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Groove of The Week #50: Joshua Redman – ‘Greasy G’

GOTW HITS 50! It’s finally here. The last instalment of the Groove of The Week series – what should have taken a year has taken nearly 3, but better late…

GOTW HITS 50!

It’s finally here. The last instalment of the Groove of The Week series – what should have taken a year has taken nearly 3, but better late than never…

Back To The Start

This groove is actually what started everything; I remember getting hold of the Joshua Redman Elastic Band album Momentum (2005) when I was a student and immediately got hooked on the combination of jazz harmony and deep groove that ran through every track. Momentum features a number of guest musicians throughout the album, but because I’d, errr… ‘acquired’ it I didn’t have access to the cd liner notes to see who played on each track; I could hear that one of the bassists sounded like Flea, but there was one groove that totally floored me:

I’d never heard anyone play a groove with that feel before – this was some years after Pino’s laid back grooves on D’Angelo’s much-lauded, behind-the-beat masterpiece Voodoo (2000) and J Dilla’s brand of ‘drunk hip-hop’ was old news, but this was something else. I had to know who it was and how the hell they could sound like that.

And so began my 12-year (and counting) love affair with Me’shell Ndegeocello; she and Anthony Jackson have the rare ability to make me feel like every single note that they have ever played is absolutely perfect.

Here are the dots:

Incidentally, Me’shell uses a very similar groove on here tune ‘GOD.FEAR.MONEY’:

 

Catching the feel(s)

So, how do you get to sound like that? This was by far the most difficult Groove of The Week track for me to get the hang of; I’m not claiming to even be in the same ballpark, feel-wise, but here are my two cents:

Listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more – every aspect of the music needs to be in your bones.

Record yourself. Listen critically (analyse your waveforms, if necessary).

Are you rushing? Dragging? Dragging? Do you even know?

(Here would be a suitable place for a Whiplash reference, but I thought it one of the worst things ever – Rocky for jazz drummers.)

The point of this is that you can’t be objective about your playing while you’re playing, because too much of your brain’s ‘bandwidth’ is taken up with the act of playing. Recording yourself is a brutally effective mechanism for finding out how you actually sound, not how you think you sound. I have a hunch that this is the reason that session greats such as Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, Bernard Purdie and Nathan East sound so incredible – they have heard their playing on tape countless times, allowing them to develop a total understanding of how to internally direct their playing to achieve the desired external sound.

This is getting worryingly metaphysical, so let’s wrap it up here. May the groove be with you.

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Groove of The Week #48: Hiatus Kaiyote – ‘By Fire’

After an extended hiatus (geddit?) the lumbering juggernaut that is Groove of The Week is back (for those who are sick of, fear not – it’ll be over soon). High…

After an extended hiatus (geddit?) the lumbering juggernaut that is Groove of The Week is back (for those who are sick of, fear not – it’ll be over soon).

High Time For Some Odd Time

So far, all of the featured grooves have been relatively conventional single note, 4/4 affairs. Time to change all that.

How about playing a 5/4 groove that uses chordal techniques interspersed with single note 16th lines at 128bpm? Enter Hiatus Kaiyote’s ‘By Fire’:

I first encountered this tune as a commissioned transcription for a client (before you ask, I no longer undertake bespoke transcription work, sorry). Writing out the whole tune was challenging, to say the least. Here’s how the main groove looks on paper:

Hiatus Kaiyote - By Fire

Hiatus Kaiyote’s bass player Paul Bender casually matches the keyboard’s lines note for note for the entire song, throwing in double stops to provide a more detailed representation of the harmony (the double stops in question start off as major 7ths, with the last two bars using major 10ths to provide variation).

In order to properly execute this line and let the root note of the double stop ring out while articulating the melody we’re going to have to adopt free strokes with the plucking hand – this is where the fingers pluck upwards and away from the bass, as opposed to our normal rest strokes where the plucking fingers play into the bass and come to rest on a lower string.

Free, or not to free? That is the question

Normally, I avoid free strokes because they result in what I’d term as homeopathic bass playing – since most of the energy is directed away from the bass it’s hard to achieve a solid tone and things end up sounding a bit weedy. However, in situations where double stops are required, it’s almost impossible to achieve the correct sound with rest strokes – your thumb is plucking the root note using a free stroke, so trying to make your fingers perform a rest stroke at the same time is somewhat brain-scrambling. Each stroke also requires a slightly different hand position, so changing between the two is physically demanding to coordinate at fast tempos.

So, how best to tackle this difficult line? The answer is the same as this often cited (and rather bizarre) question:

‘How do you eat an elephant?’

