Of all the great instructors
at the festival known as Jazz on the Mountain
at Whistler (or JOMAW, to those in the
know), one of the nicest tones and most
delicate touches came courtesy of Lorne
Lofsky. The Oscar Peterson sideman held
a riveting master class where he covered
a variety of topics, including an introduction
to quartal harmony, or diatonic harmony
based on fourths.
Anyone familiar with the piano work of
jazz greats like Bill Evans or the guitar playing
of Pat Martino or Joe Diorio will recognize
the sound of quartal harmony. For the
uninitiated, quartal harmony has an open,
modern sound that is somewhat ambiguous
in terms of major or minor tonality.
Lofsky effortlessly created huge, pianistic
voicings and vamps with these shapes.
“I’m going to play diatonic fourths in
D major,” he explained, “but I’m going to
play them over E, so it’s E Dorian.” The
notes of the E Dorian mode are shown in
Ex. 1, and Lofsky’s series of fourth shapes is
shown in Ex. 2.
These forms are easy to grab
and simple to move around. Pay attention
to the G-C#-F# grouping on the and of one
and the D-G-C# on the and of two. The augmented
fourths in those chords add additional
color and tension. Also, resist the
temptation to move these voicings off the
A, D, and G strings until absolutely necessary,
as Lofsky explains, referencing one of
the all-time greats, Lenny Breau.
“What Lenny would do,” says Lofsky, “is
voice those fourth shapes on the higher frets
on the A, D, and G strings. That makes it possible
to add a diatonic fifth to each chord.” He
then barred across the seventh fret to play
the E-A-D-B voicing shown on the downbeat
of Ex. 3 before hammering a high D above
it. Cruise up through the other shapes in a
similar fashion. (Because we’re avoiding the
B string, you can’t just strum through these
voicings. You’ll need to carefully grab them
with all your picking-hand fingers or employ
a thumbpick and fingers like Lofsky.) Against
the low-E pedal tone, these chords make for
a super-hip approach. “They sound much
bigger than standard guitar shapes,” he says.
Ex. 4 takes the same idea but plays it in
a descending fashion. This is where the
jazz truly meets the rock, because these
sounds add up to a Michael Schenker via
Alex Skolnick take on Schenker’s classic
“Rock Bottom” solo. The first beat of bar 2
is a little tricky to fret but worth the effort.
Ex. 5 actually simplifies things a bit in
order to make these shapes more mobile.
Although the voicings created can be called
a variety of names, such as Em11, Bsus2/E,
etc, don’t worry about that right now.
Just look at the collection of chords as an
intriguing way to create drama over an E
pedal tone. Fair warning: Once you start
down this road, these rich sounds can be