Ring Shout

“Yes. It will be jazz all over again,” I entertained myself with the thought that I will be formally learning about jazz after signing up for the class. I played saxophone in high school and was naturally exposed to jazz, thanks to my saxophone tutor. But, I don’t know, I guess my “Asian rigidity” (slightly euphemized) was too protruding–my playing did not have the natural rhythmic flexibility and my rhythm sounded affected at best. Somewhere between high school and college, my drive for playing saxophone lost momentum. Yet, I kept listening jazz.

And the first blog assignment came. As much as I was unfamiliar with blogging, the concept of ring shout trope felt elusive to me. After reading my notes, slides, Wikipedia, pages from Google, I could somewhat grasp the idea of it. Then, I jumped onto my iTunes list and found two songs: Quiet Fire by Roy Haynes and Mother of the Future Bembe Segue.





Live at Carnegie Hall, September 18, 2007

Roy Haynes is an American jazz drummer who has played more than 60 years in styles ranging from swing, bebop, to avant-garde jazz. Quiet Fire starts with Roy Haynes playing a drum solo with an irregular rhythmic pattern that soon becomes structured. After first four or five bars of structured, repetitive rhythmic pattern, piano joins in (which also plays in repetition but on a different layer). Together, they create a polyrhythm and pay vamps.  A single drum is joined by a full percussion set. Piano keeps playing in riffs. Each instrument sounds heterogeneous, creating musical individuality in a collective whole. The beats drive the song and create a lilt. Piano plays in off-beat melodic phrases against other players. Ring-shout tropes listed above pervades throughout the song so much that together they create a strong mental image of actual ring shouts. They also help the song build up to its climactic moment and subsequent cathartic release. Listening is worth thousand words. Here is the song:

8:12 Add to Added to queue



The second song I chose is Mother of the Future sung by Bembe Segue. I would like to specifically focus on the melodic aspect. Listen to the song first:





Bembe Segue

Segue makes constant repetitions of phrases such as “to be blessed” “high fly,” and “mother” with slight variations. She utilizes shouts, vocables such as “deng” and “ppa”, and, of course, melisma. When she sings in vocables in the middle, the chorus answers her. The saxophone also mimics her singing during her vocables, almost resembling a call-and-response of ring shout. Then, the saxophone takes up the baton and plays solo. The vocal quality of saxophone also demonstrates qualities similar to Segue’s vocal. The song utilizes constant rhythmic repetitions and exhibits some forms that repeat harmonic patterns that are obscured or reinforced by the vocal and the saxophone. These ring and shout tropes reinforce the power the song possesses. The audience is excited with zeal; excitement is heightened and built up constantly. Somewhat the excitement is never hostile despite their aggressive playing but rather ironically amicable.  Tension finally explodes with a cathartic release toward the end.

As clearly evidenced by these two songs, ring shout tropes are indeed prevalent in jazz.

by Kyung Kyle Lee