time through the form works like so, with lyrics indicating the phrasing

   8-bar break:
     I got a baby,     she's some gal.    She's my sweet mama and     she's some pal.
   |     D flat 7    |      D flat m6     |             D flat 7                 |    D flat m6        |
     All of the boys are very  jealous of me.   The reason why is very plain to see, because
   |        D flat7                |  D flat m6       |      D flat 7               |       D flat 7            |
   Chorus:
there ain't nobody  got it like she got it,   I'm telling   you.      For
       |  D flat       |          D flat           |   A flat7    |    D flat      |
   she has got it like  nobody has got it   And that is    true
   |     D flat           |   D flat              |  A flat 7     |   A flat 7   |
    She buzzes around just like a   bumblebee    And takes my sugar a-way from me, there
   |     D flat 7                         |  D flat m6   |   D flat 7                  |     D flat m6         |
    ain't nobody    got it like she's got it   she's my got-it-all   gal
   |      D flat     |          D flat             |      A flat 7          |   D flat      |

The melody and lyric of this song seemed to have so much more spark than the harmony, which in the chorus in particular, just seemed to lay there.  I didn't have to listen too long before I realized that the chorus of "There Ain't Nobody Got It Like she Got It", at least in its melody and phrasing, begs for the raggy progression used for a host of Blues songs like "Pigmeat is what I Crave", "What Is That Tastes Like Gravy", and "Ain't No Use In You Tryin' To Tell On Me".  Plug that progression into this song and you end up with this progression, which suits the lyric and melody considerably better than the progression employed by Leroy and Scrapper.
   |      D flat       |    D flat     B flat 7  |   E flat 7  A flat 7  |     D flat       |
   |      D flat       |    D flat     B flat 7  |        E flat 7         |     A flat 7     |
   |      D flat       |            D flat 7       |        A flat           |   A dim 7      |
   |      D flat       |    D flat     B flat 7   |  E flat 7  A flat 7   |     D flat       |
It's hard to believe that Leroy Carr was unfamiliar with this archetypal raggy circle-of-fifths progression, but his uncharacteristically stodgy harmonization of "There Ain't Nobody Got It Like She Got It" makes you wonder if that may have been the case.  The fact that there is another song included in the set, "Baby, You Done Put That thing On Me", that is in the same key, with the same melody and harmonization, makes one think that Leroy just may not have been hip to this progression.  It's kind of surprising, because Leroy was normally so musical and nifty, if not flashy.  It's an odd one.
All best,
Johnm       

Offline Doc White

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2008, 11:36:30 PM »
Children of Zion - What a remarkable tune. There are a couple of other ways of thinking about that Ab chord. It is also an Fm7 with C in the bass or - if you want to go closer to the Am tonal centre - a Dm7b5b9 (no root note) whichever way you cut it is a classic example of RGD's ability to take our breath away.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2008, 07:53:50 PM »
Learning that song from him had a different quality than other songs he taught me. He seemed to enter a different zone on that song and just kept playing it over and over and over. It seemed to come from a very deep place.
He told me it was a slave song and was around five hundred years old. Foolishly I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him why he thought that.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Doc White

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2008, 12:36:03 AM »
Hi Mr O'Muck,
If I had the good fortune to learn directly from Rev Gary Davis I would count myself as one of the luckiest men alive. What a privilege!
Cheers,
Chris

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #14 on: May 29, 2008, 08:35:51 AM »
Hi Chris,
Re analysis of the A flat chord in "Children of Zion", why create complications in the naming of the chord?  It's analogous to a proof in math, the simplest explanation that satisfies the facts in hand is almost invariably correct.  The notes Rev. Davis plays are an A flat chord in first inversion.  The voicings you suggest, Fm 7 and Dm7flat 5 flat 9 are both rootless.  Rev. Davis works with a fairly consistent chordal vocabulary in his religious material, and he does not make a habit of omitting roots in his chordal voicings.  Similarly, there is nothing remotely like a rootless (and thirdless) m7 flat 5 flat 9 in his entire body of work.  In analysis of rootless chords, if insertion of the root ends up being an aural deal-breaker, as it most certainly does with a D m7 flat 5 flat 9 in this context, than the rootless analysis doesn't work either.  We're talking "Children of Zion" here, not Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow of Your Smile".
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: May 31, 2008, 06:55:56 PM by Johnm »

 


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