Egyptian Danza appears on Al Di Meola’s 1978 album, Casino.
The tune is an instrumental which is divided into several sections,
0:00 – 0:22 – Keyboard intro
0:23 – 0:40 – Intro riff
0:41 – 1:45 – Main theme, repeated once
1:46 – 3:00 – Accelerando section
3:01 – 3:26 – Second theme – ‘trading section’ with keyboard
3:27 – 3:55 – Guitar solo
3:55 – 4:20 – Keyboard solo
4:21 – 4:45 – Interlude
4:46 – 5:00 – Main theme (truncated)
5:01 – 5:22 – Coda
5:23 – 5:57 – Free time
Egyptian Danza is underpinned by a lengthy chord progression which, although it can be analysed as essentially belonging to a single key, shifts between several tonal centres. Because of this, I will consider each section (outlined above) separately.
Like much of the tune, the intro riff has a 12/8 time signature and consists of 12 bars divided into 2-bar phrases. The 2-bar phrases alternate between two bars containing a run outlining a C sharp dominant seventh chord
and two bars containing either a single C sharp note, or several notes encircling C sharp. All of the 2-bar phrases consisting of repeated C sharp notes are rhythmically varied each time they occur, and two phrases contain percussive muting of an open string, a trademark of Di Meola’s style.
Throughout the intro, the guitar riff is doubled at the octave by the bass guitar, and the keyboard plays chords at 26-29 and 38-40 seconds. In these bars the keyboard plays a C sharp sus flat 2 chord over repeated C sharp-note ideas, reinforcing the C sharp dominant sound of the intro riff. The C sharp sus flat 2 and C sharp dominant chords can be heard as the tonic of the C sharp phrygian dominant mode, the fifth mode of the F sharp harmonic minor scale.
Beginning at 0:41 of the tune, the main-theme section is also in 12/8. When played initially it consists of 26 bars – 18 bars of the theme and 8 bars functioning like a turnaround – but contains only 18 bars when repeated. The 26-bar section is played over the following progression, the chords of which are often only implied by the guitar, keyboard and/or bass guitar, a feature common to the entire tune. (In this example, pairs of chords which are immediately repeated are shown only once).
All of these chords, except for F sharp major, can be taken from the harmonised F sharp harmonic and F sharp melodic minor scales.
The F sharp major chord can be heard as a secondary dominant to the B minor chord played at 0:47 of the tune.
Although the majority of these chords are taken from the harmonised F sharp harmonic and F sharp melodic minor scales, during the main theme Di Meola freely uses other related scales and modes to enrich the F sharp minor sound world (this too is a feature of the tune). We have already seen the use of the C sharp phrygian dominant mode in the intro melody and Di Meola continues to use it over the C sharp sus flat 2 chords at the beginning of this section.
Over the following F sharp chords Di Meola plays F sharp minor and F sharp major arpeggios respectively (as noted earlier, the F sharp major arpeggio can be heard as the secondary dominant of B minor). Over the B minor chords (beginning at 0:47) Di Meola implies the key of B minor by using A sharp, the leading note of that key. Through all of the bars containing B minor chords, however, the A sharp is used only as a lower neighbour or incomplete lower neighbour note and can therefore be heard as a chromatic decoration of the B note rather than a confirmation of that key. Composers have long been using this technique of suggesting a key by using appropriate accidentals while never actually modulating to it.
Over the B minor chord beginning at 0:50 Di Meola plays a run using his trademark palm muting technique which he intersperses throughout this tune. (Palm muting is indicated by the letters P.M on the score – see above).
The B diminished chord which follows can be heard as a passing chord formed as part of the voice-leading between the B minor and C sharp major chords. The fifth of the B diminished chord (F natural) unites the B diminished and C sharp major chords as it is the enharmonic equivalent of E sharp, the third of C sharp major.
Over the B diminished and the following C sharp major and F sharp minor chords Di Meola uses the F sharp harmonic minor scale.
At 0:59, beginning a bar before the G sharp 5 chord, Di Meola plays a run which uses both the descending form of the F sharp melodic minor scale and part of the fourth mode of the D octatonic scale.
