I've discovered the Zodiac Suite, by the great pianist, composer an arranger Mary Lou Williams. Written in 1945, the suite contains 12 parts corresponding to a sign of the zodiac and to musicians born under that sign. The suite was recorded in trio format, then played in concert with a big band (Ben Webster was guest soloist) and with an orchestra.
The trio format is fascinating. The music is very avant-garde, sounding like the 1950's third stream ; the harmonies are very modern for 1945 ; tempo changes all the time, alternating between a tempo and rubato...
I'll try to transcribe the entire Suite (eventually...) But I must say that there might be some minor mistakes in my transcription, due to poor recording quality : some voicings are really hard to recognise, as you can't really hear some of the notes...
1. Aries (dedicated to Ben Webster and Billie Holiday)
The tune starts with a nice swing theme, in the cycle of fifths. The you have some cool call and response with piano and bass, and an improvisation on a Db7 ostinato. The ending shows a very quiet tone (Bm/Cm), then some big chords on a C pedal.
2. Taurus (dedicated to Duke Ellington, Ellis Larkins and Mary Lou Williams herself)
There's almost no improvisation in this tune in trio format – but it's still jazz to me :) Check the great b9 chords you can see in measures 14 or 34, and the nice sounding 13h chords meas. 31 !
3. Gemini (dedicated to Benny Goodman, Harold « Shorty » Baker (then Williams' husband) and Miles Davis)
Here a more playful one. It begins with two bass lines : a descending Dm arpeggio overlapping an ascending CM arpegio. I love the way Williams plays with the melody (a simple CM scale in thirds), adding a note each time it's repeated. Then there's some boogie woogie !
4. Cancer (dedicated to Lem Davis)
Another one without improvisation. It's a duet with bassist Al Lucas, with a beautiful dark and sad theme in Ebm. I love the chords played at the end of the theme (mes 4 to 6, for example).
Measure 23, the theme is played in tempo with the bass. The first times the theme is played, it's played rubato : it seems that the rythmic notation needs to be a little different, so I choose to write it as i hear it (hence the weird 3/4 notation).
5. Leo (dedicated to Vic Dickenson)
This tune is a kind of march, with a middle section with wide chords.
6. Virgo (dedicated to Leonard Feather)
Lead sheet version
This tune swings a lot (sometimes it even looks like early bebop). Written parts alternate with "classic" improvised ones, so I decided to make a leadsheet (well, a simpler version of the score) so you can have fun with it !
Have you seen the wonderful ending chords ?
7. Libra (dedicated to the "dearest friends, Dizzy, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Monk)
A solo piano song, with a lot going on. It's hard to tell how much it's written, how much it's improvised. I love the Scriabin-like part meas. 41.
I've indicated the new sections by a doubled bar line, you can pause a little there.
Other tunes :
This one is a blues, based in the first section on a great riff (MLW has a gift for great bass lines). The next section is more common; I had trouble transcribing the left hand, as it's nearly inaudible, but I'm sure you can fill the blanks by yourself :)
Some nive harmonies, a cool melody, some stride… Everything we need !