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  • Score Analysis - "Dunes"

    In advance of the next Paul Dietrich Quintet album, due in 2017, I'll be going through and doing a compositional analysis of all the tunes on the first album. First up is "Dunes." Audio is available by clicking play above. You may download the PDF to follow along by clicking on this link:

    Dunes (With Solo Changes).pdf

    “Dunes” is an interesting tune, for me. For one – it's the only “head chart” on the entire first album. Something I have gravitated toward over the last several years in my own composition is the use of distinct sections of music: sections will be related, musically, but two soloists will rarely play over the same chord changes in the same tune, or the 'head out' will often happen in a different way than it did on the head in. I'll show examples of this as I get to the other tunes.

    “Dunes” is not like that. It's a relatively simple form: if you stretch out the 3x repeat at measure 21, it's a 33 bar form. Not normal, by any means, and the phrasing of it is not at all AABA or anything like that, but it's 33 bars that repeat over and over again until the song is over. I mention the internal repeat at m. 21 – this functions as a tag at the end of the piece. A tune I was really into for a long time (and I still like to play when I find a chance) is Robert Glasper's “Rise and Shine.” I played that on my Master's recital, which was only a couple of months before I wrote this song, so it was obviously in my mind – that tune, by Glasper, is a sort of ABAB form with a tag on the end of it (first heard at :32), and shares some things in common with this tune.

    Another thing that makes “Dunes” a little odd for me is that it actually has difficult to play chord changes. I really like harmony, but a lot of the harmony I use is diatonic, or at least kind of diatonic – diatonic in a way that makes sense to me, I guess (meaning – it might embrace more than one scale at a time, but it's all kind of the same key – shifting between, say, G major and Eb major, but not going outside of that). This tune actually has some kind of tricky changes (if you want to avoid a lengthy and technical discussion of chord changes, please skip ahead a couple of paragraphs). It is generally in the key of F major, I'd say. That's the second chord (first being D minor, which is modally related to F major), and is definitely the key at the end of the head. We pivot pretty quickly, however, on the Ebsus in bar four. This puts the tune into a weird sort of trip around the circle of fourths for a little bit (F#ma7 – Bma7 – Ema7 – Ama7#11) before resolving to Db/F on the pickup to m. 10.

    This Db/F is sort of a murky moment, in terms of where the key is: to me, when we land there, it sounds like Db is the new key. The Gb at the end of m. 10 sounds like a four chord, which supports that theory. However, the next chord – Bma7 – definitely functions as a four chord for the Gbma7 that follows. It doesn't necessarily sound like that when it happens, though: at the time, that Bma7 could just as easily have resolved to Db, and been a flat 7 chord. But, when it goes to Gb, that's the first place where we're firmly in a key in quite awhile. We stay generally in the key of Gb until the sudden pivot back to G that happens on the pickup to measure 19.

    The tag is a cool kind of sound that I've used in other tunes – it's a little ambiguous about whether it's F major or minor, since it has both F major in this tag (pickup to measure 22) and F minor (pickup to measure 23). How I recently explained this to someone – think of it as F minor with a major 3rd. The bass line gives it more of a minor-scale feel (flat six, flat seven, flat two, flat three, definitely minor, a phrygian sound), but the harmony above that bass-line includes the A natural in the first and third chords. Playing a scale of F-Gb-Ab-A-Bb-C-Db-Eb will basically cover this whole section. I'm not sure what you'd call that scale.

    Finally, after the 3x repeat, the pattern changes slightly and puts us firmly back in F major.

    I believe the reason that this tune is a little bit different is that I did it backwards to how I write most of my music. I would say that 90% of the time, I come up with chord changes first and melodies second. A lot of people work in the reverse of that, but I think a lot of people do it my way, too. This leads to a couple of things that I always need to be aware of in my writing – first, I'm generally bad at writing melodies so I sometimes have to take pains to work on that. Second, my tunes can be a little rhythmically bland if I'm not careful. Usually I'll come up with chords, then put a melody over that and depending on how that melody develops, I'll adjust the harmonic rhythm accordingly.

    This tune was different. This is a pretty odd an unexpected place, but the inspiration for this tune actually came from this tiny excerpt from Maurice Ravel's “Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte”:

    It might be hard to see at first, but you can see some similarities in the first four bars of "Dunes":

    The main thing that I took from Ravel was the movement of a chord shape in thirds in a single key. My chord shape changes a little (so does Ravel's), but all four of those chords are diatonic to F major, and the first and last chords are similar 'voicings' to what Ravel used. That was where this tune started – from there, I just came up with this sort of snaky melody, while simultaneously trying out chords to hear whether they worked or not. It's not a very scientific process.

    Finally, a note about how this tune is performed. The first time we tried this with my quintet, it was a little rough – the chords change in really weird places and the phrasing is all over the place. It's really hard to feel comfortable. So, what we ultimately decided to do, was this: during the solos, we shifted all the chords to the beginning, or the middle, of the measure that they occur in. So, for example, the Bb6/9 chord in measure three takes up that whole measure in the solos – then the Fma7/A takes up all of bar 4 – then the Ebsus takes up all of bar 5, etc. You can compare between the solo changes at the end of this score and the way the chord changes go by during the head. We did retain a couple of the hits: the Abma7 sequence in mm. 13-15 is something we usually play during the solos, and the same with the last two bars before the tag, mm. 19-20 in the head. This is notated in the solo changes.

    All in all, “Dunes” ended up being a big success from the first album, I thought. Corbin Andrick, our producer on the first record, had the great suggestion of creating a slightly shorter version of this tune for the album – when we play it live, we often will do four solos, open it up for awhile and go 10+ minutes. Corbin's suggestion was to just do three solos, two choruses each, for a more compact tune to lead off the album. The “radio edit,” so to speak. I really like the way that turned out, and we still play this tune regularly on gigs that we have the extra time to do it. I get the feeling it's one of the band's favorite tunes to play. I like having longer forms, but a simpler form can definitely be refreshing every now and then, and gives the group some room to expand.

    Dunes” is available on the first Paul Dietrich Quintet album, “We Always Get There,” which is available for purchase on iTunes and CDBaby. Keep your eyes open for the next album, due out in 2017.