The fourth mode of the D octatonic scale, and any other octatonic-scale mode beginning with a tone, is also known as a 2 plus 1 scale; the 2 refers to the two semitones in a tone which makes up the first interval of the scale, while the 1 refers to a semitone, which makes up the second interval; these intervals are then alternated to form the scale. It is believed that this scale may have its origins in the Middle East, which may explain its inclusion in Egyptian Danza. The scale’s sound, when played over the appropriate note, or notes, along with its connection to the Middle East, has also led to it being called the Arabian Guitar scale.
Over the E5 and F sharp 5 chords which follow, Di Meola’s melody is constructed using a pentachord beginning from the note F sharp.
Although this pentachord is common to both the F sharp harmonic and F sharp melodic minor scales, it is difficult to determine which scale Di Meola is using as the pentachord avoids the notes of both scales’ upper tetrachords.
Given that the descending form of the F sharp melodic minor scale contains an E natural note, connecting it with the E note of the E5 harmony, it is probably this scale which Di Meola is using. However, by using a pentachord formed from the root note of these scales Di Meola essentially makes the scale choice irrelevant. In this way, pentachords can give melodic freedom as they can be used to create melodies which would typically need to be modified with accidentals to fit the underlying progression, or, would need more than one scale to form the melody.
Beginning at 1:04, the same run, initially heard at 0:59, combining the descending F sharp melodic minor scale with the F sharp 2 plus 1 scale is used.
The 8 bars functioning like a turnaround begin with two 2-bar phrases which melodically use the C sharp phrygian dominant mode over the C sharp sus flat 2 bars and the F sharp 2 plus 1 scale in the bars which follow.
The notes of the melody played over the final chords of the turnaround, beginning with the A sus 2 chord, can either be derived from the F sharp 2 plus 1 scale or from the ascending F sharp melodic minor scale.
Only the B major chord of this progression is found in the harmonised F sharp 2 plus 1 scale whereas, as mentioned previously, the other chords (including B major) can be found in the harmonised F sharp melodic minor scale.
This, perhaps, suggests that Di Meola was thinking in terms of the melodic minor scale when constructing this melody. It should be noted, however, as with the use of the F sharp minor pentachord discussed earlier, the notes of this melody use notes common to both the F sharp melodic minor and F sharp 2 plus 1 scales and avoid notes such as the fifth degree of the F sharp 2 plus 1 scale (C natural) which, over these chords, would need to be treated either as a chromatic non-harmony note or harmonised with an appropriate chord. Di Meola’s use of these shared scale fragments allows him to employ them over different harmonies.
Although, over the final chords of the turnaround Di Meola may have melodically been thinking in terms of the F sharp melodic minor scale, his note choices again imply other modes and keys. The final melodic run, beginning at 1:16, for example, when played over the C sharp sus flat 2 chord implies the C sharp phrygian dominant mode (see above).
We also saw earlier how Di Meola implied the key of B minor with the use of A sharp. Through this type of tonal manipulation the following tonal centres can be applied to the first two sections of Egyptian Danza.
As mentioned previously, these tonal centres expand certain chords into temporary ‘tonics’ without necessarily modulating into the relevant key/s. Often, as here, the move to and from these temporary tonics can be an expansion of a typical progression. For example, the move to B minor at 0:47, which expands chord vii in the C sharp phrygian dominant mode, is echoed in the final two chords of the turnaround bars where it is used as a cadence. This cadential VII – I move is common in many styles of music.
As its name implies, the accelerando section, beginning at 1:46, uses several melodic ideas which are repeated as the tempo gradually increases. This section has a 4/4 time signature as the beats of the bars are divided ‘in two’ rather than ‘in three’ as are the triplets of the previous sections.
Throughout this section, the notes of the guitar melody are derived from the F sharp harmonic minor scale, with many of the ideas taken from this 9th-fret scale shape.
Beginning at 2:23, however, is a section, later repeated, which centres the scale on A thereby implying the A Ionian sharp 5 mode, the third mode of the F sharp harmonic minor scale.
Throughout the passages using the A Ionian sharp 5 mode, Di Meola uses percussive muting of open strings and palm muting to further differentiate these passages from the passages centred around F sharp minor.
Second theme – ‘trading section’.
At 3:01, the 12/8 time signature returns. This section, consisting of 18 bars, is divided into 2-bar phrases alternating between the guitar and keyboard ‘trading’ two-bar melodies. The ‘trading’ section is played over the following progression.
