Tokaido Time – [a brief commentary]

Click here to listen to ‘Tokaido Time’ – [redirects to YouTube in a separate window]

‘Tokaido Time’ is the first in a series of three short sketches uploaded to YouTube in April 2021. It is loosely based on my experience of local railway line, the Tokaido line, which connects the city of Hamamatsu as far north as Atami.

The sketch nods heavily towards the works of Uehara Hiromi, an internationally renowned jazz pianist who originates from Hamamatsu city, where I currently live.

The sketch was also influenced by the work of Inaizumi Lyn and producer Suzue Machiko in their original soundtrack for the Atlus title “Persona 5”. Japanese rail travel, although not explicitly referenced in the soundtrack, remains an integral part of the project’s exposition and whenever I take public transport in this country, I fondly recall their music and feel as if I am immersed in that ‘world’.

In terms of the composition’s theory, Tokaido Time is an exercise in harmonic substitution around a consistent note. As can be seen in fig. A below, the harmony in the primary riff moves progressively from a C maj 7 chord, C # diminished minor 7, B minor (1st inversion) to E minor in root position. In short, the upper note from every chord (B natural) remains unchanged whilst everything else moves around it.

[fig. a – core harmonic progression for the primary riff]

I liken the harmonic substitution to taking a train on several different occasions – it’s never going to be exactly the same train or the same carriage or seat but there is going to be some kind of underlying similarity which ties it all together with your previous experience… Otherwise, your experience would be totally perplexing!

Fig B. is as far as I felt necessary in terms of writing score for the sketch. The central riff from bars 2-5 simply loop and on occasion transpose. The nice thing about writing a consistent note which the harmony substitutes around is that it affords greater freedom to the performer as to where you can transpose to. Theoretically I could jump to E minor or G major without much difficulty – I opted for a relatively comfortable jump to the relative minor.

[fig. b – introduction to Tokaido time]

In short, there are many directions a performer can take the harmony and many ways they can improvise over it. I’ve been extremely conservative in my own performance. If anyone finds this and wants to try, I hope you have fun!

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