I had the joy of putting together a concert with my colleague and friend, David Veslocki, recently.  Instead of playing "the same old standards" we searched for new tunes that we never had played before.  One of the tunes we found was an Eddie Gomez tune, "Next Future" off his 1992 album of the same name.  The tune is reminiscent of the Chick Corea "3 Quartets" or compositions with the 80's band featuring Gomez and Michael Brecker, "Steps Ahead."  The tune is a medium tempo bossa with swing solos, but almost every bar is a new chord change requiring a completely unrelated scale.  Many of the chords are hexatonic shapes, or more simply put, chords that contain a Maj 7(#5) shape somewhere in their upper structure.  When tackling a tune like this, the improviser needs to know all the ways around the changes--fluency in the augmented (hexatonic) scale, melodic minor modes, pentatonics (which I don't get into in this article), and even bebop scale.  Also, we have to remember that many jazz composers (particularly bass players!) love to write chords in slash chord notation, which can add a different challenge to interpreting these types of tunes. Using "Next Future" and another Eddie Gomez tune, "Loxodrome" as examples, I will illustrate several ways to approach modern jazz tunes.


"Next Future" is a beautiful composition by Eddie Gomez.  I could play the head with chords over and over again and be satisfied before even starting to improvise on the tune.  In fact, I would suggest playing through the tune a lot to internalize the flow of the changes.  A good transcription of the tune can be found in The New Real Book III.  I will try to provide a very methodical approach, starting with the "A" section.  The tune is essentially in AABA form, but each time the A comes around, it is in a different tonal center and with a different harmony. Because of this, I will treat the first two A's as one section.


I. Identifying the chords, scales, and inherent triads

Below, are the chords of the first 20 measures of "Next Future", before a long G pedal section.  In the left column is the traditional chord symbol (in some cases, a "slash chord" alternate is provided too).  The middle contains the primary major triad that appears in the upper structure of the chord.  Note you can find tons of triads in all these chords, these are just the first ones I would go to.  The right column shows scales that will work over the chords: first the primary scale, then the augmented scale (e.g., Eb Aug = Eb, Gb, G, Bb, B, D), then the mixolydian scale for playing bebop licks.

EbMaj7(#5) [G/Eb]


Eb Lydian Augmented, Eb Augmented, F Mixolydian



E Half Diminished, D Augmented, C Mixolydian



F Half Diminished, Eb Augmented, Db Mixolydian



G Lydian Augmented, G Augmented, A Mixolydian



Ab Dorian, Db Mixolydian



F Altered, F Augmented, B Mixolydian



Bb Mixolydian

AbMaj7(#5) [C/Ab]


Ab Lydian Augmented, Ab Augmented, Bb Mixolydian



G Altered, G Augmented, Db Mixolydian



F Lydian Dominant, G Augmented, F Mixolydian

GMaj7(#5) [B/G]


G Lydian Augmented, G Augmented, A Mixolydian



Ab Melodic Minor, G Augmented, Db Mixolydian



F Dorian, Bb Mixolydian



F# Altered, F# Augmented, C Mixolydian

Ab13sus(b9) [Ab Phryg]


Ab Phrygian #6, A Augmented, B Mixolydian



Ab Altered, Ab Augmented, D Mixolydian



Db Mixolydian

BMaj7(#5) [Eb/B]


B Lydian Augmented, B Augmented, Db Mixolydian



Bb Altered, Bb Augmented, E Mixolydian



Ab Altered, Ab Augmented, D Mixolydian



II. Scales, Scales, Scales

If you are working on your melodic minor modes, you will have a holiday with this tune.  8 of the 12 melodic minor scales are represented in the A section alone, and every mode of melodic minor appears at least once, except the elusive 5th mode.  When I practice scales, I often default to playing diatonic triads over the changes instead of running up and down the scales.  On a tune that changes scales so often, I often find a good exercise playing triads with a 5-1-3-5 pattern in sixteenths in a descending motion.  When the chord changes, I either continue down or jump up to another important chord tone and continue the pattern. I encourage you to look at different diatonic patterns as well.  See below for a 6 mm. excerpt using this technique:



