About Moonflower Waltz:

This piece, as the title suggests, is inspired by the alchemical symbolism of the Moon. More specifically, the symbolism of the High Priestess Tarot Key, which corresponds to the Moon and alchemical silver.  Numbered 2 in the series of the Major Arcana, Tarot expert and mystic Paul Foster Case explains in numerous works that the High Priestess is a symbol for the Subconscious mind, the flow of thoughts and ideas that connect all being and underpin, yet rests upon, physical existence.  We will only touch on this symbolism here, for those who are interested in deeper study on this subject we recommend you read Case’s The Tarot : A Key to The Wisdom of The Ages, or checkout The Builders of The Adytum, the organization founded by Case that continues the dissemination of his teachings.

The High Priestess is also assigned the Hebrew letter ג (gimel), which has an enumeration of 3.  It was with this symbolism in mind that we used this specific version of jazz waltz rhythm for Moonflower Waltz.  In ¾ time, this rhythm has an emphasis on the eighth note after beat two in the rhythm section (the “and of two”), particularly in the drums.  This subtly implied accent gives the illusion of 6/8 time, wherein the eight notes are grouped into two groups of 3, giving the music a feeling of two beats per measure.  Digging slightly deeper into the imagery of the Tarot Key, The High Priestess is seated on a cube in many versions of the card, a six sided figure that represents the physical world according to the Pythagorean tradition.  Even in versions wherein she is enthroned or seated on a chair, the seat still suggests the general shape of a cube, which is also the shape of a salt crystal, salt being an Alchemical symbol often corresponding to the material plane and to Sattva guna in Yoga and other traditions of the East.

Therefore, we have a rhythmic allusion to both numbers associated with the Moon and The High Priestess; the assigned number of 2, and the enumeration of the letter (3) ג.  However, because we are playing swung eighth notes, this 6/8 feeling isn’t quite even.  This emphasis on the skip beat of the swing jazz ride pattern  (in this case played with brushes on the snare drum) was innovated by Elvin Jones and played by many post-bop drummers. It is often called a “hump”  or “hump beat,” and implies a strong triplet subdivision within the music. This name again alludes to a meaning of the letter ג , “camel.”  Furthermore, no member of the ensemble at any time explicitly plays in either straight ¾ or 6/8 time, a further allusion to the duality symbolized by the Moon (in her opposition to the Sun), and a reminder that there is a superconsciousness above and superseding the apparent duality of self consciousness and subconsciousness. The triplet subdivision mentioned above is a reminder of both the ever-present-yet-hidden subconsciousness, as well as it’s connection to superconsciousness.  When subdivided into triplets, the piece can be conceived of as being in 9/8 time, and all of the numerological associations of the number nine are quite relevant here as well.

Harmonically, Moonflower Waltz is based on John Coltrane’s tritonic harmonic system. Coltrane, himself a highly spiritual musician and to many a saint, said that this system’s evenly spaced tonal centers, an octave divided into major thirds, represent a “magic triangle,” or, “the trinity, God, or unity.” This symbolism, in the mind of the composer of Moonflower Waltz, is clearly linked to the trinity of superconsciousness, subconsciousness, and self consciousness described above, and is paralleled in the trinity in Christianity.  The three primary tonal centers of this particular tritonic piece are C, E and G#  (Ab enharmonically).  The bridge to the tune is in D maj, so there are actually 4 tonal centers that the harmony of this tune resolves to.  Each of these tonicies has a Tarot equivalent, and we encourage students of Tarot and Kabbalah to explore this symbolism. Most significant to this piece and it’s esoteric theme is that G# (Ab) is correlated with The High Priestess, and the tonal center in which the piece resolves in the final measure.

Coltrane’s chord changes, like much jazz harmony, are based on the building blocks of diatonic popular music of the first half of the twentieth century, chords moving from ii to V7 to I maj7 (a two minor chord or superdominant, to a five-seven dominant chord, to resolve on the tonic major seventh chord; ii-V7-I).  The bass notes of these chords, in any key, are separated by an interval of an ascending perfect fourth or descending fifth.  Since the advent of Bebop in the 1940’s, jazz musicians have innovated various ways to manipulate this harmonic movement and its various elements to create a wide range of musical effects including reharmonizations, deceptive cadences, and pantonality as in the case of the Coltrane tritonic system.  A study of the music of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Benny Golson and many others will reveal how these techniques have been employed, particularly when comparing bebop adaptations and contrafacts of standard tunes to their musical theater and popular song origins.

Moonflower Waltz incorporates several of these effects to create both a feeling and mathematical/ music theory expression of the concepts associated with The High Priestess Tarot Key and her correspondences.  The first eight measures of the tune move through several tonal centers to resolve in the eighth bar in the key of C major.  The chords alternate between dominant 7th chords to a minor 7th chord a 4th up, then down a minor second to the next dominant 7th chord and the pattern continues from bar 1-6.  Musically, this is a very smooth and fluid chord progression, suggestive of the water nature associated with the High Priestess and the moon.  If we analyze all the dominant 7th chords as V7 chords and the minor 7th chords as ii minor chords, we immediately reveal two interlocking “magic triangles” or two overlaping series of the tritonic system:

 

 

E7A-7Ab7C#-7C7F-7
Moves 4th ↑Moves -2nd ↓Moves 4th ↑Moves -2nd ↓Moves 4th ↑Moves -2nd ↓
V7 in A majorii7 in G majorV7 in Db majorii7 in B majorV7 in F majorii7 in Eb major

 

This first harmonic phase of the piece ends with a typical V7 – Imaj7 cadence in the key of C major (G7 to Cmaj7).

 

The two sets of interlaced tonal centers and the alternation of dominant and minor chord qualities are suggestive of the duality that is so central to the symbolism of this Tarot Key.  The knotted, twisting nature of the harmony of this tune contains many  twists and turns that we will leave for others to analyze and discover the occulted meanings within.

We would, however, like to point out the bridge of the piece.  Unlike the rest of the tune which twists and turns through tonalities and changes chords on every bar, the bridge stays on one chord for seven whole measures.  The chord is Dmaj7, and the root note of that chord corresponds to Key 19 of the Tarot, The Sun.  Beyond the polarity that’s obvious in the Sun/ Moon symbolism, students of The Mysteries will inevitably see why this tonality is at the center of the form of the composition and sustained for that particular amount of measures.

Like most jazz compositions prior to the innovations of free jazz and fusion music, this tune is played on a cyclical form.  However, the head and solo form has been truncated; a B7 chord at the end of the last seven bar phrase of the solo form brings the listener’s ear back to the top of the tune.  This further helps to create the sensation of connection and endlessness, and is an allusion to the symbolism of the scroll or book placed upon the High Priestess’ lap in most versions of this key. Paul Foster Case concludes his explanation of this symbol and its meaning in The Tarot thusly“Natural law is the cosmic subconscious record of every event in the innumerable cycles and sub-cycles of the Life-power’s expression.” The cyclic, unending feeling of this piece is suggestive of this aphorism.

Beyond all of this, there were many things going on in the personal life of its composer at the time of the writing of this piece which adds layers of visceral emotionality to this composition and its performance.  The music must sound and feel true, first and foremost.  It is not intended that this music be analyzed to be appreciated, but rather, by gaining a deeper understanding of the symbolism that informed its writing we hope that this music can communicate things beyond the written world or any technical analysis.

 

 

November 29, 2019