Monday Notes

Arjen’s Bag, John McLaughlin and English jazz

Italian flag
Leggi in Italiano

[Monday Notes no. 111] That same year that he participated in Miles Davis’ masterpiece In a Silent Way, guitarist John McLaughlin recorded a beautiful lead album entitled Extrapolation, accompanied by other English musicians like himself. Let’s listen and analyse Arjen’s Bag.

In Arjen’s Bag, John McLaughlin uses a very typical musical form, that of the 12-measure blues, but he reinterprets it in a surprising way. To begin with, the guitar plays a first round by itself, playing only the chords.

We thus realise that the piece uses a tempo of 11/8, in fact each measure sounds like a 4/4 time plus a 3/8 time. The guitar accents the first and second movement of the 4/4 like this.

Arjen’s Bag - John McLaughlin introduzione

On the second chorus, the other members of the band enter: bassist Brian Odgers, drummer Tony Oxley and saxophonist John Surman, who performs the theme on baritone sax.

Arjen’s Bag - John McLaughlin tema

The theme is faster in the first four measures, while it expands in the final four measures, stopping on a long note, B. The harmony of the piece is also unusual, although we recognise the characteristic I IV V degrees typical of the blues, the piece employs only 7sus4 chords, creating an open, suspended atmosphere.

The timbre choice of the ensemble is very appealing: we have two instruments in the low register, double bass and baritone sax, and two instruments in the medium-high register, the guitar and the drums, which play a lot on the cymbals.

Although Arjen’s bag is based on a classic blues progression, one of the most exploited forms in jazz and rock, the odd time signature and 7sus4 chords create a suspended and fascinating sound.

A couple more points about Arjen’s bag. At minute 3’39” we can hear a cut, part of the recording has evidently been deleted. We also notice that the final tempo is considerably faster than the initial one. Small imperfections that go completely unnoticed, when the music is as beautiful and sincere as in this case.

Until next Monday

Download the lead sheet of Arjen’s bag

John McLaughlin Extrapolation

Do you want to receive my free lessons?

Sheet music, harmony lessons, music theory and musical analysis.