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03 August 2007



Well, for some of us, the odd meter never went out of style. Playing in Hank Levy's band at Towson in the early 90's, we played whole concerts in other-than-4/4 meters. Of course, Hank was major contributor to the Don Ellis and Kenton bands in the 60's-70's, which in turn influenced the prog-rock bands you mentioned.

There always was an aura of coolness/self-satisfaction back then about playing in 13/4 or whatever, but the fact was that we could sight-read the stuff with no problem simply because we played it all the time, and had a clear and consistent way of notating things (at least Hank did). And it does really work well in straight-eighth grooves, no question.

But the whole rationale for exploring these things, from the early 60's on, was the idea that jazz was getting weighted down by cliches (specifically from bebop), and that some things needed to change in order to break things up. It was a reaction to the emerging jazz pedagogy, to dissecting solos and memorizing/regurgitating licks. The reasoning went something like, if you just have to play your repertoire of Bird licks in every solo, playing in 5/4 will at least force to be creative enough to fit it in. This is what Ellis in particular liked to show ironically in a number of contrafacts his band played in 5 and 7.

They also were digging music of India and Eastern Europe, at a time where interest in those cultures (esp. India) was really picking up. They saw that this very-rhythmically-complicated music was second nature in those regions, and that we in the West - who were supposed to be more advanced - not only couldn't do it easily, but generally had a kind of fanatical resistance to even trying. So Hank, Ellis, and others saw it as a kind of crusade against prevailing stuffy, eurocentric musical values.

I'm glad to hear more people doing it, though. Swinging? You can swing just as hard in 13 as you can in 4. That's a cop-out. It's just a different groove.


Well, here's at least one precedent, seems to me.


Nice one. Good call, G.


the intro to sonic youth's "candle" is in 7/8. there are two songs on their NYC ghosts and flowers cd where they super impose a couple or several time signatures on top of one another.

while they havent been using tons of odd signatures for me they were always technically interesting. i think one of their most inflential aspects-aside from the obvious--overtone ringing-minor seconding--chiming-skrnok--is their use of form. as a youngster coming up i was totally amazed that their song schizophrenia never repeated a part. i was to later learn that this is called throoo-composed. neat.

their sense of intuitive harmony was always really interesting to me too tho for a band that used lots of altered tunings they sure played alot of power chord type things.

they always seemed kind of proggy to me but in the coolest of


David Adler

I love Yes and I'll never deny it! Steve Howe is god! And plenty of their stuff was in 4/4, actually.

I even sort of liked 90125. But I'll grant you, the '90s comeback stuff was pretty dismal. And the Jeff Berlin thing was a flop - he had barely one-fifth of Chris Squire's fat tone.


It may just be that the unnecessary switching of time signatures in the show-offy center parts of the song (Rush) don't go off as well as picking one or two irregulars and sticking with them. Stereolab is the band I can think of that best exemplifies that approach.

Also, when a band goes completely out of character (Led Zeppelin's 9/8 on "The Crunge," which they said was to add an extra undanceable beat to a James Brown riff), it sometimes works.

Pete Bogs

Yes and ELP rule... what's wrong with showing off talent if you have it? most bands today are only slightly above garage rock...

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