We will be taking a brief detour from edgy music by exploring the world of modality, jazz, and levity.  Lydia Jane Pugh’s piece “Voul-ous enne p’tite goute?”, or “Would you like a little tipple?” brings us into a more consonant soundworld, with (gasp) a bass line, harmonic middle, and melody on top.  4/4 bars in even phrases of mostly 4 measures give way to a mixed meter excursion, but we return to the modal, jazz-like, and charming world by the end.  I would imagine hearing this on a street around dusk, offering someone a drink (I had to Google the translation of “tipple” to find out it is an alcoholic drink–so sorry that I’m an uncultured American).  Take a listen below, and look at the score here.

The listener is subtly and deftly lured to a state of drowsed comfort, as the sun dims and the streetlights turn on.  The bass line is regular enough for us to catch the groove quickly, and the vibraphone complements the line through added third-inversion chords over a G pedal, acting more as harmonic extensions to the G pedal than actual chords superimposed over it. Between the Cs and Es in the bass, the G pedal, and the use of F-sharps, we are clearly in C Lydian.

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The saxophone leads us further along by starting and ending on extensions of a C chord; first a D and then an A, then a D and an F-sharp, but then form D to B-flat as we hit the “bridge” of the melody.  This bridge opens up the melody to create interest and avoid monotony, and as a hint at the chromaticism that follows in bar 29.

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These figures in bar 29 (above) are true chords in inversion: Bm, Bb, Em, D, all part of the modality used except the Bb–this is drawn from the bridge of the melody (back to measure 23):

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In this way, Pugh foreshadows the chords that will complicate the piece by using them in the simplest, most melodic section of the piece.  This is subversive while appearing status-quo, and is a skillful use of harmony.  Harmony is, in this case, unifying the piece both in and of itself and formally/structurally.

The B section of the song (if one thinks of it as a jazz standard) begins in measure 49:

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While it uses mixed meters, it feels very much in triple meter as a whole.  This unification of 2+3, 3+2+2, triple meter, and the precedent and antecedent sections’ duple meter, make this section blur into the others rhythmically, much as the chords in modal jazz blur if one is not exploring them deeply enough with one’s mind.

The texture, however, is much different; this is peppier, with more crunch both in motion and in harmony.  Here the distance between notes, both vertical and horizontal, is shrunk and the result is a more granular, less lyrical, but necessary contrast to the first section.  One can tell that the composer either wrote this at a piano and/or used notation software, as the percussive rhythm would likely play out better on either of those instruments (as opposed to the more resonant, less percussive nature of the saxophone and vibraphone, as well as of bowed bass).

As this jazz standard closes with another head, we need to ask what we can learn from this work.  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Smoothness, levity, and groove are useful devices to provide a mood, provide transition and blurring, and elevate the spirits of the listener (no pun intended on the “spirits”).  They can create a mood that can be continued or interrupted, in subtle or jarring ways.  In this piece, there are subtle interruptions, but I enjoy luring a listener into complacency and then jarring them awake (I know, it sounds mean on paper, but it is much better and more effective in sound).
  2. Organic threading can be a useful tool to both unify and develop one’s work.  In this case, Pugh uses the chordal structure of the melody to create the harmonic freefalls in the vibraphone.  This both unifies the two gestures, while subverting the first one to give way to the second.
  3. Music does not have to be extremely complex to be convincing.  In this work, modal jazz, melody, and changes in energy drive the piece, and it is an interesting, enlivening work.  There are many complexities (such as the foreshadowing and mixed meter), and vast majority of them have not been covered here, but they are not experimental nor extreme.  Yet, the piece simply “works” and is a beautiful, if not comforting, experience.

What are your thoughts?

Happy composing,