III. Triads: The Pianist's Best Friend

We have all gotten to that point in the middle of a solo where we temporarily run out of creativity.  When this happens, I will sometimes default to a simple arpeggiation of a triad in the upper structure of the chord.  You could write a whole chapter on triads in the upper structures of complex chords (in fact Mark Levine already did) but I went with a fool-proof approach in my chart above.  For all the hexatonic chords, all you have to do is find the Maj7(#5) shape in the chord, and then pick out 3-5-7 of that chord, and you'll have a rich sounding major triad in the upper structure of the chord.  Easier identification of this triad is perhaps why so many musicians prefer to label chords in slash notation (e.g., C/Ab instead of AbMaj7(#5)).  If you want to go outside the changes, identify triadic pairs in the chart above that lay on the same whole-tone scale.  Connecting triads in a descending seconds sequence is an easy way to play "out," that we sometimes forget (I know I do), and there are multiple opportunities above to do so.  Check out this lick starting in bar 3:


IV. The Power of the Bebop Scale

You can really have fun using stock mixolydian licks over this tune; the nature of the changes creates a variety of scale relationships.  Referencing the chart above, you'll notice there are only two instances where two consecutive measures call for the same mixolydian scale.  Using an old hat like your mixolydian licks will still sound fresh on this tune.  See below for a running sixteenths passage that only utilizes bebop licks:


V. Searching for Common Tones

There's a lot to be said about finding common tones between changes, even in traditional jazz tunes.  In Eddie Gomez's composition, it is absolutely necessary.  Using the pattern of Augmented scales in the chart above is a good starting point.  Of the 4 augmented scales, the G/B/Eb one is used in 8 out of the 20 first measures, including a string of 4 straight measures starting in the 9th bar.  Use this to your advantage!  Check out the example below of those very 4 measures, using a predictable, but efficient augmented scale line.  In terms of common tones, I am thinking of G B and Eb major triads throughout.



Most of the strategies from "A" can be applied to the 8 measure "B" section, which is over a G pedal.  Note that you will want to build your solo during these measures.  The chord progression is the following:

Gphryg. // Gmi(Maj7) // BMaj7/G // G7alt // CMaj7#5/G // EbMaj7/G // DMaj7/G // Gmi7

Measures 6 and 7 are a great time to employ pentatonics if you haven't already done so in your solo.  There is no real method behind chords like "DMaj7/G," so I would suggest thinking rhythmically and using chord tones or the A Pentatonic scale.



If you've shedded the first "A's" nothing in the last A should surprise you.  After the long, dissonant pedal point, the last A will be a point of release.  Note that the form of the tune calls for a Fmi11/GbMaj7(b5) vamp up front and in between solos.  This is a time to rip out some blues licks and other tonal devices you'll be familiar with.



Loxodrome is another Eddie Gomez composition written in the 80's for the band "Steps Ahead."  Though harmonically similar to Next Future, Loxodrome is a much nastier sounding composition.  It also presents some challenges: more slash chords (e.g., F#7(#9b13)/D), an 8 measure Phrygian vamp, and a faster tempo than Next Future.


Slash Chords 101

We've dealt with Maj7(#5) a lot already, but Loxodrome gives us many more interesting shapes.  I will handle these somewhat unmethodically.  For a full transcription of the chords on this tune, see the bottom of the article.  For now, I will be pulling out chords at random and describing my approach on them.

B/C - In classical harmony, this would be something like a common-tone diminished seventh. In Loxodrome, it is used in the same manner, leading into a CMaj7 chord.  I would not approach this with the hexatonic in mind, but rather the octatonic, or diminished scale, namely B h/w diminished.  In voicing the chord, it is ok to play a C-G open fifth in your left hand to add more dissonance.