 

The answer? One mouthful at a time – isolate small sections of the line and practise slower than you think you need to until they become second nature and you’re not consciously thinking about the technique or the notes.

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On egos and octave pedals: putting the 'fun' back into functions

The reality of attempting to eke out a living as a professional musician in London (or anywhere else, for that matter) is that you have to let go of many…

The reality of attempting to eke out a living as a professional musician in London (or anywhere else, for that matter) is that you have to let go of many preconceived notions of what you will and won’t do for money (musically speaking, I mean…).

Credibility and artistic merit are all well and good until your rent is due, and subsisting on baked beans gets old pretty quickly.

Getting your bass to pay the bills can be a slow process, and there are certain avenues that make it easier to stay afloat; one of the main paths to financial stability (which is always a relative concept) for me has been playing in covers bands for weddings and corporate events. Whilst these gigs are always financially rewarding, many musicians are ‘down’ on function gigs because they can be musically mind-numbing; there are only so many times that anyone can play ‘Sex On Fire’ in a year before the rot starts to set in.

So how do you (or I) maintain any semblance of sanity and professionalism in the face of having to play musically nebulous mainstream pop nonsense week after week? The solution falls into two parts:

1. Get over yourself

Rather than being a snob about the repertoire, remember that this is your job. If you can earn enough to live by playing odd meter, polka-influenced death metal (or whatever your musical passion might be) then that’s great – sadly the fact of the matter is that you have to sell yourself at some point, but that doesn’t mean that you’re selling out by playing music that you might not feel passionate about.

I keep my ego in check by reminding myself that I’m getting paid to play an instrument, which is a ridiculous indulgence in itself. If you resent the music or the gig (or the people) then that carries over into your playing and reduces your ability to carry out your job description, which is to make people feel good by playing music that they want to hear. That’s not such a bad way to frame things, is it?

 

2. Find the ‘bright spots’

Part of the secret to finding joy in performing music that you feel indifferent about is treating it with the same respect that you would if you were gigging repertoire that you love. If you allow yourself to really get inside the music, even the blandest pop tune can present opportunities to access the more creative side of your playing.

For me, the ‘creative side’ of my playing in this context involves using an octave pedal as much as I can on a gig without getting dirty looks from the bandleader or making people on the dancefloor feel unwell. The overly processed and mechanical nature of modern chart music means that there are plenty of occasions when I have to play songs that were created without any real instruments and have to emulate a synth part.

So why don’t I just take a bass synth to the gig?

Chairman of the (pedal)board

Maybe it’s sheer bloody-mindedness on my part, but I made the decision some years ago to try and recreate any synth bass sound that I heard on a record using just my bass guitar and a handful of pedals; regular readers will just recognise this as an attempt to validate the purchase of lots of unnecessary gear, but I convinced myself that it was a worthwhile endeavour.

Here’s the thing – I already own an original Novation Bass Station synth, but I hate it. Attempting to gain the amount of knowledge on analogue synthesis necessary to program synth patches with any real authority was like being back in a school physics class (I say this a someone who was a total teenage physics geek) and I quickly abandoned the keyboard bass approach.

If the necessary nerdiness wasn’t enough there are other factors that made the prospect of playing synth on a gig a total ballache; keyboard skills, having to lug extra equipment to the gig and working out the logistics of onstage signal switching are just a few.

So I stuck to my guns and opted for the tap-dancing route.

Sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough

After much experimentation with numerous octave pedals, overdrives and envelope filters I found that I could approximate most of the tones in a given setlist without having a pedalboard that weighs more than I do.

Here’s the thing: even though you might not be ‘nailing’ the exact tone from a recording the important thing is that the crowd doesn’t care and neither do your bandmates. Often being in the right ballpark is enough to get approving nods from people that you’re sharing the stage with.

I spent a long time trying to get my bass to recreate the synth sound from Maroon 5’s awful, glitter-rolled turd of a song ‘Moves Like Jagger‘ before realising that getting the exact tone would cost me a lot of time and money, but I could arrive at a perfectly acceptable ‘wob wob wob’ sound using octave, envelope filter and a volume pedal.

Other tunes have required the ubiquitous octave pedal with a particular technical approach; Clean Bandit’s 2015 hit ‘Rather Be’ absolutely refuses to die and I managed to keep myself amused by transcribing the distinctly un-bass-like synth line from the verse and using a combination of plectrum and palm muting to get somewhere near the tone and articulation of the original.

