Volume 8, January 2017
Revolution in Action: A Motivic Analysis of "Ghosts: First Variation" As Performed by Gary Peacock

by Robert Sabin, Ph.D.


1 Alternately labeled "free jazz," "avant-garde," and/or "the new thing."

2 Sabin (2015) pp. 417-418.

3 See Wilmer (1977), Jost (1974) as well as Bley and Lee (1999) and Bley and Meehan (2003) for thorough documentation of this era, techniques employed by artists, and cultural critique.

4 Spiritual Unity was recorded one day after Peacock recorded two tracks for the landmark "Individualism" album by Gil Evans, demonstrating the dramatic and diverse nature of the bassist's work from the period.

5 Wilmer (1977) Jost (1974) Gridley (2006), Litweiler (1990).

6 Quersin (1965).

7 Ayler's performance is notated in concert pitch throughout. Further, this paper will deal specifically with the first half of the track and Peacock's concomitant playing with Ayler. For a detailed discussion and analysis of the bass solo see Sabin (2015).

8 See Kenny Dorham's Downbeat review (1965) for an amusing and vitriolic assessment of this recording, including the assessment of Peacock's playing as, amongst other things, "bewildering."

9 As quoted in Quersin (1965) pp. 4-5: "When Albert plays, I play, and I don't know what I play and I'm glad I don't know. In a way it's very impersonal: the emphasis is more on the fact of doing nothing than on doing something. I realize this is probably hard to understand, but it is this absence that gives this music its quality, its life. And it is different from that in bop where it is precisely the presence of certain elements which gives it its quality . . . It is very possible, however, that it will happen in the future as it happened to bop and that it will be precisely the presence of certain elements that will then be fixed that will one day give it its validity."

10 The interpretation of this tempo as actually half, versus a half time feel is a subjective one, and reflects the personal and intuitive nature of the analytical interpretation. The transcription of the complete performance took place over two years, with phrases being modified extensively over time not only due to the lack of referential time keeping by the group but the increasing familiarity with Peacock's idiom. Others are encouraged to transcribe the work for themselves to best confirm or deny the author's findings.

11 Also notable in the a3 motive is the momentary allusion to 4/4-meter, indicated by dotted bar lines. Whereas the constantly shifting tempos of much of the accompaniment prevent the perception of an overt metrical structure, Peacock's line at 1:06 clearly contains a syncopated four-measure phrase. The meter is suggested based upon the number of overall beats, but also the structurally significant double chromatic approach to the high A, which creates the feeling of a 4/4 grouping.

12 See Bley and Meehan (2003) for a detailed discussion of Bley's use of the term "erasure phrase." While not a term that Peacock himself uses to describe his playing (Sabin 2015), the author adapts it here as the effect of Peacock's sudden shifts in content aligns with Bley's definition of the technique, albeit a decidedly conscious one. While Bley describes this technique as the creation of an aggressively jarring and chromatic phrase, often in a differing tempo, so as to obscure the memory of melodic and rhythmic implications of previous lines, Peacock himself has repeatedly described his improvisatory process in this era as purposefully unconscious (Sabin 2015)(Buium 2001).