Volume 8, January 2017
Revolution in Action: A Motivic Analysis of "Ghosts: First Variation" As Performed by Gary Peacock
by Robert Sabin, Ph.D.
In the examination of the music of the 1960s avant-garde, progressive, or "free" jazz, the work of Jost (1974), Meehan (2002, 2009), Bley and Meehan (2003), and Cogswell (1995), provide the nascent approaches to the motivic analysis of improvised music. This approach breaks down the building blocks of an improvisation into the definable and essential characteristics of various musical gestures. Jost demonstrates this approach in the analysis of improvisations of Ornette Coleman through a cataloging of phrases utilizing letters, indicating connections between phrases based upon these essential rhythmic, melodic, and register characteristics. This approach is coupled with narrative descriptions of the phrases themselves to outline the various relationships. Cogswell expands Jost's method further to include a system that identifies melodic chain associations (MCAs) that can be demonstrated and analyzed in terms of specific qualities of rhythm, pitch, contour, initial/terminal/dovetailing variations, repetition, and step progressions.
The highly original playing involved within "Ghosts" requires the drawing upon of the above analytical techniques, specifically the lettering system and narrative descriptions of the multilayered motivic qualities employed by Jost. These methods have the additional benefit of the flexibility needed to demonstrate the overlapping and non-hierarchical manner in which numerous motivic characteristics can simultaneously exist across and between sections of the improvisation.