I've just uploaded my first and most-requested score (and by "most-requested," I mean "requested a nonzero number of times"), Desolation Sound [click to view/download score]. This piece was commissioned by BMI after I won their Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize last year. It's meant to be evocative of a body of water in British Columbia, about a hundred miles north of Vancouver (where I grew up) -- the place has a real forbidding, austere natural beauty to it, especially when you're out on the water, shrouded in fog, and you suddenly come up on these craggy mountains rising straight up out of the water, appearing infinitely large and forbidding.
This recording from CBGB is the first performance of this tricky piece, and as you can tell, it's a little rough around the edges in places. Some of that is deliberate -- I make some really unreasonable demands of the soprano sax soloist. The part begins at the very top of the horn, and frequently ascends above even that, up into the wild and wooly altissimo register -- and extends all the way down to an A natural below the bottom of the range (played by covering the bell with the leg). This isn't just pure sadism on my part, it's a desire to get some rough, untamed -- even unexpected -- sounds from the player, like the opening of the Rite of Spring back before all the bassoon players learned to nail that lick. So the soprano part is necessarily more of a sketch than a blueprint -- I left it loose enough to accommodate a lot of liberties. You can hear Joel Frahm take this edgy spirit into the long solo section beginning at [F] (m.59), and his explosive, furious playing on this piece was one of the highlights of the night.
[UPDATE: I have added another version from a BMI Jazz Composers Workshop concert -- you are invited to compare and contrast.]
Compositionally, this piece is based around the number 7 (math rock haters will probably want to skip this bit) -- for starters, it's in 7/4, consisting mostly of 7-bar phrases, and the principal harmonic interval of the piece is the perfect fifth -- an interval of 7 semitones. Structurally, it has an earlier climax and much longer denouement than most of my stuff -- in fact, it's perilously close to the golden mean… those inclined to conspiracy theories can make of that what they will.
When I showed this piece to Maria, she suggested a number of subtle changes that actually make a huge difference to the dramatic arc. For instance, while I dearly wish I could take credit for the piano and drum pulses that accentuate the "chord" changes at [A], those were actually her idea, and damn if they don't totally sell the gradual evolution towards [B] -- a section which, in my first draft, kept losing energy. Maria also has Brookmeyer's gift for knowing when a section needs just one more measure -- in my draft version, [E] used to hit one measure too soon; the much-needed prolongation in m.49 was her suggestion as well.
This brings up the question of editing and feedback in the compositional process. When we're talking about, say, a novel, it's just a given that there will be at least some creative give-and-take between author and editor, but for a variety of reasons, this seems to happen much less often in the compositional world. Or at least, when it does happen, it's not often mentioned -- perhaps because it undermines the illusion of the Brilliant Masterwork bursting fully-formed from the composer's brow? Personally, one of the things that keeps me involved in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop and collective projects like Pulse is the opportunity for feedback, discussion, and criticism. Of course, you always want to submit your music (or even the music you listen to) to a rigorous self-audit, but it never hurts to have a real audit, either.
As always, your thoughts on this (or anything else that's on your mind) are most welcome.