John Coltrane’s seminal modal jazz composition ‘Impressions’ is as challenging as anything he composed even though it only has two chords in it. The form is 16 bars of D-7 followed by a bridge section of Ebmin7 for 8 bars, and finally 8 more bars of D-7 again at which point the form repeats. The default scale/mode used to improvise over both these minor chords, is the Dorian Mode.
*So for the D-7 the Dorian Scale looks like this:
*For the Eb-7 the Dorian Scale looks like this:
Although the default scale for the chords in this tune is the Dorian Scale, John McLaughlin’s solo is by no means completely relegated to using just the Dorian Scale. McLaughlin makes liberal use of both chromaticism and also of the Melodic Minor Scale in which the 7th degree of the scale is major. This adds a different color so to speak to both minor chords. I will cover the Melodic Minor Scale in more detail in future columns. Suffice to say that the master improviser (in this case guitarist John McLaughlin) incorporates several different melodic devices, scales, intervals, modes, and chromatic passing notes to get the widest array of colors available to him or her. This solo has a lot of 32nd notes in it. Don’t be scared by this. It’s not so important that you play this solo rhythmically perfect but rather that you discover the different melodic shapes and note patterns that are in this solo. Pick out the lines you really like and hear, and then begin to add them to your own melodic vocabulary. Many of McLaughlin’s lines lay very comfortably on the bass fingerboard because of the similarity between the guitar and the bass guitar. This is especially true if you play a 5 or 6 string bass with a high C string. I think you’ll find this solo technically challenging while at the same time it will begin to open up your ears to the sound of mixing straight modal playing with highly chromatic passages. When both of these ways of playing are combined it sounds really cool. Good luck with this. See you in the summer!
Please click below below to download the transcription of guitarist John McLaughlin’s solo on the John Coltrane tune called “Impressions.”