The Unexpected Influence

Every now and then, I hear something in a piece of music that I know I have heard before – be it a melody or chord progression.

This is a rather bald statement. The truth is that it is very hard to hear any music that does not contain elements heard before. So what separates the new from the merely derivative?

Not an easy question to answer, and I’m not sure I can.

Anyway, these thoughts popped into my mind while listening to The Beta Band track, Assessment, from the Heroes to Zeroes CD. This track contains a very distinctive set of chord changes that I have recognizably heard once before, on the Carlos Santana/John McLaughlin album, Love Devotion Surrender, specifically on the track The Life Divine. This version is a hypercharged guitar jam over the vamp of this particular chord sequence and remains my favorite track on the album.

Considering it’s really a very basic descending sequence, I am surprised I have not heard it elsewhere, but there it is. At least The Beta Band had inspiration to write a very affecting song around it. Whether they thought of it on their own, or whether they picked it up from the Santana/McLaughlin album who knows. The only clue is in the title Assessment – which is close to the Ascension or Acknowledgement title used for the title of a Coltrane album and part of the A Love Supreme suite respectively. Love Devotion Surrender draws on Coltrane for two cuts.

Tenuous at best. But that’s all part of the fun of trying to trace musical influences.

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