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Sound Ideas #26 - Jazz in Uncommon Time
Welcome to an hour of jazz in uncommon time. Thanks for taking the time to join in an uncommon experience.
Artist Track Album
Charles Earland Sheila Unforgettable
Charles Mingus Getter Get It in Your Soul Uh Um
Eddie Harris Alicia Exodus to Jazz
Tom Harrell Play of Light Play of Light
Herbie Hancock Three Bags Full Takin' Off
Max Roach It's Time It's Time
Wayne Shorter Dance Cadaverous Speak No Evil
Stan Kenton Decoupage Kenton '76

Jazz is typically a swinging 4/4 affair, or if it is a Latin groove, it's still usually performed in common time, AKA 4 beats per measure with a quarter note having one beat. However, perhaps with the exception of the dance halls of earlier years, jazz has not been solely beholden to the 4/4 meter. Waltzes are not uncommon, and some of the more memorable "hits" from the jazz idiom such as Take 5, and the theme from Mission: Impossible were penned in the 5/4 time signature. Nevertheless, in this hour we will explore jazz in uncommon time signatures and hear that music can still swing hard, even if it is not in 4/4.

Charles Earland had a penchant for 10/4 time, and this opening number is just one of his many 10/4 compositions. His meter follows a 2-1/2 bar feel in that you could count this composition as 4-4-2, i. e. two full measures plus a half-measure of 4/4 time. The phrasing of Sheila is such that not only does the rhythm seem to wind down over the measure, so too do the chord progressions, almost as if watching a spring being compressed and decompressed.

Our second set starts with one of Charles Mingus's more memorable tunes, which has a 12/8 meter. It could be considered a 3/8 waltz superimposed on top of a 4/4 meter yet the chord progressions reveals its underlying 6 and 12 beat phrasing. Eddie Harris's Alicia is a ballad written in 6/4 with an almost rubato feeling, yet if you count it out, it become obvious that the meter never stops. Tom Harrell rounds out the set with Play of Light, a 3/4 waltz, which compared with the previous two charts is relatively straight forward.

Herbie Hancock begins our third set with another 3/4 chart but one that at points veers towards a 6/4 feel with longer compound phrases. It's Time is from Max Roach's chorale focused album of the same name and is written in multiple time signatures, 3/4, 4/4, 6/4, and 7/4. Wayne Shorter delivers another composition in 6/4 time for our enjoyment.

Rounding out the hour is a Hank Levy composition for the Stan Kenton Orchestra entitled Decoupage. This tune is written in 5/4 but it swings hard. This is one of the most defiant time signatures as it is a prime number and simply refuses to divide out nicely by two yet at times during the melody it almost takes on a waltzing plus a rhythmic gap feeling, where the bass is playing on beats 1 and 4. Try counting this one out, and you'll quickly see how the rhythms fall into place (and change throughout).

In this hour we have featured less common time signatures in jazz. Nevertheless, all of these performances epitomize jazz, swinging hard and chalk full of improvisation and story telling. Perhaps after listening for a while you might not even notice that these charts are not being played in common time (4/4); that's OK. Jazz is not about rigid pretenses of compositional norm, but about exploration and creativity. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with swinging in 4/4, it's nice to remember that the same hipness and creative endeavor can be realized in different meters as well.