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Review of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization
Volume One: The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity
Fourth Edition
By George Russell
Published 2001
ISBN: 0-9703739-0-2

A review by Chris Grey



Modern Jazz, having evolved out of many events as well as Charlie Parker's exploration of chord changes, has always posed monumental problems for those attempting to teach it. It was not invented as much as discovered by those playing it; therefore in the past there was no method other than first hand mentoring. As the Jazz world grew, more and more attempts were made to add Jazz improve into the theory books in vain. Still to this day how Jazz is taught is questionable at least. Jazz grew up and into the colleges as a now widely acceptable form of music, and still it is a misconstrued subject of controversy. And why shouldn't it be an obstacle unless you yourself grow up in a Jazz environment? If you study Flamenco you must truly live it to understand and play it. But our modern world strives to teach Jazz in the schools with or without a method, and cram it into the practices of Western Music Theory of the past and present.

Jazz should be a problem. To really get out and play it you need to know a few hundred tunes, at least 50 or more, and must know them in terms of original chord changes as well as widely accepted versions of their chord progressions. Jazz theory was born out of Western music's traditional theory indirectly as it developed from popular song. 20th Century theory is very related to it's more modern concepts. But Jazz has employed practices that other musical idioms do or do not in a different way. I have had many a debate that all this is explained in Hindameth and other 20th Century theoretical works on modern music. The attempt of academic Western Society to create the next great art form, but academic Western Society did not. Jazz created itself based on how music sounds to us. This is because it was created by people so immersed in it, they followed the sound of it and the logical implications intuitively. There are probably as many theoretical approaches as there are major contributors, but there was one under current of
Tonal Gravity tying it all together.

Mr. Russell answered these problems by developing the most logical and natural explanation of what Jazz musicians had developed as their art as well as taking these concepts to their logical conclusion encompassing all of equal tempered music. Tonal Gravity was not invented it has always existed. Mr. Russell realized it and found a way to explain, communicate, and teach it.
In order to comment on the new release of George Russell's Lydian Concept I must first address the original publication as well as his newest revision, the Fourth Edition of the concept. I also would like to interject my own experiences using and studying the 'CONCEPT'. The purpose of this review is to generate interest in the CONCEPT and not to teach it. I have never discussed my opinions or observations of the Concept with Mr. Russell.

Original Work

The original work was publish in 1953 as The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation. I have a later edition published in 1959 where Mr. Russell added some articles at the end of the book. Although the original is quite extensive it did lack explanations and theoretical proof; hence the addition of the articles in later printings. I don't really know, but suspect it was created as a text for teaching purposes and not as a complete document. There was an introduction explaining a no rules approach to playing music (to my knowledge Mr. Russell has never said there are no wrong notes, but I will), and the tools available to the Jazz Musician. Following the introduction the book is divided into eight Lessons and a Final Comment. The scope of the book was amazing, at the least, bringing many existing and new concepts to the foreground addressed as never before. In Mr. Russell's newest release, the fourth edition published 2001, he lets us know the concept was created in answer to a need expressed by Miles Davis... to be able to play 'all the changes', as well as Mr. Russell's own need for the concept.
The concept coined Horizontal playing and Vertical playing. The former is grouping one or more chords in the same key and using the major or blues scale until the key changes, while the later is using a different scale for each chord to express all the extensions of the chord and/or alter them as needed for changes in color and to stretch the tonality before resolution. Mr. Russell also expressed the four different types of melodies possible in an equal tempered system. Mr. Russell must be one of the greatest minds of our time to be able to articulate these concepts.

Lesson IV
Ingoing Vertical Melodies (Absolute or Chromatically Enhanced)
Outgoing Vertical Melodies (Chromatic Scale Interval Melody)
Ingoing Horizontal Melodies (Absolute or Chromatically Enhanced)
Outgoing Horizontal Melodies (Chromatic Scale Interval Melody)

The book begins by teaching the mechanics of determining the correct Lydian Parent Scale of a chord in Lesson I, and introduces six Lydian Scales based on the Lydian scale. Lydian, Lydian Augmented (#5th), Lydian Diminished (b3rd), Lydian Auxiliary Diminished, Lydian Auxiliary Augmented, Lydian Auxiliary Diminished Blues. Lesson II deals with the twelve different Lydian Chromatic Scales as containers for the six different Lydian member scales of each Lydian Tonic. You combine the six scales and you get a Lydian Chromatic Scale. He also introduces the Major and Blues scales as Horizontal scales for Horizontal playing. In Lesson III there are more mechanics of determining the parent Lydian scale this time by chord category introducing the seven chord categories.

