Composition No. 23J is a medium fast (to fast) tempo structure designed for extended improvisation as practiced in the post-be-bop tradition of Trans African functionalism. The work is conceived as a line structure to generate focused areas of creative investigation in accordance with the established procedure dynamics of post-Coleman organization. Composition No. 23J is designed as a platform for extended solo postulation—as opposed to ensemble collectivism—to emphasize the unique dynamics of individual input and focus. A given performance of this work should accent the collective diversity of the composite ensemble with respect to each individual's special creative focus. This is in keeping with the traditional continuum of Trans African functionalism—regardless of time period—from dixieland to the present. The specific nature or order of a given version of Composition No. 23J is open to the moment and/or needs of its interpreters—which is to say, the tradition of Trans African functionalism has always been open to the moment (and as such, functioning a a living and breathing music that is relevant to the challenges of the moments). Composition No. 23J was composed with respect to this tradition and can be viewed both in those terms and in its composite relationship to by multi-series of extended 'line' structure for the creative quartet context. The solidification of this work continues to further my interest in the use of 'line structures' as a dynamic platform—and spring board for extended improvisation. Composition No. 23J is dedicated to the writer/poet T.S. Eliot.
Composition No. 23J is primarily a unison line structure that extends into several different motivic and gravallic criteria. This is so because the primary material ingredients of Composition No. 23J consist of extended eight note constructions designed to emphasize particular phrase shape patterns as well as motion focuses. The work is constructed as a line pattern positioned over a walking rhythm section (in traditional 4/4 time) that establishes alternative time points in its infrastructure design. To create this effect Composition No. 23J makes use of alternative phrase pivoting devices—such as the mining of different time signatures to change the pulse or focus of a phrase, or the use of continued phrase modulation as a means for stabilization. Once this material is executed the interpreter can draw on a spectrum of operating criteria—including no criteria—to use in extended improvisation. This is so because the infrastructure dictates of Composition No. 23J contains many different operating criteria—or germ factors—relevant for extension. Composition No. 23J is a material generating structure for dynamic solo improvisation and can be utilized in many different ways—depending on the needs of the greater ensemble.
The conceptual material design of Composition No. 23J can also be viewed from a traditional perspective. This is so because the work is constructed as a thematic model that provides an interpretation focus for extended treatment. Composition No. 23J was constructed without any applied harmonic basis or preconceived rhythmic structure. The work was approached with respect to material specific decisions—some of which were decided before construction and some of which materialized during construction. This structure is generally classified as a material rather than thematic generator because none of its thematic devices are accented to the degree that it takes precedence over the focus of the composite music. This is also true for Composition No. 23J's extended treatment, because the nature of its extended phrase placement use (in the greater form of the composite work) moves to take on its own characteristics and challenge. The thematic material constructions in Composition No. 23J take on a secondary role in comparison to the total operatives underlying the work. A given interpretation (or solo statement) is more likely to draw on the uniqueness of Composition No. 23J's phrase properties and sharp dynamics, rather than the actual specifics of a particular thematic statement. This is so because the work was not designed to emphasize any one aspect in its composite form. Composition No. 23J is an extended line structure that accents by establishing one criterion—in this case, eight-note linear phrase construction—as a means to detail its applied permeutations in an extended time (and structural) frame work. A given performance of its notated material series emphasizes the nature of its material re-positioning more than the actual notes used to create that positioning.
The composite form of Composition No. 23J is A B (B2) C (C2) A B (B2) and the material specifics of that form breaks down as follows: Section A is an eight bar phrase that establishes the opening thematic statement of the work. The principal thematic germ underlying this section is the nine note passage that defines Composition No. 23J's central thematic criterion (that being the use of eight eighth notes and a quarter note—see figure [blank]). An examination of Section A's composite materials reveals the nature of its thematic material positioning—from principal focus phrases to secondary embellishment phrases placed in between points—that serve to accent the weight of its primary thematic and material structure. All of this material is written as a unison line to be executed by the upper ensemble voices (which in my quartet is the horns and brass—and/or piano when operative). Section B is an eight-bar phrase that introduces the next operational criterion of the work—phrase modulation. A breakdown of this section involves the use of a two-bar phrase that is modulated up one half step four times. This material is also designed to be played in minor seconds by the upper voices—a a means to open up the general canvas of the music. The use of phrase modulation—as well as the contour of the actual rhythmic phrase itself—can also be viewed as a material criterion in Composition No. 23J's operating or interpretational dynamics. Structurally, this method can be viewed in the context of a secondary rhythmic motif with its own separate dynamic implications.
Section (B2) is a three-bar connecting phrase that serves as a bridge from Section B to C. The material properties underlying this section remains consistent with the overall design of the composite work in that no additional criteria are introduced that have not already been established. In actual terms Section B2 consists only of eight-note phrase statements—constructed in four-note sequences—that are executed without rest (or without anyb breaks). The intervallic specifics that make up this material were openly composed in moment time as I heard it. The sole proposal of this section was to provide what I felt would be the smoothest possible transition in between section points.
Section C is a sixteen-bar section that consists of two repeating four-bar sections of additional thematic and motivic material. The first repeating section has been constructed in three/four time as a means to establish in alternative pivot foundation for its material. This section also introduces the primary material generator that underlies Composition No. 23J's total design. That material consists of a triple figure and three eighth notes followed by an eighth rest. (See figure [blank]) This rhythmic pattern is positioned to redefine the composite nature of the work and serve as an anchor to the infra structure balance of its total shape. By the term 'pivot point' I am referring to what transpires when the string bass switches from walking—which is its role for three-fourths of the work—to suddenly accent the three/four section by playing only on the first beat of each rhythmic phrase. The use of this simple devices moves to create a kind of balancing and anchoring perception that re-emphasizes the vibrational weight of Section C's material and rhythmic structure. The second part of Section C is written in four/four time and reutilizes the principal thrust of the work. This section consists primarily of eighth note constructions in the already established style of Section A and B. The positioning of both halves of Section C moves to create a kind of 'stop-go'-like sound environment that could seem unbalanced at first hearing, but is consistent with the composite architecture of the work. Section C2 is an open four bar percussion break to be executed in the tradition of the music. The percussionist is expected to maintain the basic tempo and structure of the music so that the ensemble's re-entry in Section A can be executed as smoothly as possible.
Composition No. 23J was composed at my home in Woodstock, New York as a vehicle for my touring quartet to utilize in conjunction with the other interchangeable work in that series. The first performance of this work was done in New York City by Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul and myself. I have since performed this work in many different forums and contexts—from quartet to duo.