The C sharp sus flat 2 and B major chords are each played for 8 bars while the G sharp 5 and A5 chords are each played for a single bar. Over the C sharp sus flat 2 chord Di Meola’s melody again uses the C sharp phrygian dominant mode
and, over the B major chord Di Meola simply plays the same idea a tone lower using the B phrygian dominant mode, the fifth mode of the E harmonic minor scale.
It must be remembered that although all of the chords in this section are found in the key of F sharp minor (derived from the F sharp melodic minor scale), Di Meola chooses to treat the B major chord as the root of the B phrygian dominant mode as this means he can use the same melody he used over the C sharp sus flat 2 chord transposed a major second lower.
The progression from the previous second theme/trading section is also used for the guitar-solo section. However, a further two bars, consisting of the following run played over a C sharp sus flat 2 chord, is added at the end. These additional bars extend this section to 20 bars.
The same 2-bar melodies played by the guitar in the previous section are also used here, although in these bars, it is the guitar which ‘trades’ with these ideas.
Di Meola’s solos use the C sharp phrygian dominant mode over the C sharp sus flat 2 chord – with the occasional inclusion of the note (E natural) found a minor third above the root note of the mode. This E note is typically used as an incomplete neighbour note or passing note
Over the B major chord, Di Meola uses the B phrygian dominant mode, and here, again, he occasionally includes the note (D natural) found a minor third above the root note of the mode.
The inclusion, along with the mode’s major third, of a minor third interval above the root note of each mode suggests Di Meola was thinking in terms of a combination of the descending form of the melodic minor scale, with its minor seventh degree, and the harmonic minor and phrygian dominant modes which contain a raised seventh degree. The combination of these scales is a feature we’ll encounter again later in this tune.
The same 18-bar chord progression from the second theme/trading section is used under the keyboard-solo section. Once again, the alternating 2-bar phrases are used, this time with the keyboard trading ideas. Over the final 2-bar G sharp 5 – A5 progression of this section, Di Meola plays a short melody which ascends from the note G sharp to C sharp, the third of the final A5 chord.
The Interlude section consists of 19 bars and is played over the following progression. (As before, in this example, pairs of chords which are immediately repeated are shown only once).
All of these chords can be derived from the F sharp melodic minor scale, although Di Meola once again also uses other related scales. For example, after each 2-bar G sharp 5 – A5 progression a single bar of 6/8 is interspersed. In these 6/8 bars, Di Meola uses the F sharp 2 plus 1 scale which contrasts with the use of the F sharp harmonic minor and F sharp melodic minor scales used for the remainder of this section’s melodic material.
The inclusion of these 6/8 bars helps to accent the rhythm of the melody by shortening the usual four beats of the bar to two.
As before, throughout this section, Di Meola freely uses the notes E natural and E sharp, with the E natural typically used as a passing note between D and E sharp. This usage implies Di Meola is treating the F sharp harmonic minor scale as the main scale with the E natural used as a chromatic decoration. However, beginning at 4:39 is a run which reverses this configuration and the descending F sharp melodic minor scale is used with a passing E sharp.
This section concludes with a G sharp 5 chord, which can be heard as the dominant of the C sharp phrygian dominant mode, and which leads the tune back to the main theme beginning at 4:46.
Truncated Main Theme
The truncated main theme uses only part of the opening progression before moving to the coda.
The coda section use the following progression. (Again, in this example, pairs of chords which are immediately repeated are shown only once).
This progression continues the juxtaposition between the keys of F sharp minor and C sharp phrygian dominant used throughout this tune. For example, the F sharp minor – B minor – C sharp major progression can be heard both as a i – iv – V progression in F sharp minor, or, as a iv – vii – I progression in the C sharp phrygian dominant mode. It is not until the final C sharp major chord is played that some feeling of resolution in that mode is felt. Although, even here, the C sharp major chord is preceded by a 2-bar run which predominantly uses the descending form of the F sharp melodic minor scale – and therefore uses the note E natural not E sharp – this run also concludes on an A natural note suggesting a chord other than C sharp major.
Despite this ambiguity, the concluding free-time section helps to resolve the tune in the C sharp phrygian dominant mode.
Techniques and concepts used in Egyptian Danza:
Percussive muting of open strings
Use of accidentals to suggest a key which is not modulated into
Palm muting technique
Modes of octatonic scale – 2 plus 1 scale, Arabian guitar scale
Juxtaposition between keys