I want to look at two songs. One is the 1959 ballad Naima taken from John Coltrane’s game changer Giant Steps, and the other is Erykah Badu’s Other Side of the Game, produced by Richard Nichols and The Roots, taken from her 1997 album, Baduizm.

Erykah Badu

On the face of it, there do not seem to be too many comparisons that can be drawn here – Coltrane’s harmonically ambiguous ballad seems miles away from Badu’s neo soul number – but they share a chord: Eb+#9/A. Both form part of a complex cadence in the key of Ab. Let’s look at the tunes individually.

Firstly, it’s worth becoming familiar with the naming conventions of the chords and you can read more about them here.

Naima


Melody

Harmonised

Please note I’m using the sub octave treble clef for the following examples, otherwise there would be ledger lines all over the place.

Naima is in two parts, the A section (which we will look at) being underpinned by an Eb pedal provided by the double bass with a light 12/8 swing.

The chords are Bb-7, Eb-7, A+Δ/B, G+Δ/A and AbΔ which could be understood as ii, v, bII, VII, I in Ab.

Notice also that G+Δ/A is an inversion of Eb+#9/A.

Other Side of the Game

Wikipedia states that, “the song effectively showcases Badu’s debt to jazz as well as soul”. The voicings throughout are beautifully put together and a clear nod to her jazzier roots (notice the Charlie Parker poster at 0.19).

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.58.58

The chorus of this track is where I want to focus, starting at 0.25. The basic chord progression is in Ab, starting with DbΔ9, AbΔ9, EΔ7 and Eb+#9/A. Perhaps the simplest way of understanding this is IV, I, bVI, V.

The Chord

At first, this strange choice of voicing may look bizarre. The notes are A, G, B, Eb and F# (this could be considered a Gb enharmonically, but F# makes more sense in this context). It’s not heard, but a Db would be a nice addition and make the chord a fully fledged Eb+7(#9)/A that uses all of the notes from the Eb Altered scale.

In short, the Altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor. Wikipedia suggests to use the E melodic minor to solo over the G+△/A chord in Naima, and of course this would be fine, although I feel viewing the chords as V is more useful to the structure.

If you’re unfamiliar with the altered scale, you can read about it here.

In the key of Ab, Eb functions as a V chord and often prepares the I, as it does in the case with Naima; in Other Side of the Game, it loops back to Db in the chorus (the IV chord) and the I chord at the end of the chorus (the verse begins with an Ab).

When this as a heavily extended V chord, the progressions make for much clearer reading and it’s easier to understand how to use this voicing in your own compositions.

I’d be interested in anyone else’s thought on this, please leave a comment if you agree/disagree or have anything to add! I’ll leave you with an interesting cover of Naima by 4Hero. Enjoy!