Early Thoughts on the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization:

I’ve been re-reading the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization by George Russell lately. I’m still early on into it, and have been taking my time to try to digest it all as I go, but have been enjoying it thoroughly ^.^

When I first read it years ago as a saxophonist, despite at the time getting a lot out of it, I don’t think I internalized the book the way it’s intended to be processed. If I’m honest, a lot of it went over my head and I struggled to really feel the purpose of examples used to validate the concepts. The explicit goal of the book after all is to inspire creativity and shape how you hear and understand tonality, so I’m happy to be revisiting to try to get more from it. It almost requires a pianist’s perspective to really appreciate and learn from, even including examples from The Well Tempered Clavier later in.

The core of the book, is that the Lydian mode is a stronger tonal center. Lydian, unlike Major, can be built entirely using stacked fifths in what the book calls a self-organized ‘tonal gravity field’, where each 5th ‘surrenders’ to the note below. This gives it a form of ‘tonal magnetism’ flowing in a downward direction, forming the basis of the principle of tonal gravity that Russell cites as the fundamental principle of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Between that, and every interval being possible to form from the tonic of Lydian, it makes a convincing argument of the concept it spends the remainder of the book further justifying.

What’s ended up being a highlight to me of this, is the way it subtly reframes major and traditional harmony and allows me to find new depth within it. Noticing Lydian’s vertical consistency and prioritizing the 5th makes Major’s prioritizing the 4th and having horizontal momentum more apparent. With the tritone being the only odd interval out that can’t be formed from the tonic of Major and the tritone being the basis of the V-I resolution, it highlights what Russell describes as 'goal pressure' in traditional harmony.

Major almost has a lopsided feel to it that causes it to gain momentum and never quite feel “finished”, and I find a unique almost baroque beauty to that (as in, the origin of the term baroque being the Portugese word ‘barroco’ meaning ‘misshapen pearl’ rather than the music genre, excuse the pun). The constantly unfinished quality inherent to it, a strive without end or full resolution, calls to mind a Freud quote about libidal theory - “We must reckon with the possibility that something in the nature of the sexual instinct itself is unfavorable to the realization of complete satisfaction.”

It almost makes quartal harmony, and the ways artists like Mccoy Tyner and Bill Evans use it, feel like a more 'aware' expression of major harmony, highlighting and playing with the ‘goal pressure’ to either lean into it or even obscure that momentum, using the pull of major harmony as yet another tool at their disposal to create.

Anyway, it’s a good book I recommend checking it out if you can ^.^