You can see my mangling of the aforementioned song here, complete with a breakdown of different pedal settings for various sections of the tune:

You can also find the transcription of my bass arrangement for ‘Rather Be’ RIGHT HERE

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Why Jaco Still Matters (plus Groove of The Week #34)

The Man Who Changed Everything – Melody, Not Chops – Confessions of a Gearaholic, Part 2   On September 21st 1987  John Francis Anthony Pastorius III left this world, dying…

The Man Who Changed Everything – Melody, Not Chops – Confessions of a Gearaholic, Part 2

 

On September 21st 1987  John Francis Anthony Pastorius III left this world, dying as result of injuries inflicted by a nightclub bouncer. In the space of twelve years he had managed to completely revolutionise all aspects of the electric bass, redefining the role of the bassist and reinventing the instrument itself.

29 years have passed and we’re still trying to get our ears, fingers and brains around Jaco’s enormously influential body of work. His sonic trademarks can be heard in almost every contemporary bassist’s ‘bag of tricks’ and his superhuman performances on tracks like ‘Teen Town’, ‘Havona’ and ‘Port of Entry’ still provide huge technical challenges for those who are brave enough to attempt them. In the same way that Jimi Hendrix turned guitar playing on its head in the 1960s, Jaco took Leo Fender’s creation and pushed it to its limits. It’s rare that one player defines the sound of an instrument, but that’s what Jaco did with the fretless bass. In addition to his adventures with pliers and epoxy resin, Jaco popularised many ‘extended’ bass techniques including chords, harmonics (both natural and artificial) and the use of effects.

For me, one aspect of Jaco’s approach that seems the most relevant in ‘everyday’ musical situations is his fingerstyle funk playing. He took the influnce of classic R’n’B players including Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott and Tommy Cogbill and fused them with his assertive bridge pickup tone, resulting in something altogether new.

 

One of his first prominent recordings was Little Beaver’s ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ in 1974. He was 23:

 

What I find remarkable about this record is that with the space of a bar I know that it’s Jaco – he was already a fully-formed artist with a distinctive style by the time he reached his twenties.

If the initial groove to ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ seems familiar, here’s why:

‘Kuru’ from Jaco’s debut solo record has essentially the same groove, albeit at a more finger-destroying tempo.

Sticking with Jaco’s first album, the chorus groove of ‘Come On, Come Over’ contains another of Jaco’s most frequently used (and most copied) licks:

 

 

The constant barrage of semiquavers is daunting at first, and this was definitely not something that I got together in 15 minutes. For a long period of time I used ‘Come On, Come Over’ as my warmup for practising and to get my fingers moving before going onstage at gigs. Regular visitors to this blog will know that I prefer to use real musical examples to develop technique rather than finger permutation exercises or any other similar nonsense cooked up by people to sell books (or, these days, online courses).

The key (for me, at least) to executing the lick correctly is use of right hand raking (using the same finger to pluck consecutive strings when descending).

In the transcription of the chorus to ‘Come On, Come Over’ there are red brackets which indicate where I use the same finger to play several notes in succession:

gotw-34-come-on-come-over

 

If you’re looking for a relatively easy way to get some Jaco into your playing then this is a good lick to start with – he used it everywhere; Weather Report’s ‘Barbary Coast’ is built almost entirely on this lick (played at a less demanding tempo):

 

My Path to Pastorius

My route to becoming a Jaco fanboy was not straightforward. I remember finding my Dad’s cassette tape of Weather Report’s ‘Heavy Weather’ shortly after taking up the bass at 14, but my ears weren’t ready for it and it swiftly fell out of favour, replaced by Jamiroquai and Rage Against The Machine. Some years later I went through the rite of passage of learning ‘Portrait Of Tracy’, but his playing didn’t consume me until much more recently.

In my last year of university I became very taken with Pat Metheny’s ‘Bright Size Life’ album (featuring Jaco and Bob Moses), which slowly led me to rediscover – and become obsessed by – Jaco’s contributions to the electric bass.

Just to be clear, this is not a ‘chops-based infatuation’ thing. Jaco’s impeccable touch on the instrument and overriding sense of melody are the things that I find truly inspiring – few players in the post-Jaco era can present high register lines in the same way that he did on ‘Cannonball‘ and ‘A Remark You Made‘.

In fact, I’ll take Joni Mitchell-era Jaco over most of his other output. If you’re not familiar with Joni’s ‘Hejira’ album then stop reading this immediately and remedy the situation.

 

It’s In The Ear, Not The Gear

At the end of 2015 I wrote a post about my worrying addiction to buying gear and made a bold proclamation that I was going to ban myself from buying any new gear in 2016.

‘How’s that going?’ I hear you ask. Not well. Not well at all:

Willis

 

More on this next time.

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