Swirly - a cool thing to try with modes
after reading your post's string, i thought maybe id give a few cool little things to try.
record a vamp using just the root note E. then play it back and imrpovise over that note using the C major scale, but focus on the root E instead of C. this presents a nice middle eastern feel.
the pianist Keith Jarrett has an improvised piece on the Vienna Concert CD thats about 20 minutes of a master exploring the Phrygian mode, it is worht chekcing out very much so.
Take a simple I-IV progression, lets use a different key, howabout in Bb.
mmkay, start my playing this progression Cmin7 to F7 seeing as to get the Dorian mode, the chord is on the 2nd degree of the scale. now, instead of playing a C scale, try playing a Bb scale using all the notes of the Bb scale, yet focusing on the C as the root. this will give the archtypical jazz standard song seeing as it basically is a ii-V-I because, since were in Bb, the progression would naturally lead back there.
Modes arent hard unless you make them hard. sitting down and memorizing each mode's fingering on the fretboard is the biggest waste of time you can endure. i dont like learning scales by a chart because they dont explain anything about the sound. in order to know modes, you must know the harmony behind them. without the harmony, a mode is just a major scale and will always sound the same (i.e. E Phrygian, without the E base harmony will just sound like C major, but it changes once you add that E).
hope this helped.