Modal Improvisation – Coltrane’s “Pursuance”: Achieving A Modern Sound

Bijan TaghaviImprovisation1 Comment

Recently, I had the privilege of performing Jim McNeely’s arrangements of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme with Joe Lovano in a series of concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Aaron Davis Hall CCNY.  A Love Supreme notably includes 2 major piano solos, in the 2nd movement (“Resolution”) as well as the 3rd movement (“Pursuance”). In this blog, we will examine various approaches to improvising over the 3rd movement of the suite, “Pursuance.”

“Pursuance” is more or less a Bb minor blues. Here are the “regular” changes:

Harmonic Substitutions: Walkdown

There are endless harmonic possibilities over a minor blues form. One possible harmonic substitution to help achieve a modern sound is to superimpose a “walkdown”. Here is an example over the turnaround, the last 4 bars of the form:

You can apply the same walkdown concept to Bars 1-4 and Bars 5-9 as well, however it can get excessive. Try mixing and matching the walkdown changes with the regular changes Using The PDF below as reference, and explore various combinations that resonate with you.

Achieving a modern sound is not simply about superimposing harmonic substitutions however. In a modal setting, it is also crucial to have the right approach with your LH voicings and your RH lines.

LH Voicings: Quartal Harmony

Quartal Harmony creates a much more open sound. It is a more modern approach than traditional tertian harmony because it’s ambiguity disguises the tonal center, thus giving you more harmonic flexibility with your RH lines.

Here is an example of LH voicings built in 4ths for Bars 9-12:

RH Lines: Pentatonics

Particularly in a modal context, RH lines should be pentatonic-based and intervallic in order to achieve a modern, angular sound like McCoy Tyner on A Love Supreme.

Here are some sample RH lines over the walkdown from Bars 9-12:

Tying everything together, here is an example of a chorus of improvisation over “Pursuance”:

“Pursuance” is infamously played at a burning, fast tempo. But when working on implementing these concepts, be sure to practice at a slower, more medium tempo and try to keep the eighth note flow going. Next time, we will look at these concepts – superimposing a harmonic walkdown, LH quartal voicings, and RH pentatonic lines – over the 2nd movement of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, “Resolution”.

 

 

Bijan Taghavi is a pianist, composer, and educator currently based in New York, NY. For more information visit: BijanJazz.com.

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