Ostinato: jazz in Istanbul

Photo: Augusta—who took to the 15/8 pattern like a duck to water…

Soon after the London Jazz Festival celebrated the 20th anniversary of Nardis, I found myself (only partly in the hippy sense) in Istanbul again, so on one of my rare raids on Europe from the Asian side of the Bosphorus I was able to spend an inspiring evening in the jazz club itself, just below the Galata tower—a change from Alevi ritual and köçek dance (see under West/Central Asia).

This documentary about Nardis (so far without English captions) opens with the amazing Bill Evans (see under Ravel, and here) introducing the 1958 piece by Miles Davis that gave the club its name (cf. Evans’ 1970 live performance in trio):

Nardis 2The night we visited, the club—founded by Zuhal Focan (left) with her husband Önder—was hosting the Swiss drummer Cyril Regamey, with François Lindeman (piano) and Andreas Metzler (bass), who came together with local jazzmen Bora Çeliker (guitar) and Can Ömer Uygan (trumpet) to pay homage to the amazing creativity of Herbie Hancock‘s band around 1969–70. Bora Çeliker (YouTube channel) plainly delighted in the material, his funk pedal to the fore; while Can Ömer Uygan (YouTube channel) was discreet, adding some subtle touches.

Note Batu Aykol’s fine film on the history of jazz in Turkey; see also Jazz in Kuzguncuk!.

* * *

Here (not for the first time) I feel like a football commentator reviewing Swan lake—but right from the extended opening number Ostinato (Suite for Angela) I was turned on (belatedly) to Herbie Hancock. A tribute to Angela Davis, it’s one of the gems of his Mwandishi period, on the eve of his immersion in Buddhism (cf. the Sufi influences on Yusuf Lateef, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders):

The complete album is here; we can add to our appreciation with the aid of Bob Gluck’s detailed commentary in Chapter 6 of You’ll know when you get there: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi band (2012).

The syncopated ostinato is a thing of beauty in itself. Notation is a cumbersome tool, but it can give us a handle (and most jazzers themselves refer to it at some stage). The recurring bassline has a bar of 4/4 followed by a bar of 7/8 (cf. the additive metres of Taco taco taco burrito)—I’ve transposed it down a semitone, making it easier to envisage in solfeggio:

Ostinato full

So both bars ascend in conjunct pentatonic motion with somewhat different scales before falling to cadences on la and so respectively. * As Hancock reflected,

I wanted to write a tune with an underlying rock beat, but using it in a more open way than usual. I finally achieved it by making the number of beats uneven—it’s in 15/8, one bar of 4/4 and one of 7/8. I started with a repeated syncopated bass line in 4/4, a regular thing. The way I chose the notes in the riff was that I figured most of the rock bass lines telegraph their chord so distinctly that there’s no escaping it. I wrote something that could imply many chords … some fourths even, like Trane and McCoy… a kind of pentatonic scale, but starting on a different degree of that scale.

But then I thought “Why should I keep that all the way through?” so I changed it slightly and shortened every second phrase by half a beat. Now if, instead of two 4/4 bars, I had a 4/4 and a 7/8, it meant I had to change the notes to make them sound natural. Having done that, I had to decide what to put on top, and what it is, is different degrees of tension and release. Music and life flow because of those qualities, as do all the senses. It’s contrast: to know what cold water is, you have to know what hot water is. Music’s like that; it has to flow, and if there’s no tension and release it will be totally bland, with no vitality. […] Having 15 beats in a bar automatically sets up a little tension, because just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it eludes you. At the end of each bar we all hit a phrase together, and that’s a release. That’s also true of harmony. Very little of the music is consonant, but the dissonance varies so greatly that it’s a matter of some of it being less dissonant and thus becoming consonant by comparison.

Amidst a dense electronic and percussive collage, the vamp is introduced by the opening bass clarinet, with Buster Williams taking it over on bass beneath the swirling mists of Eddie Henderson’s trumpet and Herbie’s own keyboard textures.

Ostinato 2

Roll over Beethoven, eh. Seriously though folks, we need to treat all kinds of musical creativity seriously! Great—exploring Herbie’s ouevre will make another embryonic project for my education in jazz, following on from Miles, Trane, and Pharaoh Sanders

* If for some implausible reason we were to interpret the two bars as traditional Chinese melody, where pitch substitution is a common means of temporary modulation through a cycle of fifths (see Table under Dissolving boundaries, §3, “Scales”): as the second bar ascends, la is substituted for a flat 7th, preparing us for the introduction of fa in the cadential pattern—effectively a double transposition of the pentatonic scale from C to B♭! (Keep up at the back there…)

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