Lydian Scale Degree precedes each category, terms like 3B means 3rd of the chord in the Base... an inversion.

I Major and Altered Major Chords
VI, +IV Minor and Altered Minor Chords
II, +V, VII, +IV Seventh and Altered Seventh Chords
+IV, VI Minor Seventh b5, (Minor 6B) Chord
+V, VII, II Seventh +5 (Minor +7B) Chord
VII, II Eleventh b9 (Minor 9B) Chord
III Minor +5 (Major 3B) Chord

In the above example the roman numerals do not represent the traditional II V chords etc. used in harmonic analysis. They are the Lydian scale degrees the chords are built on.

Lesson IV, as stated above, introduces the four types of melodies used in tonal music within an equal tempered system. Mr. Russell applies these concepts to melodic analysis of well known solos of the day. Lesson V deals with Tonal Gravity, a major concept in Vertical playing and approach to chord changes/chord progressions. Mr. Russell applies Tonal Gravity to melodic analysis again using the four types of melodies.

Lesson VI slows way down and is very short advising how to implement these concepts on an instrument.

Lesson VII discusses use of his slide rule for determining which scale to use by chord category.

Lesson VIII is, along with Tonal Gravity and the four possible types of melodies, a most important part of the concept. Mr. Russell introduces Close to Distant Relationships and the Scale of Close to Distant Relationships. This is used in chord substitution as well as creating chord progressions when composing. In terms of chord substitution this concept explains the outside players, slip sliding tonalities (move up a half step and cycle back into the progression) aka 'step evasion', and many modal concepts used in the more modern Jazz of the late '60's, '70's, 80s, etc.
The book then closes with some articles supporting these ideas, an interview with Ornette Coleman, another with George Russell, and of course the famous 'River Trip' analogy. All in all the information was there, but not explained in great detail. The Fourth Edition answers it all, but this is only the first Volume. The concept, over the years, has become more developed and now divided into two parts. The first being Volume One: The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity.

Use of the Concept

Here I want to digress from a formal review of 'THE BOOK' and discuss use of the concepts.
Since there are many misconceptions about this concept, an important distinction between Horizontal and Vertical playing is needed. Horizontal music is prevalent in many forms of Western music from Classical to Rock 'n Roll, Country, Blue Grass, Folk music, Blues, and Jazz. It is a situation where one either composes or improvises within the key structure adhering to the key structure. It has a very distinctive recognizable sound, and is very idiomatic in the a fore mentioned styles of music.

Throughout the history of Jazz Horizontal playing has been widely used. Horizontal playing again is the practice of playing within the key of the music using a major or blues scale. As the tune may modulate the improviser changes keys accordingly. This type of sound is common in earlier Jazz, Dixieland etc. As Jazz evolved the practice of playing a different scale for each chord evolved with it. This became known as a Vertical approach.

In a Vertical approach the emphasis is within the chord exploring melodies derived from the chord itself and it's extensions 9,11,13. The choice of altered tones against a chord is also used at times to stretch the tonality creating more dissonance before resolution. With a vertical approach it is very common to play the IIm7 with no altered tones and the V7 with altered tones, such as +9+5 or -9+5. This became more popular as pioneers like Charlie Parker learned more about harmony and chord changes. This becomes fairly unique to Jazz and steers away from the key center emphasizing each chord itself as a structure. Parker wrote many tunes like Scrapple from the Apple (Honey Suckle Rose) based on the chord progressions of standards in which he leaned for towards melody dictated by the current chord. Out of the exploration of the individual chord came a modal approach. Tunes were written on just one or two chords of longer duration to give an improviser more time to explore the chord itself. Eventually players like Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis, just to mention two, wrote tunes that were much more impressionistic stringing chords together that may seem less related harmonically and treating each more modally.

In order to manage all the different types of playing the Lydian Concept offers an equivalence of chords within the same Lydian Harmonized Scale. The following list of chords can be play with the same voicing for each and just change the base note. It is also common to use different voicings at different times; although voicings may have the same basic sound each voicing has a uniqueness of it's own.

C9sus4/C11, Gm7, BbMaj7
Voicing: Bb, D, F, (A)

C9, Gm6, BbMaj7b5, Em7b5, Gb7+5b9 (the altered chord)
Voicing: Bb, D, E, (A)

C9+11, Gm#7, BbMaj7#5, Em9 11 b5
Voicing: Bb, D, E, F#, (A)

My feelings on these two approaches are, both Horizontal and Vertical are needed for variety in ones playing. Pure Vertical playing tends to become more and more intellectual and far reaching as a harmonic approach. Interspersing Horizontal playing brings you back into the room so to speak, allowing you to communicate with the listener. Horizontal playing also allows you to express historical idioms particularly blues in your management of modern Jazz expression.

