The most common progression for this II chord to be found is the i-II-iv-V or variations as in the following examples:
Bossa Dorado
Music To Watch Girls By

I could expect something like Phrygian II (Neapolitan II) or Lydian II (Beatles progression) but I cannot find something similar. (Maybe harmonic II?)


I've come across this chord quite often, but I've never heard any specific name for it, so I think that there is none. It is usually played as a dominant seventh chord, e.g. in A minor it would be a B7 chord. Some people would analyze it as V7/V (i.e. a secondary dominant for the dominant chord: B7 is the V of E7, which is the V of A minor). In your example progression the actual dominant chord (E7) is then delayed by the subdominant (Dm). So according to this analysis you could call the B7 chord a secondary dominant, even though this is no specific name for that exact chord because there can be many different secondary dominants. (Note that in Dutch there exists a special name for the V/V secondary dominant: wisseldominant, but I haven't come across any translation of this term into other languages.)

While I don't think that the above analysis is wrong, I believe that a better explanation is that this chord is actually a reharmonization of a diminished chord. So the original progression would be

Am(7) Ebdim7 Dm(7) E7

where the Ebdim7 is a descending non-dominant diminished chord, which works because of chromatic resolution. If you consider the progression Am7-Ebdim7-Dm then there is a chromatically descending two-part line:

Am7 - Ebdim7 - Dm
G   -  Gb    - F
E   -  Eb    - D

This is why the Ebdim7 resolves nicely to Dm, even though it has not dominant function.

What is happening in the progression you referred to is that the diminished seventh chord is reharmonized as a dominant seventh chord. This works because an Ebdim7 is enharmonically equivalent to a B7(b9) chord without the root:

Ebdim7: -  Eb Gb Bbb Dbb  (or Eb Gb A C)
B7:     B  D# F# A   C

I've come across what I call the 'original' progression (with the diminished seventh chord) mainly in Tango music.

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  • Your progression surely works well, but to my ears it lacks the unexpectancy of the major II. I think that one could write your progression -and please correct me if I am wrong- as such: Am7-Amb5dim7-Dm-E7 and that could work too, right? – Chris Mar 14 '15 at 13:36
  • 1
    @Chris: Right, the chord would be called Adim7, and it's enharmonically equivalent to Ebdim7 (as are Cdim7 and F#dim7). For me both progressions (with dominant or diminished) share the same character, because the only real difference is the root of the chord, which doesn't add that much color. But that's all subjective of course. – Matt L. Mar 14 '15 at 16:03

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