F#7(#9b13)/D - What a ridiculous chord!  But seriously, this is one of the few times you will use the fifth mode of melodic minor: G melodic minor starting on D.  Whereas the other modes of melodic minor have a "home base" chord (i.e. 1 = min(maj7), 2 = sus7(b9), 3 = Maj(#5), etc.) there really isn't one for the fifth mode.  Often it can be used to color a cadence from an altered V chord to the root, and since this chord is basically D9(b13), that is how it is functioning.  Perhaps it is written this way, becomes when we see D7(#5) we think whole-tone scale right away, and Eddie Gomez wants us to think melodic minor here.  Here is how I would voice the chord as well:


Bb(add9)/D - This chord shows up a lot in pop music or R & B, but is also a colorful, consonant chord used in modern jazz.  Normal Bb major licks will work (of course), especially pentatonics.  Simpler is better in voicing the chord:


For pianists, playing around with a multi octave three note pattern, a la Brad Mehldau, works well on this chord:


Other slash chords that are not present in Loxodrome are C/B and C/Bb, which are essentially a 4/3 inversion of seventh chords.  Theses, along with other slash chords, appear in modern jazz writing often.  Check out compositions by Michael Abene and Jim McNeelly for uses of these types of chords in the big band or tentet setting.


8 Measures of Bb7sus(b9)

In Loxodrome, there is a 8 measure phrygian vamp in the middle of the tune.  Playing over a phrygian vamp is not difficult, but if you don't know what to do, 8 measures is kind of a long time!  One of the reasons that Phrygian chords present a problem is because there are several ways of notating the chords.  Here are a few: Bb7sus(b9), Bb Phryg., Fmi7b5/Bb, Db13/Bb.  Each of these has benefits.  I personally like Bb7sus(b9), because I think it most succinctly states the root of the chord and extensions.  Bb Phryg. highlights the mode more than the chords, implying the use of the phrygian or phrygian #6 (preferable) scale.  One thing I like about the first notation as oppose to "phryg." is that is leaves the raised 6th or 13th of the chords (in this case, "G") as an option in the voicing while technically the lowered 6th ("Gb") is part of the phrygian mode.

I personally like Fmi7b5/Bb the second best of these four notations, simply because it states the function of the chord.  A Phrygian chord is, essentially, a V function, with ii half-diminished looming above it.  Analogous to this is thinking of regular 7sus chords as ii7/V, which is very helpful on a number of fronts for improvising over it and voicing it.  Finally, we get to the rare notation of Db13/Bb.  Getting to this notation uses very backwards logic for me, because it has nothing to do with the function of the chord, but helps us think of quartal voicings for the chord (Db13 voicings based on fourths) over the pedal and guides us to use mixolydian licks.  Essentially, this is taking a familiar voicing (Db13) and super-imposing it on a more foreign concept (phrygian).  I would never notate the chord this way in a tune, but might teach my students to think this way if they are having trouble understanding the concept.

When playing lines over a phrygian chord, the first place to look is the phrygian #6 scale of course, I don't think I ever use the phrygian scale with the lowered (unraised) 6th. Depending one what the rest of the rhythm section is doing around you, it is possible to add a major third (D in our example chord) to give a kind of gypsy scale sonority.  In fact I just played with someone who said of playing the major third on a phrygian vamp, "Why not? 7sus usually implies a major third doesn't it?"  Be careful of doing so, but it might be possible to play the fifth mode of harmonic minor starting on the root (Eb harmonic minor in this case) if the rhythm section is setting you up in the right manner.  Technically this is not "text book" usage, but it can work.

These are the tools.  My only other advice in Loxodrome is don't waste it all in the first measure!  You have 8 measures to build on a very colorful sonority; enjoy it!



Gmi7 // E7alt // E/F // B/G // B/C // CMaj7 // Bbsus7(b9) - 8mm.

Bb(add9)/D // EMaj7(b5) // B(add9)/D# // F#7(#9b13)/D // B/G // GMaj7(b5) // Cmi7 -8mm.

Ami7(b5) // Cmi7 F7(b13) // Bmi7 // Cmi7 F7(b13) // Bbmi(Maj7) Bbmi7 // G/Ab - 2mm.


One of the reasons for writing this article is to sharpen up my own understanding of modern jazz harmony.  I haven't until right now put all of these thoughts in one place, so I hope it can be a helpful resource for you too.  I'm sure I've left some concepts out, but I believe I at least covered most of the approaches to two thick jazz tunes by Eddie Gomez.  In these types of compositions, you cannot get by without knowing the ins and outs of the changes and scales.  There is no shame in preparing a solo, conceptually or literally, ahead of time; you have to admit to yourself it isn't like playing a blues where you are comfortable with all the vocab and just let the soul take over.  These are real cerebral tunes!

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions please let me know by emailing me through the contact page.