Iranian New Music Series P. 4 – Hafiz Modizradeh

In Chromodal Discourse…

Hafez Modirzadeh

Photo by Walter Wagner

Text by Dawoud Kringle

The approach to improvisation that Ornette Coleman pioneered in the late 1950s and early 1960s rewrote the book on musical improvisation. However, Coleman’s paradigm shift was only the beginning. San Francisco based composer, saxophonist, and musical theorist Hafez Modirzadeh is among the forerunners of a significant transformation in improvised music, picking up where Coleman left off, and taking it into new places.

I first became aware of Modizradeh’s work when I read his dissertation Chromodality and the Cross Cultural Exchange of Musical Structure. It was, for me, an eye opener and a game changer in my own musical studies. Like the teachings of Yusef A. Lateef, Modizradeh presented a systematic, yet open ended and all inclusive methodology for the merging of musical elements and concepts from divergent cultures.

Hafez Modirzadeh has performed and recorded with Yusef Komunyakaa, Vijay Iyer, Bobby Bradford, Ken Filiano, Royal Hartigan, Selvaganesh Vinayakram, Graham Haynes, and others. His CDs have been released on Pi Records.

Modizradeh has published and lectured internationally on original cross-cultural musical concepts which include Convergence Liberation (in Critical Studies in Improvisation, 2011), Compost Music (in Leonardo, 2009), Aural Archetypes (in Black Music Research, 2001), as well as Chromodality (for Wesleyan University, 1992). Twice an NEA Jazz Fellowship, Modirzadeh received a Senior Fulbright Award in 2006 to work with Flamenco and Gnawan traditions in Andalucia and Morocco, and again in 2014, to research Turkish Makam harmonization in Ankara. He is currently a Professor of Creative/World Music at San Francisco State University.

One of Modizradeh’s greatest accomplishments was the development of what he calls Chromodal Discourse. Using the concept of interchanging tetramodes found in Persian radif, he widened the parameters of this “mode splicing” (a colorful term of my own invention) in a way that excludes the music of no culture or historical period. Instrumentally, Modizradeh usually favors the jazz ensemble and instrumentation.

One example of this is his treatment of John Coltrane’s monumental Giant Steps. Instead of the standard practice of building substitutions from the chords, he superimposed classical Japanese modes (Miyako Bushi, Ritsu, and Ryukyu) over implied chord changes. He did this with Monk’s Round Midnight as well.

This, and other experiments in the development of music theory give Modizradeh’s music a unique legitimacy. His compositions and theories bring modal music and his jazz foundation to a place never before realized in the search for beauty, the sublimity of musical meaning.