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Whilst often written in 3/4 or 6/4, it is not a jazz waltz, since the feel alternates between simple meter and compound meter. On Miles Smiles (Miles Davis), the band playfully explores the correlation between African-based 12/8 (or 6/8) and 4/4. Drummer Tony Williams freely moves from swing, to the three-over-two cross rhythm—and to its 4/4 correlative. The ground of four main beats is maintained throughout the piece. The bass switches to 4/4 at 2:20. Carter’s 4/4 figure is known as "tresillo" in Afro-Cuban music and is the duple-pulse correlative of the 12/8 figure. This may have been the first overt expression of systemic, African-based cross-rhythm used by a straight ahead jazz group. During Davis’s first trumpet solo, Williams shifts to a 4/4 jazz ride pattern while Carter continues the 12/8 bass line. The following example shows the 12/8 and 4/4 forms of the bass line. The slashed noteheads indicate the main beats (not bass notes), where one ordinarily taps their foot to "keep time."
Harmonically, it takes the form of a 12-bar C minor blues, but this is masked not only by its triple time signature but by its avant garde turnaround (series of chords that return to the main, or I chord). In the key of C minor, a normal turnaround would be Dm7(♭5), G7, Cm7. But Shorter doubles the harmonic rhythm of the turnaround, and the progression reads: F♯m7♭5, F7♯11, Eaug7(♯9), A7(♯9), Cm7. In jazz jam sessions and for educational purposes players often choose D7♯11 Db7♯11 Cm7 as turnaround, which also fits with the original melody. Although the song has a C minor feel, the melody is actually in C Dorian, as it has A natural rather than A flat.
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