Counterpoint #4 – Bass lines

Harmonically ‘independent’ bass lines in Gil Evans’ music


Bass lines in Gil’s music have been discussed a lot on this blog already (Counterpoint #1,#2 & #3). In this post I’ll show some examples of counterpoint in the bass which is slightly detached harmonically from the rest of the ensemble. This could be with the same or different rhythm.

One might do this for a few reasons:

  • The bass line is melodically strong and any dissonance heard is overcome by a more satisfying or delayed resolution
  • The bass line is more playable and hence swings more
  • Its important to realise: Our ear will generally hear the melody first, then the bass line and then any inner parts.

    Audio examples below

    Miles Ahead – figure J

    This passage from Miles Ahead is tastefully dissonant with a nice resolution at the end of the phrase. Consider the well placed use of contrary motion and the melody in the bass here.

    Springsville – bar 75

    This example is the perfect illustration of a counterpoint that is written so it is more playable. Further, the melody isn’t very exciting here (the texture is though) so the phrase is given extra direction by the purposeful movement of the bass.

    King Porter Stomp

    This brassy phrase from King Porter Stomp is similar. The tuba part is interesting and resolves perfectly.

    Blues for Pablo

    The bass line in the next two examples have a different rhythm from the rest of the ensemble.

    Utilizing the pitch A below the Gmi7 chord adds a beautiful dissonance and the G, F and C bass notes below the F minor chord ensure a suspenseful feeling that is only resolved at the G minor triad. The contrary motion just before the G minor triad is melodically very strong and playable.

    Blues for Pablo

    This phrase whilst not technically the lowest pitch is the most dominant bass voice so I have included it here. The harmonic resolution is delayed until the melodic activity is passive providing lots of interest and forward movement.

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