When making analyses of great solos, jazz teachers like to look at the scales and arpeggios used and try to relate them to the underlying chord sequence. The operation consists of extracting all the notes in a passage and stringing them out in order of pitch. The ones you decide don’t belong to your scheme you call passing notes. So before you even begin your explanation of the passage you have already double-guessed what the player was thinking (assuming he was actually thinking).
Some of the theory behind this relies on making an artificial distinction between scales and arpeggios or chord tones. In classical times it was no problem: you simply bang out all the notes simultaneously, and if you like the sound, they form an arpeggio. If they sound horrible, that was a scale. But nowadays you have to know what you’re doing because some scales have less notes than some complex chords and people’s ears have got used to all sorts of stuff.
Coltrane’s solo on Resolution, a tune with echoes of Thelonious Monk’s Bemsha Swing, that forms part 2 of A Love Supreme, has straighforward passages in E-flat minor pentatonic spiced with some visits to unrelated major keys. But some of his coolest licks lend themselves more to MOVES analysis than to the traditional method. In the solo passage below, he interjects some +3 -4 moves that echo bars 22-23 of the theme. Same goes for the -6 moves that occurs throughout the solo, reminding us of the strange diminished feel of the piece. Note the ending of the phrase in both the theme and the solo (bars 23 and 128), a typical Trane rhythmic figure that everyone and his dog was playing by the end of the sixties and which still won’t go away.
Trane took this interest in intervals to extremes in later years, and some of his compositions make no sense at all if you search for a conventional octave-span scale. Track 2 of the Meditations album, Compassion, has a floating melody which I play on shakuhachi in the video below to the accompaniment of a London riot. The theme is a slow two-note figure spanning a -3 move (descending minor third) drifting wherever the fancy leads. In fact the whole album uses the kind of ideas you could write out on the back of an envelope using MOVES notation, and which lend themselves to analysis in terms of short scales.
You can find out more about MOVES on the MOVES page in the menu above.
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