WEDNESDAY, November 4, 2020 – 2:13 AM
Jacob Collier is about another universe away from my own musical world. What he does it like listening to an alien. His voice is freaky, and you have to have really good pitch to understand how incredibly accurate his pitch is. He gets down into baritone range, but he sings also up into what is called “counter tenor” range. This is very diatonic, meaning that he sticks with a key until he moves to another, and he stays pretty much in that key. But he’s comfortable in any key, and he has all his fundamentals down to a tee.
He starts in Eb major
He’s entirely in that key, so it’s very modal, with pretty much an Ionian or Aeolian feel. It uses only those notes – Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb. He could have done it in C major, all white keys.
Up a half tone HERE
He hits a sweet Bsus9 chord – lovely chord – and that brings him to E major. I don’t think he cares what key he’s in.
Move to G major HERE
A sus7 to Asus7/D, which is just a very fancy Dsus9 and that takes him to G major. He’s now going up to high D in falsetto, and down to low G. That’s a range of two octaves and a 5th. With absolutely control. Still very diatonic. No surprise, until. what comes next.
He moves again HERE
This time he uses what I call a “reverse pedal tone”. Instead of keeping the bass note, he does this: He keeps D at the top, sort of Asus7 to G to Csus9, Ebsus9, Db/F, Gbmaj7, Ab6, but there’s a 9 there and the 6 is up as 13. He has to go to B7, to get to E, so he’s going to play around and land in E major. At this point chord names start to fail, but I can play all the chords. He goes up now to high E, up in high alto range.
And he moves again HERE
He just threw in a huge change. Bsus9 to Db. How did he do that? 9 is C#, but C# is also Db, which he uses as a common tone for his new key. Eventually he gets up to high E, though I forget exactly where. That’s fairly high alto range.
Now, let’s trace the modulations
He started in Eb, moved to E, then to G, then to E, then finally to Db.
Is he doing something really different?
Yes and no. The old masters wrote in a key, and the rule was that they had to get back there. If a movement of symphony started in Eb, it had to get back there at the end. Today you can start in any key and end in any other key, So the fact that he starts in Eb, wanders, and ends in Db does not matter to him. But otherwise he’s using the same old rules, with lots of sus chords. One thing he did was very like something I heard in a Haydn symphony, from more than two centuries ago.
Is this really original?
Actually, no. It’s almost conservative in jazz terms, so nothing really new. What’s great about it is how he does it. Those modulations are masterful, and he’s absolutely at home in each key. When he moves you can miss it because it’s so smooth. I admire the craft, the perfection of the basics and his overall conception, which I think is absolutely stunning.