The Fourth Edition

Why did George Russell develop this concept? I have never discussed this with Mr. Russell so I can only speculate. Maybe I should ask, why do WE need it?
Jazz has had a natural evolution of theory and improvisation based on they way it sounds for the most part. Starting somewhere around the time of Charlie Parker, musicians started learning more about theory, chords and chord extensions. They moved away from key centers and centered their attentions on each individual chord. Of course not every one used this approach, there are many different directions in Jazz.
We arrived with the individual chord of the moment, in a chord progression, dictating the melody not just the key of the music dictating the melody. At the same time chord substitutions became more important to the improviser in search of hipper sounds, or more perfect harmonizations. All this together bound chord and scale in a search for the most consonant scale to support the given chord whether it was simple like D9 or complex like D7b9#11 (which could be a Ab triad superimposed over D7 a compound chord structure).

Some of these Jazz musicians were more educated in western theory than others. Some had a classical background, while others didn't; therefore the concepts of stretching the chords did not evolve from Western theory, but from the musicains playing nightly and dealing with the way the music sounds.
The Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization was surely created to answer this void of understanding and simplify it. Like all concepts that answer the questions of a subject it has it's level of complexity and simplicity at the same time. When studying any concept we must look for the simplicity for ease of use and answers to our questions, and not become overwhelmed with the complex nature of concepts.
Twentieth Century music theory attempts to define some of these concepts, but was never intended for the improvisation of the Jazz musician against an existing chord structure or progression, or reharmonization of a chord progression. Twentieth Century music theory was intended for composition and the evolution of Western European Classical music, which has always lived in an academic world, not the vibrate ever changing world of the Jazz musician.
So as Jazz evolved harmonically the chord grew in it's importance dictating the melody more than the key of music, as I stated above. George Russell calls this Vertical Tonal Gravity and treats it as a principle. The chord still has meaning and functions in a chord progression, but does not have to. It does when applied to standards and existing tunes that use common standard chord progressions, but does not need to for subsequent compositions of Jazz musicians. So the concept also encompasses modal music and many other uses of chord concepts. Vertical Tonal Gravity is only a part of the Concept and covers melody governed by chord as well as chords bound to the most consonant that expresses the chord in terms of the way it sounds. In fact this Concept is responsible for modal music and many other concepts developed from it. In George Russell's original publication it was quite obvious the intent was, in part, for musicians to explore every and any aspect of the concept and develop their own way of playing music.

The Lydian Concepts serves as means to understand, very simply, why music sounds as if does. Why our improvisations work. What all the available tonal colorings are in an equal tempered system. Since it can do all this it can also serve as a means to teach yourself to hear new sounds, and recognize other peoples sounds by ear through ear training. Memorization of all available sounds, tonal colorings, for later use is possible, although the Lydian Concept does not mention this. It is always easiest to add these new sounds into an improvisation if you know what to expect.

In the fourth edition of the Lydian Concept Volume One is in two parts. (See table of contents on this web site.)
Part One: The Theoretical Foundation of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization
Part Two: Vertical Tonal Gravity

Starting with Part One in the first chapter, The Lydian Scale, introduces the source of the Principal of Tonal Gravity. Why things sound as they do. This is rooted in the overtone series supporting the Lydian Tonic. Further supporting the Lydian Tonic are the known roots or tonics of the intervals within a scale, major 2nd, perfect 5th etc.
There is no intent here to replace the key of music in a given progression with the Lydian Tonic. The Lydian Tonic is only the harmonic Tonic of the sound of the chord. This is a much misunderstood concept. Most readers leave the room when they hear Lydian Tonic. So do not misunderstand this, the Lydian Concept does not change chord progressions or harmonic analysis of chord progression that are based on the key of the music. It may render insight, but does not change it.
Eleven member scales of a Lydian chromatic scale are also introduced with five tonal orders linked to the five main sounds major, minor, seventh, augmented, and diminished, but do not equate to them directly one for one. The Eleven member scales are divided into these five tonal orders as being part of one or the other.
The second chapter deals with the most widely used and important chords in Jazz and pop music, and chapter three moves forward to harmonically link each chord to a specific scale that expresses the most constant sound of that scale. Establishing a particular scale with a chord builds the concept of chord mode where scale and chord are one and the same. A chord expressed to the 13th has all the notes of the scale in it; therefore they are one and the same with no separation.
I recall many situations in my musical experience where piano players would play clusters of all the notes in the scale for chords at times. Coltrane and Eric Dolphy ran double time and triple time scales as sheets of sound to sound the chordmode colors, only piano players can play all the notes at once.
The nice part of the concept is of course it's simplicity. Starting on a given note there are only twelve tones in a Lydian chromatic scale. The Lydian scale, being the main dominance that establishes a Lydian Tonic, can be treated with manipulations of 5 notes producing the five tonal orders that the eleven member scales belong to, and 5 manipulated notes plus the 7 in the Lydian scale produce all 12 of a Lydian chromatic scale.
1st order - the Lydian scale, 2nd order - raise the 5th or flat the 3rd, 3rd order - flat the 7th, 4th order - the natural 4th (or flat the raised 4th), and the 5th order - flat the 2nd - Five Tonal Orders.
The first order has the most consonant sounding chordmodes, meaning any harmonized Lydian scale has seven chords/chordmodes. These cover IIm7, V7, IMaj7, IIm7b5, Im7 used in chord progressions.
The second order covers the more dissonant chords IIm7b5, IIm7b5 9, V7b9, V7alt (#5,b5,#9,b9), IMaj7#5, Im#7 etc Augmented and Diminished sounds. Each scale can also be harmonized. These are the semi-ingoing since they are more dissonant but recognized by function in a progression. The other three orders starting with the 3rd are outgoing by degree. The 3rd covers b7th chords and augmented b7th's using a Lydian b7 and Auxiliary Augmented (whole tone) scales and is semi-outgoing. The 4th is a diminished scale with the whole step as the first interval, and the 5th order is a diminished scale with a half step as the first interval. These last two orders are out-going. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th orders produce harmonized scales with only a few chords in them and are used for much greater dissonance (but not just dissonance they can be exotic as well) in chord structures and melodies against the chords/chordmodes.

This is an organized approach to expressing melodies against very consonant to very dissonant chords. It gives a simple use to all twelve notes in a Lydian chromatic scale one step at a time in terms of melodic use of each note within a chordmode. I only have to know the Lydian parent scale of a chord and can alter it from strict consonance to dissonance by clearly recognizable existing sounds and colors by only changing one of 5 notes or all of the five any way I want. And it works because you already know what they all will sound like. You will hear all the sounds of every performer you have ever heard in these sounds and be able to memorize and recall at will. Once mastering the parent scale any known sound is easily applied with a organized basis for each from bebop sounds to blues sounds, and into very modern sounds.
[Interjecting my own ideas at this point I believe referring to them as sounds is key. While playing I don't have time to mechanically recall what to do. Having learned the sounds in an organized fashion I can recall them by ear using mussel memory to play them.]
So in the first two chapters Mr. Russell is giving the reader a mechanical foundation of how to apply the scales to real world chord progressions as a tool. A tool for playing correct scales of a chord and producing a chordmode to improvise on. It is a function that can be applied to get the desired result. When relating this information and mechanical process to real progressions it becomes very simple and can easily be drawn upon in any key. Now the single line melody of a wind instrument can express the chordmode without the ability to play more than one note at a time.

In Part Two: Vertical Tonal Gravity Mr. Russell starts with The River Trip analogy in chapter IV, which was an added article at the end of the book in the original publication. The analogy explains a lot about Horizontal and Vertical players and leads to the Level of Vertical Tonal Gravity. There is much melodic analysis in the revision which even includes an excerpt from Coltrane's Giant Steps solo.
In chapter V he ties back to the Lydian Parent scale, the Primary Modal Tonic as the most consonant first choice for a scale/chordmode. Chapter VI explains other choices as Alternate Modal Tonic's, more than one Lydian parent scale to choose from.
An Alternate Modal Tonic example would be:
Use C Lydian for a D7,9,11,13 or C Lydian Diminished (b3) for D7b9. This being the Primary Modal Tonic. An Alternate Modal Tonic could be Eb Lydian providing a b9 and b13 or #5. Using Eb Lydian Augmented (#5) you have all the same emphasis of the b9 with natural 13th but the mode and sound coloring is very different; therefore it is truly and Alternate choice. Using Eb Lydian Diminished (b3) you get the F# but still a different mode. Just an incomplete example to let the reader know what kind of organized flexibility can exist and be easily learned.
In the last two chapters Vertical Tonal Gravity is summarized to it's conclusion. The Appendixes includes history information about the Lydian and Major scales that is amazing, and there are answers to the tests used to help teach the mechanical process of knowing the correct scale to use for each type of sound available.

In Closing I can only say, George Russell having created this concept in 1953 in the 20th century, has now published the rewrite of The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization in the year 2001 in the 21st century; therefore this great work is truly the most important musical event of two centuries.

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